Thursday, 2 August 2018

Gig Review: Level Up Festival 2018 Day Two at the New Cross Inn 21/7/18

After a great first night of Level Up Festival 2018 it was now time to start the second day and first full day of ska punk shenanigans. The Friday night served as a great starter to wet our pallets for the weekend, it was now time for the main course. (Although, before reading on please check out day one of the festival here.) Emma had finished seeing her favourite band ever play her favourite album ever so she was back with me ready and excited to catch up on the fun she'd missed out on the night before. (Emma's sections are written in italics.)

After ditching the DIY punk scene on Friday night, I was well and truly ready to spend my Saturday and Sunday skanking away to some of the best ska punk bands around – the first of which was Codename Colin. Regulars at the New Cross Inn, Codename Colin are a band that we’d seen just a few months earlier supporting Popes Of Chillitown. They really impressed us with their fun and not-too-serious performance and I was eager to see them again – this time with the horn player that they were missing previously. Despite being the first band of the day, there was a fair crowd already gathered at the New Cross Inn and before too long the room was dancing to, err, a short rendition of The Final Countdown. Codename Colin are perhaps known for their pop covers but they have some great songs in their own right. We were actually treated to a couple of new tracks that will presumably be released at some point in the future. Obviously they had to throw in another cover though and the band chose the Britney Spears classic Hit Me Baby One More Time. 

Codename Colin started the day well and had my feet warmed up nicely for the next band, Koala Commission. As this year’s only band from Belgium on the bill, Koala Commission were a band that we were particularly looking forward to checking out – especially for me as I knew they had a little bit of a folky flair to their ska punk. It wasn’t until the 7-piece took to the stage that I realised I recognised their singer and guitarist as being in Chrandesyx who were one of my favourite acts from last year’s Level Up (also folky – it’s like I don’t even like ska, isn’t it?). The band also mentioned that they had Jungleproof’s saxophone player helpfully standing in for them for this show – all the Level Up alumni! Playing an assortment of ska and reggae songs, Koala Commission had the Level Up crowd in the palm of their hands as they hooked the audience in. For most people, like us, I’m sure this was their first time seeing the band and I have no doubts that they gained many a new fan thanks to their energetic performance – even if they did rub in the fact that England lost to Belgium twice in the World Cup. The highlight of the set had to be what they described as a ‘waltz’ at the end (looking on Bandcamp, I believe it is called Circo Macello) as it was unlike anything else we heard all weekend – seriously, it was so good!

It was now time to make our way down to Stocks Bar in the basement of the New Cross Inn for the first acoustic act of the day. I have to admit that last year's acoustic moments left a little to be desired. Not because of the bands, all of those were great, but because it was a little hard to hear them because a lot people seemed uninterested in the acts and just spoke over them. Happily this wasn't the case this year as everyone had a lot of love for all the acts playing downstairs.

A gentleman by the name of Tommy was first behind the microphone. I later found out that Tommy usually plays in the indie/reggae band Stop Press. Not knowing a single thing about Tommy I went into the set with an open mind and came out with a massive smile upon my face. Tommy played a set of acoustic reggae pop songs and had the crowd entertained wonderfully with a brilliant combination of great music and loveable charm. The undoubted highlight for me was the megamix of covers he performed. This megamix featured songs from The Specials, Blink-182, Smashmouth, Sublime, Bob Marley, Jessie J and probably some more that I can't remember. There were a lot and it was very enjoyable.

When Tommy finished we hurried back upstairs for Bristol's Atterkop. Undoubtedly the heaviest band playing Level Up Festival this weekend, the four piece set to tearing the place apart with their hardcore punk rock laced with ska. This was quite the contrast to Tommy and it took a little while to adjust. When I did though, cor did I really enjoy this set. I'm not a great lover of hardcore music usually but seeing it live always gets my blood pumping. With plenty of political songs, Atterkop looked to spread their message in a raw and passionate way. What I do love about hardcore music is the apparent no compromise aspect of it all. There's very much a feel of ‘F-U we're going to do it our way no matter what anyone else might think’. The fact that they turned up at a ska festival and seemingly went out of their way to play as few of their more ska tinged songs as possible did amuse me. I also enjoyed the stage banter of the band and in particular their guitarist whose grumpy ‘I don't want to be here’ attitude really made me laugh. Atterkop were supposed to play the first Level Up Festival last year but had to pull out so it was great to see them make it this year and play a superb set.

After the ferocity of Atterkop’s set it was quite refreshing (for the ears at least, not in terms of air temperature) to head back downstairs for an acoustic act. Efa Supertramp, a folk punk singer from Cardiff, was someone who I had heard of but not actually listened to or seen live before. It turned out I’ve definitely been missing out! With a powerful voice and seemingly care-free and vivacious attitude, Efa instantly had me charmed. Her songs oozed positivity and she performed with a smile on her face throughout despite some pretty serious subject matter to her songs – capitalism, asylum seekers, activism and being of a certain generation. It’s always great to hear songs with important messages that aren’t simply rammed down our throats aggressively and are instead delivered with energetic passion. Even the fact that she had to go to work after her set, and therefore would miss seeing Random Hand’s London return, didn’t wipe the smile from her face. I’m fairly certain Stocks Bar was smiling too.

Heading back upstairs (we really got our flights in at the New Cross Inn, as well as steps), it was time for one of my favourite bands on the line-up – the arguably not-really-very-ska Jake & The Jellyfish. This was a band that Colin and I have seen quite a few times in the past but not particularly recently. Since we last saw them they’ve had a bit of a line-up change and released a new album, Long In Winters. I was looking forward to hearing some of those newer songs live as well as having a good old singalong to the classics. It is safe to say that Jake and co did no disappoint. Jake admitted jokingly that the band ‘only had one ska song’ but that didn’t stop the Level Up crowd from dancing and singing away to this fine foursome. The newer songs went down a treat but it was songs such as Tour Talk and DIY, from their previous album Dead Weight, that received the best reaction. If you’d not seen Jake & The Jellyfish live before then the ending to their set ought to have been a bit of a surprise. Jake unplugged his electric guitar and exchanged it for an acoustic then stepped off the stage to join us on the floor. I’ve seen this happen at previous Jellyfish shows – and it’s always wonderful – but what I hadn’t seen was Jake playing Long In Winters, the closing track from the album of the same name, instead of classic track Hypocrites. (Fun fact: In my album review I suggested that the band might play this song acoustic at the end of their setlist now.) A perfect ending.

Not wanting to miss any of Jake & The Jellyfish’s set, we didn’t head downstairs particularly promptly for the start of the next ‘acoustic’ act. When we did step into the room we found that Boom Boom Racoon, a trio who describe themselves as ska kids that play offbeat folk music, were ready to go and they had plenty of people gathered keenly to watch them. Neither Colin or myself had seen or heard Boom Boom Racoon before but we soon discovered that the band comprised of an acoustic guitar, acoustic bass (played by Ivo of Will Tun & The Wasters and Pok√©mon Liberation Army fame) and trumpet. The trio played some pretty darn fun ska tunes and I personally really enjoyed the song about Lotus biscuits. We didn’t stay for the whole of the set as it was now extremely hot downstairs at the New Cross Inn and wanted to get some air before The Pisdicables – not that it was much cooler outside!

We made our way back inside for what was going to be The Pisdicables’ last set for some time. It was at this point of the day that the festival declared itself sold out for the day. A lot of people turned out for The Pisdicables and for good reason! What a great band they are. The seven piece have been regular performers over the years so it seemed only right that this be the setting of their final (for now) gig amongst so many of their friends. Quite criminally I'm not hugely familiar with The Pisdicables, I should be because whenever I've seen them in the past or they've played on my Spotify I've always really enjoyed them but for some reason I've never sat down and fully absorbed any of their releases like I should have done. That however did in no way prevent me really enjoying their set, having a massive dance and singing along as best I can. The Pisdicables play this great brand of ska and punk that's absolutely perfect for a good old knees up. It's barroom sing-alongs from start to finish and it's all just wonderfully good vibes. It's the kind of music that really works best when you're surrounded by friends and loved ones. It brings people together to have a great time. This was proved during the band's last song of the night, I Know I Know, which included a massive stage invasion for a huge sing-along to complete the set. What a moment it was.

After The Pisdicables set Emma and I were both beginning to flag a little bit so decided to go and grab something for dinner. This unfortunately meant we missed the final act of the day down in the basement, Paul The Kid. Word on the street was he was great though. When we got back to the New Cross after some food it seemed as if a few people had used the time to go and get something to eat because Counting Coins were beginning their set and the room was only half full. Happily the floor quickly filled up with more and more people wanting to have a dance and a skank to the Hull based five piece. The band offered something a little different to the other bands on the day's bill with their fantastic fusion of ska, punk, hip hop and gypsy music. It was an incredible, high energy set from start to finish. Even a song that claimed to be a slower song had people going nuts. I only managed about half of their set before get so worn out I needed to go hang out at the back of the room to recover. Being too exhausted to continue dancing didn't hamper my enjoyment of Counting Coins set though as they are a superb live band and are very good at engaging a crowd. The brilliance of the set was even more impressive given that they had a brand new guitarist with them who had only had three practices with the band. Imagine how good Counting Coins will be when he gets settled in!

The penultimate set of the day was probably the most anticipated of the entire weekend. Call Me Malcolm released what is destined to be named album of the year by so many people back in April and is touted by many as the best ska punk album of the past decade. For many people it's also the first chance they've had to see the band since I Was Broken When You Got Here was released, Emma and I included, and we really couldn't wait. Rather than waiting around outside in the slightly cooler temperature, Emma and I made sure we were down the front early for this set we knew would be really special. This quite plainly wasn't just our feeling as before Call Me Malcolm were due to start the New Cross Inn was completely rammed and ready for the band to light the fuse so we could all explode. Now if you're reading this review hoping for a detailed list of every song they played then I'm sorry because what happened for the next forty or so minutes is a bit of a blur and I was on such a massive high after the set I completely forgot to write any notes down and just spent all the time before Random Hand just telling anyone who'd listen "OH MY GOD! THAT WAS INCREDIBLE!" And do you know what, every single person was in complete agreement. The whole room appeared to be a complete skank pit from start to finish with us all singing every word back at the band. Lead singer and guitarist Lucias’s face through the whole set seemed to switch between complete and utter joy and disbelief at what's happening in front of him. At one point Call Me Malcolm separated the crowd so they could then not do a wall of death but a wall of hugs because the world needs more love. During the set the band were also filming for a new video for the track Restore Factory Settings, one of the most popular tracks from the new album. Because they were filming they asked the crowd to show even more enthusiasm than they were already were (not sure that was really possible) and to sing their hearts out. We all did! This also lead to one of the best images of the weekend as New Cross regular Craig "C-Rage" Darran spent the whole song crowd surfing with the biggest smile on his face. Then it was time for what was probably the moment of the entire weekend as the band played the final song, All My Nameless Friends. This song is about talking to your friends when you have problems and not bottling them up. It's also a bit of a love letter to the New Cross Inn scene and mentions the pub, Be Sharp Promotions and many of the bands who regularly play shows there (including a fair few on the Level Up line-up). This was the song that really blew the roof off the place with an incredible goosebumps inducing sing-along at the end of the song. It was one of those perfect live music moments that would be impossible to replicate. One of those moments that will be spoken of for years and years. Seriously I will be speaking of this moment with nothing but glee in my heart and a smile on my face for the longest amount of time.

Call Me Malcolm's set was so special that you could be forgiven for thinking that they were the headliner of the day. But we still had the returning skacore legends Random Hand performing their first London show in almost three years to go. Having seen the Yorkshire based foursome at Manchester Punk Festival back in the April, during their first run of comeback shows, my appetite had already been well and truly wetted. Back at MPF I noted how it felt like they'd never been away given just how well they played their set and how the newer songs from their last album, Hit Reset, fit perfectly into their set despite never being played to crowds before. After Call Me Malcolm's set Emma and I were quite content to hang out at the back of the room for Random Hand's set, preferring to watch and take in one of our all time favourite bands rather than get down in the craziness of the pit. I'm not even sure that crazy is the right word to describe this pit. In the spectrum of words such as crazy, mental, insane, bananas, nuts etc., please make your own choice of what you think is the highest. There are videos knocking around on the Internet of the ceiling of the Stocks Bar, below the New Cross Inn's dancing area, shaking quite violently. If Call Me Malcolm blew the roof of the place it seemed as Random Hand were on a mission to make the New Cross Inn cave in on itself. It was quite a spectacle to behold. This was my eleventh time seeing Random Hand and every time I've been taken aback by just how tight they are despite the energy they put into their set. Lead singer and trombone player Robin in particular blows my mind on every occasion – how does he play that trombone as well as singing as fast as he does (not at the same time, though that would be ever more impressive)? The man must have the biggest lung capacity in the world. Random Hand have obviously been missed during their hiatus and it's pretty clear that the band have also missed playing shows together for theit adoring fans and friends. Every single song is sung along to with a great amount of passion and love. Songs such as Play Some Ska and Scum Triumphant are over a decade old and still get an amazing reaction. There's always been such a strong message behind Random Hand's songs, this adds such power to their music. It's not only great music but it gives the listener something to hold on to and believe in. I think this is why they've had such longevity in their career and why there has been such excitement for their return not just in the UK but all over Europe. Finishing their set with the firm fan favourite Anger Management, Random Hand proved once again why they are one of the UK's greatest ever punk rock bands. They won't be playing as many shows as they used to these days but every one is such a special occasion that it can't be missed.

Day two of Level Up Festival 2018 was complete and it was absolutely amazing. We all finished the day covered head to toe in sweat with huge grins on our faces. And the best part was we still had one more day to go… and Lightyear were playing!

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

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