Photo credit: Awesome pics courtesy of Roberto Gasparro @ LivePix.
Now in its third year, Might As Well Fest is socially-responsible all dayer split across two tiny London venues: The Macbeth in Hoxton and the infamous Old Blue Last in Shoreditch. If the cracking line-up isn’t enough to coax people down, the promoters are also using the forces of music for good, raising money for two worthy causes: CALM and SANDS.
When I hurriedly stumble into The Macbeth at 3.20pm, I’m concerned that I’m late but turns out that I needn’t have worried: they’ve had some troubles of their own. Don Blake and Sweet Little Machine have pulled out last minute, and You Know The Drill’s van has broken down outside Birmingham. As a result, they’ve had to shift timings, drum kits, amps and expectations. The change in the set times is actually a positive: the opening bands will now have a bigger crowd and the heel-draggers like me, who couldn’t make it earlier, won’t be missing out. Nonetheless, I’m reminded that we ought to be extremely thankful to anyone with the resilience to put on DIY shows!
A handful of early-birds assemble to watch Thirteen, a Scottish group who’ve joined the bill at the last minute. They play old school punk with a rock ‘n’ roll flavour, which is good, but slightly out-of-sorts with the rest of the line-up, which is a combination of fast-punk and pop-punk. It’s good pub-punk and not a bad way to kick things off for the day.
As I reviewed their EP recently, I have been very excited to catch Our Lives In Cinema live. This is only their 8th gig and their freshness shows: they look a little awkward on stage at the beginning of the set, settling in after two songs.
They open with Cut and Run – an awesome throwback to a lot of energetic early noughties punk. You can hear a strong Jeff Rosenstock influence in Mark Bartlett’s frantic, emotional singing which is conveyed better live. Bartlett has a unique style of performance: he packs as many words into a bar as possible while shaking around the stage. Currently it looks a little awkward, but with more practice I expect it to become an integral part of their act. Otherwise, they’ve got a good, solid rhythm section, strong drumming and great backing vocals. They close on their most anthemic song, I Got This, leaving the audience happy. Once they’ve got a few more shows under their belt, I look forward to seeing a much more confident and comfortable band.
Lay It On The Line are up next at The Macbeth. They’re the most hardcore band of the day. It’s a brutal and disordered performance, with frontman Mike spending much of show writhing, crouched or lying on the stage while screaming bloody murder. He gives the impression of a man on the edge of breakdown extremely well. It’s all held together with some warmer guitar backing, adding a more melodic edge to their otherwise extreme sound.
It’s unusual to see bands with two standalone singers (Casual Nausea’s the only one I can think of), but it really works. Mike and Alice and equally adept at screaming and conveying a lot of anger and emotion. It’s hard to make out the lyrics but their explanations of the songs are both surprising and entertaining – one song’s dedicated to fans of the Marquis de Sade (of which they assume there are none in the room), another is about a head teacher who was killed by a rent boy after he failed to pay up… It’s fascinating to know what inspires people’s song writing sometimes. They pull out a fantastic cover of Rotting Out’s Positive Views and end the set in a wail of feedback.
Recap are up next, and they are fantastic. That’s the least you can expect from Dave House and Mark Pavey’s latest project – a reincarnation of Pacer and follow-up to The Steal. They jokingly say it’s only their second show, but they’re anything but new to the game.
It’s high-octane fast punk played ‘the hardcore way’. There’s a lot of skill, confidence and experience in this band and it comes across well. A highlight of their set is the off-hand comments made by Dave House throughout. They take a quick breather between songs, which he describes as the ‘we’re almost forty break’. There’s a joking call from the audience to play ‘faster, harder, shorter’ to which the singer’s keen to jokingly point out that, “If we played any harder you’d die.” It’s always good to see such affable confidence on stage from a band who know also know how to knock your socks off musically, and I’d love to see them again.
Following Recap, I take a jaunt over to The Old Blue Last to catch Brighton 4-piece, Harker. They offer a nice change of pace – fuzzy, poppy melodic punk with complimentary blend of male and female vocals. Frontman Mark Boniface has evidently spent a lot of time listening to Dave Hause/The Loved Ones and The Gaslight Anthem, but they’ve incorporated a British aspect that does nothing to diminish the stadium-esque size of their sound. A lot of heart goes into their song writing that resonates in every note.
I make a mad dash back over to The Macbeth in time to catch Sombulance, including a necessary falafel pit stop. The 10 minute trek between venues is a unfortunate, but for my taste the line-up it’s well planned. The Macbeth is hosting the of heavier/faster punk that I’m into, followed by a final journey to The Old Blue Last to catch Kamikaze Girls. I’m annoyed to miss Wild Tales, Mixtape Saints and Maypine, but that’s a small price to pay for catching all of Sombulance and The Burnt Tapes.
I’ve been raving about heavyweight South Coast skate-punk act Sombulance since hearing their new EP Lifer, and watching them own the stage at Punk Rock Holiday. They’re one of the bands I’m most excited to see today, along with Almeida. As expected, they storm into their set with a wall of intricate noise, immediately gripping the audience.
Sombulance’s singer, Dean Harwood, is absent (for good reasons) so guitarist Will Pearce is filling in on vocals. He stands in front of the stage for most of Better Left Behind and Downfall. It sounds great, however it’s not until Almeida’s Tom West steps up to sing the second half of the set that I realise how essential the second guitar is to their sound. It makes a world of difference – the last four songs sound more rounded and powerful. Westy’s unusually operatic vocal is also ideally suited for Sombulance, cutting through the other instruments easily. Amusingly, as he’s only been drafted in a short notice, he has to refer to a lyric sheet on this phone, but they pull off The Articulation of Afterthoughts and Wake Up Bitch You’re My New Best Friend perfectly.
Following Sombulance are London’s Burnt Tapes. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to catch them at a lot of shows, however since the release of their album Alterations you can sense a real shift in their act. They own the stage with a confidence befitting a more successful band; they’ve come of age.
The band are often compared with Iron Chic with good reason: the grittiness of Phil and Pan’s vocals mirror Jason Lubrano’s, they’ve got a talent for writing hooks and their lyrics are soaked in nostalgia and redemption. They’re grounded in classic Descendents-era pop punk, and clearly a big hit with the London audience, pulling the biggest crowd of the day. They smash through Wayne Regretsky and The End of Airlie Gardens, but my personal highlight is Things Get Weird, which they describe as a sad song that’s going to depress everyone. It’s the slowest song of the set, adding a depth that I’ve not seen from the group before, reinforcing the notion that this is a band primed and ready for playing much bigger stages.
Leeds’ anthemic pop-punk crew Eat Defeat are up next. They’re the most colourful band of the day, both in attire and in their sunny mood. Their uniqueness comes in their gritty vocals and in a rare talent for writing multi-vocal pieces that just beg you to singalong. Thoughtfully, they throw in a fast skate-punk tune to keep up with the rest of the bands of the day.
Notably, they’re the first group to make a big point of promoting the other acts on the line-up during their set, which is exactly what you need to see at a DIY show. They’re also the first to talk in real depth about one of the causes the event is supporting: The Campaign Against Living Miserably, who work to prevent male suicide. It’s clearly a topic which resonates with many of the bands and the attendees. The pinnacle of Eat Defeat’s set, and one of the high points of the whole day, is their song Not Today Old Friend. It’s one of the best songs I’ve ever heard on the topic of mental health, with the lyric: “It’s alright to not be alright.” They encourage us to sing with the words on their on-stage banner, getting the whole room bellowing happily along to the line, “I think we’ll be okay.”
Technical thrash masters, Almeida, are a band known for having the sheer technical force to intimidate any band higher on the bill than them, so it’s a blessing that they’re headlining The Macbeth ahead of Kamikaze Girls’ closing set over at The Old Blue Last. Like many of the proceeding bands, they struggle with technically difficulties with the mics and PA. They handle it well, pointing out that sound-engineering is often a thankless task, but not tonight! Every band has made a point of saying the sound-engineer Paula has made a cracking job of keeping on top of the noises, even in the worst of circumstances.
They always put on a staggering display of technical excellence, and tonight’s no different. Marc Morey is pulling double drummer duty, having played with Sombulance earlier on, but he’s showing no signs of slacking – driving them through Creed and Tureqt Fureg at pace. Watching guitarist Chris Mason’s hands casually move across the frets during Payday is absolutely mesmerising; it’s some of the most mind-boggling finger tapping you’ll catch outside of a metal gig. It’s also one of the catchier songs of their set, with the final lyric, “Feed me kerosene, I want kerosene,” making me wish the song was longer. They say they’re not expecting anyone in the room to enjoy their black metal tune, Bailfire, but it’s an intense onslaught that inspires a lot of grins. Overall it’s an electrifying set and a lively way to round off the show at The Macbeth.
I make it back over to The Old Blue last in time to catch the last of Better Than Never, playing proper emotional pop punk in the vein of Real Friends. I’m surprised to see that many of the people from The Macbeth haven’t made the change of venues, but it does mean there’s more up for grabs when the raffle is called to the small crowd assembled. There is a huge heap of prizes, including a lot of Fireball goodies and freebies from American Socks, leading to a big chant of, “Socks, socks, socks!”
When Kamikaze Girls get started there’s an issue with the sound: the guitar’s so low in the mix that you’d think they were a different band for the first song. The duo from Leeds (via Brighton and Belgium) excel in raw emotional song writing, thundering percussion and ethereal, atmospheric guitar. Fortunately, they’re back to their fuzzy post-rock selves in time for Teenage Feelings.
They play Deathcap, which they describe as being about ‘eating too many avocados and never being able to buy a house’. One Young Man and Good For Nothing are equally dark, emotive and touching. They reach their most vitriolic during KG Go To The Pub, taking the opportunity to decry sexual assault, as well as a chance to talk about today’s charity of choice, CALM. Halfway through their set, two shots of Fireball are delivered onto the stage. They take a break to neck the shots, but also so that drummer, Connor Dawson, can Skype a friend of theirs in New York. We all yell ‘socks’ to him in unison mid-set.
For their final song, fuzzy masterpiece I Don’t Want To Be Sad Forever, a big lightshow suddenly kicks in. As the music descends into post-rock entropy, the spotlight flashes from orange to blue to red to green. I decide that from now it should be law that Kamikaze Girls have to perform under strobe lights – it complements the wildness of their sound perfectly and ends the night with an interesting show.
I’m supremely chuffed to win myself a Disconnect Disconnect box on the raffle, plus I picked up some gems from the extensive Lockjaw distro. All in all, it’s been a great day with a varied and interesting range of bands. Well done to all the promoters for choosing to spend their energy using their love of music to support to fantastic causes – we need more days out like this.
Thanks again to of Roberto Gasparro @ LivePix for the visual awesomeness.