Second Stage: Mexicolas
Four Year Strong
The Colour Fred
You Me At Six
Armor For Sleep
Second Stage Headliner: Anti-Flag
Main Stage: Envy On The Coast
Main Stage Headliner: 30 Seconds To Mars
This was my scrawny younger self’s first indoor festival. Yes the line-up has a few cringe artists that now have the musical integrity of a gnat (Blackout, YMA6, i’m looking at you) but this was 2008, the years when screamo and pop-punk were totally ‘in’ (i feel nauseous just describing that) but y’know, honestly i sort of enjoy the nostalgia of it.
This was the 2nd day of the now almost-defunct festival, back when it was still a ‘festival’ (recent years after had the event scaled down to a small tour with just a few bands), and had the heavier musical ensemble which appealed to my angered teen self. Very much geared at kiddies like us, it wasn’t without it’s charm; the prospect of seeing established acts like Billy Talent next to upcoming stars such as Four Year Strong was simply too attractive to miss, a notion felt by a mass of others as the famous Earl’s Court arena was suitably packed out, with swarms of Kerrang! fans each flying their own flags of intolerant teen individualism (to quote a famous saying ‘Remember you’re unique… just like everybody else’), but i guess it’s nice that music usually rules the day over self-involvement; a Glassjaw fan talking to a 30 Seconds To Mars buff is a rare thing… but i digress.
Kicking things off on the smaller Second Stage were straight-forward rockers Mexicolas, who, at the time, had just released their first album simply entitled ‘X’. I think it’s fair to say we’d ‘heard it all before’ from these Brummies, but they got a few heads nodding nonetheless to their Goo-Goo Doll-esque rhymes and rhythms, with frontman Jamie Evans’ best gravel-filled grunge voice carrying the band through a pretty dead crowd (To be fair, it was only half one in the afternoon). A solemn ‘Cheers’ and they were done.
If Mexicolas hadn’t quite kicked the party off as they should have, then Four Year Strong took it upon themselves to do so, and blimey how the crowd’s mood suddenly shifted when the 5-piece unit from Worcester bounded onto stage. I was forewarned by a floppy-haired backpack-wearing kid next to me, ‘dude, the next band are good… like really good’ he said in an almost secretive way, and from the minute they burst into their first album opener ‘The Take Over’, i was frankly blown away.
Their brand of melodic hardcore-infused pop-punk was just the kick-start needed to get the first pits of the day moving, and, by the time they dropped their new single ‘Bada Bing! Wit’ A Pipe!’ i was in a state of pure frenzy, wishing i knew every lyric vocalists Dan O’Connor and Alan Day were yelling. Their small following of fans at the start had grown significantly by the end of it, and finishing on the anthemic ‘Heroes Get Remembered, Legends Never Die’ was the perfect song to rouse a mass singalong (and those who didn’t know it caught on fast), with it’s catchy gang vocals and energetic riffage moving everyone in the arena. You could tell they were going to be destined for greatness with performances like that.
After Four Year Strong’s Tasmanian Devil-like whirlwinder, The Colour Fred sent everyone packing to the bar again (well, those who could drink obviously… we’d snuck our own cans in, oh youth eh?) with their emo indie-rock stylings not really hitting the mark with a crowd still reeling from FYS. The band’s USP was it’s creator, former Taking Back Sunday guitarist Fred Mascherino, who, if anything, had managed to attract a legion of screaming 14 year-old girls (round of applause Fred) who were showing so much energy that they were more entertaining to watch.
Quick Sidebar (and a personal confession to boot):
At one point during TCF, a group of drunk teens (us) began playing a slightly malicious game of Bingo, where, for reason unknown to myself, my pal had smuggled in a small bag full of bingo balls, which we proceeded to hand out to various TCF un-enthusiasts. The game was simple: You call the number out on the ball, chuck it, and if it lands, shout Bingo! After conking Mascherino on the head a couple of times (Sorry Fred, i was young and stupid, i sincerely apologise) and almost being caught by the burly cokeheads that were running security that night (those saucer-plate eyes and that intentionally grown-out fingernail didn’t fool me mate) we’d run out (which was a shame cause i think we were planning on keeping some for The Blackout, again sorry lads). Tales of a smarmy kid over and out.
Back to GIAN.
Mercifully, it was time for the first act of the Main Stage to grace us with their presence. Envy On Coast arrived to a lukewarm reception by fans, and their channeling of a rock education at ’emo school’ taught by Circa Survive and Taking Back Sunday had sort of woken the crowd up a bit. To be honest, after 45mins-1hour of mid-tempo blandness provided by Mexicolas and TCF, it was refreshing to hear a few up-tempo numbers, which were provided in the form of singles ‘Sugar Skulls’ and ‘Mirrors’ from their album ‘Lucy Gray’ and pulling out a couple of fast numbers from their self-titled EP (‘Suckerpunch’ and ‘Temper Temper’ respectively did their jobs) deemed enough to pull us back from the brink. Not an amazing performance, but a nice warm-up for Silverstein later.
State Radio were up to take on the challenge of keeping the crowd’s energy at a peak after EOTC, but again it didn’t grab anyone the way FYS did, with their strange mixture of Reggae/Ska Alt Rock (imagine a more serious Less Than Jake being covered by Pearl Jam… yep, honestly) going down like a sack of you-know-what with the Earl’s Court faithful. This, coupled with Chad Urmston’s activist ramblings throughout (which went over the heads over everyone under 18), meant that State Radio’s performance had done two things: 1) drop-kicked the whole vibe into almost-oblivion, and 2) kept fans at the drink and merch stands for much longer than need be.
Attempting to drag us from the abyss, Virginia punks Strike Anywhere pulled onto stage and tore us a new one, playing fast and furious selections from the 2006 album ‘Dead FM’, with album opener ‘Sedition’ finally getting a pit going again (hallelujah!). Unlike State Radio’s political ranting (we were going to see a lot of that with Anti-Flag on the bill), Strike Anywhere, who are known animal rights followers and vegans to boot, decided to sidestep the lectures and instead got their heads down, going for a pure injection of speed with songs mostly under the 3 minute mark for the rest of their set, ending on the sleeper-hit ‘Instinct’ which got the first circle pit going after 3 hours of music and 5 bands later. Leaving as quickly as they arrived, i think the words ‘job done’ were apt.
Back to the Second Stage for what was arguably performance of the night so far next to FYS, hotly-anticipated Surrey Pop-Punk stalwarts You Me At Six came onto stage amidst a flurry of cheering and applause from all at Earl’s Court, launching smartly into their second single off their EP (their only release at the time mind you, pretty impressive) ‘If I Were In Your Shoes’, and taking the roof off with it, and i shit you not, we got a wall of death for it too… will wonders never cease.
The band seemed genuinely stoked to be there, with vocalist Josh bouncing around with a massive grin on his face, hitting all those beautifully catchy whiney notes and keeping a running dialogue with the crowd, which was sorely needed after the downpour of ‘oh hi i’m a rock musician who’s too cool to dance and talk to the audience’ that we’d gotten all day. “So, we have an album coming out soon, and we wanna play you some new ones off it if you don’t mind?” inquires Josh with a knowing look on his face. Of course we don’t mind. The new ones (that were off the first album ‘Take Off Your Colours’) went down a storm, the kids just wanted to dance and dammit did they ever. By the time we’d gotten to the closer and huge hit ‘Save It For The Bedroom’, the pits were non-stop, and full of smiling faces and raised voices. Normal service had been restored.
Back to the Main Stage and the most “hipster” band of the day, Welsh post-hardcorers (at the time anyways, they are a shell of the band they were now) ‘The Blackout’ arrived to a mass chorus of chanting ‘We Are The Dynamite’, the ominous intro to their album of the same name. Fair play to the lads: they really rocked it. I was never a fan of theirs but their presence on stage impressed me greatly, and definitely kept the crowd’s energy levels up. Racing through favourites like ‘The Beijing Cocktail’ and ‘Spread Legs Not Lies’, they put on quite a show and it was evident that a fair few people were there to see them, with a few gnarly pits opening up at every opportunity, and even the second wall of death of the day (bigger than YMA6’s, which let’s be honest, isn’t a hard feat to pull off). There were even scantily-clad women in leather spinning fire on stage with them at one point. I think that’s what sold it to be honest.
Armor For Sleep pop-punk-tinged emo tried their best to keep it going smoothly after two stellar performances from YMA6 and The Blackout, but i think everyone was ready for the big-hitters to come out and play, and the antsy audience let them know; we were back to the bar and the folded arms came out (don’t you just hate when that happens). Gracious as they were however, they realised they were seen as the last of the filler before the ‘famous ones came on’, and played with a smile on their faces, busting out the good’uns with ‘The Truth About Heaven’ being used as bait to lure those FYS fans in with its upbeat fun riffing and and gang vocal ‘i’m miserable without you!’, whilst ‘Smile For The Camera’ appeased the few AFS fans laying about.
I can see now how this ‘festival’ depleted to simply a few bands rather than whole two stages of acts. GIAN was like Foo Fighters: very much a singles-orientated band with bad-to-alright tunes in between. GIAN just opted to run with their greatest hits after 2008… and Foos made a fucking great album in ‘Wasting Light’. But i digress.
Silverstein took us back to the main stage with their exciting brand of post-hardcore that has impressed all from day one, they’ve always been one of those bands who most have some sort of affinity for, which made it a little more comfy when everyone rushed back from the bar. They took full advantage and tore the place up from the get-go, getting the biggest circle pit of the whole day second song in for ‘Defend You’, while ‘My Heroine’ brought together the more romantic ones of us for an emotional/angry singalong/mosh. Finishing with fan favourites ‘My Sword Versus Your Dagger’ and ‘Smile In Your Sleep’, the Ontario natives destroyed the floor, leaving a sea of battered bodies in their wake. Powerful stuff to lead us into the final Second Stage act before the big guns took over.
And in they waltzed (and i use waltz in the loosest term, the Second Stage Headliners Anti-Flag and boy were they packing heat for this one. Tearing into ‘Bright Lights of America’, the politically aggressive anti-Americanims translated just fine over here. The crowd knew what the band were all about and what the band expected from them and gave back just as hard as Anti-Flag gave to them. “We are not fucking around, if you’ve seen us before you know we want circle pits, and we want lots of em!” crooned Justin Sane. Cue ‘The Press Corpse’ and the biggest circle pit of the day and his prayers instantly being answered. It was all going swimmingly till they band took a minute out to push their political stances and beliefs on everyone, with members of the band coming into the audience to force people to ‘hold hands with their brother and sister’. It’s admirable but we’re not gonna stand here and sing kumbaya if ya know what i mean. To be fair, we knew it was gonna happen at some point during their set.
From then on it was business as usual, every song was received with the warmest of receptions. Mass singalongs to ‘This Is the End (For You My Friend)’ and ‘Turncoat’ turned frowns upside down on the angry punks faces, while ‘Death Of a Nation’ sparked more circle pitting, and a hilarious incident where one drunk kid thought he was at a Bring Me The Horizon show and windmilled into the middle of the pit, where he was subsequently ‘dealt with’ by the straighter-edged fans who live by the unwritten rule of mosh. Closing on the infamous ‘Die For The Government’ they went out in true Anti-Flag fashion, inciting mass-chanting, clapping, moshing, crowd-surfing, you name it we got it. A typically great performance.
After all this focus on pop-punk and emo trudging side-by-side in relative harmony, you can be forgiven for wondering why Glassjaw were on the bill (i guess it was their classification of ‘post-hardcore’ amongst the music community), but God was i happy that they were, as they were (and still are) favourites of mine. I was really anxious for this one, because within my group of friends who went i was the only one who’d listened to them (not a great sign). And after a whole day of watching scene kids pop around to YMA6, FYS and The Blackout, i was wondering if anyone else were going to go as nuts as i was when they took the stage with their assaulting hardcore and intuitive experimentalism. Well at least i didn’t have to wait long.
Frontman Daryl Palumbo and his comrades approached the stage in almost zen-like fashion, greeted to a huge cheer, in which Daryl responded with a very sheepish wave. It seemed like they were almost being too modest. Any shyness that was being detected by the EC faithful quickly dropped off the face of the earth once ‘You Think You’re (John Fucking Lennon)’ got going. And i mean quickly. Bloody hell the change in stance on stage was jolting, i’m almost certain it was purposefully done to lull everyone into a false sense of security… and I loved it. Daryl, who had been kneeling by the drumkit facing away from the audience like a sad dog in the corner, had switched at an unreal pace to a rabid pitbull, lurching at the audience and swinging himself around the stage, while the rest of the band spazzed out frantically. And to my joy, everyone else did the same.
I think all the little emo fanboys and girls went away for the Meet-And-Greet with You Me At Six, leaving only the most hardcore of fans left to pile onto one another to sing at Daryl, who was still passionately throwing himself around screaming that unmatched scream. The performance was stunning. From the opener they went straight into the pummelling ‘Tip Your Bartender’ (from the 2002 indie classic ‘Worship & Tribute’) which sent the floor into haywire, with the appreciative crowd moshing HARD (i definitely got some elbows to the face on that one). ‘Mu Empire’ carried it on at a relentless pace, before ‘Ape Dos Mil’ allowed us to catch our breaths and have a good ol’ sway. The inclusion of ‘Pink Roses’ and ‘Motel of the White Locust’ were very welcome amongst die-hards, and Cosmopolitan Blood Loss does as it usually does: rip things apart. Ending on Siberian Kiss, Daryl asked for some crowd-surfing… and the reaction was ridiculous. Wave upon wave of surfers came over my head, to the point where the security was having trouble catching everyone. Utter madness. The perfect way to leave your mark on a ‘festival’ such as this.
After the frankly pointless ‘Guitar Hero Challenge’ killed some time and, if anything, provided us with something to laugh at, we waited for the band we’d come to see more than any other. Canada’s own Billy Talent received an almighty reception and vocalist Ben was just as receptive to it. Kicking things off with ‘This Is How It Goes’, we got a much needed pogo going from an enthusiastic but slowly tiring crowd, not that that was a problem for long mind you, bringing in old favourites ‘Try Honesty’ and ‘In The Fall’ was a masterful stroke in moving the masses again, and by ‘Devil In The Midnight Mass’ it was all systems go, headbanging a plenty. ‘Surrender’ brought a more solemn vibe to the proceedings, filled with plenty of voices who knew the lyrics off by heart, while the much heavier ‘Covered in Cowardice’ kicked it all off again, with bodies climbing over each other to get some more crowd-surfing going (nothing like Glassjaw’s but great nonetheless). Whipping out staple song ‘Falling Leaves’ got another jumping session going, and ending on Red Flag meant a circle pit was to arise, and a rather large one at that. And all throughout, Ben’s little Canuk quips and jokes made it all the more worthwhile, keeping the audience entertained and in high spirits, especially after the brutality of Glassjaw.
And we move to the end, the last act of the night, 30 Seconds To Mars. This was one of those that was purely for the Jared Leto lovers, as quite a few people decided to head for the hills once Billy Talent had finitoed. We decided to stay and have a laugh, mainly cause we did like some of their singles despite the overtly glossy Hollywood production on both the songs and the videos accompanying them (‘From Yesterday’ – Samurais… really?) But i digress.
Leto enters stage right and the whole place falls down. The fangirl screams are defeaning. Say what you will about the man (arrogant, lucky, self-involved etc) but he knows how to work a crowd, as they crash into single ‘A Beautiful Lie’ a testy ode to Global Warming (see? his Hollywood roots haven’t influenced him at all) but catchy nonetheless. For those who love it, they really love it and know every song and every word, as evident when Mars bring out some old material, catching the hipsters out as they quietly skank to themselves while the die-hard form a nice circle pit when ‘Buddha For Mary’ drops. Choosing a couple of overly long songs from their new album causes a bit of lag, but playing in ‘From Yesterday’ and finally ‘The Kill’ soon sorts that out, as the later grabs mass crowd-surfing and a huge cry. They left it on a high… and i was left hoping they would play ‘Capricorn’…
Best band – You Me At Six
Worst Band – State Radio
Biggest Surprise – Four Year Strong
Biggest Disappointment – 30 Seconds To Mars
Biggest Singalong – ‘The Kill’ (30 Secs To Mars)
Biggest Mosh – ‘Heroes Get Remembered…’ (FYS)
Biggest Circle Pit – ‘Defend You’ – Silverstein
Biggest Pogo – ‘Falling Leaves’ – Billy Talent
Most Crowd-Surfing – ‘Siberian Kiss’ – Glassjaw