The first Rockaway Beach festival at the Butlin’s Holiday Resort in Bognor Regis offers the best of both old and new acts all in the one place. The setting is one of glitzy 80s nightclub style bars, with psychedelic carpets, disco lifts and penny machines. The main stages are at Reds and Central Bar, each with their own respective intergalactic décor and control panels.
Immediately we stumble upon The Membranes. Raucous and effervescent, they supply an energetic fusion of sound with John Robb raging across the stage, sharing concepts of the universe from their recent album Dark Matter / Dark Energy. The crowd is engaged and the room is brought to life as the Membranes get the Rockaway party started.
Enter Errors and a quiet haze come over the audience. Their enchanting set is one of digital beats converting into electrical sounds and pulses, echoing baubles of sonic experimentation with elements of the Clangers thrown in for good measure. They live up to their name mid-set as sound issues leave vocalist Stephen Livingston admitting he “can only do so much hilarious chat.” The set continues with lush curves, clunky, crashing sounds and chanting voices which reach far into the future and well away from the days when they first started out with this bedroom project.
The room fills up with a raw and real excitement as we all wait for The Fall, everyone having stocked up on beer for the performance. Mark E Smith takes to the stage, profound, serious and slightly inebriated; his toastmaster’s vocals accompany the intricate and precise guitar playing of Pete Greenway as the band open their set with ‘Over The Hill’. We are only able to catch the odd expression as it emanates from the sound-noise that embraces it. Two microphones are imperative for this random and insightful flickering of ideas and thoughts. Smith entices us into the moment as noises collide and guitars, drums and sound effects interweave perfectly; you are lost inside the sound. Mosh pits erupt and people stand swaying intently while absolute genius collides with abstract thoughts and ideas.
Back up the stairs and around the corner again to Reds bar the theatre is rammed to the rafters as everyone packs in to see Echo and The Bunnymen. Ian McCulloch appears in silhouette; you see only the slick cut of his coat, his dark glasses and the perfect quiff of his hair. He breaks into The Doors‘ track, ‘People Are Strange’ with deep husky vocals; there is a new romantic feel – a lush and gothic mirage – and the room feels contemplative. The band performs tracks from Constantinople and Bring on the Dancing Horses all the while evoking the atmospheric and big production of the 80s. Towards the end of the set and much to everyone’s delight, the Bunnymen play ‘The Killing Moon’, a song McCulloch locked himself in a room for two whole weeks to complete.
Passing back by the Central Bar, we catch a bit of Flowers and their beautiful indie shoegaze. Singer Rachel is redolent of Tracey Thorn; her vocals are fresh, vulnerable and disarmed. On Friday night Astral Pattern paint acid pastel colours in the sky, finishing off the first day with their very own brand of avant-garde technics.
Saturday afternoon sees the poetic charms of The Band of Holy Joy lament the lack of true altruism in modern life.
Ghostpoet’s words about more life stories and survival techniques drop into the jazzy beats with a warmth and thoughtfulness. ‘Survive It’ and ‘Off Peak Dreams’ address issues of cut backs and daily struggles. This broken-hearted jazz shines a spotlight on the dark side of the street. Bouncing bass trips in a nostalgic and compassionate way with this polished and full sounding set. Tracks like ‘X Marks the Spot’ hit the floor – “I don’t care anymore/There is a drawer in a room in a house calling your name,” – alongside the brutally honest recent single, ‘Sorry My Love, It’s You Not Me.’
We find the amazing Nadine Shah, with her Anna Calvi style vocals howling from the edge of the stage. Everyone is focused on her intently, with people just listening as she takes us on a walk across a tightrope in the night. At the very last minute we rush over to catch Johnny Marr just in time to hear him playing The Smiths‘ classic ‘How Soon Is Now?’. The whole crowd breaks out into a frenzy, people balancing beer cans on their heads; even the goths from Eastbourne are dancing.
Come Sunday at the main stage, Skinny Girl Diet, all riot grrrl action surrounded by the wizardry of flashing lights and penny arcade machines. A small crowd gathers to focus on their whirring guitars and ferocious drumming which is off-set by slower sludges of sound and gentle crescendos.
Misty Miller is definitely an artist to watch right now. She dedicates her current single ‘Next to You’ “to the ladies out there.” The springy, bouncy and happy sounds are narrated with a much darker story about an unworthy lover. She introduces ‘Best Friend’ to us. “Has anyone ever lost a best friend?” she asks; this much slower more intense track is both moving and sad.
Sunday afternoon is filled with an experiential, wonderful mesh of sounds that are achingly sweet and melodic, as psychedelic dreams interweave with one another. PinkShinyUltraBlast take us away on a crystal pink sky, as lead singer, Lyubov closes her eyes throughout this gentle, yet slightly ragged-around-the-edges performance.
Shocking Pinks make an impression. This project from Nick Harte completely submerges you with their theatrical sound effects, percussion and deep guitars. The whole set merges seamlessly from one track to another, with calypso-like party beats to tripped-up distortions and philosophical punk musings.
Later on that evening, Young Fathers absolutely steal the weekend with their dramatic, attention-grabbing and intense performance. With a mixture of hip-hop, chanting, soul, rap and bluesy call-and-response style vocals, they take it in turns to head-up tribal drumming and samplers. The whole room is dancing and listening intently as Graham Hasting shares with us his views. “We are all immigrants whether you like it or not,” he sings. Everyone cheers before they break into the track ‘Shame On You’.
Rockaway Beach brought together a mixture of past heroes and future possibilities with more established acts like The Fall playing alongside relative newcomers like Astral Pattern. And the Butlin’s holiday camp has to be one of the best places in which you can experience music in the least obvious of gig settings. It has all the party trappings of a more conventional festival at your finger tips – light chairs, big tops and, of course, arcade fire galore – and then it has the beautiful clear stretch of beach outside where you should definitely bring your bicycle and explore new bands as well as new places.
Photo Credit: brightlights-darkroom
Rockaway Beach festival was held at Butlin’s holiday camp in Bognor Regis, West Sussex, from the 9th to the 12th of October 2015