Takedown 2013 under review!
If you are looking for a sign that the UK music scene is in rude health at the moment, you don’t need to look much further than Southampton’s Takedown festival. More than forty bands, spread across five stages in the sprawling University Student Union complex, touching most points along the alternative music spectrum, and the bands were overwhelmingly British.
Obviously, with so much going on I was always going to miss more bands than I was going to see, but some fortuitous scheduling meant that I personally did not have any difficult choices to make from clashing stage times.
Kicking the day off for me were Red Seas Fire, opening the Monster stage. When it is not being sponsored by an energy drink, the venue is called The Cube, which really is just a big box. The university website says it has a 1,700 capacity, but I think that would be jolly cosy. A couple of technical issues both delayed the band’s start and slightly impeded their performance, but these types of hiccups are fairly standard fare for the first band on any festival stage. The respectably sized crowd for such an early show didn’t seem to mind too much, either. These guys are brimming with potential, especially in the new songs due to be featured on the imminently released Exposition EP, and they’re riding high on my ‘Ones To Watch’ list for the coming year.
Next up was Brighton’s Collisions. Their stage was, effectively, in a bar with lots of windows and watching any band play in these kinds of surroundings – indoors but bathed in sunlight – feels just a little incongruous – but their infectious hybrid of metal and drum and bass more than makes up for that. Taking cues from 90′s bands like Pitchshifter and One Minute Silence, together with a generous nod to Skindred, these guys are an ideal festival band. They give the performance their all, and look like they’re having a whale of a time doing so. It does seem to me that, after the best part of a decade in the wilderness of being crushingly uncool, crossover music is coming back in a big way, and Collisions’ hook-laden, high energy tunes should see them in the vanguard of this resurgance.
Then it was off to watch more crossover action from Subsource, who smash together punk attitude and dubstep beats. Already established as festival favourites from last year’s show, they put in a commanding performance. Even on one of the festivals smallest stages, they generate a moshpit dense enough for singer/bassist Stu Henshall to serviceably crowdsurf on. I’m basically to old, fat, fragile and boring for moshing these days, so the fact these guys drew me into the pit at five o’clock in the afternoon is nothing short of remarkable. The band could have benefitted from a more bass-heavy PA to play through, so if you do get the chance to see them play in a club with a decent system, I’d recommend you take it.
Then it was back to the Monster stage again, where I pretty much remained for the rest of the day. Starting the run of five bands I saw here was the electronica brainmelt of The Algorithm, with Remi Gallego being supported by Chimp Spanner‘s Boris Le Gal on drums. This was the fourth time I have seen an Algorithm set, and it just gets better every time I witness it. Admittedly, there isn’t much in the way of stage-craft, with Remi hunched over his console of buttons, dials and sliders, but however good debut album Polymorphic Code is, it is clearly meant to be heard through a club PA, and the live drums give it that extra push over the edge. Now the complicated, twisting and glitching tunes have properly wormed their way into my conciousness, I can anticipate and fully appreciate them, making this the standout performance of the whole day for me. More than a couple of my party, witnessing it for the first time, came away raving in every sense of the word.
In all honesty, I hadn’t really meant to watch Hacktivist, but the stage was running the best part of an hour behind schedule, so their set had barely begun when I returned after refuelling. There is a lot of buzz around the band right now, and they draw the biggest crowd to the stage so far. I am slightly concerned that the growth of the hype is outpacing the development of the band. Guitarist Timfy James seems rather over-infatuated with his eighth string, and in this already boomy room, the riffs become a rather amorphous low-end blur of noise. The band are definitely ticking the right boxes to get the kids fired up; the crowd reaction is strong and lead rapper J Hurley is a definite star in the making. I’m sure these guys do have some really good songs in them, I just don’t think they’ve written them yet. I do also have a bit of a bugbear more generally with the over-reliance of bands on backing tracks in the live setting, but then again, I am a purist raised on Rage Against The Machine and I don’t really think that rap-metal, or even grime-djent, really needs to be augmented with electronic bells and whistles if the grooves are strong enough. I just hope they don’t implode under the weight of high expectations before they have a chance to develop to the point they can really meet them.
And so we come to TesseracT (whose new album Altered State is streaming here); the last band of the day that I really wanted to watch. The crowd was definitely smaller than Hacktivist’s, but they were definitely more commited fans than curious onlookers. Starting with “Deception” and “The Impossible” from Concealing Fate, before sliding into some cuts from the upcoming Altered State (about which I will have much more to say very soon), the set feels much shorter than their allotted forty minutes. Having already seen this version of the Tesseract line-up a few months ago, it does seem to me that new singer Ashe O’Hara is properly settling into his role, and the band are now sounding more cohesive than they have since Dan Tompkins left. They also seem to be having fun, and the completely inability of the crowd to clap in time to the opening bars of set closer “Concealing Fate Part One - Acceptance” generates more visible amusement than annoyance from the band. This was a tight and virtually note-perfect performance, and enough to make me seriously consider going to see them again in London in a few days time.
In a striking visual difference to almost every other band of the day who hit the stage in clothes little more adventurous than jeans and t-shirts, London’s The Defiled appear looking like The Cure being dragged through a Mad Max movie. Musically, their up-tempo, industrial-thrash doesn’t do a tremendous amount for me, but they do put on one hell of a show. Keyboardist The AvD is a genuine and hysterical character, but the humour does seem lost on large portions of the crowd. I don’t think I would really choose to listen to their recorded output, but I’d certainly go and see them play live again.
Stage headliners While She Sleeps certainly have a lot of fans in attendance, and the room is packed for their set…but this brand of metalcore does absolutely nothing for me whatsoever, other than send me – appropriately – to sleep. I have a ‘three song rule’ I apply to watching any band with which I am unfamiliar. The band has the first three song of their set to do something that interests or engages me. If there is something in there, I’ll watch the rest of the set. If not, I’ll go and do something else instead – and While She Sleeps failed that test. Not as hard – it must be said – as main stage headliners The Blackout, who I ambled over to see, just out of curiousity, after leaving WSS to it. I think the time I spent watching would be more readily measured in seconds than minutes. Whatever it was they were doing, it really is not for me.
After the bands, the second and fifth stages of the festival were handed over to the Uprawr club masterminds for a real blast of an afterparty, which saw bands, fans and assorted luminaries bopping the night away together. Those guys really know how to keep a crowd on their feet, even after more than nine hours of bands.
So there you have it – that was Takedown for me. I’m sure others will have had a completely different experience, but that is the mark of an excellent festival: a little bit of something for everyone, and some real pleasant surprises for anyone going in with an open mind. If you are within striking distance of the south coast, then I would heartily recommend that you keep some space in your calendar for Takedown 2014.