Live Review

Southsea Fest 2012

Niall Kavanagh heads to the outskirts of Portsmouth for the South Coast’s grubbiest, most D.I.Y. of festivals.

Under any circumstances it’s never been much of a hard sell for me to be tempted away to England’s south coast for a weekend and Southsea Festival was certainly no exception. The small town on the outskirts of Portsmouth serves as a great location for the concept of this festival boasting its wealth of antique shops, vintage boutiques, record stores and, most importantly, music venues.

Kicking off festivities in a brilliant fashion were Best Friends (pictured, above) in The Wine Vaults, whose interlocking surf guitar lines and backing vocals served as an irresistibly catchy theme throughout their slacker’s approach to garage-pop songwriting. Welcomingly leaving the vocal hook of recent single ‘Surf Bitch’ engraved into our memories, their performance was energetic, light-hearted and played with house party spirit. Said party was then pooped when FURS lowered the tone. They play with a cold, held back exterior that in context to their predecessors felt like the equivalent of The xx lulling an audience to sleep after a Death From Above 1979 gig.

The riot soon recommenced for Arrows Of Love in Bar Fifty Six; a sweat-box of a venue that provides a perfect environment for the London 5-piece to thrive upon. The performance included the male vocalist wrestling and crowdsurfing on his crowd and his female counterpart confidently rocking out in a bra in frantic At The Drive In-esque display, unanimously leaving jaws well and truly dropped.

The Fat Fox was the place to be in the early evening. Weston-Super-Mare’s Towns, whose singer, James MacLucas, entered the stage by stating “We’re Howler and this song is called ‘Pumping On Your Stereo’.” – clearly mocking the programme who had related their sound to Supergrass and Howler alike. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Towns furiously tore through a set of shoegaze songwriting gems, including previewing some exciting new material from their forthcoming ‘Sleepwalking’ EP set to be released in October. Some songs are baggier, more psychedelic and encourage a Brian Jonestown Massacre-style tambourine rhythm, whilst others aim directly for the jugular, yet there is a consistent motif of screeching, feedbacking noise for the duration of the set that makes it hard to distinguish whether it’s the sound from the amplifiers or the dying cells of your ear drums.

Fair-Ohs then assisted the audience into slipping on their dancing shoes. The best way to describe this band is that it’s afrobeat-pop played with a punk ethos. Every individual member of the band is ridiculously good at playing his instrument and when it all entwines there is a sense of contagious bounciness that makes it impossible for you to stand still. Fair-Ohs are the epitome of fun and don’t take themselves too seriously, reflected by the singer repeating, “I AM THE LIZARD KING!” between every number.

Well, Bo Ningen. Already critically acclaimed to be one of the best live bands going around at the moment, it was no shock that they ended the festival on a ridiculously good note. Bo Ningen’s performance is better described as an exhibition rather than standard gig. The Japanese psyche/kraut rockers deliver a never-ending onslaught of high intensity rock and roll. Androgynously wearing loosely flowing dresses and waist-length, straight black hair that flies around in accordance to their incredible head-banging and stage tricks, Bo Ningen are a sheer spectacle to observe.

Southsea Festival has a very good thing going for itself. The event is like a scaled-down urban festival in the vein of Camden Crawl and Great Escape, but just for one day and all the venues are within 100 yards of each other, so you don’t spend masses of time traipsing across the length of the town, only to find disappointment in the shape of a Disneyland-sized queue outside the desired venue for that band that everyone’s talking about. Clearly, this is a festival that will go from strength to strength and develop positively in the following years to come.

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