Festival review: Long Division Festival 2018
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“I’m off to a festival in Wakefield this Saturday,” was met with the kind of derision that is often levelled at Yorkshire cities that aren’t Leeds or Sheffield.
But the fact is that, off the radar, Wakefield is now a buzzing hub of culture that hasn’t yet succumbed to the huge prices that usually accompany these transformations. With more pubs per square mile than anywhere else (and good ones at that) and an array of venues, with Long Division festival (now in its seventh year) the city has cultivated a vibrant celebration of the arts worth checking out.
After flitting in and out of several smaller venues and bars, the day properly starts with a surging high as the Membranes conduct an existential, post-punk sermon of epic proportions in the ornate confines of Wakefield Cathedral.
With their return album Dark Matter/Dark Energy the band transcended their lost post-punk legends tag to completely regain current relevancy with an album of genre-defying, dark, ominous works of aural stalking. With a choir in tow, Membranes led by a possessed John Robb, fill the religious space with the most unholy of music – haunting choral harmonies, clattering rhythms, crushing riffs and experimental flourishes tell dark tales of life, the universe and death as Robb growls out his message. It is a performance that permeates the mind, body and soul. Everyone leaves 100% converted to the gospel of Membranes.
A quick walk over to Warehouse 23 provides another instant highlight in the form of Leeds’ Drahla. Great on record, their music takes on a new explosive tone live as they combine all the best aspects of early 80s no wave and post punk to mesmerising effect. Like Sonic Youth with a saxophone, playing tunes inspired by Delta 5 and Young Marble Giants, they play with precision and power.
Before today I had completely missed Marnie’s connection with Ladytron, easily one of the most under-rated bands of the last 20 years. With the acquisition of that knowledge, her performance back in the cathedral became a must. Having crafted her own take on her work with Ladytron, utilising the more seductive, pop end of their sound, Marnie has produced something of merit away from the shackles of her past work. With seductive, pop hooks propelled by crushing synths and live drums, Marnie and her two supporting band mates enthral throughout. She has a voice that is as heart-stopping and evocative live as on any record.
Much of the next few hours is packed with snippets of sets all good enough to have seen more of, but the next full set is by indie hype band Life. In a surreal empty church basement venue at St. Austin’s Church, one of the best new-rock-hopes the UK has is violently spitting out its manifesto for the disillusioned. The Hull four-piece whip up a relentless maelstrom of big riffs and chant-worthy lyrics. Life’s music is the sound of a creative outlet from people who feel they have no voice. ‘Popular Music’ is as essential a performance you are likely to see live right now.
When we arrive back over at Warehouse 23, the horror-costumed madness of Evil Blizzard is coming to an end in a surge of hypnotic noise. It sounds like something worth seeing, but we missed it. But that soon becomes irrelevant as The Lovely Eggs have arrived to own the day’s closing set.
Dropping many of their earlier, quirky surreal ditties the underground, punk duo, while maintaining some of their humour, have concocted a far punkier set forged largely from new album Welcome To Eggland. Naturally one of the best live bands around with effortless playing (how two people can create such a big sound is insane) and wry, Northern humour between songs, they unify everyone in the crowd, especially on a mass sing-along on ‘Fuck It’, a true ode for our times. Dressed as medieval knights, guitarist Holly Ross and drummer David Blackwell, had he most fun we’d seen from a performing band all day. The Lovely Eggs embody everything that punk rock should be, not that they give a fuck!