Review: Rockaway Beach 2016
The Rockaway Beach festival made waves in its first year with their programming of bands old, mainly old, but with a smattering of the new. The likes of Echo & The Bunnymen, The Fall and Johnny Marr playing alongside relative newbies like Nadine Shah, Ghostpoet and Young Fathers, making this a festival which is tapping into the 6 Music demographic.
This second edition has continued down the same route, nothing is broken here. Being based in a theme park means that you're only five minutes away from the music, so whether it's back to the room, playing whatever gambling machines they have in the huge O2-like dome or dining in the various tackily themed restaurants, there's no fear of a Glastonbury-like 35 minute trek to catch the last five songs of a band you wanted to see the whole of. All Tomorrow's Parties tapped into the theme park market well but since their recent collapse there's a gap to fill. Rockaway doesn't quite do this as it's a different beast, that's not to say what Rockaway doing is any less relevant. ATP was pretty highbrow, whereas here we have a festival which takes us down memory lane, but also has their sight firmly attached to the now, and the sounds of tomorrow.
On day one ex-Coral member Bill Ryder-Jones plays to an impressively sized audience, his dour troubadourisms and indie jangle lapped up, by some. Much more impressive over in the REDS area is Blanck Mass, the solo project of Benjamin John Power, one half of electronic skull crushers Fuck Buttons. While Fuck Buttons are hardly a verse/chorus/verse kinda act, Power takes the improv nature of that act and runs even further away from expected song structure under this guise. A set pulled mainly from his excellent Dumb Flesh album of last year sees him playing with guttural bass sounds which shake the walls of the arena, ear shredding electronica which sounds like the most experimental Aphex Twin tracks fused with the death metal of Carcass, this is heavy metal played with machinery, a total aural assault. When not pummeling the audience with those sounds, the occasional dash of Orb or Banco Di Gaia ambience provide moments of pretty musicality amongst the noise terror – win.
The Wedding Present sounded Wedding Presenty. After pretty much playing the same song about girlfriends for thirty odd years the old and new songs all merge into one, but it's good to hear "Come Play With Me" and the classic "Brassneck" amongst them.
St Etienne provide the main arena with a little glitz and glamour, plus finally gives the smattering of idiot man-boys something more conventional to get into, thankfully these guys quickly realized that their "WAY HEYYYYS" and "OI OIIIIIS" antics are given short shrift by a crowd who are old enough and know better, it's almost as if they are here just because it's Butlins. Sarah Cracknell and co play their 1991 classic Foxbase Alpha in its entirety which they state is the last time they'll do this. Hard to believe seeing as they've rinsed this album out for it's 10th, 15th and 20th anniversaries. Strange they focus on this album as the two follow ups, '93's So Tough and Tiger Bay a Year later are much better albums. Still, hearing the tracks that won't make their 'best of' live set, the likes of the sultry dub of "Carn't Sleep", the urgency of "She's The One" and the hugely underrated "Like A Swallow" are a pleasure to hear again live After the album they crank out the hits, the highlight being "Kiss & Make Up", a track they've hardly played live before, much to the delight of the indie uncle set.
Rockaway Site 2016
Day two belonged to very different artists. Bass slinging legend Jah Wobble and The Invaders Of The Heart played an absolute stormer, think those in Toad Hall at three AM moments. Wobble's ameniable nature leads to the crowd submitting to his charms, both personal, and musical. He drops his classic "Visions Of You", unfortunately without an appearance by its vocalist Sinead O'Connor but sounds just as good. His band is the tightest bunch of musicians of the entire weekend, Wobble of course, a jazz pianist and an amazing guitarist who can switch from '80's guitar solos to blues, to intrinsic post punk lines with ease. They dub the Public Image Limited classics "Public Image" and "Poptones", then switch to loungey readings of the theme from Get Carter, then take the bass coda from Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain" and transform it up into a sludgy ten minute dub-plate, immaculate. If this wasn't dubby enough, in a stroke of clever programming, the dub legend himself Lee Scratch Perry follows the wobble to keep the vibes heavy, his flashy outfit being even more impressive than the musical skank he and his band play.
In the main stage and arguably the largest crowd of the weekend, 'Suede continue their unlikely revival. On their arse after the commercial failings of their fifth album, 2002's A New Morning, they split. Re-emerging eight year's later, they are a band reinvigorated and loving that second dice role. Avoiding the current cycle of cynical reformation: reform, play gigs, disappear for a bit – play more gigs – count the cash, Suede have managed to put together two passable albums and have another one planned. Tonight however it's about the hits and the stage exploits of Brett Anderson, preening, jumping in the air and landing on his knees, prancing, falling onto the adoring crowd. It's surprising the stage can handle his ego but when it's backed with classics such as "Killing Of A Flashboy", "He's Dead" and"The Drowners" it's impossible to avoid becoming entranced by their collective charm.
After the pop highs of the two days prior, the final day takes a more esoteric turn. TVAM begin the day with a satisfying blast of gothy doom, crashing machines and shrill feedback which masks the death-pop songs that lie beneath, think A Place To Bury Strangers with a dash of The Soft Moon. Jane Weaver provides krautpop nuggets which sound ok but doesn't translate that successfully on the large main stage. Hotly tipped four piece FEWS manage to shake up the Sunday inertia but if you scratch beneath the surface noise you'll find a band that need to look within themselves to find their identity. They should then stop studying New York four piece Diiv so closely as they can't match their ability to fuse pop with post punk noise. Damo Suzuki's Network Ft St Deluxe had all the Can fans in attendance to see what their ex-lead singer was now up to. Obviously there wasn't going to be any readings of classics such as "Mushroom" or a full performance of Ege Bam Yasi, but after fifteen minutes of a one note mantra with Suzuki's wailing on top, it started to feel like the musical equivalent of a post heroin addiction cold turkey session.
Highlight of the final day, and probably of the whole weekend was Killing Joke. Their imperial phase line up reformed back in 2008 which meant the return of the crushing rhythm section of the clinical human drum machine sounds of Paul Ferguson on drums, and crushing basslines of Youth, fusing unlikely funk into the apocalyptic guitar sounds of Geordie all backing the end of the world musings of lead vocalist Jaz Coleman. Straddling the line between post punk and industrial rock, they begin with arguably their biggest track, "Love Like Blood". With that out the way they crank out a bunch of tracks filled with indignant rage and bombast, Coleman remaining a majorly intense stage presence who looks like he could explode with anger in any second. "Change", "Wardance", "Eighties", "Requiem" are all spat out to an audience who look fit to combust. Particularly impressive was a track from last Year's Pylon album, "Dawn Of The Hive", all tribal ferocity, heavy riffage and end of the world drums, Youth's rumbling bassline taking the track right back to the post punk thrills of '81, an immense performance.
Rockaway Beach has immediately found its identity amongst a congested UK festival circuit, the impressive line-up and relatively small attendance gives it an enjoyable feeling of intimacy, here's to 2017, remember to hitch a ride.