Rockaway Beach 2024 @ Butlins, Bognor Regis, UK, January 5-8, 2024 | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, April 13th, 2024  

Sleaford Mods

Sleaford Mods, Benefits, The Cribs, The Skids

Rockaway Beach 2024 @ Butlins, Bognor Regis, UK, January 5-8, 2024,

Jan 16, 2024 Photography by Shaun Gordon Web Exclusive
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On paper, it really shouldn’t work. An indie festival held in a Butlins holiday camp on the arse end of England on the first weekend of the year when everyone is spent up and knackered after the festive period. But Rockaway Beach is such a bonkers idea that it’s brilliant. It helps that the curators hit the nail on the head every year with the line-up, and once again in 2024, Bognor Regis was the only place to be for the serious music fan.

Dream Wife
Dream Wife

It was a big year for politically charged bands armed with laptops, synths and samplers, and Sleaford Mods may be the perfect choice for Rockaway. Middle-aged pairing Jason Williamson, raging on the mic against just how shit middle England is, and producer Andrew Fearn mutely dancing around the stage to pre-programmed lo-fi electronic beats is certainly strange. But their genuine anger cannot be denied and songs like “Fizzy”, “Nudge It”, “Tied Up in Nottz” and “Tweet Tweet Tweet” really capture the frustration of being subject to the whims of pervert managers and marginalised as the powers that be turn the world into their own privatised pigsty, leaving us all neck deep in their mess. Britain’s biggest cult band smashed into the Top 10 with their latest album U.K. Grim and it feels like they’re only just getting into their stride.

Sleaford Mods
Sleaford Mods

Not that Bob Vylan are fans, as singer/MC Bobby Vylan takes the opportunity to slag off the Nottingham boys for not using their platform to support the people of Gaza. They also tear into IDLES (with no real explanation given) and go full-on the “fuck the police” schtick whilst simultaneously bragging that they’re sponsored by Fred Perry whilst waving a cricket bat, which seems like a confused political position, if not a bit performative. But still, their high-energy fusion of grime, metal and punk is more than enough to rally a massive mosh pit, which seems fuelled by their riotous sound rather than their simple sloganeering.

Heartworms
Heartworms

The biggest shout-out in this category must go to Teeside sonic terrorists Benefits, who continue to be the perfect punch combo of agit-poetry, raw punk rock and abrasive walls of sound. It’s a shame that they were placed so early, being the second act of the entire weekend, as they have previously impressed at festivals and headline shows throughout 2023 as they toured their essential debut album NAILS. Fortunately, they play “Marlboro Hundreds”, “Warhorse”, “Empire”, “Flag” and “Traitors” to a packed-out Reds with a set so intense it caused freakouts amongst the unwary. Statuesque vocalist Kingsley Hall is truly on form despite having to travel so many miles, expertly articulating the northern working-class experience of being looked down on and spat on whilst the privileged play culture war games, splitting communities and stoking up racism in a bid to divide and conquer. He even summons the ghost of Freddie Mercury in a mock call back to Live Aid, rallying the crowd to sing “Fuck the Tories”. Sadly, it’s a short set being so early, but the unique amalgamation of spoken word and harsh soundscapes impresses new converts and existing fans alike. “Are you not entertained?” Kinglsey cries, in the vein of Russell Crowe in Gladiator – we most certainly are!

Benefits
Benefits

Benefits weren’t alone in raising both pulses and decibels, as ear drums were also perforated by the likes of Heartworms who are amongst my favourite breakthrough acts of last year. Their twisted and angular take on dark dream pop, post-punk and gothic electro is perfectly contorted into a writhing tale of agony, sounding like a Francis Bacon painting brought to life. It’s still early days for songwriter Jojo Orme, but she’s already showing a tremendous amount of progress with her experimental sound, continuing to expand playing with theremins and tortured beats and her sinister voice is sounding stronger with every performance. Ending on the epic single “Retributions Of An Awful Life”, there’s little doubt that their eagerly awaited first album will announce the arrival of a new dark star on the alternative scene.

Big Special
Big Special

Similarly, Brighton band DITZ have been bubbling under the surface for a while now, threatening to become leaders of the underground with the uncompromising mixture of art rock and doom metal. Security seems oddly threatened by singer Cal Francis right from the start, taking away their beer sometime around initial songs “Seeking Arrangement” and “Ded Würst” only to be handed the remains of a fan’s pint. The overreaction only serves to goad Francis, whose antics evolve from mere prowling and pacing throughout their blistering banger “Summer of the Shark” to climbing the stage rigging during “hehe” as the sizable number of spectators form a dizzying circle pit. Francis launches himself into the adoring audience to be carried aloft like a rock god, also seizing command of the crowd, dividing them into a wall of death.

DITZ
DITZ

And rampaging alt-rock duo JOHN came to show off their latest album A Life Diagrammatic, buoyant after “Trauma Mosaic” went to No. 1 in the vinyl singles chart. Other new songs included “At Peacehaven”, “Côte D’Adur”, “Service Stationed” and “Ridley Scott Walker” which all have the rough and ready feel of a no-frills band wanting to tear your head off with a few good riffs and a hell of a lot of enthusiasm. And I’m left checking my face hasn’t melted off as “Future Thinker” finally rings out.

Heartworms
Heartworms

The term legacy acts always sends a shudder up my spine. It suggests bloated has-beens trading in former glories for an easy buck and boring greatest hits sets from a group that has become a shadow of their former selves. Thankfully, Rockaway always get it right by picking seminal artists that have been hugely influential whilst avoiding becoming a karaoke piss-take of their past achievements. Scottish punks The Skids came flying out the gate with a youthful exuberance that belies Richard Jobson’s (the only founding member left) age. He jokes about being pleased about playing to so many young people having spotted “a couple of 55-year-olds over there”, but if you closed your eyes, you’d be hard-pressed to guess “Masquerade” or “Working For The Yankee Dollar” wasn’t being played by a band of twenty-somethings. Jobson’s wry comments continue, bemoaning the wankers who think “The Saints Are Coming” is a U2 original before their huge hit single comes crashing in like a herd of elephants. There’s just enough time to sneak in an anecdote about how Leo Sayer kept their 2018 comeback album Burning Cities off the top of the charts (“I blame him for the war in Ukraine. I blame him for BREXIT. I blame him for what’s happening in Gaza. If you pull off Putin’s mask it will be Leo fucking Sayer”), a furious cover of The Clash’s “Complete Control” before unleashing “Into The Valley” – and I gladly lost my shit.

The Skids
The Skids

And it was a joy to see indie pop veterans The Vaselines once again. I’ve not picked up my copy of Enter The Vaselines in ages, but you soon remember all their odd anthems loaded with ramshackle charm. Again, it’s hard to believe Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee have been on the go since the late eighties as the latter calls out “Hidy-fuck-hi everybody!” with very few confident enough to reply. She laughs off the muted response, asking “Is this a prison camp?” before they kick off with “new” songs (only ten years old) “High Tide Low Tide” and “Sex With An X” (title track of their 2010 LP). But we’re here for the classics and we’re not disappointed, receiving “Molly’s Lips” and “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam”. Forgoing the walk-off and inevitable encore, they stumble over the beginning of “Son of a Gun” which McKee laughs off as a “senior moment”, completing a weird and wonderful set of biting humour.

The Skids
The Skids

Rockaway is also the perfect place to discover new cutting-edge acts and future sounds directing the musical course of the year ahead. Amongst the best new discoveries are Maltese (now Brighton-based) art-punk quartet ĠENN whose electrifying blend of spiky guitars and infectious rhythms are the perfect backdrop to Leona Farrugia who takes the trophy for best voice of the weekend. Clearly loving being on stage, there are echoes of PJ Harvey’s sultry sass and 90s alt-rock being sped up as the troupe rip through their songs, playing like they are already a headline act – because there’s little doubt that’s exactly what they’ll become. Canadian-British electro-punk pairing Shelf Lives are another new name you need to know. Sounding like a more confrontational version of Sleigh Bells with a smattering of The B-52’s and even a bit of early Beastie Boys chucked in; vocalist Sabrina Di Giulio and guitarist/producer Jonny Hillyard are bratty and snotty enough to pull off an over the top image without looking ridiculous. They’ve got the sound, the image and all the wild dance moves – and once they’ve got THAT song there will be no stopping them. And whilst TRAAMS may have been floating around for a while, the Chichester krautrock-inspired indie rock trio (plus a couple of touring members) have really come into their own, playing Rockaway with the enthusiasm of a brand-new band. Their mellow psyche vibes unfold into epic mind-blowing voyages into the stratosphere, perfectly balancing building tension with satisfying releases of raucous space rock.

Pale Blue Eyes
Pale Blue Eyes

Inevitably, there will be disappointments, however. And sadly, Fat Dog just didn’t live up to the hype. Sure, their single “All The Same” sounds kinda good on tape (if you can forgive it for being a bit of a rip off of Blancmange’s “Living On The Ceiling”) but live it just sounds like they’re trying to hide a boring mess under loads of delay pedals. “King Of The Slugs” sounds like a poor copy of Warmduscher and Gogol Bordello, with none of the charisma or sharp edge, and the druggy dance beats with savage guitars are done far better by the likes of Working Men’s Club. That’s not to say they didn’t go down well, and there were plenty of revellers who said they were the best act of the weekend. But at this stage, I just don’t believe in them as it feels like jumping on a bandwagon without a clue where to take it.

Fat Dog
Fat Dog

Another anti-climax was Patrick Wolf’s late appearance on the Friday night, giving the impression he’d rather not be there. And whilst there can be no denying the baroque pop songwriter’s talents or abilities, his decision to opt for a delicate set when people were in the mood to party was probably the wrong one. Especially when a full band version of “The Magic Position” would have been guaranteed to raise the roof.

Fat Dog
Fat Dog

That said, Rockaway Beach was packed full of highlights and Trupa Trupa were amongst the very best. The Polish troika fuses post-punk, art rock, jazz-inflected indie and just about every leftfield sound you would never have imagined. Abrupt but never awkward, the Gdańsk group as led by poet, academic and songwriter Grzegorz Kwiatkowski have that strange something that sets them apart from everyone else, instilling feverish devotion from wide quarters – even the likes of Iggy Pop and Henry Rollins call themselves fans. Sounding more muscular than on previous outings, Grzegorz dances impishly and captivates the attention with his maddening melodies and off-kilter rhythms. What a way to start their U.K. tour!

Trupa Trupa
Trupa Trupa

Sunday headliners The Cribs treated us to a career-spanning set, flawlessly relentlessly playing anthem after anthem with the perfect psychic connection only a band of brothers can possess. Too often relegated to kings of the landfill indie rubbish pile, the Jarmans tore into all the songs you know and love such as “Hey Scenesters!”, “Cheat On Me” and “I’m A Realist’’ whilst also satisfying hardcore fans with lesser-known tracks like “City Of Bugs”, “Direction” and “In The Neon Light”. The Jarmans have never shied from their roots (though blissfully were not met with the moronic chant of “Yorkshire” this far south), and maybe it’s the thick Wakefield accent and cartoonish persona of a family that just wants to rock that’s stopped them from ever being taken seriously. But no one can doubt their passion during the pained yet euphoric Lee Ronaldo poem “Be Safe” and the vocal harmonies and magical melodies throughout the set are simply sublime. And I’ve yet to hear such perfect punk-pop songs as “Men’s Needs” and “Mirror Kissers” which Gary, Ryan, and Ross play with all the wild energy of a group of teenagers taking to the stage for the first time.

Dream Wife
Dream Wife

It was also great to see Desperate Journalist promoted to the main stage for 2024. A true hidden gem, it’s a mystery why this band isn’t bigger as their crystalline indie-pop songs have such a poignant air and dramatic flair. “Fault” sounds like the soundtrack to a thriller movie, with echoes of both Duran Duran and Cocteau Twins. And Simon Drowner hands down wins the award for sexiest bassist of the weekend. Plus Pale Blue Eyes, who continue to impress by embracing more of a motorik direction on their latest LP This House which was one of the best records of 2023 – let’s see what they produce this year!

Pale Blue Eyes
Pale Blue Eyes

In addition to the live music, there was plenty of fun to be had at the indie sleaze pool party (I can’t think of another festival that can offer anything like that!), the many silent discos were rammed with dancers and it was fascinating to hear our very own Festivals and Live Reviews Editor Dom Gourlay pick famed punk journalist John Robb’s brain, talking about the history of goth and post-punk as outlined in his excellent new book The Art of Darkness. The whole thing was wrapped up once again with the wonderfully eclectic closing party hosted by Dom and The Telescopes drummer John Lynch. This year saw Beach Bums rocking out at Bar Rosso to everything from The Osmonds “Crazy Horses” to Super Furry Animals “The Man Don’t Give A Fuck” – what better way to end one of the best weekends in the indie calendar?

Trupa Trupa
Trupa Trupa

Once again, Rockaway Beach has proven to have its fingers well and truly on the pulse, picking a knockout lineup of major names, crucial legacy acts, and the rising stars destined to shape the sound of 2024. Its daring and distinct character mark it as one of the few essential music events around – and it continues to be my favourite festival in the entire world.

Benefits
Benefits

Next year sees Rockaway celebrate its 10th anniversary – and we cannot wait to see what treats they have in store. The first decade has been amazing, and I’m sure the best is yet to come.




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