At exactly 12:17 today, the first mosh pits erupted in front of the Rock City main stage. It can only mean one thing – that Hit The Deck 2014 is well and truly underway. The multi-venue festival has seen some impressive acts pass through its doors since its inception in 2011, but it’s fair to say that this year, they’ve well and truly outdone themselves. As the festival’s Nottingham date begins, there’s plenty for the thousands of music fans gathered here to get excited about.
Generating those first mosh pits are local boys ADELPHIA. Despite vocalist Nicholas James Crampton battling through a crippling sore throat, their set is locked down tight. Their style of melodic, screamo-tinged rock is music to the ears of the already considerable crowd that have piled straight into Rock City to hear them. As well as their own material, the band also squeeze in a crowd-pleasing cover of Vanessa Carlton’s dainty piano-ballad ‘1000 Miles’, a song which sounds a lot less dainty in their own distorted hands.
Moments later, another Nottingham band kick off proceedings on The Forum’s stage. With their start time delayed, LACEY barely have time to squeeze in a hello between songs, but that’s fine by the crowd who’ve stopped by to listen, a fair few of whom are obviously already converts. Singing along to every word, they are treated to fantastic renditions of soaring rock ballad ‘Contender’ and ‘Burning Out’ from last year’s Outlaws EP. The band’s punk energy and irrepressible enthusiasm are palpable, even if they haven’t got time to express it, and they certainly leave with a few more fans than they started with.
Following them are Birmingham four-piece CYTOTA, who have no hesitation in cranking the volume all the way up to 11. They have the floor literally shaking as they power through a set packed with snarling vocals, shuddering double-kick pedals and roaring, overdriven power chords. Playing tracks from their 2012 album The Prosecutor, they play fan favourites including ‘Between Jokers and Jesters’ and ‘Absorption’, with vocalist Joby Fitzgerald switching seamlessly between singing and a roaring, guttural scream. They close on new single ‘Generation Scared’, whose shuddering breakdown leaves more than a few heads spinning.
Back in The Rescue Rooms, a very different kind of band is about to take to the stage. BATTLE LINES, hailing from Leeds, describe their music as dark, cerebral pop, and that’s a pretty good summation. Their music is a blend of bluesy vocals, understated electronics and all-out scuzz, and it lures in plenty of listeners during their half-hour set. Singer Carly Humphries’ vulnerable, soulful delivery is perfectly complimented by the raw, lo-fi sound produced by the rest of the band, especially on ‘The Walls’ and upcoming single ‘Colonies’. Definitely a band to keep an eye on.
DINOSAUR PILE-UP are one of those bands that you can’t quite believe are only a three-piece. As they take to the main stage at Rock City, they fill the room with what can only be described as truly glorious noise, with all the messy connotations that brings. Mixing it up with tracks from their 2010 debut Growing Pains and 2013’s Nature Nurture, they tear up the stage with their riotous energy and the pure punk joy of their music. ‘My Rock’n’Roll’ and the Beck-esque ‘White T-Shirt and Jeans’ are particular highlights, but the whole set is something to behold. One can only wonder what more they could have done with a longer stage time.
Following them on the main stage are emo stalwarts HAWTHORNE HEIGHTS. Performing their 2004 debut album The Silence in Black and White in full, they manage to make half of Rock City regress back to emotional, pubescent messes with the striking of a single chord. While the band are looking a little older, the tunes remain the same, and judging by the packed-out audience gathered to hear them, they’re still just as important. With an album this well known, every song is a classic, but ‘Ohio Is For Lovers’ and ‘Niki FM’ of course bring the house down. Ten years on, and they can still hold their own.
Over at the Rescue Rooms, there’s barely room to breathe in the unbelievably crowded Rescue Rooms. The reason? Californian alt-rockers SEAHAVEN. Their melancholic blend of indie and punk is painfully emotive, and coupled with the explosive quiet-loud dynamics they pull off, it makes a hell of an impact. While they are an unassuming presence on the stage, their set is electric. Their rendition of ‘Honeybee’ is beautiful, as is the undulating ‘Wild West Selfishness’, taken from their most recent album Reverie Lagoon: Music For Escapism Only. Half an hour is a cruelly short taste of what the band are capable of, but with a UK headline tour currently underway, there’s always the chance to catch the full set before they return to the US.
On the main stage, things take a turn for the poppier with Arizona pop-punks THE SUMMER SET. Their irrepressibly catchy tunes have already seen them winning teenage hearts on both sides of the Atlantic, and it’s fair to say that the considerable crowd gathered in Rock City to listen fall at the younger end of today’s festival-going spectrum. Vocalist Brian Logan Dales has them firmly in the palm of his hand, able to silence them with a single raised finger, before launching into ‘Boomerang’s euphoric chorus. When he sings “Throw our hearts in the air” during latest single ‘Lightning in a Bottle’, hundreds of hands are thrown up to meet him, a sea of hearts that reaches from the back of the room to the front of the stage. With a fan base as rabid as this one, it’s not hard to see considerably bigger venues beckoning.
Things take a turn for the acoustic, meanwhile, with VERSE CHORUS VERSE, as the Irishman takes to the ad-hoc acoustic stage assembled in the Rescue Rooms bar. While his moniker might suggest something rather predictable, his music is anything but. Aside from his own rousing folk compositions (‘Our Truth Could Be Their Lie’ and ‘No More Years’ in particular), he even throws in covers of Fugazi’s ‘Margin Walker’, and ’16 Tons’ by Tennessee Ernie Ford. They’re a brilliant compliment to his own tracks, and along with his wry on-stage banter, certainly win the crowd over.
THE MAINE have grown up considerably since their first album came out back in 2007, and not just musically. They possess an easy confidence as they take to the stage at The Forum that makes it easy to see why the room’s just as packed as it is. Opening with a funky breakdown of their song ‘Run’, they dominate the stage in a way you could never have expected a few years ago. They’re constantly in motion, from the occasional bit of pogoing to vocalist John Callaghan’s bending almost double over the switched-over mike stand. ‘Sad Songs’ gains a smooth Southern twang live, which makes it all the more surprising that it was apparently inspired by a cab driver in Newcastle. ‘Growing Up’, as the name implies, grows from its gentle acoustic opening into an anthemic piece of pop-rock that has everyone singing along, and more than a few fists in the air. With this marking the final night of their month-long tour, it’s a hell of a note to leave things on.
At Rock City, a very different kind of performance is about to take place. Leeds natives PULLED APART BY HORSES have earned a deservedly impressive live reputation over the past few years, and a huge crowd have poured into the main room to get a taste for themselves. They put in what has to be one of the festival’s most visceral performances, sweeping everyone in the room along for the ride. A fifty-strong mosh-pit soon erupts in front of centre stage, as the band tear through fan favourites including ‘V.E.N.O.M’ and ‘I Punched A Lion In The Throat’, before closing proceedings with the ever-brilliant ‘High Five, Swan Dive, Nose Dive’. The band are a ball of energy, with James Brown throwing his guitar around like a man possessed, and Tom Hudson clambering onto the barriers to join the crowd. Bloody brilliant.
Downstairs in the Rock City Basement, things are a bit more relaxed musically, even if the fans are just as rabid. This time it isn’t hardcore alt-rock that’s got them excited though. It’s one-time Academy Is front-man and now bona-fide solo artist WILLIAM BECKETT that they’re salivating over. Performing without his usual backing band (instead resorting to his trusty ‘band-in-a-box’), he puts in a warm, humorous performance that has the crowd laughing as much as singing. With his intro not lined-up for the start of the set, he takes a break after first song ‘Compromising Me’ to leave the stage, only for Eminem’s ‘The Real Slim Shady’ to come bouncing through the PA, with Beckett’s voice cutting in (mostly) at the appropriate moments. It’s funny stuff, and it warms the crowd up nicely.
He whips through a few of his most popular solo numbers (including ‘Stuck In Love’ and ‘By Your Side’), earning himself a shot of whisky from one member of the crowd in the process. The atmosphere is intimate, relaxed, and Beckett is clearly enjoying himself no end. So much so, in fact, that he even provides the rare treat of an Academy Is track in the form of an impromptu rendition of ‘About A Girl’. His vocals, as always, are spot on, and everyone is lapping it up. A brilliant introduction for new fans to his work, and a rewarding listen for the old faithful.
Back upstairs, and alt-rock legends SAVES THE DAY are the next to take to the stage. Launching straight in with ‘Remember’, taken from their recent self-titled album, they certainly show everyone how it’s done. With 17 years’ worth of material to draw on, it’s hard to know what to expect, but the mix of older and newer tracks is just right for the thousand-plus people in Rock City’s main room. ‘Xenophobic Blind Left Hook’ is a beast in the live arena, as is recent single ‘The Tide of Our Times’. It’s a shame that new single ‘In the In-between’ isn’t included, but for tonight’s crowd, every inclusion is a special one.
‘Cars and Calories’ from 2001’s Stay What You Are, is as catchy as it ever was, and ‘Shoulder to the Wheel’ is delivered like the pop-punk anthem it really is. The band run around the stage with incredible energy, especially considering they’ve been at it for so long. They have no right to still be this enthusiastic, but fortunately for the fans constantly streaming into the room, their live show is every bit as accomplished, and downright enjoyable, as they could possibly hope for.
Of course, the biggest reaction of the night is reserved for ‘At Your Funeral’, a song whose importance to everyone in the room is obvious from the riotous reception it receives. Thirteen years on from its 2001 release, and it still packs a hell of a punch. There’s a reason they’re seen as one of the most important bands of their generation, and based on tonight’s performance, it’s a well-deserved accolade.
Throughout the day, there was only one band on every other band’s lips. It was difficult to attend a show without BRAND NEW’s name cropping up, such was the excitement from festival goers and musicians alike at the prospect of catching their live shows. In the run-up to their 9:30 start time, Rock City fills to bursting point, with the audience filling every available inch of floor space (and in some cases, stair case). The excitement is palpable, so much so that the entire crowd bursts into a sing-along when ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ comes drifting across the PA, with a well-earned round of applause ringing out at the end.
Rhapsody might well be the best way to describe Brand New’s performance. Their sixteen-song set covers all four of their critically-acclaimed albums, with every song causing yet another eruption of cheers, screams and the occasional set of tears. Opening with ‘You Won’t Know’, its haunting opening has the audience rapt, only for Jesse Lacey and co. to blow the place apart with the beautiful violence of its anguished, overdriven chorus. ‘The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows’ is delivered magnificently, and of course ‘Sic Transit Gloria… Glory Fades’ whips the whole crowd up into a frenzy previously known only to boy bands and major religions.
It’s impossible to pull out highlights, so brilliant is the performance as a whole. ‘Sink’, with its bluesy verse breakdowns and brutally distorted chorus was brilliantly pulled off, holding the crowd motionless in its quieter moments, only to make them lose their minds every time the distortion kicks in. As with any Brand New performance, anything that makes a sound goes, and the pedals and feedback take on a life of their own as the song builds momentum.
Of course, they also have their quieter moments, which become all the more beautiful for their juxtaposition amongst such angry, overdriven fare. Their crowd-pleasing rendition of ‘The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot’ is stunning, and ‘Millstone’ gains a quiet angst that, while not as overt as on some other inclusions, gains a lethal potency thanks to Lacey’s emotive vocal delivery.
Given that their music is often so brooding and atmospheric, the enormous grins plastered across the band’s faces tonight seem somewhat out of place; while songs like ‘Seventy Times 7’ provide flash backs to their lighter roots, their recent work has trodden considerably darker territory. But that wouldn’t be much fun for them night after night, and by the looks on their faces, they’re much happier with the alternative. As the rest of the band depart the stage, Lacey is left alone to perform closing track ‘Soco Amaretto Lime’. Then again, alone probably isn’t the right word, given the two-and-a-half thousand people singing it back to him. It’s a wonderful finale, and as he props his guitar against the amp and wanders off stage, you’re left wishing that even the feedback would go on a little bit longer. It’s a shame that the full band weren’t on stage to experience the rapturous applause that follows their performance, but even in the depths of the back-stage area, there’s no doubting that they heard it.
What a way to end the day. Hit The Deck, you’ve been brilliant. Here’s to 2015.