Live Review: Rebellion Punk Festival 2023 – Day 1

(All words/Pictures by Andi Callen. All Rights Reserved)

So, Rebellion is over for another year and the bands, crew and punters are dispersing to all corners of the globe. We’ve had bands from all over including Canada, China, Mexico, France, Germany, Sweden, USA, Brazil, Spain, Italy, Indonesia, Australia, South Korea and the UK.

We’ve had last minute cancellations, late additions and in one case, the drummer only meeting his bandmates 2 hours before the show, but more of those later. Thousands of beers have been drunk, t-shirts purchased, selfies snapped, new friends made and old acquaintances reacquainted, but enough about my 4 days, what was Rebellion 2023 really like?

Rebellion is much more than just the music, in fact lots of people barely see any bands at all during the 4 days. With so many stages to choose from, including the Literary Stage and countless merch stalls, there’s lots to take in.

Well before I jump headlong into the music, I just need to point out that this is a review of “My Rebellion Festival”, not a review of Rebellion Festival. So, before all the old punks, of which I’m one myself, start moaning about the lack of column inches for their beloved bands [insert here – e.g. Cock Sparrer, Anti Nowhere League, Exploited etc], who’ll doubtless be covered by a myriad of punk sites and blogs, Backseat Mafia nibbled around the margin and lurked around some of the darker recesses of Blackpool’s Winter Gardens.

50 days before the festival started, we ran a “Countdown to Rebellion – Introducing” feature, where each day we wrote a few words and posted YouTube links, to artists we thought deserved your attention when it came to devising your schedules. In short, we did your homework for you. Some of you even thanked us for it!

Now, it must be said that some of those 50 didn’t really need that much introduction, having been around for years, but not necessarily familiar to some of the younger punks or being infrequent visitors to the UK. Did we get it right with all 50? Well to be honest, we probably didn’t! Did we more than get it right with some of them? Absolutely! I actually managed to see at least a couple of songs by 43 out of the 50, and it’s these artists who make up the bulk of this review. So, strap yourself in for 4 days’ worth of punk rock wittering and photographs as I try to recount my personal account of Rebellion 2023.

First band on my shoot list for Thursday was Colchester duo, The Meffs, who just happened to be one of our 50 for 2023 (from herein referred to as 50F23), a band who wowed everyone on 2022’s Rebelling Introducing Stage (RIS), so much so that their reward was an upgrade to opening the proceedings on this year’s Empress Ballroom Stage (EBS), bypassing the smaller stages, a feather in the cap of RIS booker Johnny Wah Wah. When they took the stage at 1.15pm, Lily just prowled up and down the stage silently, staring wide eyed at the assembled crowd, for what seemed like an eternity, scarcely believing the sheer volume of people who had turned up to see them.

And then with Lily’s trademark grin and tongue poke, we’re off and running! Their gritty fuzz driven tunes hit the collective spot, with more hooks than Velcro, twin vocals bouncing off each other, whilst Lewis’s powerhouse drumming keeps the tempo way up! The crowd is still swelling as they crash into their cover of the Prodigy’s “Breathe”. With songs like Broken Britain, Stand Up Speak Out and No Future, their social messages bounce along on top, like a fat dad on a bouncy castle! There are elements of bands like Royal Blood or Soft Play (ex-Slaves) in their music, but those are quite lazy comparisons to make. It’s fair to say they absolutely owned the opening slot on the EBS, drawing what is believed to be the biggest ever crowd for it. When the last chord subsides and the customary crowd selfie is taken, strangers are left open mouthed, staring at each other and nodding, the universal language of a band having it right off! And right off they did. To set the bar that high, on the opening day is testimony to how far they’ve come and just how hard they’ve worked in the last 18 months or so. So high in fact, that it became the Gold Standard by which all subsequent bands would be judged. By the amount of Meffs t-shirts seen around the Winter Gardens over the next few days, it would seem that Rebellion has already taken them to their hearts. This was the set that had people asking “did you see The Meffs?” for the next 3 days! Having already gone down a storm at Download Festival, their next Rebellion appearance will undoubtedly see them on much later in the day. First blood to the BSM 50F23!

One of my highlights of Manchester Punk Festival 2023, Austria’s DeeCracks were next up on the EBS, with the unenviable task of following The Meffs. The 3-piece crank out a great set of sub-Ramones melodic hardcore tunes, and are met with enthusiastic cheers, from a noticeably smaller crowd. There’s a lot to like about DeeCracks, Mike keeps it steady at the back, Yeahman pumps the bass and Matt flails around on guitar, punctuating his fretwork with scissor leaps. I’m reminded of Leatherface in parts of their set. Building on their 2022 Rebellion appearance, they leave me wanting a longer set, and hopefully they’ll get that on their next visit to Blackpool.

Next, it’s a quick trip to the Club Casbah Stage (CCS) to catch Healthy Junkies, making their 4th visit to the festival, this year being upgraded to a bigger stage.

Their blend of punk/grunge/psych/goth/glam/garage is a good vehicle for Nina Courson’s voice, as they deliver an enjoyable set of high energy songs, to a largely receptive crowd. The more hardcore punk fans drift in and out, in search of their fix of “take no prisoners” noise, their appetites not sated by what’s on offer. It’s a shame because lyrically they’re right on the punk rock money. It’s early days, we’re only a couple of hours in, and I have a date with another one of the BSM 50F23.

Svetlanas are back in the EBS again this year. Last year I only caught the end of their set as I was waiting for somebody else to play. Not this year though, as I’m here to enjoy them from the off. Now based in Italy, the Russian outfit waste no time in denouncing the Putin regime and the senseless invasion of Ukraine, to much cheering. Olga cuts a dashing figure with her multi-coloured dreadlocks, she could give the Duracell bunny a run for its money, as she flails and crashes around the stage. She and guitarist Ricky have a chemistry about them, which adds to the drama. Their brand of thrashcore is reminiscent of the more raucous corners of the Pixies back catalogue and it’s not until the Crackity Jones infused Pussification Of Punk Rock fires up that the crowd really get going. A solid set in all, but a Meffs shape shadow looms over the room. It’ll be interesting to see if they get asked back next year though.

After Svetlanas, I have a simple choice to make, stay and see Riskee & The Ridicule or head over to the RIS and see what all the fuss is about Brighton’s Lambrini Girls. Beating myself at Rock, Paper, Scissors I head off to see the girls.

There’s been a lot of hype around The Lambrinis, so for many this is their first close-up look at them. Having opened for Iggy Pop’s Dog Day Afternoon gig in London last month their stock has never been higher. I’d been warned earlier that there is normally a lot of crowd interaction and we’re only 2 songs in, with Big Dick Energy, when guitarist Pheobe Lunny jumps off stage and climbs the barrier into the crowd. Encouraging everyone to get down on the floor with her, she has them eating out the palm of her hand and it descends into chaos, whilst bassist Lilly watches on from the stage, still pumping out the rhythm. The thing is now, so many artists do this that it’s becoming kind of expected and to that end, predictable and slightly dull. Musically Lambrini Girls are bright, fuzzy pop punk operating in the same space as bands like Menstrual Cramps, Comeback Clit and Loose Articles. I enjoy the music, but my record collection is littered with promising bands like Fluffy, Feline and Twist who stutter to a halt after their initial impact. I reserve judgement for another day, not that they’ll give a fcuk what I think, which is the way it should be!!

Next up in the Arena are the intriguingly named Tits Up, another BSM 50F23 choice. Now, there was a bit of confusion in the lead up to this as it appears there are two bands with the same name currently on the circuit. A 4-piece consisting of four older women from West Wales and this (s)punky trio from Liverpool, share the same moniker. This Tits Up usually consists of Jen Baranick (Guitar), Bridget Meyer (Bass) and Amanda Scheibert (Drums/Vocals), but today Bridget is replaced by stand in Adam Foreman-Worsley. They’ve drawn comparisons with Bikini Kill and L7, but on this showing it’s another who has seeped into their souls, especially on Psycho Ghost Bitch, a slow surf guitar trudge through Black Sabbath territory, with the excellent Amanda providing glass etching vocals from behind the drum kit. Hampered slightly by the sound on the RIS, a recurring theme throughout, they deliver a perfect set of speedy feminist punk, whilst exploring more light and shade on some of the slower numbers. On this showing they seem to have a lot more to offer than Lambrini Girls.   Having already delivered their debut EP Greatest Tits in 2022 to great reviews, hopefully a new release is in the pipeline, just don’t mention The Cr*mps. Looking forward to seeing them again soon. Full set – Freak/Cinnamon/Psycho Ghost Bitch/Gaffa/Male Man/Rat/Interrupted/Birthday Party. Get ‘Em While Their Hot!

I head back to the EBS to see Teenage Bottlerocket, another BSM 50F23 band, and one I’ve been particularly looking forward to seeing at last. And they don’t disappoint at all, delivering a blistering set at 100 miles per hour. With song titles like Blood Bath At Burger King, Fatzo Goes Nutzoid, Bigger Than Kiss, or Skate And Die, you know you’re not going to get heavy politicking or social comment. Instead, you get bouncy, singalong rammalama bubblegum pop punk, the kind that North Americans seem to specialise in. There’s a time for the serious stuff, but there’s always room for just having no nonsense fun and having a good time. Teenage Bottlerocket are that Frat House party band, who bring their own keg and shotgun it. Long may it continue too!

Recently signed to Manchester label TNS Records, Leeds 4-piece Electric Press are my first “hardcore” band of the day. They’re very young, but deliver a tight set of stomping tunes and in Ollie they have an amazingly percussive guitar player, shades of Tom Morello (RATM) seeping into the fretwork, owning the stage and making bucket hats punk! They manage to meld nu-metal riffs into a HC framework, without it sounding naff or suffocating. Singer Jake is like a coiled spring, exploding into the lyrics, whilst Logan (Bass) and Terry (Drums) keep a tight ship in the rhythm department. Definitely one for the future, with MPF2023 and now Rebellion under their belts, living their best lives. If you missed them this time around then they’re on tour from 14th-24th of September, taking in Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Stamford, Bristol and Birmingham. Another feather in the cap of the BSM 50F23 crew!

Now things are warming up, the beers been flowing for several hours and everyone is getting their bearings. It’s time for more Californian melodic hardcore, courtesy of Pulley. Despite having released The Golden Life album in 2022, they refrain from pulling too many songs from it, instead pretty much drawing from the whole of their back catalogue. It’s great to hear some of the songs from nearly 25 years ago, Working Class Whore, Second Best and Soberbeah in particular. This is the first time I’ve seen them since Chris Dalley and Jim Blowers left, but new guys Sean Sellers and Trey Clinesmith have slotted in nicely. Another good call for BSM 50F23.

I’m intrigued to see how another one of our BSM 50F23 recommendations goes down. Some elements of the Rebellion crowd are notoriously staid in their outlook on what’s punk! Oorya is one such artist, but I really shouldn’t have worried as they had them eating out of their palms by the end of the set. Self-described as Queer Electro Punk Folk, their stage craft is instantly disarming. Having already established that the room isn’t optimised sonically for the performance, punters are encouraged to bring the seats into the middle of the floor, and they duly comply! Having already witnessed Steve Ignorant’s earlier set on the same stage and being moved emotionally, the set list is quickly tinkered with in homage. It’s not just about the music, the banter is equally entertaining, but a serious message lies beneath the frivolity. There’s not a pigeonhole yet invented that could even begin to contain Oorya’s music, but if one did exist, be rest assured it would break the laws of physics and possibly smell a little musty!

The first truly legendary act on in the EBS today sees an amazing “best of” set from the real King Charles and his UK Subs. With too many ex-members to count (over 70 and counting) the current line-up, including Steve Straughan and Alvin Gibbs, brings those songs to life, rolling back the years. If you’d have told me 40 years ago, that the 60-year-old me would be witnessing the 79 year old Charlie Harper absolutely killing it on stage in 2023, in front of a huge crowd, I’d have had you tested. Ripping through old faves like Warhead, CID, Tomorrows Girls, Keep On Running (Til You Burn) and Party In Paris this feels like a celebration, a testimonial. With the Subs about to embark on a Farewell Tour next month, events like Rebellion will become the only chance we’ll get to see Charlie perform these songs again. Turning 80 next year, and acknowledging the elephant in the room, this may even be his last appearance in Blackpool. At the end of the set, I witness grown men hugging and fighting back the tears, in recognition of not only what we’ve just witnessed, but a truly remarkable career. The Meffs may have set the bar high earlier in the day, but Charlie has just performed a dismount an Olympic gymnast would be proud of. Thanks Charlie.

It was always going to be an unenviable task, being the next band I saw after UK Subs and so Sloppy Seconds were up against it from the outset. I’m in no mood for them tonight and bail early. Another time perhaps.

Next up on our BSM 50F23 listareDerry Girls Cherym, (pronounced “Chair-um”) and they don’t disappoint. Three-piece consisting of guitarist/vocalist Hannah, drummer Alannagh and bassist Nyree, deliver a pleasing set of power-pop punk in the vein of Bikini Kill meets Yuck. Smiles wider than the Irish Sea seem to indicate that a good time was had. This is what Rebellion is about. I think you’ll be hearing a lot more of their 6 Music radio friendly tunes in the future, and that’s not meant as a slight at all. Whether they return to Rebellion in the future will be interesting, but a bright future lies in store for sure!

TSOL have been one of those bands I’ve been wanting to see for a while. Tonight’s line-up includes singer Jack Grisham’s son on guitar. As with a lot of other bands that have been around this long, there have been numerous line-up changes and a penchant for losing drummers like the rest of us lose socks, there were even two TSOLs at one point, but I digress. Grisham bounds on to the stage, looking like the US version of Pub Landlord Al Murray, resplendent in a trademark red Frock Coat, weighed down by numerous pin badges. Abolish Government / Silent Majority, Give Me More and I Wanted To See You are my set highlights, but it’s all pretty good. Obviously, Grisham’s voice sounds a lot different to those early recordings, after all some of those are over 40 years old but it’s great to hear some of those songs played live.

Finally, Belfast’s Problem Patterns. I first caught them when they supported Le Tigre in Manchester earlier in the summer. Yet to release an album despite being around for 5 years, with a number of singles under their belts, the band are a delicious mix of call and response vocals, twinned with driving fuzzbox guitar. Consisting of Beverley Boal, Bethany Crooks, Ciara King and Alanah Smith, they take turns in swapping instruments and vocal duties, constantly changing it up, without being gimmicky. Political with both big and little Ps, this is not a band to shy away from issues of the day, which shines through in their songs. This is exactly why the RIS / After Dark stage is so important in giving bands like Problem Patterns a platform to reach a wider audience than perhaps they would normally. A thoroughly refreshing set to send me to my bed happy, at the end of a very busy opening day.

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