Wotsit Called Fest takes place a stone’s throw from Hastings beach; the perfect location for a seaside holiday and a punk rock festival, all rolled into one. DIY as they come, Toxic Wotsit has been hosting on Wotsit Called Fest for five years, putting a lot of thought and effort into making the perfect punk rock weekend away.
Keen as ever, my friends and I drive down for the warm-up show on Thursday. Nothing could rival the intense joy I felt upon seeing the sea sparkling in the late afternoon sun, right across the road from the venue. Local Hastings punks Butane Regulators open the weekend with some snotty, ‘77-ish punk rock – Sex Pistols with better politics and less buttery bullshit. Bitterman is a mix of Portsmouth punks, with members of The SLM, Misgivings and HACK JOB, who manage to almost be a direct mix of all three of those bands. Vocalist Rob Luther prowls in front of the stage and the audience warms.
Probably the band I’ve missed the most over lockdown is Nosebleed. Leeds’ rock ‘n’ roll garage punks are no less dapper and no less entertaining now than they were in 2018 (when I said they were the best live band of the year), but they’ve got some hot new songs. Playing a lot of new material, the audience response is no less riotous – there are pyramids and circle pits galore – and the floorshow is everything I’ve missed. I end the night reflecting on how lovely it is to see a room full of people once again, let alone a room full of far-flung friends.
Arriving on Thursday allows time for a proper Hastings day out on Friday: breakfast in Alexandra Park, a swim in the sea and a sunbathe on the hot stones. I get more bruises from the waves crashing me into the rocks than I did from the gig last night. Jimbob Taylor and I win a massive ticket haul in the arcades, he gets his wallet nicked by an old Russian guy, and we both sink bottled beers on the walk back along the promenade to The Pig, squinting into a purple-orange sunset.
The proper party starts on Friday night. A quick head-count suggests there are maybe 15 folks from Hastings present; the bulk of the audience were tourists from Manchester, Leeds, Ipswich and other DIY punk outposts.
Riviera Kid open to a virtually full room, singing politically tense songs about diversity, race and the miasma of gender identity. Riviera Kid is a true arbiter of the DIY ethos and ideology, and therefore the ideal band to kick off a weekend like WCF. Riviera Kid is superb; reaching and exciting some new fans and clearly overjoyed to be surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd, even early in the day.
Manchester duo The Sewer Cats follow to an excitable audience who know the words well; ‘don’t underestimate the power of a girl’ is a chorus that earns a riotous response. There is a grand cheer for the self-described ‘man-bashing’ section of the set. Vocalist Cassie’s recommendation if you encounter a crazy-ex-girlfriend sort of guy is to, “Steal his gear, drink his beer, and start your own band.” That final sentiment rings especially clearly in The Pig on that particular Friday, as it’s exactly what quite a few of the women have done. On our trip to WCF in 2017, it was the lads who were in the bands but, since then, many of the women in the room have started or joined bands for the first time (see: Comeback Clit, Plot 32, Follow Your Dreams as a handful of examples).
Knife Club take the party up a notch. With the disco ball, the flashing lights and the band’s leopard-print-and-sunglasses uniform, Knife Club feel a lot like New Years Eve in September. Comprised of members of some of the most popular DIY bands around, this supergroup deserve the wild dancing, singing silliness that the Hasting’s crowd is so good for. Everyone’s favourite couple, Tom & Molly, have perfected the two-person crowd surf, and there’s a very friendly wall of death that moves the whole ballroom.
I’m enjoying the warm fuzzy feeling of being surrounded by old friends, and excitedly meeting new ones, including those I’ve only known through the magic of the internet. When The Domestics play it feels like a sort of hardcore homecoming. The chaos continues as they snarl though Cherry Blossom Life, the fastest band of the weekend so far, culminating in a circle pit and a wash of spilt cider and black. “Punk points for all!”
Killdren create a clever punk rock rave that’s refreshingly unexpected and quite a welcome palate-cleanser, although a few folks take their set as an opportunity to go to the bar. 2 Sick Monkeys on the other hand are such a classic punk band that they pack the main room. There’s one lad with a green mohawk and dead-eyed stare who’s been rooted to the ballroom floor all weekend, front and centre for every single band, impervious to any circle pit or wall of death that’s occurred around him. Throughout, he’s held a plastic pint glass at a 60 degree angle, lacksadaisacally sloshing purple booze all over himself and the floor, occasionally looking up as if to say, “Why is my cup empty? I haven’t drunk it.” Even he’s kicking off for 2 Sick Monkeys, it’s a riot.
That’s not the end of the night, though … the second the headline set finishes, someone sticks on We Like To Party by Vengaboys – the unofficial DIY punk rock anthem of 2021 – and the entire bar erupts into song. We do like the party, but we also like our fancy Air B’n’B, so I’m comfortably snuggled in bed by 2.30am.
I begin Saturday by debating which band I can skip to go jump in the sea. Is it acceptable/hygenic to change into a bikini in a music venue’s toilets? It’s my day to find out.
It’s a bold move to put a band as good as Attestor on this early on a Saturday, when half of Hastings is hanging out of its arse. Croaking voices, stiff joints and bleary eyes greet them, but they quickly blast away the skull-dust I’d accumulated from a fun Friday night. The crowd’s response is a little subdued, but only because we all lost our voices screaming along to Boom Boom Boom Boom at 1am. Attestor provide a premonition of the electrifying hardcore that’s to be the theme of the day.
Of the things I was expecting to see at 2pm on a Saturday, an important lesson on consent delivered by two women in flashing squid hats what not one of them … but it was great! Rabies Babies are the jolliest hardcore band around, combing important ethical lessons with good clean fun. Top Left Club are singlehandedly reviving shellsuit chic, throwing synth and iridium sunglasses onto a bonfire of fast, party punk and 80s-flavoured hardcore. It’s great to see the fun-fuelled revival of members of Rotten Foxes, especially when they come with their own signature dance move – shoulders at 90. Have you ever seen a guy drumming in a full shell suit? No? You haven’t lived.
I tactically took a dip in sea before Haest’s set after determining that, of the bands playing, they would be most amused by me trying to watching their set in a wet towel. Their churning, sludgy riffs are the ideal juxtaposition to the glistening waves, beaming sunshine and crowing gulls. Shooting Daggers add electric energy and acerbic lyrics to further heavy hardcore punk. The vocalist’s eyes sparkle with excitement and the kind of wild, unkempt enthusiasm that live punk rock inspires.
After Shooting Daggers, I take a remarkably civilised break at Hanuska Coffee House, sitting in the sun opposite an ornate stone church. After a swim and a meal served on an actual plate, Wotsit Called Fest is certainly feeling more like a wholesome seaside holiday than a raucous three-day bender.
I dash back in time to catch Skinny Milk, who’ve already played one set today as part of Top Left Club. Skinny Milk are a mesmerising duo from Brighton, adding some progressive/psych sensibilities on top of music that’s still heavy, reminding me of Riggots. Even the spicy feedback that’s rung out all weekend sounds good with this band. I get completely lost in their rolling, pulsing riffs, until I look up and notice the whole crowd bobbing their heads in hypnotic unison. Skinny Milk are possibly my favourite band of the weekend; a big win, considering they were added to the line-up at the last minute, filling in for a Covid-cancellation.
Rash Decision utterly destroy The Pig. Close to dinnertime, the crowd has hit its second wind and everyone’s going fucking nuts. Rash fans revel in the kind of dancing that will really hurt in the morning. This is the kind of thrashy fury that you just can’t replicate in the comfort of your living room in lockdown – this is what we’ve missed. They do a take on Pizzatramp’s My Back’s Fucking Fucked called My Cunt’s Cunty Cunting Cunt, during which I almost pissed myself with laughter.
At the end of each set, Tanner (Haest/Toxic Wotsit/Knife Club/The Barracks) is waving a plank of wood with ‘5 Minutes Left’ etched onto it in black Sharpie … but during Rash he went unnoticed until he was picked up and crowd-surfed to the front. Reflecting on the gig overall, this was one of my favourite moments.
Terrorpins are somewhat less raucous but no less loved. The natural progression of Tim Loud’s solo exploits into a full-blown collaborative band, this is Terrorpins first proper gig, but you’d hardly know that. They impressively squeeze seven genres into one new song, whilst also enjoying big singalongs for What Am I, Isolation and Hate.
Seeking sustenance, I go down to the stony beach in the darkness and burn my tongue on some chips. Someone on the promenade sings an off-key version of Eternal Flame to an audience of none. As I return, Pizzatramp are diving into Millions of Dead Goths. I’d forgotten how much I love the ‘round the twist’ intro to Ciggybutt Brain, it feels like a homecoming. The hardwood floor and the punks upon it are both suitably lubricated for the chaotic abandon of a mosh pit; it’s utter chaos, limbs everywhere. Pizzatramp spit out My Leg’s Fucking Fucked as a tribute to the poor lass who’d broken her foot on Thursday, valiantly crowd-surfing around in crutches. Pizzatramp: still utterly fucking brilliant in 2021.
“It’s Chriiissstmaaaaaasssss!” yells Dave Cullern (Haest/Toxic Wotsit/Sham City Roasters) to a bar full of people shouting at each other, announcing that the next band’s on. German hardcore punks Christmas open to a shriek of feedback. The ballroom is more sparsely populated than for some of the weekend’s bands … not for lack of popularity, but just because a few soldiers have fallen to The Pig’s plastic-cup mystery cocktails. Vocalist Max Kaspar spits water into the air, in a fountain that falls back on his bare chest. My mate describes his performance as ‘GG Allin without the knobhead’; he’s fucking brilliant. It’s classic overdriven hardcore punk, with the one-off addition of TNSrecords’ Andy Davies filling in on bass (disappointingly, he was still sober enough to see).
I instantly fall in love with Jodie Faster. These fast-as-fuck French punks have an actual stand-up comedian for a frontman, although he’s masquerading as a humble bass player. They deliver an auditory pummelling at a break-neck pace; clean guitars and vicious vocals; racing into a tight circle pit that encompasses even the lurkers at the back of the room. The whole ballroom is a blur of crestfallen mohawks, leopard print and neon hair dye. Probably also the most hyped band of the weekend, Jodie Faster are deserving of every single bit of praise.
My friend Jason is walking around the bar insisting that he tell everyone how much he loves them, so the end of the night must be fast approaching. The Filaments are the perfect headliner to close out the weekend; the ballroom completely fills for their set – no one left outside or in the bar. Bastard Coppers and Punks Unity are just the huge singalongs we need to lose the last of our raspy voices; knees up for the ska-punk brass section and fists in the air for the street-punk choruses. A friend, Tammy, leans in and says The Filaments were the first band she saw with her husband saw 21 years ago. It’s a beautiful little recollection, and a wholehearted, warm moment to end the weekend on.
Of course, that’s not the end. The party goes on in The Pig well into the wee hours of the morning, there’s dancing on tables, heartfelt goodbyes, and a few amusing casualties of the weekend tripping over themselves. I find myself sitting on the stone beach drinking until 4am, looking at the lights of boats on a horizon so dark that you can’t tell the difference between sea and sky. I’ve had the greatest holiday; roll on Wotsit Called Fest 2022.
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