Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Gig Review: Tripsun "Chemstrains Release Show" at Sebright Arms, London 24/9/22

Saturday the 24th of September marked the beginning of a brand new era for London DIY punks Tripsun. Last month the band released their first new music in three years in the form of the single Chemstrains and announced that they would now be going under the name Tripsun and not Triple Sundae. To celebrate the release, the band organised a stunning five band bill at the Sebright Arms in East London.

This was our first time at the Sebright Arms. I always get a bit anxious about going to a new place but it was nice to walk into the pub and immediately see friends. The actual venue part of the Sebright Arms in down in its basement. What I really liked about the venue was that there was a lower floor down the front for the pit but at the back of the room and around the sides there were raised areas which made it easier for people to see if they didn’t fancy getting bumped into down the front. More venues should have this feature.

The band asked to open the show was London’s Languish. I knew nothing about the band before they began their set. I soon found out that they were a genre mixing four-piece that blend hardcore, dreamy emo and indie punk in a way that I don’t hear too often. I have to admit I wasn’t too sure about them when they started the set, the first song seemed very effect peddle heavy and I’m not usually a big fan of that, but as the set progressed I got into it more and more. Languish are a band I expect to see on more and more London gig line-ups in the near future.

Next were pop punks Buds. I first got to see Buds back in March at Fishstock, in Bristol, and absolutely loved them. I believe that this was the first time Tripsun saw them as well and I know they were very impressed so it was cool to see Tripsun ask Buds to join this line-up. If you’re new to Buds then they play energetic pop punk music with plenty of sad themes. They are without a doubt one of the best new live bands I’ve seen this year, incredibly tight and really captivating on the stage. The whole set was a real treat from start to finish with Grit, Building Blocks and Bigger Fish being particular highlights for me. Something I really like about seeing Buds play is that they don’t just get on the stage and play the songs, they put everything they have into the performance and put on a real show. The band seem to be constantly playing shows everywhere at the moment, make sure to catch them when they come through your town. Buds are back in London on October the 18th at the New Cross Inn.

Skiv were on next. Tripsun and Skiv have been good friends for the longest time so it felt very appropriate that they were playing the show. This was my first time seeing them since they had their album release show earlier in the year and I was looking forward to seeing the boys again. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the addition of Leo Harvey on bass guitar was a masterstroke by the band. I’m not sure that there’s a better bass player in the DIY scene at the moment and he seriously stole the show with his rocking out during the set. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Skiv stuck with songs from their debut album No Context Bangers during the set and it was great to hear the newer songs live again. Skivilicious has been a staple of the band’s set for a few years now and the band were joined by Tripsun’s Hassan for the song, which was a nice touch. As well as being an incredibly talented guitarist and punk singer, Hassan is also a very good rapper and you should all check out his hip hop project, Lounar. Skiv’s set seemed to fly by and was a lot of fun. 2022 does seem to be the year that the band have taken things to the next level and it’s great to see.

The main support slot went to Grey Market. Grey Market are a four-piece post-punk/hardcore/screamo act fronted by NXI regular Theo. I hadn’t listened to the band prior to seeing the set as I really wanted to go in blind on my first time seeing them. Theo always struck me as a born front person and lives for that interaction between a crowd and a band. I was expecting something big from the band but they blew away all expectations almost immediately. Whether performing spoken word, reading from a book or screaming with a ferocious intensity, you couldn’t keep your eyes off of the stage. I’m not going to lie and say that Grey Market are going to be on regular rotation on my stereo, it’s a lot heavier than anything I usually listen to, but my word they are a very good band. If you’re into the heavier side of punk rock music then I definitely recommend checking Grey Matter out as they’re a great band. Side note: As mentioned Theo read from a few books during the set, I’m interested to know whether he reads the same part each gig or if he’s working his way through the book(s) with each gig that they play?

Now it was time for the reason we were all there that evening, Tripsun. I’ve seen Hassan, Mike, Zandro and Andy a lot over the years but have somehow never managed to see them play a headline set. Setting up in front of a sold out crowd full of friends they had made over the years, starting with Everything’s Cool was a master stroke – with the big sing-along at the start of the song really encouraging the crowd to get involved. Not that we needed much encouraging as there were big sing-alongs, fists-in-the-air and plenty of dancing throughout the set. Tripsun are one of those special bands that can connect with a crowd so organically, this really shows just what a good band they are. The band played new single Chemstrains early and it was amazing to see so many people singing the words right back at the band. Hassan and Zandro’s vocals on the song are next level and I love it. As well as playing favourites from Peace Of Mind and Glow, the band also played a brand new song from their upcoming (eventually) debut full length and some really old school songs as well. Something I always enjoy when I see Tripsun play live is how many people Hassan shouts out during the set, you can tell that they always really appreciate the support they’ve been given over the years. Towards the end of the set the band went rogue and played Chemstrains again! What maniacs! This encouraged an even bigger sing-along for the song. Have you checked it out? It really is a banger – you’ll love it. The set was then finished with Indecisive before an encore of Unseen where Theo, as always, joined them on stage to sing. Tripsun absolutely smashed this set, it was definitely up there with one of my favourite times I’ve seen them play – and they’ve set a very high standard over the years!

I’ll finish the review in the exact same way that Zandro finished the set – “Triple Sundae is dead, Tripsun forever!”

This review was written by Colin Clark. Photos by Emma Prew.

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

Gig Review: Punk Rock Holiday 2022

Back in August of 2019, a whole bunch of our pals travelled to Slovenia for a festival named Punk Rock Holiday. Emma and I were super jealous about this. Not just because of the stacked line-up but because of the beauty of the place. If you’re unaware, Punk Rock Holiday is a five day outdoor festival that takes place in the woods beside the river Soča in Tolmin. The clear river alongside the beautiful mountain views looked incredible. Then news came through that the Slovenian government had plans to build a road through the festival site, potentially putting the festival at risk. This settled it for Emma and I, we had to experience this festival at least once!

Fast forward slightly to January 2020 and Emma and I had purchased our tickets from our friends in Eat Defeat. Punk Rock Holiday do this thing that I don’t really agree with where they get the bands who are playing the smaller Beach Stage to sell tickets. I’m not really sure what the point of this is but I believe the more they sell the more money the bands make which does seem off to me. Either way, we had tickets – as did lots of our friends – and we were excited to experience Punk Rock Holiday.

Unfortunately there was a deadly virus on the way and we all know what happened during the rest of 2020 and the majority of 2021. Punk Rock Holiday 2020, alongside everything else in the world, was cancelled.

Jump forward to 2022 and the world finally seems to be getting back to what we knew before. Punk Rock Holiday could happen and the time came for us to get organised for an event we brought tickets for over two and a half years earlier. When I say get organised, I sensibly left all organisation to Emma and our good pal Paul who, if promoting gigs and booking tours ever falls through for him, could get a job as a travel agent. Man knows what he’s doing. Transport and accommodation was booked and the time finally came around for Punk Rock Holiday.

We had a flight booked from Gatwick to Venice before we got on a coach to travel the rest of the way to Tolmin for the festival. Emma and I left Bedford at 6am in the morning in order to get to Gatwick in time for our lunchtime flight. At Gatwick, we met the majority of our group whom we were travelling with. Our flight had a hour delay which actually worked out quite well for us as it meant less time waiting outside in the sun in Venice for our coach. Flying into Venice we were treated to some beautiful views of the city. The coach ride as well, which was full of good spirited (but slightly sleepy) punk rockers, was full of breathtaking views as we traversed the Slovenian hills and got our first looks at the river. When we eventually arrived at our destination it was only a short walk to our accommodation. Emma, Paul and I dropped off our bags, freshened up and headed straight out to the festival site.

Paul also doubled up as somewhat of a tour guide for us, having been to PRH before, as he directed us to collect our festival wristbands and explained how the money card worked. Basically PRH gives you a card that you have to top-up whenever you want to buy food or drink. I guess the idea of it is to keep queues moving quickly at the various vendors on the site. With wristbands and money cards sorted we made our way through the campsite to get meet up with friends and grab some dinner. Walking through the various different camp sites was the first time it really hit me just how many people were at this festival. It was like a small town had been erected in the woods full of punk rockers from all over the world. We traversed through the site and soon found our friends Mark, Claire and Mikayla sitting on a bench in the main court area known as Slovenian Village. They had arrived earlier in the day and had already made friends with someone who can only be described as an inspiration to all of us, Johnny. In turned out that Johnny knew Paul already and friendships were formed. Being quite hungry, Emma and I hit up the vegan stall named Veni Vegi Vici. One tofu burger purchased, I sat back down and proceeded to get told a story about two girls they had met earlier. One of the two girls had only decided to go to the festival because her friend wanted to and had no interested in punk rock herself. We worried that she was going to have an awful week at Punk Rock Holiday. As the evening progressed more friends appeared, laughs were had and it really felt like we were on a proper family holiday. It was lovely. We didn’t stay out too late as we were tired from travelling and had an adventure to go on tomorrow before the business of punk rock began.

Now before we continue, I must warn the dear reader that this review is going to be a little different to our other gig and festival reviews. Punk Rock Holiday was five days of punk rock and I saw fifty three different acts. There’s no way on earth I can sit here and review them all in as much detail as I normally would. Also, Punk Rock Holiday is about far more than just the bands. The setting is beautiful, you meet all manner of punk rockers from around the world, the atmosphere (the vibe if you’re a younger person) is completely different to any other festival. I’m going to talk about that as well as my musical highlights from the week.

I’m going to start off with the setting as, for me, it was the real highlight of the entire week. The Monday of Punk Rock Holiday is classed as the warm-up day. This meant there were only a few bands playing on the main stage in the evening and we had the day to do whatever we chose to. A group of us decided to walk along to Tolmin Gorge. This was one of the prettiest places I’ve ever seen. Everything was just full of beauty. You could walk along to the stream and have a dip or climb up higher (there were steps and walkways, no actual climbing was involved) and get some incredible views. It was an amazing way to start the week. This was the part of the week that made the festival really feel like a holiday. It was also really nice to do this in our little group. Most of the people in the group I only really spend time with watching bands and it was nice to spend some time with them in a different setting. It was a nice bonding experience and it’s certainly something that I recommend anyone going to the festival in future experiences too. I also learnt that Charlie from Codename Colin, one of our travel companions, is essentially a dog and will jump into water at any time given the chance.

After our walk to the gorge, we popped back to our apartment to freshen up. From there, Emma and I made our way to the festival site and found the camping beach. As we walked through the site we bumped into friends from all over who were camping and had some quick catch ups. The thing I love about festivals is the opportunity to catch up with friends I don’t get to see that often. It was like a reunion party at a festival many miles from home. We soon found our way to the beach, dodging and admiring many, many inflatables along the way. Apparently a big thing people enjoy doing at Punk Rock Holiday is to float along the river on inflatables. I feel like I saw more in that week than I have in a lifetime of going to beaches in the UK. They came in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. There were massive ones that could fit more people than most cars, that took a whole team of people to carry down to the beach. It seemed like a lot of effort but I’m sure they all had lots of fun. Not being one for water, this camping beach didn’t do much for me but it was nice to see folk enjoying themselves and it was nice to have a quiet chat with folk before the bands started.

After the beach, we explored the festival site some more. The map on the official PRH app wasn’t especially clear and is perhaps something that could be worked on for next year. We took the opportunity to walk around the site to get our bearings and work out where the best places to get food, drink, free water and toilets was, as well as finding where the main, beach and acoustic stages and the merchandise booth were situated. The way the main site was set out was actually pretty simple as you could really only go two ways across the site, back and forth. Something I found really good about this was that it made it easier to bump into folk as you traversed the site. And when I say bump into folk I mean run into folk you know. When I say run into folk I mean find and meet up and chat with folk. I hope I made that clear.

It was really cool to wander around the site. Every now and then some ridiculously beautiful view would catch your eye and you’d remember that you were spending the week in punk rock paradise. The amount of times I’d be walking somewhere and just stop because a view caught my eye was just silly. Even when bands were playing I’d look around and it would occur to me once again where I was. It really was a phenomenal place to have a festival. One day I’d also like to go back when there isn’t a festival on and experience the woods without another 5000 people being there.

I have to admit that the first time I saw the main stage of Punk Rock Holiday I was a little disappointed. I expected everything to feel bigger than it was. This was probably based on the fact that I had only seen the stage on YouTube videos before, with packed out crowds crammed down the front, trying to get as close as possible to their favourite bands. For my first actual experience looking at the stage it was a little  underwhelming. There were only about 100 people hanging around, not actually hanging, and it didn’t live up to the image I had in my head. However when the headline bands took to the stage, the area filled up, the sun went down and the lights came on, the stage lived up to all the expectations that I had built up in my head. The really cool thing about the main stage is the platform just in front of the stage that allows people to climb up and stage dive without disturbing the band. Most of the time this creates an amazing image but every now and then you’d get someone who overstayed their welcome on the platform or would insist on getting onto the stage with the band. Most folk were good natured but at times it got a bit silly. For example, the guy who kept getting on stage and putting stickers on members of No Trigger. The joke wore thin quickly. The thing that probably impressed me the most from the main stage was the sound. So many times I’ve been to an outdoor festival and been seriously disappointed by the sound. This was not the case at Punk Rock Holiday, the sound was crystal clear for every band. In some cases, it was clearer than in some venues I’ve seen bands. I don’t know how they managed it but massive kudos to the sound engineers that made everything sound so good at the stage.

Something really unique to Punk Rock Holiday is its Beach Stage. There’s a little trail that’s lit up by loads of fairy lights that leads down to the beach where there’s another smaller stage. This is really cool as you can hang out by the beach, have a swim in the river and, if a band comes on that you like the sound of, you can just walk over to the stage and check them out. Unsurprisingly, this stage was my favourite of the two. Like most people I know in DIY punk, I prefer watching bands in a smaller setting. I also prefer watching newer bands do their thing rather than watching bands who’ve been going for twenty plus years play the same songs again and again. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy watching the bands on the bigger stage but I get much more excited when I can go see a band for the first time and be blown away by them. This being an international festival, I also got see newer bands from all over the world that I don’t get to see at home and I loved this. These are the bands that I travel overseas to see. I can see most of the bands on the main stage in the UK. The beach stage had that small stage atmosphere and I loved that. A couple of negatives on the Beach Stage were the lack of food (especially vegan) options at the beach. I wonder if the lack of food options was to try and keep the rubbish to a minimum, though I have to say I didn’t witness there being much rubbish around the festival, especially not compared to a festival like Slam Dunk which I guess is the UK equivalent to Punk Rock Holiday. Also, because of how hot and dry it had been (until the final day of the festival) the pit became quite dusty. Whenever a circle pit started the amount of dust that got kicked up wasn’t pleasant, I’m quite convinced that I’ve lost a couple of days use of my lungs due to this dust. Obviously, this isn’t really the festival’s fault but it’s something I feel like people should know about if they’ve not been before.

I guess the logical thing now is to move on to the atmosphere and the people of Punk Rock Holiday. We were fortunate enough to be in a group of friends of about twenty or so people at the festival. I think this really added to my whole experience. Being with a group of friends, everyone having the time of their lives, just meant there was a really positive feeling amongst us all. It was mostly (I will get on to why it was ‘mostly’ in a bit) all smiles all around. It seemed like this feeling was a common theme throughout for everyone at the festival. For the most part (there’s always some people who are dicks) everyone was absolutely lovely. The punks were really friendly, helpful, happy for a dance and a sing, or joining in with a tiny circle pit, helping with the constant stream of crowd surfers. There are a lot of crowd surfers at PRH, even if you’re stood towards the back of the crowd it’s something to be aware of. Sometimes it can be a bit annoying when it’s as constant as it is, but it’s nice to help people enjoy themselves. Not the people who try and crowd surf from the back of the crowd to the front though – those people are dickheads. It was really cool to see the amount of people helping the kids crowd surf. Each and every time a kid got carried across the crowd they looked so happy. I like to think of when they went back to school after their holiday and explained to their teacher what they did with their holiday. The kids are obviously the future so it’s great to see parents exposing their children to this scene early, so it won’t die out. I got to meet a couple of PRH legends (who aren’t on the cup). I loved seeing how they embraced the PRH spirit, had such love and positivity and how they were just so happy doing their own thing. Love to Ian the squirt-gun wielding, cartwheeling, Sponge Bob fan and Anti the incredible spinning man.

Like I said, there were some bad eggs in the crowd. Sadly there were pickpockets in the crowd. We met a lovely guy named Joel from the Australian ska punk band Operation Ibis who was telling us how one of his travelling companions had had their phone stolen. Also a member of our group had their phone stolen as well, even though it was tied around their wrist. It sucks that this was going on and, because of this, there had to be a police presence at the festival. I hope that those scumbags get caught and banned from the festival in future.

Now on to the bands, the thing you probably came to read and the thing I purposely left until the end for viewer retention. Unless you scrolled to this point, in which case, fair play.

I managed to see fifty three different acts at Punk Rock Holiday across the Main and Beach stages as well as the American Socks acoustic stage. I have to say that I enjoyed a good 97% of what I saw. From watching the established acts, personal favourites and bands I’ve never seen before, there was a good mixture of stuff.

The first group of bands we saw were on the Main Stage for the warm-up show. The whole thing was opened up by Dutch pop punks The Cool Trick, followed by Bike Age and Chump. The Cool Trick and Chump have both written songs about Punk Rock Holiday and it was cool to see them get to play on such a big stage. From there we went more hardcore with Spider and Lim Smrad In Žila, both bands added some positive aggression to the crowd and there were plenty of people having a crowd surf early on. It was then time for the heavyweights of the night. First up were The Real McKenzies. We missed the beginning of their set getting some pizza. Sadly, this was the most disappointing part of my whole week. Don’t get me wrong the pizza was very nice, but the service was absolutely atrocious and it annoyed me. It wasn’t a one off either, my friend tried to get pizza from the same place later in the week and she got the same terrible service. When we eventually got our pizza, we went to watch The Real McKenzies. They played a fun set with plenty of dancing but some of the attempts at humour fell quite flat in our group. One friend did not appreciate being called an “English cunt” and was threatening to knock out anyone she saw in a kilt the rest of the week. Ignite were up next. We watched a bit of their set and were really impressed with how their new singer controlled the crowd and the energy shown throughout. We decided to take a moment during their set to take a sit down so we had more energy for the Descendents but we made it back to Ignite to see the first stage invasion of the week. Then it was time for one of my favourite bands of all time, the mighty Descendents. I bloody love the Descendents and it’s always wonderful to see them. They smash it every time and it was quite something to witness them with the Punk Rock Holiday crowd. It was special and I was happy to be there for it. I also took great amusement in seeing my pal Paul really enjoying the Descendents despite him famously claiming not to be a fan for as long as I’ve known him.

The Tuesday was the start of Punk Rock Holiday proper and the opening of the Beach Stage. Originally the Sewer Rats were supposed to open the stage but unfortunately they pulled out last minute. Highlights of the stage on the Tuesday included Pay To Breathe, Skin Of Tears, Dowzer, Deadends and Spaced. Pay To Breathe were a Norwegian pop punk act with lots of energy and felt like a great way to start the day. I’d previously seen Skin Of Tears at Manchester Punk Festival a few years back and I was pleased to see them again. I also really enjoyed that lots of my friends came up from the beach to see them because they liked their sound. Dowzer were another pop punk band who I’d seen play at the New Cross Inn a few years ago. The crowd were very much into them and they got some great crowd surfers. Deadends were late additions to the festival, replacing Primetime Failure. I didn’t know much about them before the set but became a big fan of their melodic punk rock style. New York Hardcore act Spaced were perhaps my biggest surprise of the day. They had this powerful energy about them that made them impossible to ignore – I look forward to seeing more from them. Petrol Girls were headlining the Beach Stage but we decided to take the opportunity to see a Jason DeVore acoustic set instead. I have since heard that Petrol Girls delivered an impressive set, but I was glad I took the opportunity to see Jason as he has one of my favourite voices in punk rock and this was my first chance to hear him play acoustic. It was a beautiful moment.

Boston’s No Trigger opened the main stage. Previously having only seen them one time before in the tiny Borderline club in central London, this felt like a whole different world seeing them on a massive stage in a Slovenia nature reserve. A big crowd gathered early to see them slay their set – I look forward to seeing them again at Fest at the end of October! Get Dead were a band that I’ve heard a lot of people talk about but hadn’t really listened to before. I definitely should have checked them out sooner – what a good band they are. I definitely understand why there’s so much hype surrounding them. Authority Zero were probably my highlight of the day. I think they’re the most underrated band in punk rock. They always release great albums full of bangers and live they are one of the best bands in the world, they always deliver a stunning set. It was no different at PRH. There was a constant stream of stage dives and crowd surfers. During the set, Jason got into the crowd and a huge circle pit opened up around him – it looked awesome. Canadian hardcore heroes Comeback Kid were also a big highlight. Most of our group aren’t huge fans of hardcore but we were all amazed by what we were witnessing on the stage. Of course, it was carnage down the front of the stage and it felt like we were witnessing a bit of PRH history during the set.

The first two bands of the day on Wednesday were the two bands I was most looking forward to all weekend, Eat Defeat and Captain Asshole. I’d previously seen Eat Defeat play in London at the New Cross Inn on the Friday before we left for Slovenia, that was my first time seeing them since they became a five-piece and they were brilliant. The same can be said about their set on the Beach Stage. Despite having a really stressful morning, they played a storming set to a great sized crowd for the opening band of the day. It’s always so cool to see a band you’ve seen play countless times play really cool shows. Well done to Eat Defeat. Next was Captain Asshole who I’d recently seen play in Hamburg at Booze Cruise Festival. Our group at Punk Rock Holiday had put together a big Whatsapp group chat before the festival and I had spent a considerable amount of time really talking Captain Asshole up. I was very pleased that the majority seemed to listen to me and stuck around to check them out, though I do also suspect that a few did it just to see me get overexcited about them. I loved their set and had a great time singing along. Unlike at Booze Cruise, they had sound coming from their lead guitar which was a nice bonus. It was also really cool when they dedicated Where The Fuck Is Kyoto? to me. Other highlights on the Beach Stage were Odpisani (who were the 900th band I’ve ever seen), NOFNOG – who played an absolutely ferocious set and I’m desperate to see again – and Direct Hit! We’d also seen Direct Hit play at New Cross on the Friday before PRH and we were pleased to see them play again. I think this set was even better than the one they played in South London. Loads of energy, the crowd was really enthusiastic and it was just a big party all around.

After getting some dinner we took our place at the main stage for what was a stacked line-up. First for us was The Flatliners who I was seeing for the third time this year. The main stage crowd grew quickly for them as they played banger after banger. The Flatliners are one of those bands that I forget just how many brilliant songs they have across their back catalogue and it was once again a pleasure to see them. Next were New Jersey punk legends The Bouncing Souls. This was an incredible set with massive sing-along after massive sing-along, as you would expect from The Bouncing Souls. Singing these songs with a group of your friends is the very best way to experience them. Our friends Paul and Toby joining me in singing Prew Believers at Emma will be a moment that will live long in the memory. When the band played True Believers some folk from the crowd lit some flares – I did question if this was smart given the amount of fires that have started in Slovenia during the summer but luckily there was no harm done. The final two bands of the day were Lagwagon and Flogging Molly. We spent the majority of Lagwagon by the VIP bar with friends, catching up and having a little dance – where there was more space to do so. This was the first time that I witnessed the man who I think is the spirit of Punk Rock Holiday – Anti (aka Spinny Man). He just spent the entirety of Lagwagon’s set spinning in circles and having a lovely time. I had a go and I also had a lovely time. We then caught a bit of Flogging Molly before deciding to head home and rest up for the following two days.

Thursday had been affectionately nicknamed ‘ska day’ by our group, since it was the day when most of the ska punk bands were taking to the stage. The beach stage opened strong with French ska punks P.O. Box. It had been years since I’d seen these guys and I was quickly reminded just how good they are live. Their set was high energy from start to finish and I loved every second of it. I was a bit confused by the guy who brought a guitar on stage with them to smash during their final song though. What was that about? Next up were Steele Justice from Belgium. Playing a more melodic punk style, Steele Justice were a great find. I got quite excited for their cover of Off With Their Heads Nightlife, I learnt that some Belgian’s call a wall of death ‘doing a braveheart’ and it was nice to see Hanne from For I Am get on stage to sing with the band. Brazilian ska punk heroes Abraskadabra perhaps played the best set of the entire Beach Stage. A massive crowd came out for them, including quite a lot of folk from Brazil which, as we know, is very far away. There was so much skanking and excitement for the set that a massive dust cloud came up from the ground which, at times, made it quite hard to see what was happening on the stage. The set finished with a massive stage invasion and it had me thinking good luck to anyone wanting to top that set today – it was amazing. Belgium pop punks The Rocket did a very good job of playing after Abraskadabra. These guys were a lot of fun and kept the crowd in good spirits throughout their set. I can’t help but think they must’ve been very warm in their sweater vests though. Australian skate punks The Decline took to the stage next and it was another fun time. I hadn’t seen the band since Fest 15 in 2016 and it felt so nice to see them again. Super positive, fun skate punk – The Decline are fantastic. I hope it’s not another six years before I see them again. Finally it was time for MakeWar. I felt like the crowd were a little slow in getting going for MakeWar but when they did it was something special with some big, emotional sing-alongs. During the set, the band had to stop playing as someone in the crowd had sadly gotten hurt. Respect to the band for looking out for the crowd and being patient, and for the people who looked after the injured person as well. MakeWar were a great way to finish things on the Beach Stage on the Thursday.

After getting yet another seitan kebab, we met up with pals to watch Chuck Robertston of the Mad Caddies play an acoustic set. This was lovely but I did get distracted by Toby pointing out how much the American Socks logo looked like a penis. Cheers Toby, can’t unsee that now. It was fun to see Chuck play some Caddies songs stripped back but the undoubted highlight was when he attempted to play a cover of Sink Florida Sink by Against Me!.

When Chuck finished we headed to the main stage were Swedish political punks Misconduct had already begun their set. Paul had been telling us about his love for this band for years and I was keen to check them out. The lazy description would be a European Anti-Flag. Lots of “heys’ and “whoa-ohs’ throughout the set. They also covered Bro Hymn by Pennywise which is a superb way of getting a Punk Rock Holiday crowd on your side. California’s Zebrahead were next to take to the stage. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Zebrahead and this was the first time with their new singer Adrian Estrella. Zebrahead aren’t a band I listen to much anymore but they are the perfect festival band. They are kings at getting parties started. The crowd was a non-stop stream of crowd surfers throughout the set. At one point they even had one of their stage techs surf on a gigantic inflatable to the very back of the crowd which was an impressive site. Next were the Mad Caddies, except it wasn’t quite the Mad Caddies we all know and love. For reasons I don’t know and don’t wish to speculate on, for this tour the band was Chuck and a group of stand-ins. It was a shame but it was still a great Mad Caddies performance. I’d go as far to say that if you didn’t know that this was a group of stand-ins then you would have just assumed it was the Mad Caddies. I enjoyed the set but was a little disappointed by the lack of faster Mad Caddies songs in the setlist. Finally on ska day it was time for the hottest band in ska at the moment, The Interrupters. It was absolutely packed in the crowd now so we decided to hang out at the back by the bars for a dance rather than being squashed in the pit. Honestly, I’d really recommend doing this, especially if you’ve seen the band before as it’s easier to enjoy the band, have a sing and a dance and not be crushed by other folk. Of course The Interrupters smashed their set, it’s what they do.

The final day of Punk Rock Holiday started very differently to every other day of the festival. There was a massive storm which turned the formerly super dusty floor of the Beach Stage to a sludgy pit. The rain got so bad that I began to wonder if they would just cancel the Beach Stage but I’m pleased they didn’t. Finnish hardcore punks Distral opened the stage for the hardy few that braved the conditions. While most of the folk who had made their way down to the stage took cover by the bar, there were a few who stood out in the mud to have their faces melted. Honestly, I think this might have been the best way to watch Distral as the atmosphere suited their moody, aggressive songs and I loved it. Next were Stagedive Suicide who had been on a massive marketing campaign for the entire festival letting people know they were there. Wherever you looked you saw one of their stickers. These guys are celebrities at this festival and at many others all over Europe. Whilst they played a style of punk that I’m not the biggest fan of, I did enjoy watching their set and seeing their singer especially clearly having the greatest thirty minutes of their life on the stage. Despite the awful weather, it was a very heart warming moment. As the rain began to ease off Stuttgart’s Hell & Back took to the stage. Unfortunately for them, the ground in front of the stage had become a swamp so there was a big gap between the band and the crowd. That just seemed to make Hell & Back work even harder to get the crowd on their side and I think everyone appreciated that. I’ve been wanting to see the band for years now, I’ve only ever seen them play a covers set before and I was pleased to finally get to see them play – I’m looking forward to the next time. Fluffy Machine were perhaps the highlight of the day on the Beach Stage. Coming on to the to the Pingu theme and then quickly jumping to some hyper EDM before launching into their set of high energy rock ’n’ roll bangers, this was a super fun set with the sun finally beginning to come out. I think the best way of describing Fluffy Machine is by saying it’s like if The Bennies played rock music. The beach stage was completed technical skate punks Thousand Oaks and Downway. Both played good sets but weren’t really my thing.

The final night of the main stage was opened by Chaser. This set gave me a big lift. It was energetic, fun and full of positivity that I really needed. We were cold after being in the rain all afternoon. This lead to Emma and I going to buy matching hoodies from the merch area. This was perhaps the downside of staying in a flat rather than camping on site, it wasn’t so easy to just go and change when we wanted to. PRH sell some top quality hoodies though, so that’s good. Belvedere were just starting when we returned to the stage. I’d seen them earlier in the year at New Cross and looked forward to seeing them again now that I’m a bit more familiar with them. I had a nice time seeing them but it was even better watching my friend Mark really get into them – he loves them. Anti-Flag were the big attraction for us on the Friday main stage. The band played a massive set, full of banger after banger as you would expect from Anti-Flag. The set went far quicker than I would have liked and I had a great time singing along to so many favourite songs. Despite being full of the band’s strong political messages, this really felt like the Anti-Flag party set and, boy, did the folk of PRH party. Once again there was a constant stream of crowd surfers. I was aware that there was a small boy on his father’s shoulders stood behind me so asked the folk around me to make sure we direct the surfers in a different direction so he didn’t have to get down or risk getting hurt. This was such a nice, friendly community that it was no bother for anyone. We love to see it. The Circle Jerks played next and that just wasn’t for me. Then it was time for the final act of the week. Originally, Bad Religion had been booked to headline but unfortunately they had to pull out late because of a family emergency. This left a lot of speculation as to how the festival would replace them. I think the festival did a great job with this. Rather than getting another “big headliner” they started the after party early with Pigs Parliament coming on stage to play their karaoke set with a whole host of singers from bands who played and some who were just attending the festival. I’m writing this review a month after the festival and can’t remember exactly who sang what so I won’t try and list them but it was an eclectic set of punk classics that the crowd lapped up. Honestly, I think this would be a great way to end the festival every year. A big highlight of Punk Rock Holiday was seeing what a community experience the whole festival was so it felt right that everyone was together singing along to the songs that brought us all together in the first place. It was a lovely time.

If you’ve got this far into the post – well done, it’s nearly finished. Now’s the time when I would sum the whole week up but if you’ve been reading intently you’ll know that I had a great time. The festival exceeded all expectations. Originally we were planning on PRH being a once in lifetime experience for us but after the week we had that might not be the case. Punk Rock Holdiay is like no festival I’ve ever experienced and I fully recommend going if you ever get the chance. And if you’re lucky enough to be able to go with a big group of friends, I really recommend doing that. PRH is best experience with many pals. And while you’re there, look out for Spinny Man and join in for a spin.

This review was written by Colin Clark. Photos by Emma Prew.

Saturday, 27 August 2022

Gig Review: Level Up Festival 2022

We love ska punk at CPRW. We also love nothing more than going to our favourite venue, the New Cross Inn in South London, for an evening of ska punk. What could be better? An all-dayer obviously. But what could be better than that? A three day festival full of the best ska punk bands in the UK, as well as a couple from further afield. Sounds like the perfect weekend to me. You can improve it some more? Loads of friends will also be there? Well that sounds like the dream to me!

That dream is actually a reality thanks to the wonderful people from Be Sharp Promotions, Fishlock Promotions and El Topo Bookings. July 2022 saw the long-awaited return of Level Up Festival. A festival that contains all those things mentioned in the opening paragraph. This is going to be quite a long review so I’m keeping intros to a minimum. On with the festival!


After the line-up and day splits were announced it was pretty clear that the promoters were going big on Level Up 2022. After three long years they seemed intent on welcoming the UK ska punk community – the proper ska punk community, the ones who go and see ska punk bands that weren’t formed in America thirty years ago – back to Level Up Festival with a bang. The four bands lined up for the opening night was just nuts. Unfortunately, on the day of the festival that bloody Covid struck again and the four bands became three. Sadly newcomers Till I’m Bones had to pull out due to their drummer getting sick. This was a shame as I, and a lot of other people, were very excited to see them. They were also due to announce the release of their second single Snakes at the festival – that’s now out and you can listen at all the musical places. Being true supporters of the DIY ska punk scene, some of the healthy members of the band still came along and they would get the opportunity to play a part in the night’s fun.

So, the band tasked with opening the entire festival were Filthy Militia. I told their lead singer Frosty I was going to write horrible things about the band as he made us exercise during the set and broke us for the entire weekend. I can’t do that though as, for one thing, that’s not the kind of site CPRW is but more importantly it wouldn’t be true. Filthy Militia played an incredible set. I last saw them back in February at the launch of their brilliant second EP, Coping Mechanism. That was the best I’ve ever seen them but I think they topped that set at Level Up. It was such a fun (and exhausting) way to begin the weekend. The addition of Lead Shot Hazard’s Tom on guitar allowed Frosty more freedom to dance around and be a frontman and just gives the band an even bigger sound and presence. Highlights of the set were Differences (which is one of the best ska punk songs released this year) and Land Of The Dead, where Jak and Charlotte from Till I’m Bones joined the band to sing and play saxophone respectively. During Land Of The Dead, Frosty joined the crowd to lead what was basically a ska punk exercise class where he had us all doing squats. It was knackering for my old man knees but a great way to warm up for the rest of the night.

Next up, we had the co-headline sets of Call Me Malcolm and The JB Conspiracy. The two bands had been on a tour around the UK and had been wowing crowds everywhere. Call Me Malcolm were first to take to the stage and were treating us to their three pronged horn section with Mark (saxophone), Lewis (trombone) and Lloyd (trumpet) all at NXI for the show. It had been eight long months since Malcolm played at NXI which, pandemics aside, is almost unheard of. This was a homecoming for the band and anticipation was high. Of course, they smashed their set – as, to be honest, every single band that played the weekend did. I’ve seen Call Me Malcolm play so many stunning sets at NXI over the years that I’m running out of ways to talk about them. The band and the venue combine to make ska punk magic every single bloody time. Playing favourites from their last two albums as well as a couple of deep cuts from their debut, there was something for everyone. Always liking to bring out a special treat for NXI, they delivered big. Before they started summer banger Restore Factory Settings, the horn section took their mics into the crowd where they were joined by The JB Conspiracy horns as well as Charlotte Till I’m Bones and Eve Filthy Militia/Lead Shot Hazard. The sound of those opening brass notes were incredible. They gave me goosebumps – it was such a big moment! I had short people problems and couldn’t really see what was going on in the crowd but it was still such a special moment that will be talked about for years to come. Naturally, the band finished on All My Nameless Friends and got one of the biggest reactions of the night. What a way to welcome Call Me Malcolm back home!

Then it was time for ska punk royalty The JB Conspiracy. Since the band released the epic Beginnings album last year, they’ve been popping up playing shows everywhere. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them a few times since its release and each and every time they’ve been nothing short of spectacular. I’m not sure there’s a current ska punk band in the UK that can match JBC for pure musicianship. They write such technical sounding songs with multiple and complex layers and whenever I’ve seen them live they don’t seem to miss a single note. It’s so gosh darn impressive. The hour long set was comprised of many songs from Beginnings but the band didn’t forget their early favourites from This Machine and The Storm. A big highlight for me was what I think was a rare outing for Say Goodbye – it feels like a long time since I’ve seen them play that song. The band continued the theme of getting folk from other bands to join them on stage, as Eve once again took to the stage to help out with saxophone on one song and Luke from Call Me Malcolm joined them to play my favourite song from Beginnings – The Long Road To Zurich – on guitar. The JB Conspiracy have this amazing way of connecting with the crowd. Throughout their set the crowd was moving around in absolute pandemonium. The Inn was extremely warm at this point and there were a lot of sweaty ska punk fans around. I’m sure each and every one of them couldn’t have been happier dancing and singing along with the band. That’s exactly how I felt. What a way to finish the first night of Level Up Festival 2022. What a glorious return and the weekend was really only just getting started!


The next day we arrived back at New Cross about thirty minutes before the opening act of the day was due on stage. There were a few people milling around outside the venue early which was fantastic to see. One of those people was Paul from Be Sharp Promotions. We had a quick catch up about the night before and spoke about the day ahead of us. He listed off a bunch of things that he thought could go wrong but he couldn't have predicted one thing that might have meant cancelling the entire day…

The first act of the day was Fidget of Fidget And The Twitchers playing an acoustic set. Interestingly they decided to perform the entire set on the floor rather than the stage. This was a great decision as it immediately made the crowd engage more than they perhaps would have if they'd have been on the stage. What also really helped endear Fidget to the crowd was covering Reel Big Fish's classic Beer. This got the New Cross Inn singing early. Fidget also played some stripped back acoustic versions of the Twitchers songs and performed them with such gusto, I can only imagine what they're like full band. Hopefully it won't be too long before I get the chance to see them.

Now for the dramatic part of the day. During Fidget's set armed police turned up and taped off the area between NXI and Chick Chicken (the takeaway next to the NX hostel). Nobody had any idea what was happening at the time but I know this wasn't on Paul's list of things that could go wrong during the day…

Whilst everyone stood outside the venue trying to get a peek of what was going on, Baldhead and the Dreads were getting ready to play. The band have become big favourites at the venue over the past few years and we couldn't wait for what nonsense they had in store for us. At the last Level Up Festival in 2019, the band dressed up as Paul Smith. This time they stuck a photo of Paul on the New Cross Inn logo behind the drum kit. During the set, the band made jokes thanking everyone for coming inside to watch them rather than what was happening outside and they wanted to get through the set quickly so they could go and be nosey as well. The band can be very self-deprecating about themselves at times and they really shouldn't be. They write a great combination of fun, smart and silly lyrics that always make me smile. They rolled out all the favourites from both their EPs. They teased playing the "hit" Smoke Weed, Pet Dogs a couple of times during the set before finally playing it as their penultimate song. During the song, drummer Tommy wore a dog mask which drew a laugh from the crowd as well as the band. He'd also organised a sign with the lyrics for the chorus – like anyone in the room needed them! They finished the set with an old favourite, New Cross Inn, where the band all swapped instruments to perform the song. It was pretty chaotic but I wouldn't expect anything less from Baldhead and the Dreads.

Next, things got a bit serious when the force known as Redeemon took to the stage. Redeemon are a band that really push the genre of ska to its limits with their own brand of “metaliska” and they are always such a treat to witness live. As they were getting ready to play, I thought to myself how the Saturday of Level Up was a day showcasing many of the different, varied sounds of ska punk. I don’t know if the organisers had planned it that way or that’s how it worked out but either way it was pretty cool. This was my third time seeing Redeemon in a year and each and every time I’m completely floored by them. The level of musicianship that’s on display here is something quite special, the guitars and brass sections shred equally and frontman Pook’s vocal switches from guttural screams to kind of singing is a thing of beauty. The whole set was intense but in the best possible way. Whenever I’ve seen Redeemon play I’ve always been completely mesmerised by what’s going on. They’re one of those unique bands that when they play it’s more than just a live set of music, it’s an experience. Redeemon released their debut earlier this year through Pookout Records and I strongly suggest you give it a spin.

Representing El Topo Booking and Belgium this year were Prize Dink Camp. Fronted by our old friend Folkert who has played every Level Up in a different band, I was keen to witness his latest project live. Prize Dink Camp are a three-piece who, instead of having a bass player, focus very heavily on keys and synths to create their own unique sound. Being from Belgium and being one of the newest bands on the line-up, not many people really knew a whole lot about them before the set began – but everyone was talking about them afterwards. I spoke with Folkert earlier in the weekend and he mentioned being a bit nervous that people wouldn’t watch as it was dinner time and nobody really knew them. This proved to be false as the band drew a sizeable crowd. With the Belgian contingent down the front of the stage, their enthusiasm for the band spread around the room and it wasn’t long before a lot of people were dancing. I believe that the band had only played a handful of shows at this point but you really wouldn’t have known with an accomplished and enthusiastic performance. Playing songs from their debut EP, Memez, Dreamz and Limousinez, as well as from their brand new full length, Unity Sausage, this set was one of the most fun and biggest surprises of the weekend. It also earned the first and only human pyramid of the weekend. And this wasn’t the last of the Belgians that we would see today…

After quickly getting something to eat, we returned to the Inn as Manchester ska legends Harijan were just beginning their set. This was a very rare trip down to London for Harijan, so it was important to take the opportunity to see them. Lead singer Mike has such a distinctive voice that almost works as an extra instrument as well as a vocal. It’s a lot more gravelly than what you might usually find in ska punk and it really sets Harijan apart. I was interested to see how the South London crowd would take to Harijan and I was very pleased to see that it was enthusiastic. The crowd began to skank almost immediately and didn’t stop throughout the entire time the band were on stage. Mike looked so overjoyed by the whole experience and that was also great to see. He danced around the stage with a huge smile on his face as his band performed one of the tightest sets of the weekend. The level of musicianship was first class. If any folk at Level Up weren’t really aware of Harijan before the weekend, I'm sure they’re now big fans. Harijan will be making the journey back down south soon when they play Wotsit Called Fest in Hastings in September.

Returning after the last Level Up in 2019 were Brazilian ska punks Abraskadabra. The band were just starting a month long UK and European tour where they would be playing a whole host of gigs and festivals. Since their last appearance in the UK, the band have released an excellent new album named Make Yourself At Home on Bad Time Records (distributed in the UK by Pookout Records) and have certainly gained some new fans in the UK since then. Because of this, it felt like there was a high level of anticipation in the crowd as they began to sound check. And as soon as they started the set it became very apparent that there was so much love in the room for Abraskadabra. From the opening notes we all began to dance and sing. You couldn’t help it. You just got swept away with what the band were doing. This felt like one of those Level Up sets that people will talk about for some time. I can’t really even put on a finger on one particular thing that they did that made it feel so special, they’re just a really good band – fantastic songwriters, musicians and performers. When you combine all of those things you know you’re on to a winner. Something crazy, and a little bit of a spoiler for a festival review that’s to come later, this wasn’t even the best Abraskadabra set I saw this summer yet this was a big, big highlight.

The penultimate band of Level Up Saturday were Andy B And The World. Playing what I believe was just their third or fourth performance as a band and their second at the New Cross Inn, I was super excited to see them again. If you’re unaware, Andy B And The World is the project of former Fandangle bassist Andy Baker. He set out to write and record an album featuring different musicians and singers from all over the world. He achieved this goal and produced one of the best albums of 2021. There was never any plan to perform shows as Andy B And The World but after some encouragement he put together a band for the occasional gig. Much like Abraskadabra before them, there was a big feeling of anticipation before the set. This would have been the first time that a lot of people at the festival got to witness the amazing spectacle that is Andy B. It was nice to see the room start moving as soon as they started playing and it was great to hear songs from The First One played live. It wouldn’t be an Andy B And The World set without some special guests taking to the stage. Andy’s former Fandangle bandmate Tommy made an appearance, as did Aaron from Make It Better Later, but the biggest surprise was when Al from [Spunge] took to the stage to sing Changes, as well as a special version of [Spunge] classic Kicking Pigeons which the crowd went off for. That was one of the top Level Up moments. Andy is also hard at work on two new albums and he took the opportunity to record some crowd vocals. Everyone in the room shouted “yeah” and will be on one of the new tracks. This was the most fun way to warm up for the evening's headliners.

London’s Popes Of Chillitown were the band chosen to headline the Saturday night. Over the years they have become stalwarts of the New Cross ska punk scene and it’s always a special moment when they take to the stage. Before the set we were outside as it was quite warm and we needed some air. We re-entered the venue and it was packed so we settled for a spot at the back of the room. I actually enjoyed this a bit more as there was a little room to dance and whenever someone opened the door I got a dose of fresh air. As I stood watching the band doing their thing I thought about all the times I’ve seen them over the years and I realised I’ve never ever seen them play a bad set – never even an average set. It’s always the best set I’ve ever seen them play. They are amazing each and every time. The band are so good at just working a room and building a crowd up. They played what’s arguably their most well known song, Wisdom Teeth, third in the setlist which blew my mind. This really got what was already an excitable crowd moving. From then on there was skanking, mosh pits, stage dives and crowdsurfing a plenty. From my view at the back of the room I could see everything that was happening and it was such a cool sight to see. The Popes are seriously at the top of their game right now and I can’t wait to see where they go next. With new material in the works, the band are set for an exciting year. Get out to see them whenever you can.

It was now time for the after party. Returning from 2019 were the El Topo Allstar Band. These guys went down an absolute storm in 2019 and we were all excited to see them back. I won’t write too much about them as I was too busy dancing and singing to really remember too much but what a time it was. They played Rancid’s Timebomb four or five times as well as covers of Eminem, Britney Spears, Smashmouth, an attempt at Africa by Toto, Backstreet Boys, Haddaway and Bloodhound Gang. The set was a mess but in the best possible way. It was full of fun throughout and I can’t wait for them to return in 2023.


The Sunday of Level Up started in a leisurely fashion for us. It started with me purchasing some football stickers and then going to the New Cross House pub across the road from NXI for a Sunday roast. It seemed like a few people had had the same idea as us as we noticed some more attendees of the festival in the pub. It was an excellent way to start the day and fuelled us for a final day of ska punk fun.

We arrived at NXI with plenty of time to catch up with friends before the day’s opening band Boom Boom Racoon started their set. The Bristol based band are a band I’ve seen a few times since life began again and it’s always a pleasure. Despite being from Bristol, they very much feel like a NXI band due to the friendships they have made with many of the regulars over the years. The set mainly featured songs from their most recent album, Songs From The Before Times…& Some More, which got great receptions. Every time I see the Racoons I seem to say that that was the best time I’ve ever seen them and this is another of those times. They played a blinding set which got the party started early for the day. Finishing with a spirited rendition of their Vengaboys parody, Boom Boom Racoon really blew out any cobwebs the early risers for the day might still have had.

Next to take to the stage were the wonderful Plot 32 from Leeds. Seeing them soundcheck earlier in the day, I noticed that they were short of their bass player Gaz so Cat Swan was filling in instead of playing guitar. I’d last seen Plot 32 play one of my favourite sets of MPF in April and I was excited to see them again. It wasn’t long into their set until I found myself having a skank and I was very pleased to see I wasn’t the only one. Frontman Stash has so much charisma on the stage and looks like he’s having the best time of his life throughout the set. I did worry his trousers were going to fall down a couple of times though, which would have made for a memorable Level Up moment. The set was comprised with what I think was every song they’ve written so far (aside from the ode to Colin Furze) with the highlights for me being Go Hard Or Go Home, Issues and Favourite Things. There had been some chatter before the festival (mostly between me and Baldhead’s drummer Tommy) about whether or not Plot 32 would do their Vengaboys cover as Boom Boom Racoon have their parody. I can confirm they did and everyone loved it. The punks do love the Vengaboys. I was so pleased to see Plot 32 back in London, hopefully it’s not too long before they’re back again.

Lead Shot Hazard were next to take to the stage. This was the debut performance for recent addition Snowy on the trumpet, adding some more to what’s already a pretty formidable brass section. This may well have been the best I’ve seen Lead Shot Hazard. This was a seriously strong set from the NXI veterans. I’ve seen them play some really good sets over the years but there was something I can’t explain about this one that really set it apart from previous times. Everything was on point and it was great. Before their set I had noticed that Frosty had many Lead Shot Hazard T-shirts taped to him. During the set the band sent him into the crowd for everyone to claim a free T-shirt. Why on earth Frosty agreed to do this is beyond me but fair play for always being such a good sport. Unfortunately, Lead Shot ended the streak of Vengaboys songs but they did play their cover of My Friends Over You by New Found Glory which always goes down a treat. They finished the set with the awesome Between Hell And Highwater which I always love to see live.

Leicester’s Last Edition are notorious at NXI for breaking the venue last time they played Level Up. Luckily this didn’t happen again and the band could get through their set incident free. Last Edition are always such a fun band to see live and normally I would have a lovely skank to the upbeat ska pop punk sound but, after Plot 32 and Lead Shot Hazard, I think my body had hit a bit of a brick wall and I just didn’t have the energy left. Perhaps the roast dinner wasn’t a smart idea as it left me with a bit of a food coma! Something that always astounds me whenever I get the opportunity to see Last Edition live is saxophone player Sam. I don’t understand how they manage to make a one person brass section sound so big but they always manage it. They often do it whilst also playing keyboard as well, which is a whole extra level of mind blowing. If memory serves me correctly the set was mostly filled with newer songs that the band have written and recorded, songs like Half Drunk At Half Time, Good Luck and Shorts Until September are all welcome additions to the band's set list. Last Edition are throwing their own ska punk weekender in October in Leicester, go here to see all the details. Spoiler, the lineup is stacked.

3dBs Down were one of the bands I was most excited to see over the entire weekend. Their most recent album, Get Your Retaliation In First, is one of my favourites of recent years and I’ve only had one opportunity to see them live since it was released so I was keen to grasp this latest opportunity with both hands. We almost didn’t get this chance as drummer Joe somehow broke their foot the day before but they were determined to play the show anyway. Kudos to Joe for that. 3dBs Down offered something slightly different to the majority of the bands playing at Level Up as they are more of a punk band with ska elements rather than a full on ska punk band. This meant that a few people were slow in really getting into 3dBs but by the end of the set they had the room dancing. It was great to see a band win the crowd over like they did, it really shows just what a good band they are. The thing I really love about 3dBs is their ability to write hooks and sing harmonies. They sound great on record but to pull them off live as good as they do is something quite special. The band have been around a long time now and you can tell just because of just how in sync they are with each other. As well as playing many of my favourite tracks from Get Your Retaliation In First they also debuted their brand, brand, brand new track Unconvinced – it’s a banger, go and check it out. 3dBs don’t play many shows anymore but when they do it’s always a highlight of whatever bill they find themselves on. At the time of writing this, the first wave of MPF 2023 bands have just been announced and, oh boy golly, I’d love to see 3dBs play that festival.

The rise that Codename Colin have had over the years of Level Up Festival has been monumental. I remember them opening one of the days of the festival one year and now they’re last support before two genuine UK ska punk legends – it’s quite the rise for the band from Hemel Hempstead. It’s completely deserved though as the band keep on working hard, playing loads of shows and continuing to get better and better. They’re also fantastic people. Frontman Charlie has become an absolute master of working a crowd, leading the New Cross Inn in a series of big sing-alongs. This might have been one of the most rambunctious Codename Colin sets I’ve ever seen with the amount of people in the pit skanking away with nothing but joy in their hearts. At one point during the set Frosty joined the band on stage to do some singing, which was a nice moment. The camaraderie between all of the bands playing the festival, and the others in the UK ska punk scene, is something so special and it’s always so nice to see everyone supporting everyone else. Codename Colin have become one of my favourite live bands in recent times and it was great to see them play to so many people on what was a big night at the New Cross Inn. Love to see it.

So, there were two bands left for Level Up Festival 2022 and when you think about UK ska punk there aren’t many bands bigger than what we had left. Sonic Boom Six and Random Hand will have inspired many of the acts who played over the entire weekend. The two bands were such an integral part in keeping the UK ska punk scene going over the years and getting the chance to see them share a stage once again in 2022 was a very special moment. First up were Sonic Boom Six who were making their Level Up Festival debut. This wasn’t their first time at NXI however, making their first appearance at the venue in 2021 for Till The Fest. That was a superb set from the band and this was no different. SB6 are party starters, plain and simple. They’re also very good at tailoring their set to the crowd they’re playing too. This was a ska punk crowd so the band made sure to play a set that would be full of crowd pleasers. This meant that the set was full of classic Boom songs such as Monkey See Monkey Do, All In, Bigger Than Punk Rock and Meanwhile Back In The Real World, as well as newer ska tunes like No Man No Right and My Philosophy. The pit turns into a full blown riot as the crowd go crazy for the band. Watching them you realise just how many big tunes the band wrote over the years and they all sound as fresh and current as they did back when they were written. Laila and Barney are the perfect combination of front people, working seamlessly together throughout the set. I guess that’s to be expected after being in a band together for so long now. This felt very much like a headline set from the band but there was still the small matter of Random Hand to come.

I’m at a loss with what I have left to say about Random Hand. They are one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen and blow me away each and every time I’ve seen them. I’d previously seen them earlier in the year when they played Seething Is Believing in full at Islington Academy and I was now looking forward to what would be a best of set. I was surprised that I, and the rest of the crowd, had any energy left after three days of ska punk but we did. Random Hand brought every last ounce of energy out of us for one final dance. In the sweatbox that NXI had become, we danced, we sang, we sweated (a lot) and we had the absolute time of our lives. Robin remains one of my favourite frontmen in punk rock. The man oozes charisma during the songs and is extremely funny in between them. The band played a career-spanning set, I’m pretty sure they played everyone's favourite Random Hand songs and they also played a brand new one from an upcoming release they’ve been recording. It’s been seven years since we’ve had new music from Random Hand and, on this evidence ,we should be extremely excited for what is to come from the band. It’s always great to see a band play at the top of their game and that’s what we got with Random Hand. Alongside Robin, the rest of the band, Dan (guitar), Joe (bass) and Sean (drums), were as tight as ever as they bounced around the stage, helping work the crowd into a storm. There were great some sing-alongs during the set, particularly for Not A Number, Play Some Ska, Scum Triumphant, Bones and set closer Anger Management. Random Hand are back in New Cross for Till The Fest Two in October and that promises to be another special moment.

That brought an end to another fantastic Level Up Festival. Level Up Festival is such a beloved weekend for the real ska punk fans of the UK and it had been very much missed during the pandemic. It’s a chance for the ska punk family to reconnect, dance and share some amazing moments from our favourite genre that is so often belittled. In recent years, ska has been making moves and is once again growing in popularity. Level Up was where the die hards, the fans who never stepped away because it’s “uncool”, gathered to celebrate this thing that we all love. All the thanks and love has to go to all the bands who have kept the genre alive, as well as Be Sharp, Fishlock and El Topo for all they’ve done for the scene. Level Up 2022 was a fantastic time. It was a festival I hadn’t realised I would miss so much and it filled me with smiles from start to finish. I can’t wait for Level Up 2023 next July. To quote Adam Davis of Omnigone, “Ska now, more than ever.”

This review was written by Colin Clark. Photos by Emma Prew.