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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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 www.elliotbobin.co.uk 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.