Takedown 2014, as it happened
In case you missed it, we previewed most of these bands and many more on in our Takedown 2014 primer.
With Southampton’s Takedown Festival now in its third year on site at Southampton University’s extensive student union complex, right from the moment of arrival the event feels like a particularly well-oiled machine. Well sign-posted, sensibly laid out and a veritable army of helpers darting around in blue t-shirts, everything felt well under control. It was clearly a popular event too – I pitched up around half an hour before the bands were due to start, and the queue for wristband exchange snaked off far into the distance. It is good to see so many people wanting to enjoy the whole day, and not just pitch up later on to just catch the headliners, which the very reasonable ticket price would certainly have made viable.
I was in attendance last year as well, and as my review testifies, the event had some pretty high expectations to live up to this year. With the stage layout identical to last year, it didn’t take long to acclimatise to the site and figure out where everything was. Indeed, the only real problems I had in this department was in locating the bands’ merch tables, which were sprinkled over a number of spots.
Even with these high expectations, the line-up was looking particularly strong on paper, carrying a ‘something for everyone’ vibe. The major change this year was the devotion of a whole stage to Total Rock. Headlined by Heaven’s Basement and also featuring currently buzzing bands like Turbowolf and Black Spiders, this stage was clearly a draw for many – but not for me. I didn’t set foot in the room with this stage all day, so if you are looking for coverage of those bands, I’m afraid you’re not going to find it here, sorry!
But, with four other stages to choose from, I had a hectic day ahead of me. Opening up the Big Deal stage was Birmingham quintet Aurora, who might not quite have got things underway with a bang, but definitely with an almighty stomp. The band play a particularly groove-laden, well-executed brand of metalcore, and all eyes are definitely drawn to vocalist Jessica Calvesbert. Channelling Tarrie B and Krysta Cameron, she growls, screams and sings her way through an impressively confident performance. Setting the tone for many bands throughout the event, she is not afraid of jumping down off the stage and singing from the floor.
The band provides a solid backing that contains all the hallmarks of the genre – breakdowns and sub-drops aplenty. There seemed to be a bit of a volume mismatch between the two guitarists, so some of the texture may have been a little lost, but just from a spot of fretboard watching it was clear that there was plenty of interesting stuff happening in there. Jessica’s voice, though impressive, is not quite as strong yet as it could be – but this is nothing that can’t be fixed with time and gig experience. All in, a promising start for this young band and a pleasant enough surprise for me to pick up a CD for further investigation. Good work.
Popping into the main stage, I pause for a song or two from Verses. Their songs seem relatively anthemic, emotional and they have a nice line in three-part harmonies, but they do just feel a bit pedestrian. They don’t seem to hold the attention of much of the crowd either, so I leave them to it.
Over at the Uprawr stage, I catch Saint The Sinner. This stage was plagued with issues last year, ultimately running more than an hour behind schedule and not exactly blessed with the greatest sound quality. Whilst the stage is running to time, the sound is very muddy. Despite there being six guys on stage, the loudest thing out of the PA is the obligatory backing track, so picking out any hooks in their de rigueur metalcore fare is at best a challenge, if not completely impossible. The band don’t seem to really utilise their dual vocalist configuration to its fullest, and the songs aren’t particularly inspiring. The band’s calls of “wake the fuck up, Southampton” go largely unheeded. I fear that even had they been blessed with pin-sharp sound, there wouldn’t have been much in Saint The Sinner’s set to turn heads.
Immediately following their set on the Uprawr stage are Black Futures, the first band of the day on my ‘must see’ list. Both personal favourites of mine and of Takedown in general, under their previous guise of Subsource they had played the previous two events, making them – I believe – the only band to have appeared on all three Southampton Takedown bills and have been gradually working their way up the running order.
Aside from the slightly perplexing decision or omission by the venue staff to leave the house lights on until halfway through their final song, they didn’t disappoint. With a new member Lawrence in their ranks to replace Dennis behind the bank of electronics, the band delivered a tight and impressive set that included some old favourites, a taste of new material and a couple of covers – their truly exceptional reworking of Slipknot’s “Duality” and also a version of The Prodigy’s “Poison”, which I hadn’t heard before. The Guildford quartet also whip up the first serious moshpit action of the day, with guitarist Paul Frazer kicking off a circle pit by literally stalking into the crowd and starting the circle spinning himself while playing. A wall of death, set up under the pretext of thanking their long-standing soundman, is also particularly satisfying to watch.
With at least a couple of Black Futures tattoos visible in the crowd, they had brought some fans with them, but their distinctive and eminently danceable soundclash, drawing in elements from across both the electronica and metal spectrums, definitely won them some more fans. Again. Same time next year, lads?
Immediately following them were The (motherfucking) Hell. The faintly mysterious five piece appear on stage with bandanas covering their mouths and noses, and one of the pair of vocalists sets the tone perfectly for their set by choosing to line-check his mic by repeatedly shouting the word “dick”.
There’s a vibe of almost cartoon violence about the band. Abrasive and confrontational, the air is thick with obscenities throughout the songs and the banter in between. People who are easily offended have no place watching The Hell, but if repeated c-bombs don’t send you running for the hills with your hands over your ears, they are an enormous amount of fun. While their tone is wilfully puerile, it’s also very apparent that the band has some serious experience behind them. With their identities firmly hidden, this experience is made perfectly clear through the tight, no-nonsense delivery of their positively filthy downtuned grooves. They are all tied up in short, sharp songs, and together with the confident ease with which the vocalists work the crowd, it is obvious these guys have racked up many hours of stage-time between them.
Their thick, fat and furious sound is probably the best fit to the acoustics of the room of all the bands on the stage throughout the day, which sets heads nodding across the sizeable crowd and limbs flailing in the moshpit, following calls from the stage to “kill each other”. It’s honestly hard to tell if they were joking or not.
Announcing that they’ve recently signed a record deal, and will be releasing a second album in the coming months, the band launch into new song “Groove Hammer” which, pleasingly, does exactly what it says on the tin. Ending their set with their calling card “It’s The Motherfucking Hell, You Dick”, they may well appeal to our baser instincts, but it is all hugely enjoyable. Definitely worth checking out – just leave your nan at home, OK?
Hurrying back to the Big Deal stage, it is time for Monolith favourites Zoax. Perhaps due to clashes with sets on other stages, the crowd awaiting their arrival is not exactly huge, but this doesn’t diminish the band’s enthusiasm one iota as they throw themselves into their set. Fresh from a jaunt with Polar, the band are on top form and obviously having a grand old time playing a well-practiced set of songs from their debut EP XIII and forthcoming full-length. Bass player Joe Copcutt, in particular, is bursting with enthusiasm – bouncing and stomping around the stage wearing a huge grin throughout.
But as we have made clear in the past, in Adam Carroll, Zoax possess one of the most compelling frontmen we have witnessed in an emerging band for many years. With more vocalists than not making forays into the audience throughout the day, Adam conducts his off-stage adventures with notable flair and charm. Crawling along the floor, chasing the microphone pushed in front of him, perching above the few souls who had chosen to remain seated on the stage-side booths and screaming directly into the faces of the steadily growing audience, he holds everyone’s attention. His antics are matched by the versatility of his vocals, jumping from angelic to outright, completely believable fury in a heartbeat.
This was the third Zoax set I’ve caught so far, but the first since the release of XIII, and maybe partly due to my having a firmer grasp on the twisting, imaginative song structures, it is the best I have seen from them. It’s also worth recording that even when the majority of the crowd’s attention is drawn to Adam investigating the space above the suspended ceiling (he assures us its not very nice up there), the band’s energy and enthusiasm doesn’t falter for a moment.
By the end of the set, the area in front of the stage is packed out. Zoax’s set was a masterclass in winning and keeping a crowd’s attention. With great songs and great presence in equal measure, they are looking like the real deal.
Faced with the not inconsiderable task of immediately following Zoax are Centiment, but with three seasoned professionals in their ranks, they remain undaunted. I’ve written a great deal about Centiment already this year – with an album review, live review and an interview, so there’s not a huge amount I can say that’s really new. The band plays a necessarily briefer selection of songs from debut album Streets of Rage than when I caught their second ever show in London, and this represents their eighth show and first festival appearance. As I said, seasoned professionals.
Singer Dave McPherson may well have been a contender for sweatiest performer of the whole day, throwing everything he has at a powerful vocal workout that takes in falsetto passages and full-throated roars, even after admitting onstage that he might have stayed out a bit too late the previous night. Drummer Mark Shurety also copes admirably with the near-total meltdown of one of his drum pedals in the final song. Overall, the sound is clear, the riffs pleasingly beefy and the performance tight and efficient – but by now, we expect nothing less, right, lads?
We track back to the Uprawr stage in time for Heart Of A Coward, who whip up the biggest and most active pit I witness all day with their burly, hardcore-influenced progressive metal. Very probably the most straightforwardly heavy band on the bill, especially after the withdrawal from the festival of Chimaira, there’s clearly a lot of people here wanting to make the most of the best headbanging opportunity of the day. Maximum respect must also be paid to the dude in the wheelchair who positioned himself right in the very centre of the circle pit. Well played, sir.
Clearly buoyed by the number of friends they have in the room, the band rip through selections from both their albums, with “Nightmare” and “Deadweight” being more crushing than having something substantial fall on you. Like a car park. The experience is made slightly disorientating, however, by the occasional deployment of a brutally stark and bright strobe light. Whilst latest album Severance didn’t completely float my boat on its release, a Heart of a Coward live show is a whole other proposition. Vocalist Jamie Graham works hard to get the crowd involved, attempting to open up two circle pits simultaneously, getting the whole crowd to crouch down then erupt – which worked magnificently, by the way – and then getting the crowd to link arms in a giant synchronised headbang. The set was ruthless and pummelling, and I’m sure many staggered away afterwards satisfied with their heavy fix of the day.
After finally having a window to stop and grab a bite to eat, we head for the small Introducing stage to watch Empire. The buzz is really starting to build around these guys now, and they arrive pretty much straight from a last-minute appearance at Hammerfest the night before. It is particularly pleasing to note that singer Joe Green sounds every bit as distinctive live as he does on their debut mini-album Where The World Begins. Considering the band’s stage time clashes with Jamie Lenman’s, they pull in a thoroughly respectable crowd and their set is stuffed with memorable, hooky and anthemic alt-rock, with the undeniable highlight being single “Future, Past and Present”. If these guys come back to Takedown next year, I firmly expect it to be significantly higher up the overall bill; ones to watch, for sure.
And so to Baby Godzilla. Where does one begin? In a nutshell, there are two types of people in this world: those who have experienced a Baby Godzilla set, and those that have not – and you really ought to make sure you’re in the first group as soon as possible. With the band building a formidable reputation, you may well have heard stories of their live shows, but nothing quite prepares you for the reality.
Baby Godzilla don’t so much perform as erupt. The line between the stage and the crowd becomes almost immediately blurred, with guitarist/vocalist duo Jonny Hall and Matt Reynolds spending more time off the stage than on it. Any flat surface is fair game for these two: clambering on the speaker stacks and venue furniture, ploughing into and over the pit with scant regard for their instruments. Microphone stands and even a guitar cabinet make their way down into the crowd, so they often resort to having members of the crowd hold mics up for them when they need to sing and play simultaneously.
One of my party pops off to the loo during the set, only to find that Jonny is playing in there – through doors, round corners and downstairs from the room with the stage. This is what wireless packs were built for.
The whole set is complete and total shrieking chaos from start to finish. Casual onlookers look bewildered, security look concerned and somewhere, a health and safety official is quietly having kittens – but what makes the whole thing even more remarkable is that the band aren’t just jumping about – they still play a set full of recognisable songs, and do so with an astonishing tightness, given the circumstances. Yes, the Nottingham quartet’s shouty, spiky hardcore may afford them a certain degree of latitude, but nevertheless the sound is surprisingly cohesive for a band that spends the majority of the set spread out across the venue and sometimes upside down. Perhaps the key to this lies in the rhythm section: bass player Paul Shelley remains on stage throughout, looking a little out of place, but he may well be the glue that holds the whole band together. The eye of the storm, if you will.
With these hyperkinetic shows, Baby Godzilla may well be making a rod for their own backs in terms of setting up expectations of a riot every night, but as it stands, it is equally possible that they don’t give a righteous fuck about that for the time being. The pit is writhing and ecstatic throughout – a friend of mine emerges with a huge shit-eating grin and brandishing the sole of his shoe, which has been ripped clean off the uppers. Everyone in the room – bar none – is captivated for the duration. Drummer Tom Marsh provides the ultimate finale, floating his kick drum out onto the stage-front throng, clambering on top of it and using the additional height to maneuver himself into hanging by his feet from the lighting rig. As you do.
Baby Godzilla probably aren’t going to be around forever. There’s no way they can keep up this level of intensity indefinitely, so take every opportunity to witness the phenomenon while it lasts. Without question, this is the set of the day for me and many of those who witness it. It’s a truly visceral and hugely thrilling experience – proof, for now, that anyone who thinks that rock is either dead, irrelevant or too concerned with playing it safe hasn’t got the faintest idea what they’re talking about. Bloody marvelous.
I don’t envy anyone attempting to follow Baby Godzilla in the slightest, and none of the bands I watch afterwards particularly succeed in holding my attention. Back over on the Introducing stage, competition winners Chasing Cadence have all the right ingredients to be successful with much of the Takedown crowd, but after the squalling chaos I’ve just been a part of, they feel like empty calories. They’re not particularly pit-friendly, but they do still attempt to set up a wall of death – however they don’t quite have either the numbers of participants or the level of aggression for it to be successful. They have the riffs, the haircuts and the sub-drops, but they don’t quite yet have the memorable songs. But it’s early days for the band, and – at this late stage in proceedings – I’m starting to feel old and tired.
Last-minute replacement Uprawr stage headliners Rise To Remain don’t fare much better. Only added to the bill barely a week before the show – following Chimaira vocalist Mark Hunter diagnosis with pneumonia – they really struggle to pull in punters. Ultimately playing to a crowd not even half the size of that which greeted Heart Of A Coward, the band still play like they’re performing to a full room, but the sound is hopelessly muddy and their somewhat derivative metalcore fails to win me over, in much the same manner that While She Sleeps did in the same slot last year.
Then something perplexing happens, with another echo of last year’s event. In 2013, I hadn’t meant to watch Hacktivist, but dramatic stage over-runs meant that I was in the room when they took the stage. This year, they had been due to play at 7:10, while I was watching Empire, but somewhere in the late afternoon signs started appearing across the site to let punters know that Hacktivist would not be appearing at their scheduled time on the Uprawr stage, but instead playing after headliners Lost Alone on the Big Deal stage.
Despite the band being onsite pretty much from doors opening (bass player Josh was stood next to me watching openers Aurora), it transpired that a vital bit of kit – unconfirmed reports suggest it was their laptop – was left in Milton Keynes when they made the trip down south. For a band that has spent pretty much the entire year since their last Takedown appearance on the road, this does seem like a really weird error to make. Given how the band apparently can’t play at all without it, it does seem almost as foolish as forgetting the guitars, but I suppose we all have our off days.
My relationship with Hacktivist’s music is complex, as my review of their re-released EP shows – but as they take to the stage, it is obvious that they have spent much of the day drinking, and are visibly worse for wear. This doesn’t make for a compelling performance. Standing further back from the stage, the crowd in front of me absorbs much of the low-end, making the songs sound terribly flimsy. When it is clear that they are still playing almost exactly the same set they played last year, I leave them to it and wander over to Uprawr’s afterparty, where we drink, dance and laugh our way right through to the bitter end at 3:00am, helped along by an unnaturally cheap bar.
Despite none of the ultimate headliners particularly floating my boat, the whole event was a blast. I gather the Total Rock stage suffered the same sorts of over-runs that the Uprawr stage did last year, and I expect that steps will be taken to ensure that doesn’t happen for a third year in a row – but apart from that, the festival was startlingly well-run. The balance of bands, as well as the tortuous process of scheduling, seemed to have been pitched perfectly – so that most of the punters got to see most of the bands they wanted to, and there were few of the terrible bottlenecks that can often beleaguer small multi-stage events.
I’m sure there will be many who will now see Takedown as the starting pistol for the festival season. With a varied but uniformly high-quality line-up, sensible layout, efficient organisation and a relaxed, friendly atmosphere, it is now a firm fixture on my calendar, and long may it continue. Maybe next year, I will actually watch an entire set on the main stage – but the fact I spent all day watching bands on just three of the five stages is simply more proof that of the quality of the bill from top to bottom.
Outstanding stuff, all round.