Review by Nathan Daniel
Hit The Deck is Nottingham’s biggest annual alternative festival offering, and this year seems a little lower key than usual. The streets that surround Rock City and its neighbouring venues are open to the public, the rooms aren’t quite packed out and there are fewer sponsors and stalls than previous years. That is by no means to say, though, that the calibre of bands on the bill has changed a single bit.
Beginning proceedings (for me, at least) are quirky London-based innovatives Zoax. Just like their Punk-ish sound, frontman Adam Carroll’s stage presence is unorthodox and refreshing. They play to a healthily populated Stealth crowd who, for the most part, seem to be soaking up what’s going on. In spite of some sound issues, Zoax are great fun, much like their singer’s Irish wit, leaving the stage commenting, “you’ve been dickheads, but nice dickheads.”
Kevin from American Pie’s set next door in Rescue Rooms is… Wait, what? The Thomas Nicholas band’s set is decent; middle of the road rock music. It does seem that most present in the room are there purely for the curiosity of seeing the actor from the huge American Pie franchise. Nicholas must have come to expect it though, even referring to himself by his character’s namesake and opening with a cover of James’ ‘Laid’ – American Pie’s theme song. It’s a shame that his band lack appreciation purely based on their merit.
Back down to the heavy with Oceans Ate Alaska, who deliver a crushing set in the tiny, dark Stealth. The Birmingham five-piece have been rallying up quite a following since signing to Fearless Records and their short set illustrates exactly why. James’ brutal vocal range and impressive cleans are matched by insanely tight guitar and drum work. Guitarists Jibs and Adam don’t leave all responsibility to him either, joining in the pit to stir things up a little before the end of their set.
Hacktivist have everybody’s attention in the Main Hall and quite rightly so, too. The politically-charged quick fire rapping layered over dark, heavy djent is enough to make anybody’s head turn, along with a few pits. The floor is chaotic throughout and really goes off during their now infamous cover of Jay-Z & Kanye West’s ‘N*ggas In Paris’, which lifts Hit The Deck off of its feet. Along with the fan-favourites, an unheard track from their recently recorded album goes down a treat, giving promise of what’s to come. As the frontmen put it, a Hacktivist show would not be a Hacktivist show without a wall of death, giving the crowd a chance to step it up to the next level.
Before setting up camp at the main stage for the rest of the day, its time to make the short trip back to Rescue Rooms for The Swellers’ last ever Nottingham show. They’re deciding to call it a day after 13 years together and a certain degree of under-appreciation. Their sombre and honest melodic punk has been unfortunate in its success over the years, especially given that they frequent solid performances like that of today’s. They enjoy a relatively good sized crowd and are humbled, amongst jesting about no longer talking to one another now the band is about to split. They fittingly leave the room, gesturing without saying a word as fans cry out the final lines of ‘Best Ever I Had’. Following that, another sad departure for alternative music, something that’s becoming all too common.
The no bullshit, punk rock mentality that Cancer Bats have maintained over the years is something that has built a sturdy, underground fan base. Facing the Canadians on the main stage, then, is a more serious crowd than most today, and a crowd that knows exactly what to expect. The deafeningly loud killer riffs that the band are known for stir the biggest circle pits of the day, as the terrier-like Liam Cormier tears up and down the stage hurling brash vocals across the room. He’s proud to announce that Cancer Bats have been playing Rock City since 2006 and has no care for commercial success, but to play to mental crowds like this. Following a fan in the crowd losing his phone, the frontman’s sentiment is that all telecommunication should be shut off at shows to party and have a good time. He’s given that exact response during what is one of the best alternative covers around; a rendition of Beastie Boys – ‘Sabotage’ that is nothing short of ludicrous.
While She Sleeps follow in a similar vein. They’ve become close friends with CB over recent years and are now becoming even more notorious for their live shows. As has become accustomed at seemingly 90% of shows around the UK, Hit The Deck has been littered with fans bearing While She Sleeps merch all day. They gather en masse for a colossal, triumphant Sleeps set. The stage is flooded with dramatic red lighting and the room is filled with the sound of electronic feedback as the band stand ready to launch into their first song. Following which, they unleash an incredibly intense ten-song set, with an abundance of tracks from their raging new album Brainwashed. Singer Loz Taylor stands at the barrier screaming into the faces of the front rows for much of the set, noticeably during the unifying ‘Seven Hills’. Aaran Mckenzie also makes it his responsibility to prove that bassists are not boring, thrashing atop the hands of the crowd. Unrelenting, whirlwind performances such as this surely verify Sleeps’ position on the frontline of British Metal. There are very few as exciting as they are at the moment, that’s for sure.
Who else would the day’s closing set come from but Skindred? For the alternative world, they’re a band that need very little introduction. They encompass just about every genre imaginable and really are famous for their live shows and, of course, that Newport Helicopter. In line with the frontman’s Jamaican roots and Reggae-tinged music, dreadlocks suddenly appear in the crowd for the band’s set, as if drawn by some sort of strange magnetism.
As Benji Webbe repeatedly assures, Skindred’s shows are not just about watching his band play, but the community of their crowds and the celebration of live music itself. He is the definition of a natural entertainer, stood on stage with a union jack flag, in a fur coat, bright red waistcoat and metal-spiked sunglasses. About as animated as they come, too, he has fans hanging on his every word, bouncing on command and returning every “woooaaaah-oh-oh-oh-oh”. Amongst Skindred songs, the DJ mixes snippets of Macklemore, Slipknot and House of Pain, much to the delight of the crowd, who somehow still have the energy to keep moving. They don’t stop either, keeping it going right through to the end – the customary ‘Warning’, accompanied by the aforementioned Newport Helicopter. Named after the band’s Welsh hometown and the spinning motion of the audience’s clothes above their heads; it’s a sight to behold. For the best part of the last 5 years, it’s become something of a ritual at their shows and there really is very little that’s quite as fun.
Amongst the ridiculous dancing, lasers and the outright positive vibes in Rock City, it’s a brilliant end to Hit The Deck and opening to the festival season.