LIVE: Neighbourhood Weekender 2019

By Yasmin Brown

It may only be in its second year, but Neighbourhood Weekender festival is already making quite a name for itself, pulling in some of the biggest acts across genres for all music lovers of the North to enjoy, kicking off festival season with a bang.

The Punktastic team headed along to check out some of our favourite bands – and with break out areas providing hammocks, bean bags, and makeshift pubs, it not only provided us with a stellar lineup, but an outstanding environment in which to enjoy it, too.

Images: Tash Greene, Words: Yasmin Brown

We kicked off the day with London’s effortlessly cool Sea Girls. After playing pretty much every festival you can think of last summer and being fully embraced by Radio 1, they’ve seen huge growth in popularity over the past year. Immediately it’s easy to see the difference in crowds in just 12 months, and despite opening the entire festival, Sea Girls have pulled in a decent sized crowd, with the majority singing and dancing along enthusiastically to every song on this half hour setlist. There’s infinite energy coming from both crowd and band, allowing both parties to feed off one another, perfectly warming us up for the rest of the day. With an unquestionable knack for writing catchy yet relatable tracks and an unrivalled stage presence, Sea Girls are only going to grow from here, and it won’t be long before we see them easily making their way up festival bills until they’re headlining stages across the country.

After being blown away by them at last year’s Reading Festival, there was no way we were going to miss Yonaka. Oozing attitude, this band continuously put on one of the most memorable sets at any festival, regardless of where they sit on the bill. Front woman Theresa Jarvis defines confidence, jumping around, pulling signature facial expressions as she hits note after note with perfection. We’re treated to new songs set for release at the end of May, as well as more familiar tracks that, to existing fans, feel like coming home, and not for a moment do you feel tempted to stand still. This is a band that attracts fans of all descriptions, most notably a mother and her toddler singing along to ‘Teach Me to Fight’ in unison, both with index fingers pointing towards the sky as the daughter sits on her mother’s hips. This is music for our generation, and for generations to come. It’s timeless in its message but most poignant today, and whether you had heard of Yonaka previously or not, there’s no way you could possibly leave the main stage without having been impacted in some way.

Our first act on Stage 2, The Blinders take to the stage masked in a screen of smoke. Slowly, as the smoke dissipates, the three members emerge creepily, with front man Thomas Haywood maintaining a stage persona that requires him to paint his entire face white with just one stripe of black to break up this ghostly appearance. While the band’s Arctic Monkeys/Sex Pistols hybrid sound is certainly interesting, it saw a number of crowd members leaving the tent in favour of other stages. Hailing from Manchester, just 20 miles away, this band’s sound is clearly niche, attracting a very specific kind of music fan and perhaps ostracising a wider audience as a result. That said, this ensures that the band remains authentic, creating music for themselves rather than to draw in the masses and focus on making money. It’s a commendable approach to creating art, and one that will likely see them develop a loyal, if limited, fanbase. This was cemented by the fact that those who did stick around were screaming along to every lyric, throwing themselves into the music without a single consideration to what anyone might think of them.

Regardless of what you think of Maxïmo Park’s music, there’s no denying that they have one of the strongest stage presences of the day. Smashing through their back catalogue that extends back 20 years, this northern band never once falter, offering a thoroughly entertaining thirty-minute set. While they’ve remained largely off the mainstream radar since the release of sophomore album ‘Our Earthly Pleasures’ in 2007, they put on one hell of a show and are undeniably made for festivals. Donned in a royal blue shirt over a red/pink patterned shirt, front man Paul Smith makes no effort to blend in, his flamboyant character being a huge part of what makes this band a joy to witness. Maxïmo Park’s more recent music may have made less of an impact, but their earlier releases more than make up for this in a live environment. Not only that, but having been playing together for over two decades, this band is tighter than ever, feeding off one another and putting on a musically faultless show.

While Nothing But Thieves haven’t released new music since 2017, they continue to find themselves on festival bills across the country, consistently pulling in massive, passionate crowds. There’s no denying that front man Conor Mason has the strongest vocals of the day, but the performance is let down by a distinct lack of energy from not just Conor, but the rest of the band, too. There are few moments where you see a smile form on the band members’ faces, making it difficult to fully embrace the set despite the impeccable musical performance. The energy picks up midway through, however, when – at Mason’s request – a circle pit forms in the centre of the crowd, and songs such as ‘I’m Not Made By Design’ and ‘Live Like Animals’ are so excellent in their own right that the entire band could be sitting on stools and the crowd would still lose their minds. Due to the band’s more placid nature, their performance of ‘Particles’ is the most stand moment of the set, with Mason’s voice reaching all new heights, and crowd members singing along emphatically with their eyes closed as they feel every word. Ultimately, while it feels a little lacklustre at times, Nothing But Thieves are talented enough that the music itself is enough to make any set phenomenal, and it was a perfect way to kick off the second half of the day.

Fueled by an ongoing legal battle with their ex-management and record label, The Hunna have come back from a short hiatus more fierce than ever. Despite taking to the stage an entire time slot early due to a delay in Pale Waves reaching the site, the Stage 2 tent is packed to the brim with fans. Opening with ‘We Could Be’ – a not-so-subtle nod to the struggles faced over the past few months – the crowd needs no encouragement when it comes to starting circle pits, happily launching their bodies at one another. The entire set is chaos from start the finish, the kind of absolute mayhem you hope for at any rock gig; sweat quickly coats every inch of the crowd, and voices become hoarse through the sheer passion with which fans scream the lyrics back at the band. Even the two new songs that make the setlist are met with enthusiasm, the tent maintaining the excitable atmosphere that defines this forty-minute set. We are lucky to have The Hunna, and as the crowd takes over as lead vocalist for both ‘She’s Casual’ and ‘Bonfire’, it’s clear that The Hunna are lucky to have us, too.

You’d never guess that Pale Waves only landed back in the UK from America mere hours earlier as they take to the stage with unwavering charisma and energy. Front woman Heather Baron-Gracie wastes no time encouraging the crowd, highlighting that they’re local – hailing from just a few miles away in Manchester – and repeatedly asking, ‘How you fucking doing?’, inciting thousands of positive responses in the form of wild screaming. The set itself reflects the band’s debut album, ‘My Mind Makes Noises’, with beams of red lighting up the stage and Baron-Gracie dressed head to toe in the stark colour, making the band’s mid-set performance of ‘Red’ all the more striking. Playing together seems to come naturally to this four-piece, as despite the definite jet lag and exhaustion they never once trip up – the only hint of their severe lack of rest being the intermittent moments where Baron-Gracie sounds a little off key. Due to the switch in set times, Pale Waves’ performance is sadly shorter than expected, but they more than made up for it with their positivity and vibrancy, and only left us wanting more.

No strangers to the British festival scene, You Me At Six can always be counted on to put on an explosive performance, whatever size crowd they might be playing to. This headline slot at Neighbourhood Weekender is no exception, and despite a false start that sees front man Josh Franceschi flailing about and trying to remember the lyrics to opening song ‘Fast Forward’, it’s still the best end to the night we could possibly hope for. Franceschi’s vocals are on top form as he puts his all into every song while still keeping a keen eye out on the crowd to ensure their safety, allowing himself to get distracted during ‘Fresh Start Fever’ when someone seems to be hurt, continuously checking up on them while, for the most part, maintaining composure.

As always, this band combines great music with an opportunity to forget any issues you may be facing outside of the confines of the venue, always highlighting their shows as a safe space filled with positivity, and fans make the most of this opportunity to lose their minds; to scream, cry, and dance until they have nothing left to give. Not that it’s at all difficult to enjoy, as YMAS play hit after hit, and – always looking for an excuse for encouraging crowd surfers – Franceschi takes a moment to get us excited as he talks about new music, and how we can expect a single before the end of summer. He uses this excitement to get us launching ourselves across a sea of arms, grappling around for stability and a high-five as we reach the front of the crowd and safely land on our feet. There’s no better way to end a festival than on the high that You Me At Six will always leave you with. As tired as we may be, when we leave the fields with our favourite songs still rattling around in our heads, we simply can’t wait until we get to do it all again.