LIVE: Hit the Deck Festival 2015

By Rob Barbour

Here at Punktastic there’s little we look forward to more than festival season; that annual jamboree of warm beer, ruined shoes and the Herculean task of attempting to wrestle a pop-up tent back into the tiny disc from which it came. It’s alway nice, however, to ease into a Summer of exhilarating live music with an all-dayer involving proper toilets, no tents, and not a single cry of ‘Buttscratcher’… which is why we’ve been so glad to see the rise of comparatively low-key one-day festivals like Hit The Deck, now in its fifth year and going from strength to strength.

With 40+ bands over three venues, seeing everything was always going to be impossible but we set off for the Bristol date armed with a militantly planned schedule and perhaps just a little too much optimism. Traffic and the general faff involved in navigating a city with the orienteeringĀ skills of a blind, three-legged beetle mean we arrive just in time to catch the end of You Blew It!‘s set.

It may still be lunchtime but the Academy 2 is packed with appreciative fans. Some of us have never fully ‘got’ the Orlando quartet on record but live it makes much more sense – textured, dynamic and overall impassioned. Although they suffer from the bass-heavy, unbalanced sound which seems to afflict this room for most of the day (the perils of all-dayers and their lack of proper sound checks, unfortunately) the band’s intense performance wins us over. Tight and melodic, there’s already something of a cult springing up around this band and on the basis of today’s show it’s easy to see why. Drummer Matt Nissley also wins bonus points for his Andrew WK shirt, although a brief Google images search suggests he may not own many other garments.

Shifting up several gears in a manner that would cause you to fail your driving test, Croydon’s Bad Sign make more noise than any trio should rightly be able to. Tearing about the stage like they designed, built and paid for it, their grinding Sahf Landan take on post hardcore is riveting to witness in person. Bassist Joe Appleford and guitarist Jon Harris – who looks suspiciously like the product of an illicit liaison between Frank Turner and Littlefinger from Game of Thrones -take on the audience with an aggressive confidence that’s entirely well-founded, with cocky gestures and winks at the audience before particularly impressive parts of their songs. It’s three in the afternoon and the room is going off; if they came on to a friendly room then by the end of the set it’s practically family, Harris and Appleford ending the set shredding in the middle of the crowd, then hugging and high-fiving their way back to the stage for one last, blunt-force trauma breakdown.

We wander next door to the main Academy auditorium to catch hotly-tipped Leeds mob Allusondrugs. The sparse crowd – more a sign of the venue’s size than the band’s popularity, we’d wager – does them no favours in such a large space and the finer points of their 90s Seattle loud-quiet-loud dynamics are lost in a wall of indistinct noise. They’d perhaps have been better placed in the smaller Academy 2, whose intimacy would have rendered frontman Jason Moules’ slightly awkward between-song chat more charming; the crowd clearly have no such qualms though and overall we’re left with the feeling one gets watching someone else play video games – we can see what might be enjoyable about it but it leaves us cold.

That coldness is short-lived, though, as Tellison take the stage. Their artfully constructed three-guitar melodic assault and pitch-perfect harmonies cuts through the aforementioned muddy sound like a knife through a generic dairy-based spread, but there’s nothing generic about the songs. Tellison have never been as huge as they so clearly deserve to be but to the faithful gathered in the Academy today, belting out every word to the visible delight of co-vocalists Stephen Davidson and Peter Phillips, the wider world’s loss is their gain. Despite recent appearances being used to showcase their forthcoming third album, today’s set is evenly split between the power-pop perfection of second album ‘The Wages of Fear’ and less-polished debut ‘Contact! Contact!’, with new single ‘Boy’ hinting at a grungier sound to come. Or perhaps that’s just the room’s overworked speakers again. There’s a palpable sense of glee in the air for the half hour Tellison are on stage and by the time closer ‘Get On’ rolls around it’s clear they’re leaving the crowd wanting more.

Next it’s a trek across town to boat-masquerading-as-a-venue Thekla, which today plays host to Hit The Deck’s pop punk contingent. As we reach the bottom deck we can just about make out Brighton’s As It Is through a fog of hormones. The band are tight and hugely energetic, drawing the first big crowd of the day, but it’s all about frontman Patty Walters. Erstwhile Youtube star Walters demonstrates real star power and has the crowd in the palm of his hand. They’re doing nothing particularly innovative (“He sounds like Jordan Pundik, only in tune,” comments one audience member) but they’re doing it well and if the response they receive today is any indicator then they’re going to be huge.

Hit The Deck As It Is

The big surprise of the day for us was local (ish) boys Decade. A band I’d previously written off on record as a passable-but-superfluous replica of The Story So Far, the Bath quintet really come into their own in person. Frontman Alex Seers stalks the stage with a laid-back confidence and songs from debut album ‘Good Luck’, occasionally blending into one on record, hugely benefit from the live treatment with captivating vocal harmonies and astounding tightness.

All of which sets us up well for the last ever Bristol show by soon-to-be-no-more The Swellers. Nick Deiner has transformed from a skinny pop-punk kid into possibly the world’s buffest vegan, and the band knock out a set of songs every bit as muscular as their frontman’s arms. We’d been really excited by the Weezer-esque direction of some of the songs on most recent album ‘The Light Under Closed Doors’, many of which get aired today. Energetic and still clearly having a great time despite the challenges laid out in the blunt blog written for Noisey last year by drummer Jonathan, you’d never guess this was a band on the verge of termination. By this point in the day, we’re too caught up in the music and the refreshments to note details but the comments we have on their set speak for themselves: ‘tight, frontman is hench, gonna be missed’.Hit The Deck Swellers

Then it’s back to the Academy 2 to catch perennially underachieving Scots The Xcerts playing their hearts out to a small but hugely keen crowd. The band’s comparative lack of success vs their peers is oft-lamented, most recently in a Noisey article on the apparently-shocking trend of musicians having to hold down day-jobs (whatever next? entire music websites run by people who write for fun?). While the band’s performance – particularly that of undeniably passionate frontman Murray McLeod – is exemplary, we can’t shake the feeling that rather than bad luck or a dying industry, it’s simply a lack of memorable material holding them back. Tonight, though, I’m clearly in the minority.

It’s been 11 years since we last saw The Early November, and with the recent announcement that 3/5 of the band wouldn’t be joining the UK leg of their tour we’ll admit to some scepticism going into this performance. We needn’t have worried. From the second Ace Enders launches into the staccato intro of ‘Frayed In Doubt’, we’re treated to a ten-song set which sensibly focusses on material from their criminally underrated debut album ‘The Room’s Too Cold’.

‘Decoration’ and ‘Hair’ from ambitious but ultimately over-reaching triple-album ‘The Mother, The Mechanic and The Path’ come to life when played live, but the most rapturous responses are saved for classics like ‘Baby Blue’ and ‘Ever So Sweet’, the solo performance of which is enhanced (or more likely, ruined) by top-of-voice singalongs from a crowd who more than make up for their lack of numbers in passion. The band are greeted like an old friend which to those of us who grew up and had our hearts broken and mended to The Early November’s music, they really are. An understated but undeniable rock star, the fresh-faced Enders positively owns the stage – his voice on top form despite malfunctioning monitors. Truly life-affirming.

Of course, we couldn’t leave without checking out festival headliners Skindred, for whom a packed Academy is going nuts. Though they’ve been bravely ploughing the nu-metal furrow for what feels like decades, this is our first time experiencing them live. Comprising one (or possibly all) of ZZ Top on guitar, the rhythm section from literally any metal band of the last 20 years, a DJ who seems to have wandered onstage at the wrong gig and the inimitable Benji Webbe, who tonight appears to be dressed as Father Christmas, Skindred are something of a Marmite proposition. Their appeal lies in their domination of the stage and of course their frontman’s OTT pantomime charisma.


‘Is this fuckin’ Bristol? I thought this was fuckin’ Bristol!’ Webbe goads the crowd, who lap up every word.

‘This isn’t BATH? This isn’t CARDIFF? This isn’t…’ there’s a pause as Webbe tries to think of another city for who the denizens of Brizzle might reserve disdain, before settling on the entire country of Scotland. The band then launch into… to be honest, can anyone tell Skindred’s songs apart? There’s a metal bit, there’s a wicky-wicky DJ bit and there’s a 50-year-old Welshman shouting over the top.

It is of course utterly, utterly ridiculous but in the best way possible. A suitably rambunctuous end to a fantastic day of new discoveries and evocative nostalgia. Roll on next year!