Southsea Fest, in Breaking More Waves home city of Portsmouth, has a strangely old-fashioned and shabby charm to it. Maybe it’s because of its setting; one street filled with a curious mix of antique shops, curry houses and quaint boutique stores, with the majority of the acts playing in local boozers within just a few seconds walk of each other. Or maybe it’s because of its independent d-i-y feel; from its out of fashion looking program with muted colours and fonts from the past, to the dearth of corporate sponsorship around the festival. Or maybe it’s because of its lack of acknowledgement of the resurgence in digital and electronic music over the last few years; Southsea Fest’s programming is aimed in the main at guitar acts (dance music really doesn’t get a look in), possibly explaining the slightly older than average audience for this type of multi-venue festival. Or maybe it’s the events occasional disorder as some venues run behind time; but nobody minds because everything is so close together that you can dart into another gig next door whilst you’re waiting and then pop back to see who you intended to see in the first place.
However, whatever it is it’s a charm that works in Southsea Fest’s favour giving it an autonomous spirit, soul and a sense of not being over sanitised.
Breaking More Waves was on Southsea’s Albert Road from the very kick off of proceedings and in our usual style, here is our review or rather…
10 Things We Learnt At Southsea Fest 2013
1. Southsea Fest may be gaining a reputation as a festival to see ‘the next big thing’ but just as many if not more punters seem to be happy watching local acts they know and love.
Located at the top of a narrow metal spiral staircase, the tiny Atrium bar found George Ezra, a man who played to a packed BBC Introducing Stage at this year’s Glastonbury and has signed a deal with Columbia records, playing to a small handful of listeners. Yet reports informed us that it was a one in one out situation at the same venue for local folk group The Day of the Rabblement a little later. Likewise one of Portsmouth’s better indie rock bands Kassassin Street pulled a big lunchtime crowd at the Wedgewood Rooms, but not so many of them stuck around for London’s Flyte afterwards, another band on an upward trajectory and whose tight musicality, harmonies and natural song writing ability suggested that the ladder they’re climbing is a long one, but they’re more than capable of getting higher than they are now.
2. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet, especially if it’s hype over the band Superfood.
Taste is a funny thing. “The best new band of the year,” we’d read some time ago (here). Yet the guitar based equivalent of a rather bland Findus ready meal left us utterly cold and hungry for something more than a rehash of all of the worst bits of slacker indie meets grunge meets Britpop from the 90’s.
3. You don’t need wellies at Southsea Fest like you might at an outdoor music festival but sensible footwear is still advised.
Eleven hours of gigs = cider coated floors. Particularly at the Wedgewood Rooms.
4. The smells of Southsea Fest are a cocktail of sweat, lager and cider.
One of the most popular venues at Southsea Fest is always the Alcopop! / Big Scary Monsters curated Edge of the Wedge stage, which by early evening has usually turned into something of a clothed rock’n’roll sauna. 2013 was no exception. We saw people falling out of the room coated in sweat but with huge smiles on their faces after The Computers set. Likewise Southsea Social Club (which featured two venues in one building) smelt like a teenage boys bedroom by early evening. Downstairs we caught Curxes throwing aside their synth led dramatic pop for something more punkish, fiery and aggressively finger flicking, whilst upstairs Is Bliss did their very best to wreck ear drums with their mind consuming shoegaze noise, guitar chucking and swaths of reverb. None of this was for the faint-heated or sensitive of nostrils.
5. Not everything at Southsea Fest is as intensive on either the ears or nose.
For those who preferred their rock’n’roll thrills a little more sedate and comfortable, the lavish environs of the Edwardian playhouse Kings Theatre was distinctly more fresh smelling. Of particular highlight there was Sons & Lovers whose widescreen rock / pop reached for the venues heightened ceilings and touched them, songs like Golden and King turning up the knob marked epic. Foy Vance also delighted the audience with heartfelt songs and engaging banter and he left the stage with the crowd singing the chorus of his last song Guiding Light (streaming below).
6. There really should have been a late night chemist nearby.
Just so the Andy Falkous, lead singer of Future Of The Left could buy some throat lozenges after he had howled and snarled his way through a set that was the musical equivalent of a truck collision. "Do people actually enjoy this?" we overheard one slightly bewildered punter question as the band launched into another assault of frantic and abrasive riffs and shouting.
7. Indie rock music is becoming increasingly more revivalist.
Already with a seal of approval from Johnny Marr and Noel Gallagher, Kettering band Temples turned in a performance that was highly accomplished, but after they exited the stage there was a nagging doubt that their 12-string tunes and penchant for recreating a psychedelic sound from over 50 years ago was just a little too much. Likewise earlier on the same stage Night Engine played a bunch of songs that as tight and as faultlessly spikey as they were veered perilously close to being like a David Bowie tribute act. Is rock music now tradition or will it eventually find some new ideas and progress again?
8. Every festival should have a catch up break around tea time.
In prior acknowledgement that sometimes things don’t go to plan, particularly when you have over 100 bands playing on one street and a small team to manage them all, some stages at Southsea Fest had catch up breaks. Not only good for the festival, but good for the punters to – a perfect time to grab some food, go to the toilet etc knowing you’re not going miss anything and possibly spotting the member of a spotty leather clad indie rock trio in Ken’s Kebabs.
9. Southsea Fest is probably the best value sweaty rock’n’ roll experience you can have legally for just a few quid.
With an early bird ticket costing a mere £12 Southsea Fest makes a welcome alternative in the increasingly expensive festival market. We watched 14 bands full performances all at a leisurely pace. That’s 86p a band. Now that’s what we call a bargain.
10. After all that learning we drew some conclusions.
With seven years under its belt Southsea Fest continues to put Portsmouth on the musical map. It’s an event that local people feel attached to whilst it slowly increases its status nationally. Roll on Chapter 8 in 2014.
Foy Vance - Guiding Light