Rebellion Festival is a strange beast. Due to the enormous diversity of acts performing across the multiple stages, no two people’s experiences are the same. There will be many people who read this, for whom it bears no resemblance to their own festival experience. Spread over 4 days at Blackpool’s iconic Winter Gardens complex and boosted by the outdoor R-Fest stage on the promenade, the return of Rebellion after 3 long years, was greeted with almost fever pitch anticipation on the various social media platforms in the days and weeks leading up to it.
Wandering around beforehand, with my 15-year-old son, a festival virgin, I recognise many familiar faces from the UK scene and further afield. To the casual observer, the many different types of fan milling around the side streets, sitting by the fountains or occupying the pub terraces, might seem confusing. Whilst we’re all under the punk umbrella, there are so many different sub-groups present, it truly is a “rainbow alliance”. Gay punks, trans punks, skins, crusties, folk-punks, casuals, mohicans, street punks, ska-punks, old punks, new punks, young punks, skate-punks, emo, straight edge, punks in kilts or anarcho-punks. We are here for a good time, meet up with friends, make some new friends or rekindle old friendships, all tied in with a music scene borne out of 70’s austerity, nearly 50 years ago. The locals welcome the punks with open arms every year and love them as much as they hate the Young Farmers convention, which also descends each year. I guess that sentence embodies the wealth gap between working class and ruling class, which is ironic in a way. We’re here for Rebellion, but in truth it’s never with a capital “R”.
Blighted by a few short notice cancellations, notably first day headliners Bad Religion, pulling out less than a week before, one could argue that there was a dilution in overall quality, compared to previous years, but for those of us for whom it’s an opportunity to discover new talent, I think we were richly rewarded. Apologies if I don’t mention any of the acts you saw, but this is my personal account of Rebellion 2022.
The first thing to comment on I guess is the length of the wristband exchange queue, when we arrived on Thursday morning. With the Winter Gardens having undergone a remodel during the last couple of years, we are greeted with a new entrance and a One-Way system in place, which frustrates the seasoned Rebellion-ites, used to multiple entrance points. Fortunately, I get to jump the queue as the Press Office desk is in a different place. And fortune it certainly is as it means I get to catch my first act of the festival on the Pavilion, the wonderful Dublin 2 piece, Vulpynes. Duos used to be a bit of a novelty act, until The White Stripes showed people that very often less is more. With the likes of Royal Blood, DFA 1979, The Kills and Black Keys opening a path for others to slip through.In fact, there are a good number of 2-pieces scattered across the 4 days like Yur Mum, The Meffs, and John, with other acts waiting for a call off the subs bench, like Manchester’s very own Slap Rash or The Sewer Cats.
It’s not their first Rebellion and nor will it be their last. Singer/guitarist Molly delivers fierce vocals, interspersed with moments of pure honey over buzzsaw guitar. Think L7, melodic Riot Grrrl fronted by a tattooed Betty Page. All of this held together with drummer Kaz pounding the skins like an octopus on speed. Unlike a lot of other drum/guitar duos, there’s plenty of light and shade in their songs, measured subtlety, rather than compressed thrash. In typical Rebellion fashion, I can only catch the first 4 songs, which include One Horse Mind, Sister and Sublingual. Sadly, I miss the song Bitches Are Like Waves (presumably because there’s another along in a second!) as I head off to the outdoor R-Fest Stage to see Millie Manders & The Shutup.
Opening the first day on the RFest stage is reward for their previous endeavours at Rebellion. It’s a blistering hot, cloud free afternoon and about to warm up further. Personally, I don’t think there’s another “summers day, feel good music style”, which can top Ska or any of its derivations on a day like this. Judging by the number of leather jacketed and Mohican-ed punks present, their appeal is truly a broad church. The crowd reaction is great as we’re treated to a high octane set culled from 2020’s Telling Truths, Breaking Ties album, with the highlight being Not Ok, a song that deals with mental health and is a true crowd anthem. I detect a few moist eyes around me as the last chord fades away, mine included. Millie’s smile is as wide as the Blackpool Tower is high, as their set closes and cheers ring out from the comedy carpet. The queues for merch and a selfie build quickly and the festival is up and running. Millie and Co. have set the bar very high early on. I think a slot on the main Empress Stage beckons for future Rebellions!
Next up its back to the Empress Ballroom to catch Russian thrashers, Svetlanas, banned from their homeland since 2014 due to their anti-government stance and political commentary. The sale or possession of their music in Russia is unlawful and they are no longer allowed to return and considered to be enemies of the state. That’s what true punk is about, not how spiky your hair is or how many Exploited patches you have on your biker jacket!! I have to confess that I knew very little about their music before the festival. However, a trawl through YouTube marked them out to be added to my “must not miss” list and with Olga now sporting blonde dreads, they did not disappoint. With songs like Jump, All I See Is Red, Pyromaniac and Pussification of Punk Rock in the set, it’s a paint strippingly scorching attack, which raises the temperature in the Winter Gardens sweatbox, a few more unwelcome degrees. Another band destined to be a fixture of future Rebellions, working their way up the food chain. It’s this kind of crossover that keeps the festival evolving. Remember, at some point in the future there will be no “old” punks to entertain us. Charlie Harper is 78 and can’t go on forever!!
After Svetlanas set we head over to the After Dark/Rebellion Introducing Stage (RIS) to see Penelope Tree and bump into Millie Manders again on the barrier. Her guitarist also plays with this Emo/Pop Punk quartet from High Wycombe, who remind me of Jets To Brazil or Jimmy Eat World. Sadly they’re up against Wonk Unit and Knock Off and the crowd is sparser than their music deserves. Notes are made to check them fully next time they’re on tour. The heat is beginning to take its toll and rehydration is high on the priority list. We slip into the Empress and catch the end of Wonk Unit’s set. I know a lot of people really love them and they are well respected in the UK Punk scene. Perhaps I’m too tired or I’ve missed the best songs but they don’t touch me, so I take a few photos and call it quits. Another day maybe.
The atmosphere (and temperature) is now building in the Empress in anticipation of the next few bands. Originally the line-up was 4 of the finest US bands to finish the day, headlined by Bad Religion. Sadly, they had to pull out due to personal circumstances back home in America and so at such short notice, Scottish Punks The Skids, were given the headline spot as they were already down to play RFest stage the next day. First up from New Jersey were The Bouncing Souls, with their infectious brand of skate/pop punk. With the bulk of the set taken from 2001’s How I Spent My Summer Vacation and a couple from 1997s eponymous album, this is a band at “festival weight”, shorn of flabby tunes, as they crash through 7 countries in 10 days. They sound so good and Bryan Kienlen demonstrates why he’s such a respected bass player, driving the songs forward at break neck speed, along with drummer George Rebelo. With the majority of their songs running around the 2 and half minute mark, there’s room for 21 of them, including That Song, Kate is Great, Private Radio, Gone, East Coast Fuck You, Kids And Heroes before the curtain comes down with True Believers and singerGreg Attonito, bids us good night.
With the Empress crowd swelling in preparation for the hotly anticipated festival debut of the Circle Jerks, next up are Pittsburgh’s premier agit-punks Anti-Flag. Their brand of anthemic sing-a-long melodic punk, follows the same narrow formula, made successful by Green Day and similar bands, but that’s where the comparisons end. Anti-Flag are avowedly anti-establishment and songs like Christian Nationalist, Fuck Police Brutality, and Die For The Government are such powerful live songs and go down well tonight. Bassist Chris tries to get a circle pit going, with a modicum of success, but then the well documented issues with overzealous security staff surface again. The punk classic segue featuring snippets from The Clash, Pistols, Sham 69 etc is a bit if fun before Cities Burn brings the fun to an end.
I’m now officially melting and tired beyond belief. Sadly after heading outside to get some fresh air, I’m unable to get back to the photo pit for the arrival of the Circle Jerks, such is the clamour to see them. I’ve already decided to see The Skids at RFest stage on Day 2, so we head off back to our hotel to recharge.