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Essential sets from Rockaway Beach 2019

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The start of the year, in an out-of-season’s south coast Butlin’s might seem like an unlikely destination for the best in alternative music, but for the past three years, Rockaway Beach has fit that bill in Bognor Regis.

Art Brut by Ollie Millington

Red coats and the usual cabaret entertainment is replaced by a fine array of established and up-and-coming acts at one of the most chilled out and friendly get-togethers of the year. Sure, the crowd age-demographic is older than say Leeds festival et al but with Chalet living, classic arcades and water park included, Rockaway Beach has much to offer for a fraction of the cost of other events over its three days.

We decamped to Butlins for three-days of quality music – these are the highlights.

Benin City

The London three-piece laid on a genre-defying concoction of danceable tunes orchestrated by front-duo Joshua Idehen (providing dulcet rhymes) and Shanaz Dorsett (with soul-filled vocals) getting the party going over house synth stabs, trip hop ambience and the odd freeing blast of jazz sax from music maestro Tom Leaper.

It often sounds like Faithless at their most anthemic with the downbeat edge of Ghostpoet, which is no bad thing. Expect big things from this band as they progress.

Goat Girl

As a hype band who actually matched the hype, expectations were high for Goat Girl, and they didn’t disappoint. With the addition of a fifth member and with three new brilliant tunes in tow, prove exactly why they are one of the most vital new guitar acts of the past few years.

The punk power of their performance rips apart their nonchalant stage presence creates a sense of urgency different to their hypnotic recorded work.

The Spook School

“We’re just a bunch of queer, silly sausages from Scotland,” states Spook School drummer Niall McCamley. The indie-pop favourites are a breath of fresh air matching progressive politics with Their lo-fi, C86, punk-pop ditties, that, while sloppy around the edges each song is packed with big pop hooks and endearing vocal harmonies. They win over a sizeable crowd and leave having conquered an audience sceptical at the outset.

The Spook School by Ollie Millington

Menace Beach

The Leeds lot’s performance was a composite of their different eras condensing the classic indie sounds of their early records with the synth-driven take of latest album Black Rainbow Sound. Beefed-up with more punk punch the newer synth tracks sit perfectly with their indie-rock classics. One of the tightest bands on all weekend, Menace Beach have a clear understanding of how to deliver their myriad styles live.

Algiers

Coming top in the ‘could have headlined’ table was Atlanta’s Algiers. Opening with the industrial-soul banger ‘The Underside of Power' they progress through tunes that collide gospel, industrial rock, trap, electronic and classic rock into powerful aural political statements. Ex-Bloc Party drummer Matt Tong is still a powerhouse underpinning the groove and singer/guitarist Franklin James Fisher has a classic soul voice. Few can deny that Algiers is the perfect postmodern musical blend for our troubled times, the light cracking through the darkness.

Gary Numan

The electronic legend took to the stage, laid waste to it, and proved why he was the biggest draw all weekend. After a comeback in recent years that has seen Numan step out of the wilderness, personally, musically and critically, now feels like the right time to again embrace a true pioneer.

Revitalised by the sounds and imagery of industrial metal, this new Numan plays homage to acts like Ministry and Nine Inch Nails, who in turn he influenced – he has come full circle. The modern tunes do all have a similar air, the formula works but it does feel like he has found a new comfortable niche (something that can’t be criticised). However, when his classics ‘Cars’, ‘Me! I Disconnect From You’ and ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’ are played the brilliance of this new direction becomes apparent. They are reworked with heavy guitar, crushing bass and additional beats bringing them into the industrial realm, and it works perfectly. Gary Numan is back at his best and it is a sight to behold.

Squid

Brighton’s Squid is definitely the hot guitar band tip for 2019. Every now and then a band emerges that just connects with everything that is needed in rock music, Squid is one of those bands. Their ramshackle set brings in a dazzling array of styles from indie-pop and punk-funk to krautrock and psych, all underpinned by the kind of dance beat that drives LCD Soundsystem. With the same sort of expansive post-punk ethics as Canada's Crack Cloud, albeit a funkier version, Squid is a band that everyone needs to see – they are all that is good about new rock music.

Squid by Ollie Millington

Lorelle Meets The Obsolete

Mexico’s Lorelle Meets The Obsolete conduct a mind-blowing experiment in restrained noise. Bringing their intense new album ‘De Facto’ to the stage they now push electronics to the fore of their psych-rock wall of sound. All elements (the surging guitars, clattering electronic beats and heavy live rhythms) coalesce into a wave of sound, like an acid rock Factory Floor. They end in a crushing collapsing of sound as a guitar is handed to the crowd as pedals are violently abused.

Art Brut

Indie-heroes Art Brut proved why they are totally underrated as one of the most fun live bands in the country. Still very much a vehicle for the acerbic wit of front-man Eddie Argos, at one point he kicks into a half-hour, hilarious, ad-lib as the intro to classic ‘My Little Brother' and throughout out it is his louche delivery that drives the performance. Tonight Wedding Present drummer Charles Layton joins behind the kit and looks like he has never had so much fun. Art Brut’s riffs are big, their lyrics are clever and they are the most fun band on the live circuit, somehow a decade on the joke still hasn’t worn thin!

Echo & The Bunnymen

You don’t get more legendary in indie music than The Bunnymen! Often overlooked in the canon of exceptional 80s bands the Bunnymen, in this live arena, provide a masterclass in intellectual pop, each part fitting perfectly into the overall machine. The sound is inch perfect as guitarist Will Sargent unravels his classic, signature sound propping up Ian McCulloch’s soaring vocals, which after years of doing everything that should kill a voice, he still provides on top form.

The career-spanning set, whilst a little subdued for a Sunday night festival closer, is an engulfing spectacle which peaks with the double whammy of ‘The Killing Moon’ and ‘The Cutter’ – two contenders for the best tune of the 80s. They should have left on this high but return with ‘Lips Like Sugar’ and ‘Ocean Rain’, which while epic in their own right, leave the set floating on a limp note.

 

Rockaway Beach proved to be the perfect antidote to the January blues, and with the Jesus and Mary Chain already on the cards for 2020 an absolute must visit for alternative music fans.

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