Friday, 28 July 2017

Gig Review: Level Up Festival 2017 Day Two 22/7/17

It was time for the second day of Level Up Fetival 2017. This would be the first full day of the festival with bands starting at 2.30pm and the addition of a second stage down in the New Cross Inn's basement. Emma and I arrived nice and early, prepared for what would be a fantastic day.

The day was started by London based ska punks Lead Shot Hazard. I first saw Lead Shot Hazard back in 2013 at Urban Bar in Whitechapel. The band have had a line-up shuffle since then and now seem to be at their very best. The horn driven ska punk is the perfect way to get the day started and the big crowd that gathered early are suitably entertained by the band. Lead Shot Hazard feature two lead vocalists and that, plus the addition of the horn player's vocals, creates some fantastic harmonies. As is the way with ska punk, of course a cover song was thrown into the Lead Shot Hazard Set with the band playing Big Yellow Taxi, orignally by Joni Mitchell and also famously covered by Counting Crows.

Ill Gotten Gains were next to take to the New Cross Inn stage and certainly added a big change of pace. The Basingstoke band play a much harder style of ska punk known as skacore. A small group of fans were clearly looking forward to seeing Ill Gotten Gains and as soon as the band started the dancing began. The band blitzed through their set, so quickly infact they had time to play another song that they weren't planning on playing. This song, named Basingstoke, was actually the song that got the biggest reaction of all of their songs. It was certainly my favourite. That and their cover of Operation Ivy's Sound System anyway. During Sound System they were joined on stage by their friends in the band Bandits as well.

Saturday and Sunday saw the addition of another stage in the basement of the New Cross Inn, also known as Stocks Bar, for some bonus acoustic and/or folk-influenced artists. Given that that sort of thing tends to be the direction that my punk rock music tastes are most inclined, we decided that reviewing the basement would be my (Emma’s) job – shown in italic.

The first act to appear in the basement on Saturday was a chap called Dan Kemp. I didn’t know who he was, although he looked vaguely familiar, but it wasn’t long before he mentioned his band, [formally, Will Tun] And The Wasters – who we have listened to and seen live before. Dan’s songs were not in the least bit ska punk, instead they were very reminiscent of traditional English folk music, but that was no bad thing. His set consisted of a couple of original tracks, a Wasters song, a traditional English song and a French song – quite the variety and thoroughly enjoyable too. I'd happily go and see him play again.

Quickly returning upstairs, we discovered that Bandits had already began their set. We also noticed that they had applied a bit of feng shui by adding a carpet to the floor space in front of the stage. Bandits lead singer Skinn Klick is clearly an interesting character. For reasons unknown to me, he had painted half of his face to look like a skull. Bandits are very interesting to watch live and have their own punk rock hype man known to his friends as Starby who dances around the stage and in the crowd and occasionnaly adds backing vocals for the band. Seeing Bandits live is quite the sight and one that I won't be forgetting in a while. They are not only unique in their appearance but also with their sound. Playing a mix of ska punk and hip hop, this was a fantastic high energy set.

After the intense performance of Bandits we returned to the basement to watch Ian Crook, aka Wayfairer, do his thing. We saw Wayfairer not so long ago at The Burnt Tapes EP release show at Urban Bar so were reasonably familiar with his songs, which never hurts. The New Cross Inn basement – which was not as dimly lit as you might imagine, as Ian pointed out – was also home to a second bar that served a wider variety of drinks than upstairs. As such, this means that there were plenty of people in the basement that weren’t necessarily there to see the artist playing – hopefully some of them stayed to watch! Wayfairer had to play and sing fairly loudly to be heard above the buzz of the bar but it paid off, particularly with his last song, a cover of Alkaline Trio’s Take Lots With Alcohol. Not ska, but great all the same.

Something quite special about Level Up was the number of European bands that have come over the channel to play the festival. First up were The Dancing Morons from Ghent. I was an organised and prepared pretend journalist for Level Up Fest and took notes on all of the bands that I saw. The thing that I wrote for The Dancing Morons, that I think describes them perfectly, was "good time party band that will kick your arse!" They were incredibly fun to watch and dance along with on stage but they also played some of the hardest hitting skacore of the weekend. Clearly they are a band that wants the crowd to have as much fun as they are having. Their set included letting off a shower of confetti and streamers, plus they even had a piƱata that was thrown into the crowd - it was full of sweets and, curiously, tampons. Only at a ska show.

We knew that we would probably have to miss some if not all of a band’s set to go and get some food – skanking is a tiring and hunger-inducing activity – and so unfortunately this meant missing Mercurious Rising down in the basement. I didn’t actually know of them but that’s not necessarily a reason to skip them – they could have been my new favourite band! I’ll keep an eye out for the name and see them next time…

Following a quick food break we arrived back at New Cross Inn as China Shop Bull were just beginning their set. They focussed more on a hip-hop/ska sound rather than the punk style, that the majority of the bands were playing this weekend, the crowd started small but quickly grew. It was great to see recent tour buddies The Dancing Morons at the front of the crowd singing along with the band, it always pleases me when I see camaraderie between bands. The China Shop Bull set was heavy on political tracks as the band tackled subjects such as immigration and the NHS. Sticking with the rule of ska bands covering a song, China Shop Bull went with a fantastic version of Holiday In Cambodia by the Dead Kennedys. China Shop Bull were a band I've known about for a while but hadn't ever seen - well worth the wait.

The last artist to play downstairs on the Saturday was, the very difficult to pronounce, Chrandesyx who it turned out were a band and not a solo artist. This four piece, consisting of keyboard, acoustic guitar, bass and drums, were one of the many bands at Level Up from Belgium (we have El Topo Bookings to thank for that). Rather than diving into their set with all of the aforementioned instruments, all four members of Chrandesyx opened (and closed) with captivating accapella vocals. This was a little risky in the noisy basement bar but I think they pulled it off – they did for me at least. I thoroughly enjoyed Chrandesyx’s folk-fuelled set and even the people that decided to stand in front of me talking didn’t completely ruin it for me.

Switching things up next were reggae band Captain Accident & The Disasters. This was perfect timing after a few frantic bands and it was nice to listen to some chilled out reggae music. The six piece from Cardiff have been wowing crowds for years with their energetic mix of reggae, ska and soul music. It was finally time for me to be wowed and wowed I was! Wow, what a fantastic collection of musicians The Disasters are and Captain Accident's vocals were just sublime. The band had this ability to transport your mind away and make you believe that you're on a sunny beach somewhere, rather than a pub in South London on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Wherever Captain Accident & The Disasters go the sun surely follows. Given that they were playing a ska punk festival, the band added a few of their more upbeat ska songs into their set to accompany their normally more mellow reggae style. My personal favourite track was Business as well as the obligatory cover song - Ready Or Not by The Fugees.

The penultimate band of the night were London's Popes Of Chillitown. Over the past few years the Popes have become arguably the top ska punk band in the UK. By this point of the day the New Cross Inn was at full capacity for this hometown show and it was a show that will long live in the memory. The energy of the band on stage is incredible and really transmits into the crowd and before long the majority of the room is moving. As incredible as all of the musicians in the band are, frontman Matt is the star of the show. The speed in which he delivers his vocals whilst bouncing around the stage as if he has springs attached to his feet, it's impossible not to get caught up in at all. The band's last album To The Moon was released a couple of years ago now and I've seen the band quite a few times since its release but it all still sounds so fresh and exciting. Highlights of the set for me were Wisdom Teeth and Vamos A La Luna - they really got me skanking!

Lastly it was time for the legendary UK ska punks, King Prawn. This would be their only London show of 2017 so it was sure to be a special one. Starting out with Bitter Taste the crowd immediately went ballistic. By this point we were towards the back of the room, firstly because we were exhausted from a long day and secondly because it was so hot in the New Cross it was nice to be closer to the door. Listening to King Prawn play live is when you realise just how many fantastic songs they have in their locker. Whether they are playing old school stuff from when they were a full time band or some of the newer songs that they've written for that long awaited new album, everything goes down a storm. King Prawn are true legends in our ska punk scene, I can confidently say if it wasn't for the work that they put in twenty years ago we probably wouldn't be watching any bands at Level Up Festival, that's the impact they had in their prime. Prime does feel like the wrong word to describe them however because every time I've seen King Prawn since they reformed in 2013 they've been outstanding and are still performing at the highest of levels. Hearing tracks like Day In Day Out, Bring Down The House, The Loneliest Life, Survive and, of course, The Dominant View still puts the biggest smile on my face. Long live King Prawn!

Day two of Level Up Festival was awesome. Now we couldn't wait for the third and final day… Big D and the Kids Table day!

This gig review was written by Colin Clark and Emma Prew.