T3A2796 bdrmm Venue 23 Andrew Benge
Bdrrm @ Long Division 2023. Photo: Andrew Benge

FESTIVAL REPORT: Long Division 2023

When: 10th June 2023

Where: Wakefield, West Yorkshire, England

So, that’s it then, Long Division is no more! After over a decade of fervent independent spirit and putting Yorkshire city Wakefield on the music map, the festival went out with a bang in sweltering heat across multiple city centre venues.

As the last crowds dissipated following The Lovely Eggs‘ vibrant closing set at Venue 23, it felt triumphant but sad, within half an hour the festival seemed to exist no more as the city resumed its usual Saturday night. Nothing but the odd glimpse of a wristband or obscure band t-shirt would suggest anything had happened at all, there was a poignant sense of loss.

But Long Division’s legacy is huge in an area that is taking culture seriously. You only have to look at the newly launched Tileyard North to see that, or the legacy of LD’s own Young Team activities. It can easily be argued that this would not be the case without Long Division’s commitment to bringing the best acts to Wakefield over the years – and it became one of my favourite festivals, with me attending every year since 2017.

But that is enough of the past! How did the day shape up, on the hottest day of the year, for this final LD party?

It started in the dark, smoky confined of Vortex, with Leeds supergroup of sorts Living Body (with members of Juffage, Mayshe-Mayshe and Crake) providing a lovely start to the day, all interlocking guitar parts, lush vocal harmonies and restrained indie rock bite. Neither folk nor indie, they have the storytelling of folk tradition and the complexities of math rock in their fully-formed standalone identity.

Over in Unity, hyped Manchester act Nightbus proved to be still forming what they could be. Two singles in their set list felt like it had a lot of filler, largely when leaning into a fascination with The xx, and the performance felt anxious. But that said, when they hit their stride, something verging on special happened. On single ‘Mirrors’ (if you can ignore the obvious comparisons to Joy Division’s ‘Shadowplay’) they crafted a subtle blend of gothic, post punk rhythms, and nascent electronics, that floating below Olive Rees detached vocals (somehow still emotive) created a truly absorbing sound. LD has had a penchant for catching bands on the up and Nightbus could well be one of those.

Four years ago at Long Division, Drahla were an obvious highlight. Somehow in that time, they have progressed to be even better, as they proved in the ornate Theatre Royal, with every part of every song understanding exactly what it needed to be. They are able to confound expectations at every turn. With the best rhythm section seen all day, playful distortion and driving energy, they played off post-punk, no wave, noise rock and punk effortlessly. Talking Heads jamming with Sonic Youth? Sure. Trail of Dead collaborating with Parquet Courts? Why not? Who cares? This band is a joy!

Copy of K0A3442 Loose Articles Venue 23 Andrew Benge
Loose Articles @ Long Division 2023. Photo: Andrew Benge

More confounding expectations came with the avant-funk, performance art of the charismatic Hang Linton who thrusts, gesticulates and generally plays with the crowd as he spits his indefinable tunes. There’s a hand puppet at one point, and he screams about things being on sale at another point. Memory might have blurred things, it was a strange thing to witness in sweltering heat – nothing wrong with that.

Loose Articles in Venue 23 were having the most fun, and with their vibrant, feminist garage punk everyone else was with them. They probably had something to say, but due to some of the worst festival sound I have ever witnessed, the majority of the vocals were inaudible and drowned by the sludgy dirge of bass and guitar (they weren’t playing underwater, but you’d never have guessed). All in all, this was an energetic, brilliant set from a band that could be exceptional to watch, let down by technical difficulties.

Thankfully the sound was pristine again in the Theatre Royal for the reformed Wakefield trio The Research, who played like they are still an active band and have not been gone for 15 years! There is an almost cartoonish-tweeness to their songs that is so very mid-2000s, but nostalgia aside they still have a vibrant collection of great “pop” songs, especially the singles off debut album Breaking Up and follow-up The Old Terminal. They played with joyous energy created from a beat-up keyboard, bass and drums, topped off by great vocal harmonies. Let’s hope they do more, because this is nostalgia that deserves to be creating something new.

Again, what could have been the absolute highlight of the day was marred by terrible sound in Venue 23. Regardless Bdrrm fought through it to prove they are one of the most viscerally essential live acts around right now. Their forthcoming second album has elevated them from another “shoegaze” band to genuine contenders for the current best in genre. Their new depth of sound (drawing on folk, electronic and noise rock influences to augment the dream-pop and shoegaze standards) translates live brilliantly, with boundless energy that created an emotionally lifting and physically draining experience. With better sound, they could have been untouchable, but the crown of the day went to long-time-coming LD headliners Arab Strap.

Currently touring 1998’s classic album Philophobia stripped back to Aiden Moffatt and Malcolm Middleton without a full band, this set was simply joyous. With just programmed beats and backing tracks, Moffatt’s voice and Middleton’s guitar the power of their downbeat brilliance was given room to shine. Live, the wry humour intrinsic to Arab Strap’s songs is always more apparent, Moffatt often delivering his slurred missives with a knowing smile. “Here’s another song about sex and death”, he said at one point with a grin. It just works (a collision of slowed disco, post-rock and folk storytelling from the broken 90s), especially on Philophobia classic ‘Here We Go’ and the ramshackle version of ‘The First Big Weekend’ which still cuts as deeply as it did in 1996. The Glasgow legends made the last LD drift off with joy and sadness in equal measure, it was perfect.

And that ended Long Division, and my yearly musical pilgrimage to Wakefield, a city that has a solid beating culture heart that, it could be argued, was restarted by the electrical pulse the festival gave the city. Let’s not just mourn the loss of one of the few truly DIY and independent festivals left in the UK with pulling power, but remember everything it gave.

Photos: Andrew Benge

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.