On a hot and muggy day in July, with the backdrop of Nottingham Canal providing an ideal juxtaposition of industrial and picturesque - a reminder of the dystopian theme of this year’s Waterfront Festival - the Canalhouse hosted an eclectic marathon of local talent…
So-named 'for no other reason than it made us smile', the gas mask-clad band open with a chugging, heavy riff under captivating rap metal vocals, proper low-slung guitar stuff which immediately reminds me of Rage Against the Machine. The crowd’s heads are banging within thirty seconds of the aggressive and energetic opener. After getting his answer from the crowd on whether they are having a good time, lead vocalist Duke01 promises to do his best to see if he could 'spoil that for ya'; anyone who was enjoying themselves at this point branded as masochistic. The band have self-deprecating humour but a powerful presence in the room, the audience hit with an impenetrable wall of sound and funky metal guitar riffs. Awesome, thumping breakdowns and chants fill the room with angry, palpable energy. Ellington Binary, a thundering monster of muted guitar riff, adeptly navigates a very difficult-to-walk line between politically charged and danceable. Listening intently through the clamour of distortion and a bassline that makes you wince, you can hear messages about doing the best at what you do and letting your talents be your weapon. A metal cover of Wu Tang Clan's Shimmy Shimmy Ya ends the show, with a heavy muted tremolo guitar pulse marking a highly energetic and cohesive performance.
An unassuming looking four-piece take to the downstairs stage at the start of my inaugural Waterfront Festival where a tame arpeggiated intro leads to riff driven noise rock. 'I didn't expect that', my friend leans in and says at the opening bar. The throbbing bassline and heavy distortion punctuated by piercing feedback draws in the crowds from outside with Tongue and Groove, recently released on Bandcamp. The performance put me in mind of no-frills proto-grunge; think early Sonic Youth or Melvins, and would fit in just nicely at a sweaty underground rock club. Then follows raspy, guttural, but seemingly unstrained vocals, over menacing breakdowns and a lurching bassline in Backhander. Their natural, contagious rock swagger together with almost jaunty, wonky breaks gets the crowd bopping. With occasionally stop-starting, hard-to-follow but expertly delivered guitar-centric tracks, layered with thick, fuzzy bass, Dim Bulbs have a driving and aggressive impact that fills the room. The set’s coda was a heavy, lurching riff, making it almost impossible to avoid nodding your head and gritting your teeth.
This charismatic and swaggering four-piece, fronted by a dapper, besuited Chris Bailey, whose presence and antagonistic delivery remind me of The Fall's Mark E Smith, confidently deliver a compelling set of mellifluous, swaying harmonies which go down a treat with an enthusiastic crowd clearly most of whom are au fait with the band's work. The performance weaves through funky and wonky guitar parts and dense basslines, punctured by acerbically delivered, cynical lyrics and catchy choruses that make the audience dance like nobody’s watching. There are contrasting, almost self-contradictory tones to the set with sometimes dreamy, swaying eyes-closed tracks that make you rock back and forth - a great way to end the festival. They close with the recently released Gangs, an understated but technically musical, subtle verse backed by a meaty bassline and surprises with a crescendo of a chorus.
Jimi and The Strangers
Venturing outside in to the sunshine I am met with a bustling crowd, the smell of barbecued meat, and a seven-piece who have barely enough space to contain them on stage. The brainchild of lead vocalist and guitarist Jimi Strange and lyricist/writer and band manager Lee Thomas (founder of Nottingham-based music streaming channel White Collar Zoo), the set is a jig-inducing, toe-tapping jaunt of melodic bluesy alternative rock with a distinct country hat tip for good measure. The performance is bursting with unrelenting energy that rubs off on the receptive throng and includes tracks such as Blackjack; an up-tempo blues rock n roll number adorned with both guitar and violin solos. Keep on Killing Me showcases the musicianship of the band with tight vocal harmonies between Jimi and the freshly appointed Alexa, reading from a lyrics sheet after only two weeks practise with the band (but you wouldn’t have known it). It all looks and sounds exhausting to pull off, especially in the heat, and the last track climaxes in an archetypical rock n roll crescendo, leaving stupid grins on everyone’s faces, myself included.
Next up, hotly anticipated indie rock n roll four-piece Reflekter storm through a well-polished repertoire of riff-laden, guitar-driven tunes, abundant with catchy beats and chantable choruses. Hardly catching a breath between tracks and resolutely letting the music do the talking, the nascent band’s chemistry and style make the performance seem almost effortless. Having been endorsed by BBC Introducing’s Dean Jackson on the ‘ones to watch list 2019’, they put me in mind me of Kasabian. Distortion heavy, guitar-led tracks like Wired have a driving, catchy, jumping beat and pulsing guitar line that gets people tapping their toes. Their debut single Caught in a Storm is a reverb heavy affair, full of Notts confidence and smooth vocals layered over the top. Greedy is a cool-as-a-cucumber, riff heavy number with a thumping drum line and a chorus that gives me an earworm. The swaggering set certainly gets the crowd moving proper, catchy melodies and harmonised vocals cultivating an almost Britpop kind of atmosphere. The up-and-comers are undeniably garnering a lot of attention recently, with a sold out Bodega show on 4 October as part of a lengthy UK tour; definitely one to keep your eye on in the future.
Ty Healy and Nay Loco
Notts rap duo Ty Healy and Nay Loco (also known as Local Healers) deliver their laid back, bass-heavy and occasionally dreamy beats and flawlessly delivered vocals which perfectly complement the summer weather. Peppered with spontaneous freestyle place-holders while the next track is lined up, there are plenty of esoteric local references and nods and winks to the city and its people. The energy and style is completely contrasting to the previous performances I have seen so far, testament to the diversity of talent and eclecticism of tastes to which Notts is home and nurtures so well. Ty’s persistence in commanding cooperation from the audience (at one point jumping down in to the crowd to join in with the dance) pays off and gets everyone chanting the through line ‘We ain’t going out like that’ in an overt reference to the influence of Cypress Hill. Influences near and far are visited throughout the set; the track Corner Shop sentimentally recalls younger days spent hanging around the local shops, grabbing some pick n mix and occasionally causing a bit of mischief - an overarching message of supporting local businesses and being active in the local community - shout out to Mr Khan from the corner shop. There is even a nod to Ice Cube on It Was A Good Day in the appositely timed track, Summertime. If a somewhat tentative crowd at the beginning of the performance aren’t convinced initially, they definitely are now.
Waterfront Festival took place on Saturday 13 July 2019.