The final instalment is here! And it doesn’t get better than this line-up.
If you’ve only just stumbled upon the review, make sure you also check out:
- Mainstage Highlight: Propagandhi (duh)
- Beach Stage Highlight: La Armada / Darko
- Cover of the Day: Straightline – Boom Boom Boom Boom!!
On Friday morning I wake to discover a small lake forming at the front of the tent. Luckily the dam I built with sullied clothes has kept it at bay and, in fact, it’s evaporated a little in the heat. We venture out of the campsite to a makeshift bar on the roadside, starting the day with battery-acid €1 coffee and Slovenian schnapps called Unicorn Tears. It beats an alarm clock.
Friday is the big one. Although the rest of the week has been fun, there’s not a single band on today’s line-up that I’m willing to miss. The Beach Stage is a Lockjaw Records extravaganza of heavy, technical chaos, and the evening bill is knicker-moisteningly intense: 88 Fingers Louie, Snuff and Propagandhi. Propa-fucking-gandhi! Ask anyone earlier in the week who they’re looking forward to seeing: the answer is always Propagandhi. I’m worried I may die from excitement. Or alcohol poisoning.
Sat at the roadside bar we can hear ominous ripplings of thunder from over the hills, and the skies open once again. I grab another tongue-melting coffee and wait for the storm to pass, knowing that I’m going to need to bail the tent out again.
Amusingly, when the rain lets up, I notice a few people roaming around the campsite, foraging for rubbish. Garbage is a valuable commodity at PRH. You pay €10 on entry that’s returned when you hand in a full trash bag: a system so efficient that it’s a challenge to find enough litter to reclaim your deposit. The €1 cup-deposit scheme also means there’s not a single cup to be found on the ground (the complete opposite of many English festivals). On the last day we wind up are optimistically searching bins for discarded cups, just to reclaim out deposits – that’s how clean it is!
I get down to the Beach Stage early and listen to Corbillard sound checking while dipping my toes in the glacial water. The beach is quiet, with a light mist rising from the river. The water’s no longer clear, because the storm has shaken up the silt overnight. As the singer ‘one-two-one-two’s into the mic it booms madly around the mountains, making the strangest echo.
Once they hit the stage, I quickly declare Corbillard my new favourite band. This Belgian 4-piece play shouty, bass-driven punk ‘n’ roll, with triple vocal harmonies reminiscent of a lo-fi Red City Radio. They have a hip-hop tune Prends-Moi La Main which, to me, sounds like Random Hand’s Anger Management minus the horns, and I really, really like it. More please.
La Armada are a revelation. They assault us with bone-crushingly heavy technical hardcore, full of strong, grooving breakdowns and machine-gun percussion. They’re from the Dominican Republic originally but living in Chicago, so they shout, growl and spit in Spanish a lot of the time. It’s like one big, filthy party with Slayer, Sepultura and a whole heap of speed. It’s terrifyingly fucking great. So great I don’t even know what to tell you. Go listen to them.
They’re so hot that I have to take a quick dip in the glacial river during SLED’s set. Previously known at Pinhole Down they play fast melodic hardcore, straight out of Florida. They’re an excellent soundtrack to me wrestling my boots off and running into the icy water. I ask my favourite bartender for sex on the beach – completely failing to maintain a straight face – but a pint of refreshing juice, schnapps and vodka is exactly what you need at a hardcore punk show.
I’m set up drink-in-hand just in time for Sombulance, a fantastic melodic hardcore act from the South Coast who’ve recently emerged from a long hiatus. They’re technically excellent, storming through 30 minutes of dynamically layered guitars and bewilderingly complex percussion. Singer Dean Harwood’s got an unusually vocal clarity that rings clear through the live show – new tracks Downfall and Better Left Behind really stand out. The complexity of the lyrics matches the technical prowess of the backline performance, and he somehow manages to keep up while roaming the stage trailing the mic lead, leaping on the speakers, and abandoning personal safety to crowd surf for a song. Corbillard also reappear, this time completely naked: dicks out down the front. An appropriate response, really.
I watch After The Fall perched atop a rock outcrop above the fastest part of the river, drinking a melon ball. Even sat next to the stage, you can hear the water gushing over the rocks above the sound of the bands. Dedication, Decade and 1994 are all exceptionally good: great fast skate-punk with a gruff twist and thundering drums.
Next up: holy fucking Straightline. If this were a how-fast-can-you-shred competition these skate-thrashers from Munich would have destroyed the opposition. They perform with all the energy of a hyperactive ten-year-old who’s just discovered the adderall in his Mum’s purse. There’s a buzz that wouldn’t be out of place in a Suicidal Tendencies circle pit.
The most outstanding part of their set also takes the crown for Cover Of The Week. In fact, fuck it, I’ll award them Best Punk Cover I’ve Ever Heard. In the middle of their thrash extravaganza they drop in Boom Boom Boom Boom!! by the Vengaboys. There’s a flicker of awe that washes over me before I have to explode into dance. Then. Then! Then they segue into an riff-heavy version of Linoleum – without a doubt my favourite NOFX tune. Thank you Straightline, I think you just made my year.
If you want to relive the magic, it’s 3:47 into this video:
Finally, Darko dominate the Beach Stage, shredding through 40 minutes of intricate melodic hardcore with aplomb. The crowd erupt into a circle pit, with a sloppy pyramid, a wall of death and a balloon massacre soon to follow.
The British contingent is out in force – there are lots of familiar faces from around the UK at PRH, and they’re all united by this band. We’re also given an impressive lesson in stage-diving from two young boys, who simultaneously leap into the crowd and travel full circle to the bar and back to the stage in synchrony. Check out this great video if you want to be schooled. There aren’t many kids at Punk Rock Holiday, but every single one of them is cooler than you’ll ever be.
Darko are clearly comfortable on a stage of this size: between songs singer Dan Smith has a look of humble contentedness befitting a band aware of their roots. His distinctive vocal is the dynamite: simultaneously clear and raw, on par with Strike Anywhere or Kid Dynamite. Their technical skill is second-to-none, their riffs as immaculate as their well-groomed beards. It’s also quite reassuring to see a group of Brits who don’t look like they’ve been up on the gurn for five straight days – it can be done, folks.
Taking a trip to the tent between bands, we take a seat on the tarmac to watch the skaters in the setting sun. They’re offering free skate lessons and rentals, playing hip-hop and generally jamming on the half-pipe. We leave in time for Dutch punks Undeclinable Ambuscade, whose years of experience shines through in a tight, upbeat set.
Chixdiggit wing it without a setlist, asking for requests from an audience stood at least 10ft away from them. They play Quit Your Job (their track from the infamous Short Music for Short People comp) twice, and the singer’s evidently struggling with a lost voice, but it’s still a fun and fast set.
It’s nothing in comparison to 88 Fingers Louie. They announce that they’re back in the punk game for the long run; great news if you’ve heard their stonking new record Thank You For Being A Friend – definitely the most accomplished comeback album I can recall. New song Knock It Off works well, but it’s tunes from the 90s like Something I Don’t Know, Pent Up and State that really get the crowd going. They’re an institution in their own right, and they even relay a tale of playing with Propagandhi at their first show.
In my traditional manner, I get right down the front for Snuff, who I love deeply. It’s swelteringly hot; you can clearly see the steam rising from bassist Lee Batsford’s shoulders. It goes completely nuts in the pit, although it’s sparse enough down the front to inhibit the stage-diving I’d anticipated. We jump into a conga line for Soul Limbo and get completely slammed into the woodchip floor the second the song breaks down.
I prop myself up on the edge of the stage, risking a boot in a face through the constant stage-diving for Sunny Places and Whatever Happened…, and having a giggle at my mate Georgia taking a casual stroll along the stage to distract trombonist Ollie Stewart mid-song. Stage diving is actively encouraged at PRH, with a dedicated catwalk set up at the front of the mainstage. Throughout the week it’s been extremely entertaining watching people hurl themselves offstage, occasionally dropping straight on their heads, eliciting sympathetic grimaces from many onlookers. It’s even more fun being at the frontline, with a constant steam of people clambering over your head.
Here are Snuff fending off a beach ball attack:
I stumble away from the stage after Snuff sweating and grinning like a maniac. Then suddenly it dawns on me: I’m about to see Propagandhi. I’m not even sure how long I’ve been waiting for this – it’s certainly all anyone’s talked about this week.
They’re as great as their reputation would suggest, not overrated in the slightest. To quote my friend Tommy, “Words are bollocks,” when it comes to describing how overwhelmingly good their set it. They play a mixed set including quite a lot of older material, and new song Victory Lap goes over well with the crowd I shed a tear of joy during Night Letters and go wild for Nation State. Chris Hannah pauses the set to record two messages to his kids, getting the audience to practice shouting, “Hi Francis!” first. Playing Fuck The Border feels really relevant in Europe right now, whipping the audience into a complete frenzy.
For me, watching Propagandhi really is a life-affirming experience. We sprint down the front for the encore, and I climb up onstage to hurl myself off during Anti Manifesto, ticking off a life-goal as my final action of the week.
As their set comes to an end, I’m struck with a mix of elation and sorrow. I’m sad that it’s over and that more of my friends aren’t here to have witnessed it… but I’m happy to have spent a week in a stunning location, watching great bands, surrounded by wonderful, like-minded people.
It’s hard to imagine a better week. The bands are from a vast array of countries, but are singularly high-calibre. We get three full days of sweltering heat. Even in the rain, it’s warm enough to walk around without layers of hoodies. Vegans are extremely well catered for. I feel relaxed and safe. Everywhere’s clean. And the portaloos miraculously seem never to run out of toilet roll.
Most importantly, I’ve met new people, turned acquaintances into friends, and cemented relationships with those I know well. There’s a sense of camaraderie in having travelled so far for what you love that makes Punk Rock Holiday feel like home.
I finish the festival at 3am, sat on a rocky outcrop near the Beach Stage, sharing a pina colada and listening to Pig Parlament covering Slayer for punk rock karaoke. It doesn’t really get better than this.
Finally, just for shits and giggles…
Top 10 Bands of Punk Rock Holiday 1.7
- Not On Tour
- Teenage Bottlerocket
- 88 Fingers Louie
- Petrol Girls
- Face to Face
- La Armada
Special kudos also goes to Straightline for playing the best punk rock cover in the world.
What would yours be?
Make sure you check out:
P.S. Big thanks to Tommy Maund for a) putting up with my shit for a week and b) writing half the jokes in this article.