Review by Sarah Williams.
What better way to while away a long Easter weekend than an indoor music festival with all your mates? The second iteration of Umlaut Records’ Dugstock festival is a diverse three-day line-up hosted at London’s New Cross Inn. Umlaut Records is a rapidly growing independent label that are integral to the London punk scene. They’re only in their second year so, if this is the sort of line-up they can pull off now, I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us in future.
I’ve been to plenty of gigs at New Cross, but this is the first time I’ve committed to three whole days, staying in the hostel above the venue. As I’m likely to be doing the same for Level Up and Polite Riot festivals later this year, I’m almost as keen to test out this festival-formula as I am to see the bands.
Opening the weekend are Dirty White, a 3-piece that take influence from 90’s stoner grunge bands, although they bring the songs into a cleaner, more modern relief. The singer pulls off a Chris Cornell style that you don’t often hear. They go on to mix in some faster melodic punk songs – a gentle introduction to the weekend’s festivities.
There is already a reasonably good turnout for the Friday night, with a lot of hugs and catch-up chats exchanged. Things properly kick off with Dark Days, who provide vigorous, fun, melodic poppy punk. Guitarist, John Huffman, gets told off by the sound engineer for standing on the drum kit, so he capitulates and pulls out a high stool from the bar to stand on, before flaunting rock-star poses and writhing on the floor. Their sound contains a melee of references to current North American melodic punk bands, with an added dose of Kathleen Hanna inspired harmonies and a fuzzy, experimental guitar mess. They play a full-throttle cover of Nirvana’s Breed – the first of two Breed covers we’ll hear this weekend.
Kiss Me, Killer swagger on stage with a sexy, balls-to-the-wall riot grrl energy. Singer, Holly, steals the show somewhat as she cavorts wildly around the stage, as the band rages. She’s an excellent rock vocalist, which suits the hard-rock element in their sound It’s ferocious noise peppered with short bursts of rock ‘n’ roll guitar solos and enticingly sleazy bass lines. It’s infinitely dance-able from Rat Race to It’s Going Down (which actually sets off an alarm somewhere in the venue). As my friend eloquently shouts at me during the set, it’s also a pleasure to see, “Plentiful vaginas on stage.”
Strange Planes continue the hard-rocking theme, infusing it with some more emotional vocals. Their sound is moody, dark and interesting, with an anger that reminds me of the noises I enjoyed as an angsty teenager. They try out a lot of new material, appearing unnecessarily nervous about it, however it’s older tracks like Six Hours that win the set.
Billy Liar is a refreshing change of pace and always a pleasure to watch. His plaintive Scottish vocal brings an authenticity to catchy, cleverly written acoustic tunes. He uses upbeat chords to illustrate sad and introspective topics, falling somewhere between Billy Bragg and Chuck Ragan. My favourite line comes in the form of, “You don’t have to be ill to take takes these pills, but it helps.”
I’m not sure how Aerial Salad manage to keep getting better every time I see them, and yet here we are. They’ve not played many London gigs, but as the proteges of Alex Wonk they have a lot of fans in tonight’s audience. They have the biggest crowd of the night and garner a huge reaction to Habits and Problems. They play a much tighter and more confident set than usual, looking really comfortable on stage.
The Murderburgers provide their usual amusing and fiery set. Their songs and their attitudes are feisty-as-fuck and their banter between blasts of noise is always hilarious. They spend a good amount of time discussing Aerial Salad’s sad winky faces, plus Fraser’s disturbing staff-pass. All My Best Friends Are Dying get everyone dancing, as does Turning 29 Was A Mistake. It’s 30 minutes of super-fast, super-fun rock riffery with very little pause for breath. They end the evening on a fantastic rendition of I Fucking Love You Son (a pisstake of Pizzatramp’s I Hope You Fucking Die, in honour of Fraser’s Welsh son Jimbob).
The room is not packed out on Friday, but there are still enough familiar faces for a good night. I can’t wait for Saturday now, knowing how many great bands are playing and how many great people will be there to watch them.
Saturday begins in a slightly lacklustre fashion. In the New Cross Hostel, I eat a breakfast of acidic instant coffee surrounded by families snacking on boiled eggs and bananas, unable to avoid the low strains of Careless Whisper in the background. I return to my hostel bunk, open my book and slowly reach the realisation that one of my roommates is enjoying an early-morning wank. He told me he was ‘meditating’… which perhaps explains why those mindfulness apps charge so much money.
In short, 3pm and Tragical History Tour can’t come quick enough. If I have one complaint about the Dugstock it’s that it doesn’t start early enough on Saturday or Sunday to really encourage people to stay for the whole weekend. It would be good to have, say, a film screening or get-together in the venue early on to give us over-nighters something to do.
Fortunately, as soon as Tragical History Tour start playing, people start pouring into the venue, and New Cross Inn becomes a wall-to-wall friends-fest. This epitomises one of my favourite things about the punk rock community: the first people through the door are the other bands, as keen to see the other acts as the ticket-buyers are. There is a strong presence today from people who are doing good work within their own local communities: early through the doors are folks from TNS Records, Lockjaw Records, Pie Race Fest, Punkle Fester, Be Sharp, Less Talk More Records, Charlie’s Big Ray Gun Records…. It’s this DIY spirit that makes this scene such a close-knit circle and it’s always wonderful to see some many strong teams all together in one place.
Tragical History Tour is no exception, as the stage moniker of Make-That-A-Take Records’ Derrick Johnston. He excels in authentic, honest grassroots songwriting, accompanied by natural country-style guitar tones. From Come On Home, Hero to Pink Couch, I find myself most enjoying tunes from his new album Aphorisms, although his cover of Leatherface’s Not A Day Goes By is a highlight. Old Words is a personal favourite for me that I’m delighted to hear live; it’s a beautifully heartfelt tune with a lot of grit and guts behind it. It forms the ideal soundtrack to the queue of hugs as people begin to arrive. He closes on The Final Intervention; a sombre but sterling start to the day.
SKIV arrive and provide the necessary encouragement to get wrecked that one somewhat needs at this time of day. Although there are a few familiar faces from Friday night, many of the attendees are coming into the festival fresh, so hangovers aren’t much of an issue at this stage. SKIV are clearly a very talented bunch who are here to have a good time, in a way that only four mates on stage can. This is Jordan Harris’ latest project, so their scrappy rock sound is lifted by his distinctive, clear vocal. It’s a great introduction to the party; with danceable basslines at the forefront of the mix.
I love watching Captain Trips, who have magically transformed from solid skate-punk into a heavier rock band. I am still excited to hear material from their new EP, which is up for release later this year. It’s just as entertainingly fast as ever, underpinned by Andi Farrar’s jealousy-inducing drumming. They incorporate some more virtuoso shredding into Siren Song, which they describe as their hardest song ever – you can definitely hear the influence from Iron Maiden or New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the galloping riffs. They play their signature cover of John Farnham’s The Voice (a tune I only really like because this band do a skilled skate-punk cover of it) and I don’t think it gets much better than the tight harmonies on The Flood. I can’t take credit for this, but at this point a friend said to me that, “The whole backline were snug, like a pair of luscious jeggings.” What more can you ask for?
“Let’s get sad,” The Burnt Tapes say as they hit the stage, although I’m anything but. Sure they play sad, melodic punk in the style of Iron Chic or Polar Bear Club, but seeing them play never fails to make me grin. I’m even more excited that they’re introducing some new material into their set; it sounds just as great as everything off Alterations and the promise of an album in the works fills me with joy. The Burnt Tapes always play their best sets in London, even if it is mid-afternoon because they’re doing a Phil Collins (playing a second show later in the evening). They get a great reaction from the audience, who are used to seeing them and know all the words by heart.
In the words of Al Corbett at tonight’s show, “The Dutch are so much better than us at the things we cherish: football, pornography and punk.” Perhaps that’s why I’m overwhelmingly excited to catch Coral Springs, who bring us exciting high-energy positive punk rock all the way from The Netherlands. It’s a pleasure to hear a properly-sung female vocal from Jo Bouwmeester, particularly with a band that are as technically interesting as Coral Springs achieve. It’s her amazing voice and that lifts this into one of my top sets of the whole weekend, and definitely my favourite of the day. All their songs are fast, peppered with slick little dual-guitar licks, and the band can’t stay still on stage. They’re absolutely fucking incredible, and I don’t say that lightly.
Manchester stalwarts Revenge of The Psychotronic man deliver some much needed vitriol to the afternoon. Although it’s still early, they’re fast, messy and hectic, just the way we love them. Compared to much of today’s fare their set is a welcome hand grenade for your ears, and they throw down the speed gauntlet for the other acts. Having announced that they’re breaking up later in the year, this will be one of their final London shows, so people have made an effort to come out to see them and have a dance. They’re full of energy: Andy Davies lunges suggestively with his bass and guitarist, Matt Woods, entertains us with his signature madball stare, like Ade Edmundson on a bad trip. It’s awesome fun, particularly for their catchier tunes like It’s Fucking Booze Time and I Am Absolutely Fuming.
Next up are Leeds’ critically acclaimed masters of good times, Nosebleed. Having seen them live a silly number of times, one of the most exciting things for me today is to see the faces of my friends who are catching them for the first time. They arrive on stage looking dapper in their new blue suits (updated to celebrate the release of their new album Scratching Circles on The Dancefloor), and they throw down some dirty rock ‘n’ roll for us. Nosebleed play live so often than they really own the stage… and the dancefloor… and the picnic tables. It’s not long before guitarist Eliott Verity is off stage and roaming around the crowd, causing some surprised looks. As Ben gets off-stage to join him, two of Revenge go to sit either side of drummer Dicky Riddims to stop him getting lonely. The audience is most wowed when Elliot jumps up onto one of the picnic bench tables for a solo, trailing an extra-long jack lead after him – it’s all anyone talks about for the next 24 hours.
Almeida are a staggering change of pace into fast, technical progressive hardcore. Well known as the band you don’t want to follow, I’ve never seen them perform anything less than a flawlessly tight, intricate rollercoaster of a show, careening through time-signatures and styles with abandon. Fantastic Massacre never fails to floor me but, once again, it’s their new material that’s getting me the most excited at the moment. They’re gearing up for a tour of Japan (which Westy has since written about), so this set comes laden with a feeling of anticipation and energy.
Manchester’s Fair Do’s hit the hard and heavy nail right on the head, treating us to some proper technical melodic hardcore. They draw a big crowd, with some healthy dancemoves down the front. My favourite is always Hostile Company, which they close on, however this is yet another of today’s bands that are building anticipation for a new album (FINALLY). The new material comes off with more maturity and a bit more musical variety than the older tunes, which I’m almost a bit too familiar with. They put on a fantastic show as usual, and it’s great to see them garnering a big crowd outside of Manchester.
I make a tactical move to grab a falafel wrap (loaded with raw onions… fairly sure I’ve spent all of Dugstock scaring people off with onion breath) while Spoilers are setting up. Scoffing it outside the venue, I find myself embroiled in a quintessential punk-festival conversation with Revenge and Nosebleed, debating the merits of different pensions and hearing aids. While I’m planning for the future like a an actual Responsible Adult, Spoilers start shaking up New Cross with their infectiously catchy punk rock. Tumbling back into the venue, I enjoy having a shoutalong. New Cross almost feels too small for them now; they’re ready to be playing bigger stages.
I’m absolutely shattered by the time Crazy Arm hit the stage, although perhaps it’s my own fault for avoiding the bar all day. Sobriety is a winner but it’s not great for one’s longevity. Nonetheless, people pour into New Cross Inn for their set; it’s packed with people singing along and dancing enthusiastically, queueing up to stand on the picnic benches for the view. Their combination of hard rock and folk/country never fails to bring a smile to people’s faces, and they bring a great day to a sweaty close.
As people pour out of the venue, I decide to treat myself to a hard-won pint and find myself boozing and chatting shit with Revenge until the venue doors close. It’s lovely end to a day.
I’m excited to wake up on Sunday as, at 2am the night before, a group of us made plans to go for a massive vegan brunch at The Full Nelson in Deptford. In the end, a ragtag group of us manage to pack out the tiny restaurant and enjoy a mouth-watering meal with a side of mimosas. It’s exactly what I need to set me up for another day of punk rock and pals, and I’d recommend it to anyone attending a festival at New Cross. Definitely one of my highlights of the whole weekend – possibly the best vegan breakfast I’ve ever had. Battered sausage!
We dash back to the venue to catch The SLM (although it’s unlikely we’d miss them…. they were eating breakfast with us). They’re a band who get a bit of flack for always opening shows, despite the fact that they’re genuinely fucking great. It’s their first show back with original bassist, Dean Harwood, who also fronts the current line-up of Sombulance. Returning to form, they’ve got their three-way between-song banter nailed down. They’re all strong musicians who play fast-as-fuck and don’t take themselves too seriously, at their best on Here Come The Raptors and Sword of The Dragon.
Bogans are a band I’ve been looking forward to catching live for a while; they bring entertainingly fast-rocking punk to us from Wrexham. Singer, Adam Wright, is an absolute riot, wrestling audience members to the ground and wrapping himself suggestively around the pole at the front of the stage. I enjoy watching and being involved, but it’s on the borderline of uncomfortable for some of the other attendees. They’re another act who don’t take themselves too seriously, but put on a watchable show.
Sweet Diego are a relatively new 4-piece from the West Midlands, who we interviewed ahead of the festival. They bring some snappy punk rock tunes to the table, full of energy. Singer, Diana, has a refreshing American-style EpiFat sounding vocal, tearing around the stage with a healthy dose of attitude.
Following Sweet Diego are a band that make Aerial Salad look like geriatrics: Fastfade. They appear on stage with a banner behind the drum kit – something none of the headliners have bothered with. After getting wound up by the audience for being banner punx, they hurl through a speedy set of upbeat fast-punk, using backing harmonies for punch rather than pitch. Mixing skate and pop-punk with a lot of onstage flying around, they hit the mark somewhere between Sum 41 and Greenday. Or a faster, happier Aerial Salad, who still think MILF jokes and ketamine are cool.
It’s been more than six months since I last saw Our Lives In Cinema and they’ve transformed into a completely different band. Singer, Mark Bartlett (who, if you’ve not noticed, also writes for Shout Louder), look like he’s having a frenzied fit in front of the stage. It’s a real pleasure to see them looking so confident and ready to take on London. Their song composition had improved immensely, with each of the instruments shining in their own right. For a short while I wonder why I’m the only person singing along, then I remember their new EP All Talk hasn’t actually been released yet. Talk You Up is good singalong material, and the emotional gusto Mark imbues into the end of Every Year Is A Mountain looks about ready to finish him off.
Earlier in the day, Joelle and I discovered that the cheapest drink at the bar is the 2-for-1 cocktail so, in the interest of economy, we decided to hit the tequila sunrises relatively hard. It’s at this point, after gushing over how great OLIC have become, that I clock that I might be a tad pissed. All the better for enjoying the remaining bands!
EAT DIRT hit New Cross with an unmistakable wallop, playing ADHD hard-rock with a dose of 80’s metal. They’re another high-energy act, with vocalist Ben Mills tearing around the room, climbing on the picnic benches and the bar. They time their song 48 (named because it’s 48 seconds long) and it’s clocks in at 46.46 seconds – quickly establishing that drummer Richie plays too quickly and punks can’t count. Over It is as an awesome, sleazy track to dance along to, like if Monster Magnet listened to Municipal Waste. For the second time this weekend, we’re treated to a cover of Nirvana’s Breed, inspiring an argument over who played it best.
Dynamite Dynamite are the latest addition to the Umlaut Records roster, ahead of the release of their new Fangs EP. They take all my favourite parts of moody, melodic punk and throw them into a blender. The unusually clear vocal lifts their sound, while the guitars provide a soundscape not dissimilar to The Menzingers later work. With the exception of PMX, it’s easily my favourite set of the day. This band are a winning discovery for anyone who’s a fan of unabashedly melodic punk rock.
At this point, I’d like to say that the evening carried on as usual, and that On A Hiding To Nothing played their normal blindingly fast set to an enthusiastic London crowd. They definitely did just that, however during the first song disaster struck: bassist and living legend Jack Wiseman dislocated his kneecap.
Fortunately, before the set, Umlaut boss/artist/Shout Louder podcast host Mark Bell had been pracitising basslines for the set… almost as thought it had been staged. It hadn’t – Mark was just experiencing live-withdrawal because unfortunately his band Mug weren’t available to play their own festival, so he’d agreed to play a song with OAHTN. It luckily meant that he was able to jump in for the second song, filling in while Jack sat side of the stage visibly experiencing pure agony.
Jack pulls it together (with the aid of a rapidly downed pint) enough to play the rest of the set, sitting gingerly on a chair looking incredibly uncomfortable. “I know we look callous because we’re still playing,” says singer Alastair, carrying on regardless, “But this happens all the time in practice.” Jack’s normal mad jumping around has clearly gotten the better of him. Afterwards he necks a couple of shots, hobbles out into the smoking area and spends 20 minutes shushing everyone trying to convince him to go to hospital. They played a great set, but the shenangians somewhat overshadowed it.
Scottish skate-punk wizards PMX are one of my favourite bands in the world, so I already know that this is going to be a killer set, but it’s made even better by the fact that I’m cocktail-sozzled so I can dance with total abandon. Fortunately I’m not the only one screaming every word back and making a fool of myself air-guitaring to all the slick little fret-runs; there’s a row of women at the front going nuts for every song. They play a sensible combination of older songs, tracks off their recent Dark Days EP and new tunes from the album they’re writing. Clown, Pull The Trigger and Enter The Pigeon are probably my highlights of the set at the moment, however there’s not a second where it’s not entertaining to watch them shred. There’s a handful of us totally transfixed by Scott Henderson’s fretwork.
Finally, to finish off the while weekend, Chicago’s harmonious melodic heavyweights Counterpunch take the stage, after a full changeover of gear. Unfortunately, it’s late on Easter Sunday for a South London show, so a few people are forced to head off before they start. Although the venue’s a little quieter, those of us here are completely captivated performance. They play an impressively slick set, with the tightest three-part harmonies you’ve ever heard. These guys have been around long enough to master 90’s-style skate-punk, a fact you can feel in ever perfected note. They play a lot of songs from their 2014 album Bruises, plus some much older hits like Constraints and Anchors and Heroes and Ghosts. Their exceptional skill for writing melodies carries across beautifully live, and they win the crowd over with a popular No Use For A Name cover.
Dugstock encapsulates much of what is most special about the underground music scene. It’s a small festival showcasing a variety of new bands, hosted in one of London’s most supportive music venues. Growing up, I remember reading in magazines about bands desperately hoping for A&R scouts to be in the crowd, working for years to sign record deals and hit the big time. It doesn’t work that way in our world: a huge proportion of tonight’s crowd is composed of people involved in their own bands, their own record labels, their own individual endeavours. It is marvellous to see these people coming together and spurring the scene forward, supporting small independent labels and acts. Umlaut Records are a growing part of this and I’m grateful for the opportunity to celebrate that.
We are currently running a competition on our Facebook page where you can win a huge Umlaut Records Bundle, including tickets for the Consumed album release show on July 14th, records from Burnt Tapes and Dowzer, 3 t-shirts and CDs from Eat Dirt, Our Lives In Cinema, Dynamite Dynamite, Captain Trips, Zombies No, No Matter and more! Check out the pinned post on our Facebook page for details!
Review by Sarah Williams.