Butlins at Bogor Regis may seem like an unlikely location for a music festival, but that is where we find ourselves on only the second weekend of the year for the fourth installment of Rockaway Beach.
Taking the sadly missed All Tomorrows Parties model, Rockaway Beach gives you access to over thirty vital acts handpicked for their excellence and cleverly scheduled so there is no overlap when they play on the Reds stage early afternoon, moving to the Centre Stage in the evening. All with the added bonus of staying in a well kitted out chalet complete with comfy beds and en suite bathrooms. Plus, there are also talks from various luminaries and representatives from the music industry, screenings of cults films, and even playbacks of classic albums at Bar Rosso in keeping with the headline acts playing that day, including The Libertines rabble-rousing Up The Bracket, Nine Inch Nails bleak masterpiece The Fragile, and Spacemen 3's tripped out wonder The Perfect Prescription. And this is much to the bemusement of the families and couples who are also wandering about trying to enjoy their winter holiday.
Strange as the whole thing might sound, the coming days revealed that there is no better way of beating the January blues than heading to a holiday camp on the south coast though I did continually resist the temptation to say “Hi-de-Hi!” to all the staff, especially as I'm not sure that was an actual thing (kids, ask your parents).
The festival kicks off with a collection of impressive upstarts such as hyperactive Glaswegian dub punks Rapid Tan, riotous garage rock from Chupa Cabra, prog psyche terrors Madonnatron, who continually prove to be the rising band you need to know, and a bit of attitude-laden electronica from Benin City. It’s a real testament to the curators to be able to begin the weekend with a collection of relatively untested yet compelling acts, giving an early indication to the spirit of the days ahead and highlighting the organisers dedication to inspire and educate rather than go with the obvious choices that seem to clog up every other festival’s line up.
And with that sense of pursuing something the vital and truly different established, everything moves to the Centre Stage where we are met by the Laetitia Sadier Source Ensemble to take us to the evening with a sublime mix of saccharine dream pop and charming krautrock. The Stereolab singer's band deftly take us around complexed rhythms, however it's perhaps a tad too tame for a Friday evening. A sentiment that seems to be shared by a fair few others judging how busy the bars seem to be. There is nothing wrong with Sadier's relaxed style, especially so expertly executed, but it would perhaps have worked better on the Sunday afternoon when people would perhaps be in the mind frame to appreciate it better.
Next up on stage is Goat Girl, who initially seem to also be taking the chilled approach by kicking off with the quiet intro of 'Burn The Stake' before singer Clottie Cream is joined by the crash of drums and rubble of bass supplied by her bandmates, channeling the growing energy of the room and igniting the night with their rambunctious indie rock that inspires the audience to begin dancing. The South London squad featured in almost every single One's To Watch critics’ list last year, and their eponymously titled album debut certainly didn't disappoint. With this fierce demonstration right at the beginning of 2019, they have certainly proved that they have yet another bright year ahead.
Rockaway Beach's first headliner for the weekend is Maxïmo Park, who would be fair to describe as a marmite band. The Newcastle lads certainly have a huge amount of support tonight, soliciting a massive reaction from the drunken throng that make a solid wall along the front right from the off, creating a ripple of excitement that erupts into screams and cheers from their fans from start till finish. However, Paul Smith and friends’ radio-friendly take on post-punk has never really done it for me and they certainly aren't as high calibre as the premier names topping the bill on the subsequent two nights. Attention then turns to John Lynch from The Telescopes and Drowned In Sound's very own Dom Gourlay to warm up the crowd with their expertly executed DJ set before The Specials' Terry Hall takes to the decks to round up Friday night.
Trying to shake off any remaining hangover from the previous night, Saturday starts at noon in Reds with raucous five-piece Winter Gardens who blend dream pop-inspired vocals with post-hardcore rhythms, and have way more energy than I can handle right now. Their melodic vocals should be sailing elegantly over their energetic onstage action but are lost in the din owing to poorly controlled sound levels. Though maybe that doesn't matter as they're certainly loving being on stage, owing to the way they're leaping about and throwing their instruments around. Well, if you can’t get excited about your own songs how the fuck do you expect anyone else to?
Later in the day sees shoegaze influenced troika Desert Mountain Tribe absolutely smashing it on the same stage. Centered around Matt Holt's knack for laying down a catchy bass riff, drummer Frank van der Ploeg provides real power with Jonty Balls bringing the emotion with his wrought voice and a flurry of wah wah. Yeah, maybe there are a few too many rock clichés here and there, but it fucking works and they wear it well. Bold, experimental and stirring, DMT seem to embody what this festival is about and it’s a real shame they are on so early. They confidently stomp through their slot with every inch and swagger of an act that could one day return to Rockaway as a headliner.
Menace Beach are exactly the sort of band you would expect to be here, and I don't just mean because of the similarities in the name. If you don’t know them by now, then shame on you because the Leeds-based lot perfectly balance of adventurous experimentation with indie pop sensibilities which means they are always a giddy thrill to watch. Breaking down standard conventions, there is no obvious front to the band as vocal duties are shared around giving a real collaborative feel which is refreshing to watch. The quintet teases us with building tension on the final track before going out with a full-on final assault.
Hats off to Algiers for bringing a welcome bit of grit to the weekend. Fusing elements of gospel with post-punk and dark dance beats, they conjured a moody atmosphere which made for compulsive viewing and made them a worthy lead up to the former general of the Tubeway Army who would top the bill later on.
The Orielles hold the accolade for being the best non-headline act of the weekend when they appear on the Centre Stage. Their fantastic amalgamation of indie pop and disco breaks forms the basis of their wildly twisting and chaotic songs that translates into a truly electrifying live experience that displays a mastery of songwriting which is all the more extraordinary given their young age. Songs like 'Sunflower Seeds' and ‘Sugar Tastes Like Salt’ are comparatively lengthy compared to other acts of their ilk, but are all the better for it by feeling truly explored as the whole hall gleefully bounces along.
Earlier in the day had seen electronic pioneer Gary Numan address the assembly in an insightful Q&A hosted by the one and only John Robb of The Membranes fame. The reverence amongst his fans was clear, with many not quite able to believe they were getting to speak to their idol. Having enjoyed a rejuvenation with the release of his latest LP Savages (Songs From A Broken World) which was funded by Numanoids through a successful Kickstarter campaign and narrowly missed out on topping the charts upon release in 2017, he now proves his iconic status as he prowls around the stage on the final night of a tour that has seen him play over 130 dates. Emerging from the gloom in flamboyant stage dress and heavily applied eyeliner, Numan has somehow defied the years looking almost baby faced as he accompanies his band's rising wall of industrial terror with his uniquely punctuated vocals, stopping every now and then to strike a dramatic pose reaching into the space between him and us in a flawless set that spanned from such classic tracks as ‘Cars’ and ‘Are 'Friends' Electric?’ to his most contemporary material.
Finishing off Saturday, its the turn of the legendary Steve Lamacq to take the helm behind the old ones and twos, bringing out all the essential indie tracks to throw some shapes to into the wee hours.
It's the third and final installment of Rockaway Beach, but Sunday certainly isn't a day of rest with revelers quick to get back to Reds to see Brighton’s psyche tearaways Squid, who seems to be on everyone's lips for the remainder of the weekender for being their favourite new discovery, plus The Luka State, who certainly aren't. Whereas the former band are praised for their inventiveness and are a joy to behold, the latter are too derivative and try a bit too hard to fit the well-worn lad rock model.
Thankfully Jemma Freeman and The Cosmic Something is a return to form. Freeman, otherwise known as the guitarist from psyche outfit Landshapes, dives deep into her angular and attitude-laden show that just keeps getting better as it descends into disarray wonderfully. Pausing only to throw free download codes into the spectators, Freeman screams like a woman possessed as she ploughs into the bassist with a friendly yet powerful shoulder barge before the pair collapse on the floor in a grand finale.
Watching Yassassin tear it up, I can't help but wish they had been put on the bill on Friday night rather than the last afternoon. Confidently assured, they give Sunday a vital shot in the arm with an exhilarating performance exhibiting their riot grrl informed songs, each of which sounds like a single in waiting.
Although the festival has been scheduled so it's possible to see every act who are playing, it's still packed full of so much to do it's easy to miss out and there is always going to be some element of sacrifice. And so, I tear myself away from Lorelle Meets the Obsolete's shimmering set to catch the panel hosted by Cai Trefor of Gigwise, discussing the music expected to be coming out over the year ahead, and to grab a much-needed Sunday roast.
Clearly throwing themselves into the festival frivolities, Art Brut singer Eddie Argos is clearly indicating signs of having taken full advantage of the rider beforehand as he merrily careers through their slot. It becomes more obvious when he rambles through the origins of 'My Little Brother' in an endearingly drunken fashion, revealing that his parents are now more worried about him for leaving it a good seven years since their previous LP and latest album Wham! Bang! Pow! Let's Rock Out!, even though his Mum has acutely observed that Sleaford Mods “Have made that shouty rock thing ‘in’ again”. By the time they’ve finished, Argos has torn up the setlist to take fan requests instead and jumps off the stage to join the crowd, rewarded with a big cheer for his efforts plus a quick jog to the stairs on the side to make a farewell bow.
Singer Ian McCulloch and guitarist Will Sergeant are the only remaining founding members of the legendary Echo and The Bunnymen, however the years and significant changes in line up certainly have done nothing to diminish the magic as the conjure up nearly two hours of simple and elegant beauty. Perhaps a result of the abrasive electronica of the previous headliner their appearance initially feels almost too quiet. But then this display of effortless cool, as typified by McCulloch casually shrugging and crooning from behind dark sunglasses, is lightyears apart from the theatrical flair of last night and the adoring onlookers are now treated to something more sentimental. The momentum gathers speed as the super scousers once again reveal their greatness by playing their most monumental singles 'Bring On The Dancing Horses', 'The Killing Moon' and 'The Cutter' in rapid succession which, had they left it there, would have been a truly glorious way to end a truly remarkable festival as they walk off to the side. But they duly return for the mandatory encore which is demanded by all in attendance, and 'Lips Like Sugar' and 'Ocean Rain' are a tender choice for the last live songs of the weekend, creating an intimate ending (even though they should perhaps have swapped their exit tracks around for a roaring finish).
And so, the festival ends with those left with any appetite for more once again raving away to the huge bangers brought by Dom Gourlay and soul classics provided by John Lynch rounding up Rockaway Beach 2019.
Photo Credits: Shaun Gordon