Hundreds of indie music fans recently descended on Bognor Regis for the third annual Rockaway Beach music festival. This three-dayer, hosted by Butlins, has plenty to recommend it. The off-season holiday camp setting gives proceedings a kitsch charm. It all takes place indoors, which means no portaloos, no mud and no camping. Most importantly, there’s a great mix of name headliners and less well established bands spread across two different sized rooms. We went down to take a look. Here are our four highlights.
Hailing from our home town of Brighton, this well drilled guitar indie four piece tears up the smaller Reds stage on Sunday afternoon with a set of songs that mix choppy punk attitude with poppy infectious choruses. Singer Theresa Jarvis flings her peroxide blonde hair around while guitarist George Edwards (who seems to be sporting a black eye) strikes Rage Against the Machine poses. It’s fun stuff.
Some of the other bands we’ve heard on this stage have been suffering from sound balance problems, ending up with a groaning bass heavy soup in which the vocals are hopelessly lost. Yonaka really do manage to nail this aspect of sound clarity and it’s such a crucial thing. We get to actually hear what Jarvis is singing, and enjoy the melodies – which, by the way, are great. Standout track Bubblegum is the instantly catchy set closer, splicing syncopated rock thrash with the pop sass of Santigold.
“My New Years resolution is to talk more and be nice to people” mutters singer Faris Badwan sarcastically midway through The Horrors’ Friday night set on the main stage. It’s the closest this band ever get to knockaround humour and jolly onstage bants. Faris is an impressive frontman, tall and glowering, and sporting what looks like a tin foil jacket.
We’ve seen the Horrors live before, but only ever in daylight at open air festivals. This is a band which really flourishes in the darkness, though. ‘Sea Within a Sea’, a few tracks in, is where it all clicks into place. The repeating, rhythmic backing quickly becomes hypnotic. The song has outgrown its recorded version, to become a juddering beast, a slow building, pounding, prodding opus. When Joshua Hayward finally cuts loose on the guitar solo about eight minutes in, it’s pretty amazing.
The band close their set with the recent single ‘Something to Remember Me By’, a melancholy yet uncharacteristically poppy offering. It receives a rapturous reception from the crowd who commence enthusiastic dancing. It feels significant that a band on their fifth album can crown their set with a new song. The Horrors aren’t resting on past glories – they remain vital and exciting.
There’s a definite buzz around Snapped Ankles’ Saturday afternoon appearance on the Reds stage. A row of fans suction themselves to the barrier during soundcheck and, when the band kick in, there’s proper euphoric dancing. If you’re not familiar with this group, then it’s worth knowing that they perform in full costume as sort of poundshop woodland spirits – wearing shaggy homemade robes and hitting wooden logs connected to synths. It could all be rather pantomime, but it’s not, perhaps because it’s done with such obviously straight-faced conviction… or perhaps just because the music is good enough to withstand such shenanigans. The lyrics are opaque Mark E Smith style staccato vocalisations, spun across heavily repetitive rhythmic loops, and overlaid with pounding live drums. It’s music for the guts. Crowd favourite ‘I Want My Minutes Back’ sounds like Suicide’s ‘Ghost Rider’ reimagined as a pulsating dance track. It’s slightly bonkers, but utterly brilliant.
This weekend has, for us at least, been all about the Wild Beasts. We’ve been excited to see them, yet saddened to learn that after more than ten years they’re calling it a day. This is their final festival appearance.
Thankfully, this does not feel like a sad occasion. It seems the band are waxing nostalgic about their career, playing a rare brace of four tracks from their 2009 Mercury nominated album ‘Two Dancers’. Guitarist and second vocalist Tom Fleming seems to be having a particularly enjoyable time on stage, smiling down mischievously at audience members. In recent interviews, the band members mentioned a sense of relief at finally getting the split announcement off their chests. This relief remains tangible tonight. We watch a band who are still clearly good friends, as they thoroughly enjoy a final flick through a killer back catalogue into which they have poured their heart and soul. They have nothing left to prove, and can afford to just throw their heads back, play the songs and smile. We’re smiling with them.
Set highlights include triumphant opener ‘Big Cat’, the first track on last year’s ‘Boy King’ album. ‘Wanderlust’ from Present Tense garners a particularly strong cheer from the crowd. Hayden shouts “Give it to me Tommy!” in only slightly ironic rock’n’roll fashion as Tom tears into a guitar solo on triumphant set closer ‘Alpha Female’. They’re so clearly having fun. The band returns for a short encore. “This is dedicated to the North West” announces Tom dreamily before a spirited ride through ‘All The King’s Men.’ The final song, “Celestial Creatures’ sees Hayden descend into the audience, touching the fans in faux blessing and farewell. Though we live in hope that one day there will be a second coming, we leave Rockaway Beach delighted to have shared such a celebratory moment with a band we love. We’ll miss them.