Washed Out Festival returned for it’s second year last weekend, bigger and better than before. Taking its cue from Dot to Dot and the early days of The Great Escape, Brighton’s premier punk festival saw 68 acts play across eight stages, over two days. Here’s a look back at how it all went down…
The new warm-up night starts upstairs in Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar, one of Brighton’s many excellent independent music venues. As the wristband collection gets underway, the acoustic sound of Tim Loud rings out. Despite being full of cold, he’s armed with his acoustic guitar and harmonica. Including a Mississippi John Hurt cover, it’s a decent start to proceedings with his anti-folk anthems forming the backdrop for an ever-growing crowd.
Recent tour buddy Freddy Fudd Pucker – AKA New Zealander Tom Young – is the second and final acoustic warm-up act, placing his customary upright suitcase / makeshift base drum front and centre in the bar. With a tambourine wrapped around his other foot, when it’s not flying off into the crowd, it’s a thumping one-man band of a set.
Sunshine Frisbee Laserbeam are the first plugged-in band of the festival proper downstairs at Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar with their summery lo-fi sound – think The Strokes at their happiest. Despite those feels, the on-stage bunting is all too much for singer Pete Dixon, who promptly tears it down, ironically exclaiming “Fucking punk, man!”.
Next it’s over to The Quadrant, the other venue running on this first night. A tiny 150 year old awkwardly-shaped pub by the city’s clock tower, like many of Brighton’s venues it hosts live music in its upstairs room, where we currently find Norwich’s Marigolds. Despite having that nonchalant ‘too cool to care’ cool, they do have the tunes, a knack for melody, and a decent frontman. Only when they mess up a new song do they falter, but certainly one to watch for the future.
After a fairly gentle start to what is titled as a punk festival, it’s up to itoldyouiwouldeatyou to bring the noise, back at Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar. From the moment vocalist Joey Ashworth soundchecks his own ‘unique’ version of Amazing Grace, you know you’re in for a great time. In truth the band is all about the flamboyant frontman, who transforms from sulky emo bedroom teenager to anthemic heartbroken screamo regularly during their slow building songs. In a slightly curtailed set, we end with new single Get Terrified and Sunshine Frisbee Laserbeam returning to the stage for one last party on backing vocals.
Headliners Happy Accidents are no strangers to Brighton, or indeed Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar. With their stage presence and decor they immediately look the business, as usual, surrounded by foliage. While the plants may be fake – they learnt the hard way that transporting live vegetation is a right pain – the music is the real deal, much tighter than anything that has gone before. The linchpin of the three-piece is drummer Phoebe Cross, with Rich Mandell leading from the front – and bassist brother Neil somewhat hidden in the shadows. In a treat for the crowd, they are taking requests – someone shouts for their no longer played cover of Grimes’ California, but alas they aren’t biting. We do get Running, Nunhead and Better Plan though, which shows the best of this band with it’s duel intertwined vocals. As regulars in Brighton, we’ll no doubt be seeing them again soon.
So, with many sore heads, it’s onto the main day itself. Kicking off proceedings are The Burnt Tapes at the always excellent upstairs room at The Prince Albert. Playing tracks mainly from last year’s mini album Alterations, they are a vibrant start to the day, echoing much of 2000s US pop punk. Ending on Things Get Weird, front man Tone leaps down into the crowd to play guitar for one last jam, in sign of things to come at this hands-on, immersive festival.
Over at The Green Door Store, it’s great to see one of last year’s highlights, the free Acoustic Stage, back in business. Far from glamorous – little more than a few benches in a fenced off outdoor smoking area – it’s a great chance to hear some intimate sets from otherwise noisier bands. In a slightly different twist, it’s launched today by spoken word artist Kristianne Drake, with hushed readings inspired by her Dad, amongst other things.
We switch up fairly rapidly inside The Green Door Store for Murderhouse – well-known by the local crowd, being fronted by festival co-organiser James Hunt. Musically they are unashamedly upbeat emo, with My Chemical Romance’s operatic tones mixed with the chaotic nature of The Libertines’ duel vocals. It’s refreshing to hear James talk about mental health so openly on stage, but surrounded by friends and fans it’s a naturally receptive audience.
Continuing the quest to visit all six venues, it’s off to the seaside and Camcorder at East Street Tap. They seem a slightly divided band with an enigmatic frontman straight from 90’s Seattle – complete with Napalm Death t-shirt – and a drummer and bassist seemingly from the football terraces. Like many bands at this DIY festival, the sound is unbalanced and unfortunately turned up way too loud for the space (gig earplugs are a must for those worried about their hearing). That said they firmly wear their surf punk influences on their sleeve, even dropping a cover of Weezer’s Sweater Song.
Hotfooting it back to The Green Door Store Acoustic Stage brings the appearance of one of last year’s absolute highlights, Brightr. Despite growing up in the area, it’s Laurie Cottingham’s first appearance back in Brighton since Washed Out 2017. It’s a privilege to see a talented singer song-writer so close-up, and hear the storytelling behind each song. Ending on We, the first song he wrote as Brightr, it’s a fantastic set – let’s hope he makes it three in a row next year.
There’s time for a couple of songs by janky pop punk band Sugar Rush on The Green Door Store Main Stage before heading back to The Prince Albert for Latchstring. Easily the heaviest act of the festival to that point, the Southampton quintet forego having to squeeze onto the stage with frontman Phil spending most of the gig on the floor in the crowd screaming vocals, ironically amusing against the backdrop of fairy lights and bunting.
The last treat of the day at The Green Door Store Acoustic Stage (alas, Kamikaze Girl’s Lucinda Livingstone’s later set is one clash too many) brings Woahnows‘ frontman Tim Rowing-Parker to Brighton. Slightly nervous without his Plymouth bandmates, he opts for a spot inside the venue just in front of the main stage, plugged-in with an electric guitar and amp. Despite the lowkey set-up, it’s easily one of the most polished performances of the day, debuting several new songs – they hit the studio this month to record their second album – before ending with a couple of fan favourites.
And so it’s over to The Hope & Ruin for a run of three bands beginning with Brighton’s own feisty teenage punk rockers, Evertim. The split boy/girl four piece have more than a whiff of bands like Jimmy Eat World about them, indeed lead single Tuesday – which is a virtual singalong with the partisan home crowd – could easily have stepped off any number of early 2000s Americana punk-rock albums.
Sticking with Brighton bands, next up are Harker. While being older, tighter – including all being dressed matching in black – and louder than their predecessors, it’s largely more of the same indie-punk. They are at their best when they tone it down for a finale of 300 Cigarettes, complete with backing vocals from The Stayawakes (on the bill earlier in the day), which leads to one big party both on stage and in the audience.
While Norwich’s Ducking Punches are no strangers to Brighton, recent line-up changes have brought about a different feel to the band in the last year or so with a much heavier sound than previously. A stop-start set, which includes Sobriety twice and multiple issues with pedals, finally gets going towards the end as God Damn Coward kicks in and builds with its multi-layered harmonies. The set ends in the perfect way with Smoking Spot, a song which itself climaxes with a huge rush of positivity and friendship, something that epitomises the whole feel of this festival.
That may have been the perfect ending, but there’s time for just one more band back over at The Green Door Store, where a packed crowd are watching Personal Best. The rider beer has run out, so the sponsors Sailor Jerry’s is being handed around. It may have been a hectic day largely full of raucous punk, but singer Katie Gatt’s mellower vocals are the perfect comedown to send you on your way. Set-closer This Is What We Look Like becomes a huge singalong, with the crowd bellowing “I wanna kiss you in the street / Where everyone can see / ‘Cos this is what we look like”. It’s the perfect anthem for this festival, which prides itself on being diverse, inclusive and open to everyone.
As it finally ends, the crowd want more, but no, we’re going out on a high, which brings an end to a wonderful two days of Washed Out Festival. It’s a huge credit to Patrick McNaught at Apple Shampoo Events and James for putting on an incredible weekend on a tight budget, with such an amenable atmosphere, and of course, a huge variety of great bands. Here’s to Washed Out Festival 2019.
Tickets for Washed Out Festival 2019 are on sale at a bargain early bird price of £15 here.