Thursday, 2 August 2018

Gig Review: Level Up Festival 2018 Day Three at the New Cross Inn 22/7/18

It was now time for the third and final day of Level Up Festival and we were feeling quite broken but also so excited for another fun filled day of ska punk shenanigans at the New Cross Inn. Today was a very special day as today the one and only Lightyear were headlining, my goodness I was excited for this. Before reading on please check out day one of the festival here and day two here. (Emma's sections are written in italics.)

Emma and I were staying in an Airbnb along New Cross Road during the festival which was very handy for making sure we didn't have too late nights and were kept relatively fresh for each day. The only real downside was on the morning of the third and final day of Level Up we had to check out of our room by 10am and the first band of the day didn't start until 1.30pm. Maths fans will tell you that that left us with three and a half hours to kill. The first job was to find something to eat. Luckily there was a Wetherspoons just a fifteen minute walk away serving delicious and perhaps more importantly very filling breakfasts. After feeling like we'd probably overstayed our welcome at the 'Spoons we decided to go hang out at the park behind the New Cross Inn until doors. Here I made friends with a very friendly ladybird I named Lance. Soon it became quite hot in the park and I remembered that the New Cross Inn had just had a second air conditioning unit fitted so that seemed like the best place in the world to be. There was still an hour or so to wait before the first band Filthy Militia took to the stage but Paul and Mike of Be Sharp and Fishlock of Fishlock Promotions were already about so we hung out with those lovely chaps for a while. To our surprise there were also members of Lightyear at the New Cross Inn getting ready to do a sound check. This meant we got bonus Lightyear purely because our Airbnb made us leave early. This had made my day and it hadn't really even started yet.

First up was one of the bands I was most looking forward to seeing all weekend, new kids on the block Filthy Militia. Before delving into how much fun Filthy Miltia's set was I want to give some quick love to lead singer and guitarist Frosty and his buddy Sleeman (who I thought looked like the lead singer of Canadian folk/punk/polka band The Dreadnoughts). These two gentleman got the dancing started during Easydread on the Friday night and continued to dance throughout the entire festival. These two are a fine example on how to have a great time at a ska punk festival.

Filthy Militia put out one of my favourite ska releases of the year when Innocent Until Proven Filthy came out at the beginning of 2018 and I was so keen to see those songs performed live. Filthy Militia had a special guest with them this afternoon as their normal bass player was on paternity leave so Just Say Nay's Leo Harvey had stepped up to fill in for them. With just one practice he did a superb job. As was now the norm for Level Up it wasn't long before the crowd, myself and Emma included, were dancing along with Filthy Militia's brilliant take on the ska punk and two tone genre. Their two pronged horn attack was really impressive as was Frosty's vocals. He had me singing along as best I could whilst I skanked away. Highlights of their set included Little Sister, Be Real and a really fun cover of The Bloodhound Gang classic the Bad Touch. A song in which Sleeman spent the majority of the track thrusting backwards and forwards in front of the stage which really made me smile.

Next were perhaps the most niche band of the weekend – Bristol's Pokémon Liberation Army. Featuring Fishlock on bass guitar, the band write political ska punk songs about Pokémon. It was very much going to be a set of either absolutely loving it or just wondering what on earth was going on?! I very much fell into the group of absolutely loving it, particularly their version of The Toasters classic Don't Let The Bastard's Grind You Down rewritten as Don't Let The Bastard's Catch 'Em All. I did wonder what Bucket's reaction to the song would have been if they had played together on Friday. Something quite amazing happened midway through their set as I actually forgot briefly that these songs were about Pokémon and found myself taking in the songs as serious political tracks. I guess this is kind of the point and a genius move to spread their message. Pokémon Liberation Army are a band I'd been wanting to check out for a little while and they did not disappoint.

Last Edition were up next on the New Cross Inn main stage. This four-piece from Leicester were one of the bands that I was most looking forward to seeing for the first time at Level Up, since every time one of their tracks would come on on Colin’s Level Up 2018 playlist I’d say ‘Ooh, who’s this? I like this.’ without fail. Last Edition play a fun, catchy yet carefree brand of poppy ska punk and with their first song they got the audience bobbing along. Unfortunately the fun didn’t continue immediately after the first song, as something caused half of the electrics on the stage to break – the microphones were still working but that sadly wasn’t the case for the amplifiers. After some attempts at making jokes on stage and awkwardly apologising for ‘breaking the New Cross Inn’, someone in the crowd came to the rescue and managed to resolve the problem. It turns out Last Edition were well worth the wait however and I’m pretty sure those around me would agree as we danced away to this excellent band. The band got our legs working even more in a classic ‘crouch down to the ground and then jump up and continue jumping scenario’ – who needs the gym when you can just go to a ska show, it’s much more fun. The songs Last Orders and If Ska Ruled The World particularly stood out but the whole set was brilliant – those super saxophone melodies got lodged in my head for days.

Knowing that the next band to take to the stage was Just Say Nay, who at times have been known to have members in the double figures, we were a little concerned that the day might now start to run late after the electrics fiasco. However, to their credit, the 9-piece Just Say Nay were very prompt and professional in their sound checking and I’m not sure we lost any time in the end. Probably not what you’d expect from a DIY punk festival, eh? Just Say Nay were one of the few acts of the 2018 line-up that played the first Level Up Fest last year and it just so happens that they were one of my favourite discoveries of last year’s festival too. Playing a selection of songs from their two EPs, Logistical Nightmares and Shit Out Of Luck, as well as brand new song, Don’t Let The Coffee Grind You Down, which is a heartfelt tribute to the gone but not forgotten Mike Crampton, Just Say Nay smashed it again. I was particularly impressed by lead singer Jak’s vocals as he has a brilliant voice live as well as on recording but the whole band was amazing. There was plenty of bouncing and skanking throughout the set and, for the second time of the weekend, a singalong to a cover of Hit Me Baby One More Time. What is it with punks and Britney Spears?

Of all the acoustic acts booked for Level Up Festival I was most excited for the man in charge of opening Stocks Bar on the final day of Level Up, Callum MacAllister – aka Toodles of Toodles & The Hectic Pity. Their EP Call In Sick was one of mine and Emma's favourites of 2017 and talking to Mike Smith earlier in the weekend he echoed our sentiments. From Toodles’ opening chords I found myself really wanting to sing along as loudly as I could with these wonderful songs. I however stopped myself as it was quite quiet in the room and I didn't want to ruin the experience for anyone else with my horrific singing and most probably jumbling up of the words. To quote Mike after the set, seeing and hearing Callum perform these songs live was like "reading a book." It truly was a captivating set and gave me even more of an appreciation of just how good the songs are. Toodles is a very special songwriter and is surely going to go on to some huge things in the next few years. Get on the bandwagon now!

Heading back upstairs, we found that the room was already busy for the next band. If you’ve not heard of Eat The Evidence before then let me tell you a little about the band. They are a London-based five-piece that play ska and reggae punk tunes with not so typical ska instruments – accordion, ukulele and a slide whistle alongside bass, guitar and drums. Sounds a bit weird, huh? Well, Eat The Evidence are downright weird but they are also ridiculously good. The Level Up crowd was starting to get a little rowdy by this point in the afternoon (or was it evening?) as the band tore through songs from their debut album, Sex, Drugs and Wishy Washy Politics. My favourite song of theirs has to be Fruit Of The Loot, which is an amusing history lesson about the British Empire, and it got me – and plenty of others – dancing like crazy. I’ve seen Eat The Evidence three times now and each time I’ve forgotten just how much fun they are live until I find myself grinning and skanking along to each and every one of their songs. They certainly know how take the party levels up a notch.

Tree House Fire are a 5-piece reggae band from South Wales who played an excellent set at Level Up last year. This year they were back – or some of them were – to play a slightly different set in the New Cross Inn basement. I, like many others, had no idea what to expect from an ‘acoustic’ Tree House Fire set but that simply made me all the more keen to check them out. Technically, they were only semi-acoustic with an acoustic guitar, acoustic bass and melodica alongside an electric guitar – plus a foot-operated drum machine – but who cares because, acoustic or not, they were damn good. Despite their stripped back sound, Tree House Fire brought their sunshiney reggae tunes to the packed out and sweaty basement and had everyone singing and dancing along. Older track Suburban Gangster seemed to be particularly well received as well as a cover of Human by Rag ’n’ Bone Man (Fun fact: I’m familiar with this song but I normally hear it played at about 10 times the usual speed in my aerobics class). Colin and I both agreed that this might have been our favourite time seeing Tree House Fire, which is no mean feat!

London's King Punch were a band that I wasn't really that familiar with before the start of the festival but Be Sharp's Paul had told me a few days earlier that I was going to love them. The man knows me well because I did in fact love them. I loved them a lot! This was big energy ska punk at its very best. I found myself skanking away from the very start like an complete maniac without knowing a single song. The seven piece's music and the wonderful infectiousness about it that made it impossible to stand still too whilst listening. Clearly King Punch are a band made for a live setting as they were unbelievably tight with their three part horn section really standing out. Like most bands in the UK scene, King Punch mentioned how they were inspired Lightyear. However it wasn't just the music that inspired King Punch, it was also the fun time shenanigans! At one point during their set they got the New Cross Inn crowd to sit down, just like Last Edition did earlier, but rather than just getting the crowd to jump up and dance they had us doing squats. This killed me. Then there was one of the most talked about moments of the entire weekend when King Punch began to play a cover of The Merrymen's classic Feeling Hot Hot Hot and encouraged the crowd to form a conga line. This was a Level Up Festival crowd so of course we did. Not only did this conga line go all round the New Cross Inn dance floor, it also made its way outside much to the delight of the folks getting some air. Then to top the whole set off King Punch finished with a ska punk version of System Of A Down's classic nu metal track Chop Suey. King Punch were completely brilliant and one of my favourite sets of the entire weekend. Awesome band.

Popes Of Chillitown are perhaps one of the UK’s most loved current ska punk bands, especially in London. So it was no great surprise after King Punch’s brilliant set to find that there were plenty of eager folk downstairs anticipating a solo Popes set from the band’s frontman, Matt. Despite being just him and his acoustic guitar, the crowd was just as enthusiastic as if this was a full band Popes show – singing along to every word and skanking away. They also helpfully filled in where the horns parts were missing which was a perfect impromptu accompaniment to these stripped back Popes classics. As great as Matt’s solo set was, we did leave a little early as dinner time was well overdue. You can’t commit to all-day skanking without filling your rumbly tum.

As Emma said we popped out for some food partway through the Matt Popes set and didn't make it back until The Hostiles were most of the way through their set. Sadly it seemed as if a quite a few people had had the same idea as Emma and I as when we returned to the New Cross Inn, after scoffing down some super tasty falafel and halloumi wraps (thanks for the recommendation, Fishlock), it didn't feel quite as full as it was previously. That however didn't stop the American fronted Scottish five piece putting in a fun and energetic performance. Listening to the band I was really reminded of UK ska punk legends Fandangle which is always a good thing. I'm not overly familiar with The Hostiles’ songs but I did notice that they played a little bit of Holy Diver by Dio which was also covered by Killswitch Engage. The Hostiles put on an enjoyable set, it was just a shame that more people didn't get to see them.

The penultimate band of the evening was arguably my favourite ska punk band of the last couple of years – also the one who I have seen live the most times – Norfolk’s Faintest Idea. Known for their energetic live show and songs that are equal parts shout-along-able and skank-along-able, I was obviously really looking forward to seeing Faintest Idea play – and in my favourite London venue no less. Unfortunately, for reasons that weren’t fully explained to the crowd (and I haven’t wanted to ask to be honest), Faintest Idea were late. As the second to last band to play the festival that had, even with technical difficulties, run so smoothly up until this point it was a shame. Although I have to admit it was nice to have a little bit longer to cool down outside! The band did thankfully turn up eventually and, to be fair to them, got set up and sound checked in what was probably record time for them so they only ended up being about 15 or 20 minutes late – for which bassist and vocalist Dani did apologise for. Starting off in routine fashion with Bobble, trombone, and Lil Dan, saxophone, in the crowd for Back To The Asylum, the floor of the New Cross Inn exploded into one huge skanking frenzy. All was forgiven as the 5-piece (trumpet player Sara was absent) sped through a killer set. They should have had a slightly longer set than the earlier bands that day but due to their later start this was understandably not the case. However the band still managed to pack in plenty of fan favourites such as Circling The Drain, Youth, House Of Cards and Corporation which kept adrenaline levels in the room high. Songs were played at perhaps a slightly faster rate and with less chat in between but that didn’t mean that it felt rushed, simply passionate. We were also treated to new track, Stop Them Down, which just sounds better each and every time we hear it played live. Finishing up with Bull In A China Shop, Faintest Idea proved that their performance was better late than never! I also want to give a particular mention to El Topo’s Jason as he just seemed to be having the best time while Faintest Idea were on stage and it was lovely to see.

It was now not just time for the final band of the night but the final band of Level Up Festival 2018. If there was any band in the world you want to finish a UK DIY ska punk festival such as Level Up, then I can't think of a better choice than Lightyear. The entire New Cross Inn was finding their last ounces of energy (particularly those of us who had been skanking hard all weekend) to really ensure the best ska punk festival in the UK finished in the most memorable way possible. As soon as Lightyear kicked off with Data's Double Chin we all went mental! We were only a few seconds into the song and indeed the set when frontman Chas Palmer-Williams threw himself into the crowd signalling for us to get even rowdier than we already were. From then on things just escalated and escalated but in the most fun way possible. Sure it was rowdy and there were bodies all over the place but my gosh we were all having the time of our lives. I've been fortunate enough to catch Lightyear twice already since they returned (at the Garage in London last October and at MPF in April) but this was the first time seeing them in a smaller venue without a barrier. This, for me, is when Lightyear are at their very best, really being able to connect with the crowd. Like with many other sets over the weekend I have no idea on the exact set list. I mostly remember dancing and singing with all the energy and enthusiasm I had left, which for Lightyear was a lot. All the classics were played in some order or another though. Fan favourites such as Three Basics, Twat Out Of Hell, A Pack Of Dogs, Blindside, Nuff Cuts, Life Jacket Water Wings and, what seems to becoming the new traditional set closer, Positive Outlook all got great receptions. I really love new song Pedro as well and I'm so excited for their new release when they get around to recording it and getting it out. Of course we got some of the Lightyear shenanigans we've all come to expect from the band over the years. Shenanigans such as Chas putting an onion in saxophone player Ben Ashton's sax which he didn't notice for a few songs. There was also human tombola where the band's technician bravely jumped into the crowd and had raffle tickets ripped off of him. And now here's a story I didn't ever expect to have to write about but… Lightyear. Midway through the set Chas announced that trumpet play Neil and himself both, for reasons because basically Lightyear, had put grapes in their bottoms and would check on their progress throughout the night. As the set went on they asked if anyone wanted to eat them. For reasons unknown to me a chap happily ate both. Maybe the most disgusting thing I've ever seen at a gig… oh Lightyear. This whole set was amazing, at one point I had to turn around to Paul and just gave him a look of disbelief at what was happening. Soon after this one of my favourite moments of the whole weekend happened when Paul was snatched up by some folk and thrown up to crowd surf on top of us all. I loved this piece of appreciation for all the hard work Paul puts in to booking great gigs at the New Cross Inn. Without thinking I dove into the pit after him to help keep him in the air and soon found myself in the first skank pit I had been in for years and loved every second of it. Finishing their main portion of their set with Positive Outlook was absolutely perfect. It's a song about long lasting friendships. As I looked around the room there were friends everywhere embracing and it was just one of those wonderful live music moments that can't be replicated. I could probably bang on about the awesomeness that was Lightyear for a few more pages but should really stop rambling.

I loved Level Up Festival 2017 but Level Up Festival 2018 completely blew it out of the water. Every single act really stepped up to the plate, there were quite a few sets that throughout the entire three days of the festival that could have easily been a headline set. For a genre that is supposedly dead, the amount of quality bands representing the genre is astounding. Almost every band had Emma and I dancing with huge smiles on our faces. And that wasn't just us, that was almost everyone! As much as we loved the bands, it was the whole atmosphere of the entire festival that was the big highlight. Emma and I go to the New Cross Inn a lot and it always has a really friendly vibe. It's always possible you're about to meet your new best mate at a New Cross show. At Level Up this feeling was even higher, everyone there was just there to have the most wonderful watching a genre we're all so passionate about – dancing with old friends, new friends and most probably future friends. It was great to find out that people had travelled from far and wide to attend the festival. Obviously there was a Belgian contingent thanks to El Topo Bookings but there were also people from Hastings, Devon, Chester (our new pals Sarah and Patrick who I'm fairly convinced run on Duracell batteries), Inverness and I suspect many other places around the country. There was this really special feeling of community throughout the entire weekend that was a beautiful thing to be a part of.

So much love, respect and thanks goes to Paul, Mike, Jason and Fishlock for all their work putting on this incredible weekend. Without people like this putting so much work into helping this scene it probably wouldn't exist and we'd all have pretty boring weekends. Also a big amount of love has to go to all the staff working at the New Cross Inn all weekend. From the bar staff, the security, the people working on the door and the soundman, massive thanks for helping make the weekend so enjoyable.

The unsung hero of the whole festival was the super talented Ell Bobin. This man not only ran around all weekend getting the best shots of the band for the brilliant after movie he also took to the decks as his alter ego Jah Jah Binks Soundsystem for two of the after parties. Ell is incredibly hard working and amazing at what he does. Make sure you check out his website and like his Facebook page here.

Level Up Festival 2018 was the best, roll on Level Up 2019!

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

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