Hit The Deck: Various Venues, Bristol – festival review

Hit The Deck Festival, which comes to Nottingham and Bristol in spring every year bringing the best in punk and hardcore, is now in its fourth official year (second for Bristol as well.) We spent the day in Bristol cycling between four venues and being glad we had that bike as there were a lot of miles covered during the day. Check out our review below.

The coup for the organisers of Hit The Deck, and the moment at which they guaranteed themselves a successful, well attended festival, was when Brand New signed on as headliners. But there was a hell of lot more going on at Hit The Deck other than just Brand New. And for some of us there wasn’t even them. Read on for how our day unfolded.

A late start meant I missed the first handful of bands, hence at least ensuring getting accredited was a queue free breeze. First port of call was The Fleece – venue of the day almost exclusively due to the fact that it was the only place where the bouncers didn’t make you empty your water out your bottle before entering so you wasted 10 mins per venue fighting your way to the bar to get it filled up again. Pointless jobsworth PITA bouncers being the bane of my life, this was nothing short of totally expected. Dublin band Wounds were on the stage already at The Fleece, playing to a reasonably static audience. That didn’t last for long though – it seemed their reputation as an explosive and riotous live act is well earned and they soon stoked up a bit of moshing action, albeit still early avvy. Their set of grunge and punk with hardcore leanings blistered along before reaching a climax when they invited homeys Baby Godzilla up on stage with them, at which point things turned somewhat messy. The track “Dead Dead Fucking Dead” was easily the highlight of their set with much in the way of mic grabbing, audience participation band in mosh pit action.

Next to The Thekla for Rat Attack, a punk / rock ’n’ roll band from Exeter. I arrived just as the singer was telling us “I know what you’re thinking, Rat Attack’s singer’s put on a bit if timber”. Turned out they were officially one lead vocalist down (hit up their Facebook should you wish to apply for said post) but fortunately for the fans their erstwhile roadie had stepped up to the mark, learnt the words and was officially “depping” with aplomb. Whatever ultimately happens they should def keep said roadie on board as a warm up man – he managed to have the audience not only in stitches, but also provoked a lot of us into dancing, both by eagerly bouncing throughout the set and harrying those of us for not doing the same to bounce. It’d be deeply unfair to criticise his singing, esp as he hadn’t quite had time to fully learn the words so had to intermittently fixed eyesedly stare floorwards, but fair play to him for stepping up to the oche – not least because he and his girlfriend had moved to London that very same morning and, as he remembered while necking his second tin, he had to drive straight back there after. The band made a great noise anyway and soon as they get a new vocalist I’ll be checking them out again.

Photo above of Nai Harvest © Betham Miller

Following a diversion for some record store day related entertainment it was back to a now heaving Fleece for Sheffield emo / college rock two-piece Nai Harvest. Is it me or does it feel like they’ve been around for ages now? Judging by the turnout I’m not alone in having been mighty impressed with them in the past – they have some serious fanage. I had to fight my way through the packed-nearasdammit-to-capacity Fleece to get to the front where I found myself surrounded almost exclusively by teenagers evidently having a ball. And so they should have been – Nai Harvest’s set was easily one of the most assured of the day. Ben Thompson on vocals (and esp guitar) was a golden haired whirl of excitement, reeling across the stage and pulling off some impressive guitar licks, jangles and harmonies. More indie rock and shoegaze than the emo brush they tend to be painted with, there was a genuine sense of disappointment when their set finished. That you’ll see more of these guys was guaranteed anyway, but as they’ve recently signed to Topshelf Records, the go to label for many UK fans looking for cool US sounds, that’s now a no-brainer.

For the first time today I hurried now off to the Exchange for the brilliant Bastions who I’m staggered to find I haven’t  written about on here before. Hailing from North Wales and signed to Holy Roar there’s only one thing guaranteed when you see Bastions – that they’ll put their every last breath into every moment of the show you’re watching them put on. There can’t be many bands who invest so much emotionally into gigs, part of the reason they always collapse off stage at the end. Annoyingly missing the start of their set despite getting there 10 minutes before it was due to start I was again forced to push through the crowded venue to get to the more open front. Ostensibly a hardcore band Bastions have an idiosyncratic sound being as modern as hardcore gets. Vocalist Jamie prowls the stage and screams into the mic like this life depends on it. When at his most spent he happily passes the mic over to the audience to help him out – there’s always a supportive community feel at any Bastions show, which one feels is how all shows should be. Lacerating guitars, powerful drum fills and those muscular screamed vocals ultimately get a get of a pit going, despite the complexity of the band’s songs. It’s the least they deserve.

I make an attempt to visit the O2 now for Pulled Apart By Horses (see photo right © Betham Miller). The people there won’t let me in unless I pay £1:50 to dump my bag. “It’s for your own comfort” one of them tells me. “It’s for safety reasons” another says. “Bollocks” I think, “it’s so you can squeeze £1:50 out of me”. I started going upstairs tut cloakroom then decide to leave, but on my way down I notice no one’s watching so I sneak in, with my bag. FTR I was I was very comfy and I don’t believe anyone’s safety was compromised. PABH looked at home on the large O2 stage. Playing to a third full O2 their set was solid. It’s good to see them again – been too long. I Punched a Lion in the Throat and High Five, Swan Dive, Nose Dive were obvious highlights, as the audience’s response of much singing along proved.

Heading back to The Fleece I see Gnarwolves outside and realise like an idiot I’ve somehow managed to miss their set. I’ve seen them probably as much as any contemporary band though and I’m pretty sure they’ll have put in as solid a set as any band who spend their life on the road and have a back catalogue full of top-notch singalong pop punk genius songs. Entering the venue and talking to people there confirms this.

Time goes by and the end of the night draws near. Back to a pretty empty Exchange (rumour has it the HTD crowd have decamped to the O2 to secure a spot for Brand New) where Baby Godzilla lay waste to the place. Literally. One suspects a tad drunk, their set is utter carnage, bedlam and adrenalin. It was also ferociously brilliant and as entertaining a set as I saw all day. Amps were thrown off the stage to be arranged stone henge style, piled one on top of the other and then surmounted by guitarists. The large merch table was dragged from the back to the middle of the room also to be stood on with people at times be-straddling table / amp mountain. Meanwhile, we the audience were trying to make sure amp mountain didn’t collapse. The vocalist hung from the glitter ball as they rattled through their dirty punk rock ’n’ roll set, only to end with Wounds returning the compliment from earlier in the day and joining them for the apocalyptic final song. Pity the poor Exchange staff who had to get the set ready for More Than Life after.

I hung around for melodic hardcore band More Than Life who thanked us for not going to see Brand New, then proved to us we’d made the right decision by playing a set featuring brilliant many tracks off new album What’s Left of Me. With honesty and passion to the fore More Than Life have forged a path to the front of the contemporary hardcore scene almost unnoticed. At times raw, always heartfelt, More Than Life are kind of crossing over into post-rock these days with songs that tend toward the epic and anthemic. They were in Bristol at the start of the year supporting Defeater and put in an unimpressive showing then I thought. Something’s changed though coz they nailed it here tonight. Which is odd considering the audience were far less participatory than they had been in Jan.

With the night drawing closewards I nipped back to the Fleece for one last time. Expecting to have to fight my way to the front I was amazed to arrive and find probably less than 50 people in attendance, including staff, bands and roadies. The handful of us who were here were so for Kvelertak, the Norwegian band whose plum of a vocalist came to the stage wearing a huge owl head dress, the punchline of which was its brightly lit eyes, glowing impressively. As pretty much the only metal band on the bill they’d obviously decided bringing “style over substance” was a good idea. I hung around about 10 minutes, leaving when aforementioned plum decided to kick my rucksack off the stage really fucking hard for the second time. What with that and the fact that they chose to blind us with red-hot lights all night, they came across as the sort of arrogant cunts who couldn’t give a shit about their audience, totally the opposite of every other band I saw today. The dozen or so people up the front appeared to really be getting off on it anyway and if any of them are reading this I refer you to this review of their recent Leeds show where they played to someone who wasn’t pissed off by their amateur theatricals and teenage petulance. A bit of an oink of the part of the organisers, sadly, but I applaud their attempt to mix things up a bit and hope it doesn’t mean a more monochrome HTD2015 is on the cards.

Final port of call was the Exchange again for what was always going to be a personal highlight of the day – see Brutality Will Prevail. Another band from Wales, BWP have been going for nearly a decade now. This set was one of the first chances anyone had to see them play tracks off new album, Suspension Of Consciousness, so expectations, as per any BWP show, were high. Sporting a new vocalist, Louis Gauthier (ex-Breaking Point) since last I saw them live they play a brand of beefy, sludgy, metallic hardcore which is raw and emotional. Louis more than held his own with the band and seems to have slipped into camp BWP with ease. The band have undoubtedly mastered their art now with a set chock full of ferocity, breakdowns, power, intensity, guttural cries and vim. It’s heart stopping stuff, layered and pounding and relentless even when they ratchet down the pace. Powerful stuff.

With BWP finishing at 10:15 I was left with the choice of cycling 10 mins north to home or 10 mins south to the O2 for the end of Brand, paying the O2 surcharge, fighting my way to the front, seeing a half a dozen songs then having a 20 min cycle home. So I deffed Brand New in favour of bed.

Apart from my O2 gripe (which meant I missed several bands I’d’ve seen otherwise) my only other complaint was that The Exchange was running at least 15 mins AHEAD all day, for which there’s no excuse – guys, you just bloody wait if your stage time hasn’t arrived yet! It’s not rocket science! I can excuse bands running late, have no problem at all with that at all, shit happens etc etc, but I’m mystified as to why not one of the bands on the day thought it might’ve been a good idea to WAIT till they were due to go on stage and so to give their fans a chance of catching all their set! No one from Hit the Deck seemed to be at the venue perplexingly either, only the aforementioned bouncers and as I’d already had an argument with most of them about water I didn’t see the point of asking them to look into matters. Shame.

Also, billing itself as “The UK’s Premiere Indoor Festival” is a tad disingenuous considering Bristol also has both Simple Things Festival and Temples Festival, but we’ll let that one slip. It was def “The UK’s Premiere Indoor Festival for Brand New Fans and people who like this kind of music” but it def doesn’t wipe the floor with all contenders when other genres are brought into the question.

Apart from that a great day though – here’s looking forward to 2015!


Find Hit The Deck online here: hitthedeckfestival.com. They’re also on Facebook and they tweet as @hitthedeckfest.

All words Guy Manchester. More words by Guy can be read here. He tweets as @guid0man & uses Tumblr.

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