Friday 21 July 2017, Level Up Festival 2017, Day 1, New Cross Inn, London
The Dub Righters
A mouth-watering three-day ska-punk festival for just £30? Own up, who’s getting robbed?
As I arrive at south London’s New Cross Inn on this Friday night, the usual suspects – oh you know, those sporting one or a combination of the following: spiky hair, dyed hair, patches and t-shirts featuring the logos of every band of note within the sub-genre – are enjoying a bevvy or three outside.
Inside this 250 (ish) capacity pub-cum-venue, I receive my wristband whilst standing next to two members of the headlining band. This is clearly going to be an intimate affair. Doors opened over an hour and a half ago and at least two people – a blonde lady and her mohawked male companion – have already got their evening well under way, stumbling about to the music coming over the PA.
As yours truly is mostly familiar with the two bands who top the bill each night, there will hopefully be a fair few discoveries this weekend. The first of these happens to be The Dub Righters who, owing to a late cancellation, kick off the festival at 8pm. This three-piece (est. 2013), fronted by a long-haired, baseball cap-donning chap going by the moniker of Big L, play what is largely a reggae-tinged 30-minute set. Amidst enquiring several times as to how long they have left on stage – either someone hasn’t told the otherwise laid-back L or he hasn’t got his glasses on to make sense of what is being conveyed – they display some adept versatility. Indeed, the tempos often subtly shift, with more than one track culminating with the elements combining into a crashing crescendo and the vocalist/guitarist L occasionally morphs his somewhat restrained singing into more fast-paced rap/ragga-like deliveries. Instrumentally, on tracks such as “Rude Boi“, they whack out the upstrokes and raise the energy levels in the room – not to mention outside, with a pedestrian at one point peering into a side window with curiosity which quickly transforms into glass-gurning admiration. Overall, their performance is a very encouraging start to proceedings and an indication that it’s not just the higher-end bands who shall be worth catching this weekend.
(The Dub Righters’ set also initiated three days of dreadful photography)
“It’s taken seven hours to get here, so you can all at least move a little closer”, commands frontman Chris from North West-based LUVDUMP (est. 2007). Given that his bassist Andy is also sporting a shirt bearing the slogan “Eat Vegans” and they immediately break out with some wall-shaking, bar-rattling hardcore vitriol, these could all be regarded as ominous signals. However, it isn’t long before they begin voicing their right-on credentials, thus proving that they just happen to prefer their pummelling polemics against border controls, war and inequality to be soundtracked by something more visceral than, say, the Plastic Ono Band.
Though their set is largely in this vein, with some chanted refrains going down well, they do slip in occasional ska flourishes and the bass work, in particular, stands out. At one point, dreadlocked fulminator-in-chief Chris is accosted by the rather prominent mohawked (yellow? green?) crowd member from earlier. They seem familiar with one another and the latter implores him: “You’ve gotta do it!” Do what exactly remains unclear as the frontman briefly makes the slight step down to be with us mortals before swiftly returning to the stage. Alas, it won’t be their final interaction tonight.
All in all, though it was quite a change of pace and tone from The Dub Righters, this is something that should be welcomed at any festival. Plenty more here now appear to be getting into the spirit, with the number of bodies twirling and hurtling about requiring 360 degrees-level of vigilance from all.
Click here to listen to some of LUVDUMP’s recorded material.
It’s coming up to 9:45pm and one can not help but wonder if the slight delays in changeovers will eat into either of the two remaining slots. We shall see. Now it is time for The Foamers, a Surrey-founded band that this particular onlooker was most familiar with as a teenager some 13-14 years ago and is still the owner of an EP and an album, though has never seen them live before. Half and hour prior, LUVDUMP’s Chris also helped to age them somewhat prematurely by affectionately championing them as one of his favourite bands “when I was a kid”. Yeah, you’re welcome, lads.
All that being said, though they seem to have kept a low profile over the past decade or so and do remark during their 30-minute set that they have only written two new songs in the past 15 years (one of which they play), they certainly don’t appear to have lost a stride. Indeed, from the off with opener “The Walking Dead” (from their 2004 self-titled album on the hallowed Household Name Records), they are warmly received in the room. Many are on cue to reel back the years and roar a “Woah!” or dozen, as the chaps are in fine fettle, tightly rampaging through a number of well-crafted blasts. Some cool riffage can be heard amidst the controlled cacophony, with frontman Kerem Sheflik a particularly impressive force as he delivers his quickfire-yet-tuneful vocal assault. It’s always good to finally be able to put a face to a voice.
Tracks such as “Authority” (from first album Six Pints None The Wiser, 2001, also on the Football EP from the same year), “Here’s to the Death of Hard Graft” and “Smiles & Suits” (both 2004) (click to view live videos of each) all go down well. Ska comprises a not inconsiderable part of their live arsenal and elements of it feature in the first two of these rollicking tunes, though the personal set highlight for yours truly is when they play their strident anti-hooligan number, “Football“. This is off their EP of the same name from the dawn of the millennium which has received a fair few airings in this household. Such was one’s clamour to hear more from this disc, at one point one also mistakenly thought that they were about to break into their brilliant cover of “Infested” by Choking Victim, a live version of which also features on this six-track EP. Alas, it turned out to be a different ditty. However, after just about managing to compose oneself and resist the urge to demand they play “Plopstars”, it was still possible to detect the undoubted influence of Manhattan’s ska-punk pioneers.
Overall, with the well-lubricated crowd now well and truly bustling, it has definitely been a triumph for the foursome. The drummer, in particular, was frequently incapable of reining in his giddy, shit-eating grins. Hopefully, they will have all been buoyed into negotiating their respective ways around life/work considerations and be able to play a little more frequently in the upcoming year.
In summary, certainly not the biggest bunch of cunts I’ve ever heard.
To listen to The Foamers’ first album, click here. Most of their other material can also be easily located in the usual online places.
It’s just gone 10:30pm and it’s time for the bill-toppers, who also came of age over a decade ago, before splitting and later reforming – albeit whilst managing to knock out another album and generally being more active than their stage predecessors. Ah, it’s Essex six-piece The Filaments, who put in a phenomenal performance back in April at Camden’s Electric Ballroom in support of Choking Victim, which was reviewed on this website.
Members of the band have been hanging around in the crowd all night and the now-elevated presence of this formidable assemblage guarantees a storming end to the first day. They start as they mean to continue, unconcerned about any curfew, whipping the now partially sloshed audience into a high-adrenaline, combustible frenzy with some driving punk assaults. Their natural charisma and powers of engagement are such that even if you only have a faint idea of what wholehearted frontman Jonny One Lung is conveying, you can’t help but be carried away in the maelstrom. Indeed, particularly eye-catching are the brass boys, one of which is trombonist Pook, a man never in thrall to the Punk Fashion Police. Tonight, he combines a headband with a Guns N’ Roses sleeveless shirt. Hooo! When he’s not fervently blowing his instrument, he passionately joins in with back-in vocals and chants; at one point, he even descends into the pit.
This area is increasingly lively, with fans frequently falling over on the slippery, beer-soaked floor. Amidst the fray, LUVDUMP’s Chris – watching another of his favourite bands “when I was growing up” – suddenly finds himself in a spot of bother with his seemingly worse-for-wear mohawked chum right in front of yours truly. It momentarily looks like there could be fireworks though, being an altruistic good egg, the frontman pleads with security not to intervene and, thankfully, tensions die down. As he was probably blissfully unaware, none of this prevents Filaments bassist Herve from following on from this by twirling his fingers, calling for more carnage down below. And why not, eh?
At one point, Jonny says how they’re going “proper old school” and it’s great to hear tracks such as the singalong “Trevor” (Skull and Trombones, 2001), the raspingly forceful “Victims” as well as the skanktastic ode to their erstwhile local crew, “B.P.C.” (both from 2004’s …What’s Next). Owing to the chaos, order has long since abandoned this room but I’m fairly sure that at some point they also slipped in “Once in a While” (Land of Lions, 2013), their fine tribute to the great ’60s protest singer Phil Ochs.
Perhaps conscious of the time, they rag it to the finish line, seeing out their 40-45-minute set with five consecutive belters that will take some beating this weekend. First, there’s “Tales From The Barside” (2013), a brilliant punk-inflected knees-up, which somehow adds even more merriment to the evening. Whisper it, but judging by the arrangement of the verses, before it was recorded Spurs fan Jonny must have worn out his old vinyl copy of the 1987 Chas & Dave single “Hot Shot Tottenham!“. Just a hunch, but if so, one can only step back, applaud and look forward to more innovative cross-fertilisations of anthemic punk with vintage novelty songs from losing FA Cup finalists.
Speaking of anthems, up next is “Tears of Essex” (2013), their Oi!-influenced anti-BNP smash relating to the bitterly-fought contest for the seat of Barking back in 2010. It goes down well, but one can not help but feel that the chorus deserves not just a dozen or two people singing along but instead every last voice in the room (and, for that matter, all of those in any adjoining rooms as well as up and down the rain-splattered pavement of New Cross Road).
They then return to the ska for the utter moonstomper “Bastard Coppers” (2004), before delving into a new-ish track dedicated to The Verge venue that once hosted punk gigs in Kentish Town. Here, they and and others including The Foamers (who, if one’s ears aren’t deceiving, receive a name-check) played in both bands’ initial runs some 15 or so years ago. This tune is preceded by some good news as Jonny announces that they will try to record it as well as some others, perhaps early next year.
He also tells us how they’re currently on their biggest tour for a decade, so it’s York tomorrow, then back to work on Monday. Regarding this latter comment, tempting though it may be, as a rule it’s generally best not to delve too deep into what one’s underground punk heroes do to earn a daily crust. After all, the kids are every bit as complicit in keeping certain myths alive.
Subsequently, they see things out with “Sick Joke” (2004; click for live video), thus bringing the first day to a close with aplomb, receiving deserved cheers and acclaim from all and sundry. As it’s coming up to 11:15pm when the last note is struck, yours truly is obliged to forego savouring the atmosphere and instead peg it to the train station, somewhat in disbelief that there lies ahead another two days of this meticulously mapped-out mayhem.