Nottingham isn’t a place I’d typically choose to spend my Sunday, but when the town’s cardigan of interwoven venues is playing host to the highs and lows of this year’s Hit the Deck Festival, well, who am I to scorn the royal Forest. In fact the city’s perilous one-way systems manage to dissuade our arrival for only a handful of minutes, and while we narrowly miss out on the ferocious, up and coming Welsh quintet When We Were Wolves; Belgium’s spine-chilling Oathbreaker get the ball rolling in the main room of Rock City. Fresh from a series of Europe shows with two of tonight’s main acts, Oathbreaker are chaos; a chaos with a banshee at the helm. Caro Tanghe’s whirlwind vocals and her hunched, ominous performance is enough to cause a stir this early in the afternoon, and while the tracks aren’t overtly distinctive from one another, that sense of intentional, catastrophic disarray is clear throughout their set.
Next then, we take the short trip down to Rock City’s basement to catch the undeniably thunderous Bad Sign. The South London three-piece bring a gust of room-shaking chunk to the small stage, living up to the bold statements made outlandishly on their array of shirts that read, in a vociferous typeface, ‘PURE FUCKING RIFFAGE’. Indeed. The soundman has a task on his hands to make the single guitar fill the room, and though he doesn’t quite manage it, both Joe (bass) and Jon (guitar) and the noises that emanate from them are a harmonious wrath throughout, taking to the audience for the last song and causing a thoroughly entertaining ruckus.
Grunge is another genre that wouldn’t have been given a disinterested sniff in this arena a couple of years ago, but it’s bands like Allusondrugs, who’re next to take to Rock City’s main stage, that are demanding attention for the style and themselves of course. Their set dips and dives, as they jut from chaotic indie uproar, to tender, emotional breaks without so much as a stammer. There’s even a degree of somewhat nostalgic comfort in watching a band that seem to live so unwaveringly by their name. That said, the set is far from slick, and only trundles to its finale via a very personal performance from singer Jason Moules, and a crowd that are willing to lap up even the most abstract tones.
The allure of The Rescue Rooms and Stealth venues that make up the rest of the Hit the Deck party isn’t quite enough to tempt us away as Tellison take up the mantle back in Rock City’s basement. Tellison have been around for what seems like forever, and their collection of infectiously catchy riffs and vocal melodies, combined with a melancholic, cordial overtone that holds your attention from beginning to end just doesn’t seem to get old. With so long in the game, and being so relentlessly good, frankly, it’s surprising they haven’t broken into bigger-scale circles; however if they often run into sound issues similar to the ones they experience this afternoon, that may well be telling. The man on the desk is pragmatically reluctant, seemingly, to turn the main vocal up to an audible level, while all four mics across the front lack the volume they need to be the driving force of the set. Which is enormously upsetting. Regardless, Tellison fight through it, earning their place at the festival through sheer, tooth and nail tenacity.
Set clashes cause us to chop the next few bands we see in half, which is a shame as they, quite typically, end up being some of the best. Hundredth, a band seemingly more notorious for their shirt designs than their music tore out onto main stage Rock City; a blistering, unstoppable tornado of anger-strapped sound that, coupled with a defiant clash with the notion of staying still, looked collectively like a dog trying to tear itself from its leash. Hard-hitting and heavy; their set, at least initially, doesn’t look capable of wavering from this formula, a formula that they seem to have irrefutably nailed down.
It’s As It Is then, that finally tear us away from Rock City, leading us with heightened curiosity into The Rescue Rooms. They keep saying there’s a pop punk revival erupting across the UK and the US, and I’m not sure at which point we say, okay we’ve done it, pop punk is officially revived. Revival achieved. Anyway, ‘they’ also keep saying that As It Is are, if not leading it, then at least giving it a damn good leg up, and that is palpable the moment you walk in the room. The atmosphere is tangible; embodied, and while we walk in on an already established set, the presence of the band is a towering feat. Former YouTube sensation Patty Walters’ cloying Minneapolis-soaked vocals put a typically American drawl on the Brighton-based quintet, but with bangers like Dial Tone thrown out with emotion and energy, and a hungry audience firing the words right back at the stage, there’s little wonder As It Is are hoisting this revolution well and truly aloft.
Internet wonder boys Oceans Ate Alaska are next up, and entice us to finally perforate the enigmatic Stealth venue. From their gargantuan Facebook following and reportedly viral presence on YouTube, Oceans Ate Alaska attract a well and truly defined style of hardcore audience, encouraging the full repertoire of spin kicks and fist swings out in the crowd. A smattering of beastly breakdowns from start to finish punctate their set, though unfortunately sound problems seem to ensure we barely get a word of those clean vocals cutting above the chaos.
Back in the main room at Rock City, we’re treated to Hacktivist’s unique blend of djent and rap that has become a sight to see even if you’re not fussed by either genre, never mind an amalgamation. Typically tight and full of bounce-along moments that seem to tether the audience’s open palms in the air, vocalists Timfy James and J Hurley pace the sizeable stage with speed and certainty. Djent is often prone to soundalike repetitiveness that can leave you unable to tell one song from another, but the undeniable success of their cocktail sound and pure meticulousness of the machine that is their live set, this afternoon at least, truly sets Hacktivist deservedly apart.
At The Rescue Rooms again, we catch Decade being tagged in by As It Is; a tough act to follow without question. Another British up and coming pop punk five piece; it’s here that Decade actually manage to triumphantly stand out, setting themselves apart in an arena that was always going be a stickler for comparison drawing. Delivering a brand of the genre that is altogether more sentient, dysphoric and emotional; pop-punk with a melancholy edge that could be compared to Saves the Day or Taking Back Sunday, Decade are a different kind of delight to watch. Singer Alex Sears seems intent upon an emotional connection with anyone in the audience, although almost shies away from it when the opportunity finally appears to arise; solidifying further still a sense of sincerity in the band’s set.
Monuments are the first band to really encourage a flickering of movement in the audience as they erupt onto Rock City main stage. With the commanding vocals and extravagant hair of Chris Baretto at the reigns, their sound is typically enormous, a soaring soundscape that is as epic as it is heavy, steadily drowning out anything in its corrosive path. For all the grandeur of the moment though, their place right after djent-imbued rap counterparts in Hacktivist highlights that aforementioned repetitive nature of the style. It’s undoubted that Monuments do it right, and the crowd reaction is enough to know they’ve nailed it once again this afternoon, but after 30 minutes, there’s a dire need for variation.
Fortunately Black Peaks are on hand to provide such variation, as their set in the basement is ridden with a burning sense of honesty and self-awareness from start to finish. At times it’s a calamity of brash screams and acicular clean vocals that rush to slower moments of contemplative, cyclical melody. There’s a drama to the proceedings, but a believable drama, as vocalist Will Gardner places a piercing stare in the direction of the lucky numbers that have gathered to watch them in this basement. Single Glass Built Castles rounds off the set in a manner that is suitably anarchic, exciting and attention-worthy.
So as we finally make it to the home stretch, the festival takes off its shirt, rolls up its sleeves and tells you it’s time to get your hands dirty. First out of the gate of the final four we saw is the unassailable, cantering, fog-horn fiasco that is the (‘mother fuckin’) Cancer Bats, as introduced by wildman and vocalist Liam Cormier. The set is utterly relentless, save for one or two moments that dared to sound like a minute to rest up, the most notable of which involved Cormier instructing everyone to ‘fuck Instagram, fuck Twitter’, put their phones away and party. The stage is awash with movement and the room is on fire with the band’s scorching Southern metal drone, complete with hell yeahs and yee-haws and all the rest of it. Cancer Bats are the kind of metal band whose live show leaves an indelible, permeating grin on all its witnesses.
Their co-headline tour is still at full throttle, and Hit the Deck seems largely an extension of that notion, as follow-ups While She Sleeps step onto the stage doused in an enigmatic red glow, and to the hail of the thousand maniacs before them. With the latest album Brainwashed an internet wash-out in terms of out and out love, it is of course still the old numbers from This Is The Six that stir the room into a choral vehicle of impassioned chants. So easy is their music to bellow along to, inspite of its constant and unrelenting aggression, that it’s plain to see how they’ve captured the fervour of every audience member in the room. Loz Taylor (vocals) is clambering through the audience before the set is even in full swing, and with performances like this every night, While She Sleeps are still one of the UK’s most exciting and virile heavy bands to see live.
We nip back to Stealth once more to catch venue headliners Devil Sold His Soul emphatically tear through the sound problems and technical difficulties with their brand of scintillating, epic hardcore. Spending most their set in a deluge of strobe, the band have become methodical in their deliverance of their sound over the years, with a pervading passion to their live set that has woven its way in neatly. They’re a true pleasure to watch these days, and while they inspire ardent sing along moments from the flurry of fervent attendees packed into the small venue, it’s evident that both from near and afar DSHS are these days thoroughly deserved of their place in the scene, and plenty more besides.
We take one last walk, as do most of the other attendees, back to Rock City for tonight’s special prize; headliners Skindred. On paper, and to someone who hasn’t seen the band play before, that’s an odd slant for the closing act of the festival. On stepping into the room and drinking in Skindred on stage for the full duration of their set, it all seems to make sense. Infectious is a word that simply doesn’t do justice to the utterly dominant, undeniable control Benji Webbe expels upon the audience, as they, as we, lap it up and cry voraciously out for more. The novelty coat, and flag-encumbered mic stand are all part of the fun, but the combination of indisputably endemic, jump-along songs, and the presence of a man who has the crowd nestled snugly into the palm of his hand is a joyous event to be a part of. If you haven’t seen Skindred, from someone who never caught the wave back in the day, you must see this band play, while they are still playing.
Hit the Deck has become an outstanding showcase of some of the best up and coming bands from both local shores and those further afield. This year the line-up on paper looked questionable in theory, but turned out, in practice, to be jammed full of class, unmissable acts, that you’ll certainly be hearing more from in the coming years. Here’s to a triumphant return of an excellent festival next year.