LIVE: Descendents, Bouncing Souls and more @ Rebellion Festival 2016

By Ashwin Bhandari

Celebrating its 40th Anniversary as a festival, Rebellion is the largest punk gathering in Europe. Located at the delightful Winter Gardens in the centre of Blackpool, I head off for the Thursday hoping to see some new punks, some old punks, and stick two fingers up to society and its dumb rules.

While I intend to get there nice and early, annoyingly my 5-hour train journey from Oxford with 3 other changes get me into Blackpool later than expected. I’m also a massive cheapskate, and so I dump my laptop at the cheapest hotel I could find on the other side of the city and then sweatily walk back again to the centre of town.

I unintentionally catch most of CJ Ramone’s set while in line to get my ticket. While understandably not too many audience members care about his solo work, its fun to see him trundle through classic Ramones hits such as ‘The KKK Took My Baby Away’, ‘I Don’t Want To Grow Up’ and ‘R.A.M.O.N.E.S’. The atmosphere feels like seeing a tribute band, but a fairly decent one that actually covers the artist’s material well rather than trying to do terrible impersonations. ¬†The sound from the new outdoor stage is slightly muddy but overall CJ Ramone is decent and doesn’t overstay his welcome with mindless chatter in-between¬†songs.

After grabbing my ticket, I manage to sprint into the Empress Ballroom stage to hastily catch the last few Gnarwolves songs. While I do love this band to bits for their brash and honest crowd interaction, it feels like Thom Weeks has the audience against him and is even heckled a few times in the half empty room. Given their expansion with their songwriting and their fairly large fanbase, it’s surprising that more kids aren’t down to boogie with them. Alas, Gnarwolves soldier on through¬†and sounding tight as ever end on ‘Melody Has Big Plans’ and ‘Eat Dynamite, Kid’, with a wee push pit started by enthusiastic punters. Thom concludes the set by simply telling the crowd to “get a haircut”. Ouch.

gnarwolves @ rebellion 2016 by dod morrison photography (1)

With some time to kill, I have a little wander around the Winter Palace to soak in the atmosphere. There are about a gazillion punk distros, art exhibitions, spoken word sets and even a tattoo parlour in one of the upstairs buildings. Suffice to say it was a lot to take in, and understandably why people end up buying weekend tickets even for the shopping and endless amount of pub surfing alone.

Making my way into the hustle and bustle of the Tower Street Arena stage, Flag show up to a ridiculously¬†packed out crowd. As with CJ Ramone and a lot of older artists, it’s sometimes better to limit chatter with the audience and get on with the hits that everyone knows. Flag are no exception, despite vocalist Keith Morris attempting to make some offhand joke about how he wanted to buy clothes from the New Look opposite the stage as tourist clothes. Everyone looks a bit confused, however, the awkwardness is quashed as soon as they launch into ‘Revenge’. Given how many times Black Flag have tried to reform under different names and various line-ups with very mixed results it could be easy to dismiss the “Flag” reincarnation as yet another cheap sell out. Thankfully the group stick mostly to early Black Flag material, and while it feels like Morris is going to run out of steam at times, the tight drumming from Bill Stevenson and the undeniably electric crowd participation definitely make Flag one of the highlights of our day at Rebellion. Getting to see Dez Cadena sing ‘Six Pack’ is of course an unmissable moment.

flag @ rebellion 2016 by dod morrison photography (37)

Back at the Pavillion stage, River Jumpers arrive to a nearly empty room. The Brighton pop punk outfit are perhaps an odd fit for Rebellion’s punk rock veteran audience. The unfortunate clash mean that anyone who wants to see them was probably watching Flag, but the die-hard sing along. Guitarist Nick Davis tries his best to get some crowd participation going but alas even as the room fills up towards the end of the set it just doesn’t happen. A damn shame considering the group announce that they were going on hiatus after this set.

At a festival full of punks in their mid 40s and early 50s you’re bound to run into bands that were popular in the late 70s but for some inexplicable reason rarely play shows outside of big punk festivals. Peter And The Test Tube Babies have the old timers head bobbing along while nursing their beers. Anthems like ‘Banned From The Pubs’ and ‘Moped Lads’ might not have the same anarchistic overtones now as they did back in the day, but they’re still able to be catchy as hell.

Bouncing Souls are by far one of the best bands to grab your mate and have a boogie along to. There’s no denying that. ¬† Accompanied by plenty of younger kids jumping on people’s heads, circle pits and general mischief, it’s surprising that the New Jersey 90s punks aren’t headlining one of the bigger indoor stages this year. Zipping through a nice selection of cuts from nearly all of their albums, there’s something here for everyone and with band grinning from ear to ear as fans angrily finger point every single word back to them, the set captures the spirit of Rebellion Festival. Even with newer or lesser known songs popping up occasionally the energy rarely dips during their set.

bouncing souls @ rebellion 2016 by dod morrison photography (32)

Leaving the Tower Street Area stage feeling pumped for the rest of the evening, I wander around until I realise that there is a very real risk of not being able to get into the Empress Ballroom before Descendents come on. I quickly make my way down to check out anyone on in the same room as I carefully find my place.

At long last, a glowing Descendents banner with vocalist Milo Aukerman’s cartoon face on it lights up the room, and the deafening cheer from the crowd turns into joyful sing alongs. Opening with ‘Everything Sucks’, straight into ‘Hope’ and then ‘Rotting Out’, Descendents rarely ever miss a beat tonight. For a band that have been around for nearly 39 years these guys show no sign of slowing down. ¬†Whether it’s Milo’s warming vocal delivery, Karl Alvarez’s pummelling bass lines or Stephen Egerton’s groovy guitar shredding, it’s hard to believe how much energy they have playing on stage, somehow managing to be on par with the endless circle pits and crowd surfers of younger fans. It is also commendable for them to play tracks off of their new record ‘Hypercaffium Spazzinate’ and shrug it off like it it’s no big deal, which is the attitude that more bands should have rather than care what the grumpy cynics might think.

descendents @ rebellion 2016 by dod morrison photography (329)

Alongside the infectious pop punk choruses of ‘Bikeage’ and ‘Get The Time’ Descendents still manage to fit in their signature silliness into the mix with tracks like ‘I Like Food’ and ‘Weinerschnitzel’, proving their loveable goofballs status. Sadly the fan favourite ‘All-O-Gistics’ is cut from the set due to time, but a setlist of 30 songs in total delving into the best of their discography more than makes up for this. Ending on ‘Thank You’ and their self titled track, the lyric “Did you know you’re why I go and waste my time at a rock and roll show” sums up the way Descendents manage time and time again to tug at our heartstrings, and is a fitting sentiment to a phenomenal set. The loveable nerdy punks from California rarely come to the UK these days, but when they do, it never feels like a ham fisted reunion set. They’re still the same over stimulated and zany kids they were back in the 80s, and it’ll be a very long time before that changes.

WORDS BY: Ashwin Bhandari
PHOTOS BY: Dod Morrison