PHOTOGRAPHY Katie Willoughby, Nina Almond & Will Ireland
WORDS Harley Cassidy
In a climate where it isn’t all too obvious what to expect from a major music festival and where the music itself is just a sliver of the enveloping consumer experience, Jack Rocks’ insistence on focusing on the absolute main ingredient - the bands - is something of a rarity. Back for a third year at the Isle Of Wight festival, the titans at This Feeling gathered their 24 hour party people and descended onto John Gidding’s annual jamboree to bring independent bands straight to the fore at the only stage that mattered this weekend. We report back from what is set be the touchstone for a new-age Summer Of Love.
Thursday’s at Isle Of Wight ease you in rather softly and if you were clever enough to avoid Razorlight over at The Big Top, you might have caught a glimpse into the future from some of the freshest acts around right now.
Plastic People are relatively new to the gig circuit, although you’d never believe it. A fond respect for the blues and 60s psych, Sam Silue’s vocal is stark but soulful and Dave Bardon’s melodies even slinkier. Along with the enthralling Naropa, they are the fresh-faced, London bastions for the new circle of This Feeling bands climbing the ranks.
Next up, we have BlackWaters, who are the shot of venom a placid Thursday crowd needs. Their music is juvenile in structure and filled with loud yet astute surprises. Bassist Ollie Franklin plays his instrument with complete abandon whilst frontman, Max Tanner, is a whirlwind of sweaty vivacity. Latest single "Fuck Yeah", is a firm favourite; a further reminder of the rough-hewn appeal of brutish rock and roll.
We follow on from a post-election blowout where the main lesson learnt is that when youths rally together, the rules can and will be rewritten. It’s an acknowledgment of hope and unity, so with that being said, from Friday morning onwards, the party truly began.
Leicester’s Arcades give us some meticulously crafted indie with a vocal akin to Tim Burgess from Tommy Cobley. The Jagger dance moves are out to play and Christ, if anyone can give us a lesson in the art of a good coat, it’s this guy. Then you have Broken Witt Rebels, who are the perfect festival band. They’re easily accessible, ridiculously tight and honest to god, possess one of the best vocals of the stage. Danny Core’s voice is Caleb Followhill at his whiskey-woozy best and based on that alone, it’s enough to leave people in awe as they draw in one of the biggest crowds of the weekend.
If the This Feeling stage can be applauded for one thing, it’s the sheer amount of people who will stumble in and find a band that they really fucking dig. Friday served up two helpings of bands that I’d never uncovered before, firstly in the shape of Himalayas, a band tingling to the core with electricity and then secondly, False Heads. False Heads merge precision and panache in wonderfully, furious fashion but tonight, they seemed on a mission to give it some gusto. There’s something weirdly fulfilling about watching a guitarist smashing the shit out of the thing that he probably loves the most and as guitar debris dented the stage a lot of people walked away with a new band to obsess over.
Closing the tent was everyone’s favourite poetic provokers, Trampolene. Their set was nothing short of rousing, a softly spoken voice of urban discontent and youthful revolt. But let’s just put it out there; Jack Jones is one crazy bastard. He is a stage and security teams worst nightmare. Launching himself around the stage rig and central pole like a kid trying to dodge the pretend lava on the floor, he provided a truly jaw-dropping spectacle for anyone lucky enough to catch their set.
There's no rest for the wicked apparently as Saturday unleashes a full-blown assault on the senses. The Surrenders open the day, with a much-needed dose of organic blues-rock. An absolute joy to watch on stage, their restless spirit is underpinned by lysergic lyrics and the rock and roll frontman’s weapon of choice; the tambourine. Following on, a mass stage invasion played out for Dantevilles, whose natural camaraderie and cheeky-chap charms make them an instant hit.
The Strawberries were a definitive highlight of the weekend; their music moves seamlessly between genres but is always tinged with a sunny joie de vivre. They hold a candle to the sophistication of their forebears with songs like "Caramel Eyes" and "Labernum House" proving to be captivating. Their ascent will be unstoppable.
Notorious noise bastards, The Blinders are of course, always a treat. They hold the audience around the neck by the noose of their sheer showmanship and empathy with the working class. There’s been a steady element of alter-ego creeping within the band; a guise to project their desperation and controlled chaos when songs require a little show and tell. Some storytelling of Grimm proportions, perhaps. Thomas Haywood rocks up in a Indian headdress, eyes masked in layers of black warpaint - he’s not here to look and sound like your stereotypical rock frontman, he wants to convey something. "Swine", naturally, goes down a storm; the doom-laden refrain of “there is no hope” drawn out beyond the parameters of the tent as the crowd sit down with their political prophet whilst bassist Charlie McGough and drummer Matt Neale bring the noise. The intertwining of poetry and cultural references is as stark as their sonic attack on the senses.
White Room have the tent bouncing to the gloriously uplifting "Stole The IV", as frontman Jake’s customary use of the stage as a playground kicks in. Their image has tightened, the songs are free-flowing and their knack for sounding both reassuringly nostalgic and thrillingly new means they’re consistently onto a winner.
A four man riff factory dripping with confidence, the hefty sound of The Wholls never fails to please a crowd whilst Strange Bones scream in the face of placidity with mutton-chopped frontman Bobby Bentham singing with raw and unfettered venom.
The Wytches plunge us into darker waters as moshpits ensue for classics such as "Gravedweller" which sits afloat a main host of newer material, not quite as enthralling as their debut’s offerings. Despite this, their ominous presence and mastery of turning any room into a frenzy means no one will ever be left bored. Finally, This Feeling stalwarts, The Shimmer Band take us on a full-throttle, hedonistic joyride with a stadium sized gleam in their eyes. The crowd’s delight at one adrenalised anthem after another is fuelled by the band’s cocky bravado and talent with a synthesiser. As our main man Mikey Jonns would say; mega.
For those of us who managed to survive until Sunday, we were met by a bunch whose stamina levels are to be admired. The Americas are the 21st-century version of Let-It-Bleed-era Stones, dripping with the mayhem of their bluesy influences and emitting perfectly, arrogant energy; they were a much needed wake up call for the last day of the weekend. Similarly, Paves reeled in the stragglers with Luke Shield’s determined gaze and their concoction of smoulderingly, sensual blues where no prisoners were held.
We also need to give a shout out to The Assist, firstly for their relentless energy throughout the whole weekend. Look right and you'll see them slide-tackling one another like it’s going out of fashion, take another glance and they'll be starting a 20-strong conga line in and around the festival stage all without pretty much no sleep. So, how on Earth can it be possible that they still bring one of the most sprightly performances of the weekend? Within a year, they’ve really sharpened their sound and their set was the best I’ve ever saw them. Dripping in Adidas with a heavy nod to the melodic chart bangers of the 90s, their track "Wonderful" is a particular standout.
Then, where does one even start with Bang Bang Romeo? Anastasia Walker: woman of power, unparalleled vocal machine and one of the most charismatic singers you’ll see all weekend. She is a master puppeteer, bending the crowd to her every whim, both during their songs and in-between. Against the grain of indie bands, Bang Bang Romeo, are pure theatrics. Their style is in debt to Tarantino, all fringing and western glam. Musically, they get more compelling every time, and genuinely leave numerous festival goers with mouth agape.
Rounding a truly delightful weekend off, we end with Sundowners and Superfood. Sundowners demonstrate a deep kinship with the foundations of west-coast psychedelia and when you pair it with two soulful cascading harmonies donated to us by Fiona Skelly and Niamh Rowe, it combines to form something singularly beautiful. Superfood air a lot of new material, not that it perplexes the crowd in any way as the true indie kids of the weekend give a two finger sign off to headliner Rod Stewart and indulge in some B-town classics before resident DJ and all round legend, Nineties Mike, gives us a glorious set that can only end in Wonderwall.
And there we have it; one weekend down, god knows how many to go. This Feeling operates on a counter-cultural scale. It’s a coming together of minds, cities, passions and talent. It’s a free for all for anyone who needs or wants it enough. I can’t think of anything else anywhere that works quite like it; loose from pretension with a genuine desire to help and support others and have a bloody good time doing it. Music is a glorious thing. Music is power. See ya at the next zone.