Live Review: Rebellion Festival 2023 – Thursday
Words: Dan Barnes
Photos: Tony Ghirardi / Dod Morrison
After cancellations, HITS and R-Fests, Rebellion returns to its more traditional half-a-dozen or so stages within the Winter Gardens itself, not seen since 2019. It’s something of a different line up this year too, with many of the usual heavy hitters sitting this one out, giving a few new acts the chance to step up and adding some variety to the Rebellion model.
An unfeasibly early start on Thursday sees furious Oi! mob Tear Up setting a fire under this year’s show with a no-holds barred set; Sidekick take us back in time with some good old punk and Red Bricks have fled the appalling weather in their native Germany to bring a Teutonic take on Street Punk to the Empress Ballroom. Pollypikpocketz bring an alternative take to the genre as David Delinquent & The I.O.U.s turn back the clock and conjure memories of The Clash. Also heading in from a weather-beaten corner of the continent is Deecracks from Austria, a power trio who mix positive messaging with agreeable tunes.
Healthy Junkies blend all manner of Punk’s sub-genres into a psychedelic whole, filled with melodic moments while being simultaneously glamorously Gothic and darkly grungy; and in Nina Courson they have the perfect voice for the three musicians. Ambition Demolition bill themselves as “old school but fresh Punk Rock” and that’s a fair assessment of this Cheltenham trio, who are all about the positive vibes.
The first real threat to Rebellion’s sanity comes in the form of Russian Thrashcore machine, Svetlanas, and the adage about being deadlier than the male is no better exemplified than in vocalist, Olga. As raw, energetic and downright as terrifying a performance as you’ll see all weekend, the four-piece are high-octane from the start and leave nothing on the table as far as performance is concerned. 16 Guns have a choppy guitar and vocal combination and are taking us all back to their prime with a fast-paced and direct set. Nineties So-Cal Punks, Narcoleptic Youth, are sharp and snappy from the outset, offering up the differences between cultures with Mini-Van Soccer Mom being straight out of the Bad Religion playbook.
Got to say I’m bitterly disappointed by Half Naked Headline blatant misleading, though the drummer is stripped to the waist, so fair dos to him; the three out-field players are more modestly attired and are all about the musical rage and anger and give Olga a run for her money in the aggression steaks. Eryx London begins the set with an atmospheric build that leans into sounding sludgy and ambiently post-punk, until a screaming guitar takes the band into a turn for the hostile. Control seem shocked by the turnout they get, but when you combine members of Intensive Care and Beerzone and create some hard hitting hooligan Rock N’ Roll, it’d be a shock if the Casbah wasn’t filled to the ceiling.
Riskee & The Ridicule return after last year’s triumphal Rebellion debut with more of their Alternative take on the genre. Hard-edged punk is mixed with Urban beats and Hip-Hop to a rammed Empress Ballroom, who are lapping up the unsettling rhythms and fresh approach. I’m reminded at times of Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes and can see a big future for this band. All the way from Brazil, Cólera make their English live debut after a career beginning back in 1979. Solid hits and big choruses show us what we’ve been missing all these years and make a host of new fans in the process. Viki Vortex & The Cumshots’ tunes might be simple, but they’re fast-paced and absolutely guaranteed to make your body move. For a festival, that’s really all you need.
A few weeks ago at Slam Dunk Festival Teenage Bottlerocket proved themselves to be serious contenders to Rancid’s throne with a huge performance of one-hundred-miles-per-hour Punk Rock. That was on the main stage at Temple Newsam and here, in the confines of the Empress Ballroom,
their set seems even more intense. It’s wall to wall ripping chugs and solid low ends, all delivered with a breathless energy. From the opening intro tape of Slayer’s Reign in Blood to the admittance of picking up some British slang phrases like ‘gutted’ and ‘taking the piss’, Teenage Bottlerocket’s third trip to the Blackpool seaside is a decided success.
Opening with Carl Orf’s Carmina Burana is a bold statement, but Splodgenessabounds have a big crowd for their fat sounding Punk and Oi!, proving them again to be a perennial Rebellion favourite. Pulley deliver a hefty Punk assault that leans heavily into the So-Cal sound, while Electric Press is a youthful collective who blend Nu Metal vibes with a Punk Rock sound.
Of particular interest for me today is Santa Cruz legends Good Riddance who hit the Empress stage with a hard-hitting drum and wicked, crunchy guitar that pull you in immediately. Mixing the melodic with a darker, more oppressive tone, while still veering into the sound of Pop, Skate and Hardcore, theirs is a set of blistering pace and varied moods in the vein of Bad Religion and Pennywise.
I would guess they had stopped letting people into the Empress by the time U.K. Subs took the stage as it was jammed-packed, even at the back of the vast hall. But, the end is approaching for one of Punk’s most venerable acts and, in Charlie Harper, one of Punk’s most popular frontmen. I’m confident that the ‘Subs have played every Rebellion (and HITS) I’ve been to but with a turnout like this it would be insanity to overlook them. Favourites: I live in a Car, Emotional Blackmail and Endangered Species are welcomed with rapturous applause and the combined voices of the assembled mass; Down on the Farm comes with a wry comment hoping Rebellon likes their Guns N’ Roses cover, Warhead is an obvious favourite from the opening bass rumble and Riot still harbours the spirit of Punk’s early days. So ubiquitous are U.K. Subs that it’s easy to overlook them as simply making up the numbers, but do so at you peril for, when the time comes for Charlie to hang up his microphone, the Punk world will be a sadder place. With the Final Tour taking place this autumn that day looks imminent, yet Mr Harper’s final words of the set all-but confirm the ‘Subs will be back in Blackpool in 2024.
Culture Shock offer the first Ska I’ve heard today and Iconoclasts give some good of fashioned Punk Rock. Sadly, Milo Aukerman’s health means Descendants won’t be with us this year, but their late surrogate is Penetration who are a very different being than the band they replace. The toll of a bell signals their arrival and the beginning of a performance centred around building and sustaining atmosphere rather than the usual punk excess. It is almost punk prog as the band explore textures often ignored by the traditional powerhouse punk. One of the OG Californian bands T.S.O.L. have never been easy to categorise and have been all the better for marching to the beat of their own drum. Tonight, in Blackpool, the veterans show why they are still one of the most respected bands in the genre.
A back injury to Dave Vanian means The Damned withdrawal from the Thursday headlining slot leaves a huge hole in the schedule and with very little time to do anything, Rebellion pull of the most masterly of strokes and get the mighty Cock Sparrer in to fill the slot. As Sparrer are one of my favourite bands this does throw my reviewing plans into disarray, but this is Punk Rock and (as Murphy’s Law would allude to a few days later, plans be damned). I’ve covered Sparrer a few times over the past couple of years and they have always been at the absolute top of their game: fifty-one years and counting and they show no signs of dropping the quality.
Riot Squad opens the show and all are in good voice for the likes of Watch Your Back, Working and Argy Bargy; an unexpected visit to the Two Monkeys record sees A.U. getting an airing, with Colin claiming their 1997 album is deserving of a revisit. One by One and Nothing Like You come from the last record, Forever, while Running Riot dates back to 1977, when the old Queen had her Silver Jubilee. Because You’re Young, written by bassist Steve Burgess, is stated as being Colin McFaull’s favourite Sparrer song, which is no small statement when the whole of the album Shock Troops exists. Usual set closing one-two of England Belongs to Me and We’re Coming Back see out the night and, true to their word, Cock Sparrer will be gracing this stage in twelve months-time as billed headliners. Already cannot wait.
That just leaves a visit to the Casbah for Boston legends Gang Green who’re in sparkling form for the lateness of the hour as they crack through Another Bomb, Let’s Drink Some Beer and Alcohol (twice) alongside their cover of Misfits’ Astro Zombie. The bars are still open and there’s a Slade cover band due on the Empress’ stage just before 1 o’clock, but it’s late and I have work in the morning.