Benefits performing at Rockaway Beach festival 2024. Bognor Regis, UK

FESTIVAL REPORT: Rockaway Beach 2024

When: 5-7 January 2024
Where: Butlin’s, Bognor Regis, UK

Nine years in Rockaway Beach has cemented its place as the real New Year party for fans of alternative music, staving off reality and being the nemesis of everyone’s Dry January plans. Following 2023’s step into eclecticism with a wider range of electronic and experimental acts smattered through the line up, 2024 in many ways could be seen as a return to the classic alternative fare the festival built its reputation on.

And, with the worst social restrictions of Covid now a memory, the out-of-season Butlin’s in Bognor Regis that the event calls home is back in full swing – the swimming pools (New York bands pool party anyone?), go-karts, bowling, and a renewed range of eating options only augmented an experience that in the past had always been more than the bands, but in the restrictions of lockdown showed just how good at booking this festival is.

It is this and the sense of community that always makes Rockaway special, with so many people having visited every iteration and groups of friends who only exist at the festival. Take the utterly joyous closing party with Dom Gourlay and John Lynch (legends of the festival) who cause a multi-generational dance fest with people dancing from everything from Sonic Youth, to Stevie Wonder and Sophie Ellis-Bexter without care for being pretentious. ‘Crazy Horses’ by The Osmonds was a surprise floor filler and a forgotten banger that won the DJ award for surprise hits.

The Selecter at Rockaway Beach 2024, Bognor Regis, UK
The Selecter


But, of course, it is the music that people go for and Rockaway does a fine job of treading a line between the rampant nostalgia of Shiine On, a new music showcase and the eclecticism of the ATP events of old. It’s as possible to discover your new favourite band as it is to re-live your youth.

Rockaway’s “nostalgia” proponent always sits in a far more eclectic place than other purely nostalgic weekenders, drawing on a wide range of “alternative” (used as loosely as it can be) legends from the ’70s to the ’90s. This year saw two-tone mainstays The Selecter take the title of opening night headliners proving that they don’t just ride on the legendary charisma and stage presence of Pauline Black, but are every bit as part of the Two-Tone fabric as their bigger counterparts. Who doesn’t love ‘On My Radio’, ‘Three Minute Hero’, ‘Too Much Pressure’ and ‘Missing Words’ woven into newer tracks and ska standards – not many gathered in Butlin’s, I can say.

Filling what has become a standard spot for punk legends (previously Buzzcocks and The Undertones) Scotland’s Skids, maybe considered also-rans by the uninitiated, provided a tight and energetic set that they are one of first-wave punks most underrated bands. There set was so much more than the blinding classic ‘Into The Valley’, with tracks like ‘Working for the Yankee Dollar’ also packing a hefty punch. Singer Richard Jobson’s witty repartee and stories added much to the set, not least thanking “two bands” for bringing them back to the fore, “why are you covering U2?” he says glibly before launching into ‘The Saints Are Coming’, which a cover of by Green Day and U2 in 2006 is possibly responsible for the punks being active again. U2 might be responsible for something good in the past 20 years after all! 

Skids performing Rockaway Beach 2024, Bognor Regis, UK


We also try to get in to see ex Strangler’s front-man Hugh Cornwell but moving the old punk masses from the Skids into a smaller space, the venue was packed with a huge queue and life is too short!

Despite the quality on show here, my personal “legends” slot took place across two sets in the smaller Reds stage on Sunday afternoon. Firstly with quirky post-punk stalwarts The Nightingales who remain an esoteric wonder led by the ever-unlikely frontman Robert Lloyd who held court with a persona somewhere between lairy local drunk and lauded, foppish poet, and it was wonderful to see. With no gaps in between songs the set ran through more ideas than most bands muster in a lifetime – weird time changes, skronky incessant grooves, crushing riffs and rhythms like funk got monumentally drunk. They revelled in the joy of it all and so did we.

Next, overburdening the crowd on the “joy” quota, indie-pop legends The Vaselines played over an hour of grin-inducing ditties. Anyone familiar with their lo-fi first era might be surprised by how big and tight a band they are these days, a fully functioning “rock” band with added punch but no smoothing off of the charming rough edges. Whilst they do retain their best songs, they are more than the tracks Nirvana covered (although this Nirvana obsessive did almost combust during ‘Son of A Gun’ and ‘Molly’s Lips’) with off-kilter classics like ‘Sex With An Ex’ doing the business too. Frances McKee and Eugene Kelly were also on top form, with witty chat that could fall short from less charming people – crack addiction isn’t a funny joke when just anyone makes it. This set was the perfect ending to the weekend, so much so noughties indie lot The Cribs didn’t get a look in.

Hype is a funny thing, simultaneously a burden and a blessing for new bands – can they live up to it? Picking hype bands on the way up is a Rockaway tradition, something they nail so often. The chatter about two bands Big Special and Fat Dog was feverish leading to their sets, and neither quite lived up to the expectations. Big Special, in the popular vein of angry-bloke-speaks-over-music which has been both perfected and ruined in recent years, don’t stand out from the pack, despite serious energy and infectious tunes. Singer Joe Hicklin is, no doubt, a charismatic and funny fella and when he unleashes soulful vocals it is an uplifting thing, but like all the recent post-punk stuff it’s indebted to the Fall and there is a tonne of the same band floating around right now – that being said it was enjoyable.

On paper, Fat Dog reads like a thrilling prospect. An infectious collision of styles and ideas, but the show at Rockaway Beach left that prospect wanting. There’s techno electronics, jazz sax, punk rhythms and some post-punk guitar. There’s a drummer in a dog mask, they get in the crowd, they put the effort in but, ultimately, it can’t mask the fact that despite the energy the ideas are largely pedestrian and predictable. It is the safest of challenging music, and the hype is picking the safe option. Fat Dog are the musical equivalent of that friend who says “I’m mad me” because they once put a shoe on the wrong foot. Once. So keen to be seen. But the crowd love it, and the talk afterwards would suggest they had just seen Cardiacs or Blurt, or anything else.

Still, there were new acts that deserved the hype, like Maltese-English group Genn, who put on an exceptional show mid-afternoon in Reds, and, for me, stood as the standout new band of the weekend – the real deal. Boundless energy, captivating rhythms, swathes of post-punk and psych stylings, occasional crushing riffs and a glorious set of lungs on singer Leona Farrugia who effortlessly switches from lush soulful vocals to vitriolic anger. Weaving global influences into the mix of complex and kinetic guitar fuzz, there is something that stands apart from the pack. They played with a captivating joy.

They were not the only “all female” (not a genre, and certainly not something to dwell on, they are musicians, but dammit I’m making a point here) that prove the festival’s ongoing gender balance to be a winner. Trout’s bubble-grunge was a lovely, downplayed wonder like a more sedate Throwing Muses, while Ghost Car provided a fun blend of ’80s punk, ’60s psych and bubblegum pop with riot grrrl stances. Spanish joy-cannons Hinds, despite being up since 5am that day and not getting on stage till over an hour late (thanks Patrick Wolf, who was fine but a bit too downbeat after such a delay) played with unhinged abandon, their surfy, sunshine punk keep weary revellers going somehow. These days they have the songs, they have the tightness and they still have the could-collapse-at-any-minute air that makes them so wonderful – worth every minute of waiting.

Same with the powerful set from Dream Wife, who remain one of the best live bands around, this is where they need to be seen, on the live stage. Nothing they have recorded has come close to capturing the sonic confrontation of the band. Many opted for this and not overlords of the shouty-men-with-a-beat Sleaford Mods, who I have always liked. At Rockaway, they did what the Mods do, well, Jason Williamson was on fine form and dropping his “bloke who stands still and drinks” schtick, Andrew Fearn danced around like he was on speed, loving every minute. They sidestep the recent “spat” with Bob Vylan with a wry, “You wouldn’t want to be in music, it’s well bitchy.”

Bob Vylan at Rockaway Beach 2024, Bognor Regis, UK
Bob Vylan


The night before aforementioned political punk duo Bob Vylan had alluded to not liking the Midland’s lot but stopped short, whilst also having a needless, vague potshot at Idles as well (it was all a bit cheap). What didn’t stop short was the power of the set, which takes much the same form as the Sleaford Mods but with different musical touchpoints, a live drummer and a different power dynamic. Bobby, or Bob, as a frontman is a ball of pure energy (ending shirtless and sweaty) and delivered a set that lifted people’s spirits and anger, to a musical mix of grime, punk and metal (like a British, punkier, Rage Against the Machine, or ‘grime-Bizkit’ as one bystander said to me). In the current political climate, acts like Bob Vylan are essential, with classic ‘We Live Here’ being about the best takedown of dumb racist attitudes you’re likely to hear. At times the politics did veer a little too far to the side of simplistic, Bobby asking the crowd to cheer for those who “hates the police” was uncomfortable and a reductive way to address a serious issue, but in a world where politics has been reduced to simple slogans and the idiots are winning, this is probably needed. Much like the criticism of the Mods, and Billy Nomates (who played the year before) live musicians would have added some extra bite, punk guitar as a backing track lacks something, but who really cares – this shit was enthralling.

But still not as enthralling or visceral as Teeside’s Benefits who in an early 5pm slot split eardrums and opinions with their full-on noise assault, frontman Kingsley Hall spitting vitriolic “poetry” over the barrage. They captured the seething internalised anger of the under-represented. As he screamed “Wave your fucking Flag” during ‘Flag’ or spat the takedown of toxic-patriotism ‘Empire’ you could physically feel the emotion. 

Chapman leant into all this with a knowing smile, mimicking the “day-oo’ call and response of Queen at Live Aid, wryly saying “Are you not entertained?” like that bit off Gladiator, and ending with a sly “Fuck The Tories” – it’s serious but he was clearly having fun, lurching at the audience, goading them. Not for everyone, they played the most challenging set of the weekend and proved why they are the pinnacle of political music right now – they aren’t here to give you a good time, it’s purely cathartic and confronting what we don’t want to deal with. Perfect political punk.

Also, turning the visceral into entertainment was Brighton’s Ditz, a band who just get better and better at melding noise into danceable gems. Frontperson Cal Francis, was on top confrontational form getting their mic stand confiscated, taking beer from the crowd after being told they couldn’t have one on stage and generally baiting the Butlin’s staff. It was proper rock n roll theatre, but as tight and kinetic take on alt-rock/post-punk you could imagine. With added Lily from Lambrini Girls standing in on bass (their bassist can’t work out transatlantic time differences for flights apparently), this was a top band on top and unusual form.

Canadian-British electro-punk duo Shelf Lives have finessed they bratty, snotty punk jams since the last time I saw them, like Le Tigre in a huff, or the B-52s playing Suicide numbers, or something. It runs the risk of veering into the absurd but vocalist Sabrina Di Giulio and guitarist/producer Jonny Hillyard, always lean into it enough to avoid such trappings – serious shit this ain’t, but they mean it and it works.

Elsewhere, representing one of the few bands making it over from mainland Europe, Poland’s Trupa Trupa returned with another stunning off-kilter psych set. Much of the visual appeal came from frontman Grzegorz Kwiatkowski’s jittery, immersed performance as he took to the set like an excitable toddler, lost totally in the emotion of the music, which itself is non-less skewed. Trupa Trupa’s sound exists both inside and outside of our understanding of what “rock” music should sound like, with almost agitated guitar melodies dancing with crushing walls of noise and shades of psych-pop. Kwiatkowski’s pained manta-like vocals only add to the strangeness. If the best rock comes from outsiders, Trupa Trupa fit the bill.

Trupa Trupa at Rockaway Beach 2024, Bognor Regis, UK
Trupa Trupa


The psych-depths of quality were also mined by promising shoegaze lot Pale Blues Eyes, and modern-psych mainstays Tramms, whilst the second-ever gig from Hi-fi Sean and David McAlmont was just wonderful, with one of the best-ever vocalists soaring abo veelectronic pop gems – you don’t often get to hear vocals of this magnitude out in the wild and it was special.

Needless to say, other things happened, other bands happened and things that were no doubt as good as anything covered above, but that is the beauty of a festival like Rockaway Beach, however you choose to do it, it’s overflowing with quality. In a world overrun with festival homogeny, these genuine events put on by music fans for other music fans are needed more than ever.

Rockaway Beach loves music, and for that we all love Rockaway Beach.


Photos by Shaun Gordon:  

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.