In the space of four short years, Hit The Deck has grown from a small, one day alternative music festival in Nottingham to a weekend event spread across two cities and several iconic venues. With this year’s line-up being the most consistent to date, coinciding with the long awaited return of Long Island’s Brand New to the UK, it was clear that it was going to be the festival’s best year yet.
Hit The Deck 2014
The Xcerts have emerged from the recording of their long-awaited follow up to 2010’s Scatterbrain to perform their first set of gigs of 2014, giving fans a sneak-preview of what they’re working on with ‘Shaking In The Water’, which shows a departure from the band’s grittier guitar-driven sound in favour of a more radio-friendly, bubblegum pop sound, whilst retaining their anthemic choruses. The real highlight is the band’s final song, ‘Slackerpop’, which manages to get some strong singalongs from the still sober crowd.
Nottingham’s Eva Plays Dead have previously sold out The Basement stage they were playing on, so we were unsure of why they were opening. Despite this, the quartet managed to set the bar high for the other bands to follow, with their own style that mixes astonishing basslines akin to that of Rancid’s Matt Freeman and the soulfulness of someone such as Stevie Nicks. The amount of energy the band puts into every song is incredible, with guitarist Matt Gascoyne climbing up onto the speaker stacks to get the crowd to clap-along for ‘1950’s Woman’.
Australian band Hands Like Houses have been enjoying a steady rise in popularity in recent months with their latest album Unimagine allowing them to visit the UK for their first ever headline tour, along with a stop-off at Hit The Deck. Performing third on the main stage in Rock City, the band were the first to properly capture the imagination of those arriving early on, with the pit waking up and large groups of the crowd joining in on the likes of ‘Antarctica’ and final track ‘Introduced Species’. Judging by the crowd reaction and the band’s natural stage presence, Hands Like Houses could find themselves further up festival bills very soon.
Perhaps belying their current hype and popularity, third on the bill at the Forum was British band Verses. Despite not even having released an album, the room was packed for one of the most exciting bands the UK currently has to offer. A confident set and an excitable crowd meant Verses provided a performance to remember, giving evidence that with the impending end of Kids In Glass Houses opening up space for a British band to come through the ranks to radio, they may be the band to make the jump.
Battle Lines are one of the biggest surprises of this year’s Hit The Deck. Still fresh from last month’s SXSW, the Leeds four piece seem destined for great things with a sound that blends the venomous tone of Florence + The Machine’s ‘Kiss With A Fist’ alongside the experimental electronics of Portishead.
Having seen Nai Harvest twice recently in venues where capacities barely reach 120 at a push, it was a complete surprise to see the Sheffield duo on such a big stage with a packed out crowd of 600 people. Focusing more on the material from their last EP (‘Hold Open My Head’), it’s crazy to see the crowd’s immense reaction to songs from ‘Whatever’ and it shows that it’s only a matter of time until we see a headline tour from Nai Harvest.
With a new album that’s had just over a month to sit with people, new cuts in Seahaven’s set go down a treat and ‘Andreas’ is one of the many highlights which gathers a strong singalong in the chorus. One thing that’s incredibly interesting to see is how this band balances the high energy material from earlier efforts (‘Black and White’) alongside much slower songs (‘Silhouette (Latin Skin)’).
The Maine took to the Nottingham nightclub The Forum for their set, which was most likely a much smaller environment than they are used to given their thriving, dedicated fanbase, yet still they managed to put on a spectacle of a show complete with fantastic lighting, a short but sweet setlist that pleased the crowd like none other, and guitar-shredding extended intros. Songs from older albums like Pioneer and Black & White were seemingly received a lot better than the newer tracks from their latest LP Forever Halloween, but that was somewhat accepted due to the number of older, die-hard The Maine fans in the room. It’s hard to tell whether the band themselves were inebriated or if their behaviour was just part of their hippie-like influence, but there is no doubt that they would have fit in incredibly well in the late 60’s movement and for that half an hour, The Maine turned the dingy club into a cave of magical rock ’n’ roll.
From here, the folks at On Record decided to head up to the balcony for Gnarwolves, not because we are complete wusses who can’t handle a bit of moshing, but because the crowd interaction with the band is something to behold. As a band who are used to stage invasions and fans stepping on their pedals, it was a spectacle to see a packed floor react to every single lyric, with most of the crowd with their hands on their heart for the slow ‘Community, Stability, Identity’ and trying to clamber over the barrier for ‘Melody Has Big Plans’. It’s been incredible to see Gnarwolves’ hard work paying off and them becoming the UK’s favourite pop-punk band.
Midway through the afternoon, post-hardcore stalwarts Hawthorne Heights performed to a packed out Rock City Main Hall that would have suited a headline set, never mind an afternoon slot. Playing their debut album The Silence In Black In White in full to celebrate its 10th anniversary, Hawthorne Heights captured the nostalgia of many older members in the audience, songs like ‘Nikki FM’ and ‘Silver Bullet’ proving to have aged better than material by many other bands from the same period.
Hawthorne Heights have never been the most fashionable of bands, appearing as the ‘emo’ scene took off in 2004/05, however a set closing on a mass ‘Ohio Is For Lovers’ singalong with frontman JT Woodruff spending the entire song on the barriers, proved to be one of the surprise highlights of the festival.
The Summer Set may not have been an exact fit with the rest of the lineup at Hit The Deck, what with their unique brand of pop rock that might really be more at home at a One Direction concert, but they certainly do know how to rock it when need be. The Arizona quintet took to the stage at Rock City just after Hawthorne Heights, and despite the fact that half of the room was not necessarily there to see them, they still managed to get the crowd energised to the point where not a single person was standing still. Between vocalist Brian Logan Dales’ dynamic dance moves and the unlikely moshpit that formed during the band’s bubblegum pop single ‘Boomerang’, it was clear to see that everyone was having fun – and that, it seems, is The Summer Set’s goal when it comes to playing for crowds who might not necessarily know who they are. Finishing off with a face-melting guitar solo from guitarist Josh Montgomery following dance pop number ‘Lightning In A Bottle’, the crowd were left smiling, sweaty and terribly out of breath.
Our good friends in The Front Bottoms have been storming through a tour opening up for Brand New and Saves The Day, with people having only positive things to say about New Jersey’s finest. Opening up with ‘Skeleton’, the band was instantly welcomed to Rock City with loud singalongs and an overwhelming amount of love for the band. Debuting a new song in their set, the tentatively titled ‘Fuck Jobs’ already feels refined and polished and fits in comfortably within their set, with frontman Brian Sella’s quirky lyrics being on top form whilst singing “My body is a temple, how much do you think i’d get for it?”. The packed out room of roughly 2,000 people explodes for ‘Twin Sized Mattress’ and from the crowd rushing to the stage to meet the band once they had finished, it’s clear this isn’t the last time The Front Bottoms will be seen in Rock City’s main room.
Over the course of 17 years, Saves The Day’s anthemic pop-punk hooks have become a staple in the genre and when the band finally took to the stage, the crowd erupted into cheers for the opening bars of ‘Remember’ from their latest album. A testament that the band’s consistent material is as adored as it was decades ago. The ringing chords of ‘At Your Funeral’ command the audience with heartfelt singalongs and when the song hits it’s climax, the crowd opens up into a huge pit of nostalgia. Covering all bases by playing a diverse amount of material from their extensive back catalogue, it’s clear that folks over on these shores still aren’t as familiar with deeper cuts such as ‘Xenophobic Blind Left Hook’ and set closer ‘Undress Me’. Hopefully Saves The Day will be back sooner rather than later to educate them.
Saves The Day
It has been a painful two years since Brand New last toured the UK and an even more painful five years since the band last released material in the form of 2009’s Daisy, so of course the entire room was going to be claustrophobic, with some fans eagerly waiting by the barrier since the early afternoon. The thunderous roar of the crowd is near deafening and as soon as the opening notes of ‘Welcome To Bangkok’ transition into an earsplitting crescendo, the entire crowd suddenly bursts apart and suddenly becomes an overwhelming wave of people clambering their way to the front.
It is during anthemic songs such as ‘The Quiet Things That No One Ever Knows’ and ‘Sic Transit Gloria…Glory Fades’ where members of the audience take advantage of the overwhelming sea of people and crowd surf their way around the venue. One of the true highlights came during ‘Seventy Times Seven’, where we saw the band at their most playful with Jesse Lacey and Vin Accardi toying around with each others pedals.
Tracks from the band’s controversial Daisy don’t seem to win over the festival crowd, with ‘You Stole’ only gathering a singalong from the die hard fans whilst the rest of the crowd takes the opportunity to talk. However, the band were more than capable of capturing their attention once again by playing ‘Jesus Christ’ and ‘Soco Amaretto Lime’ back to back, resulting in singalongs that filled the entirety of Rock City’s Main Hall.
Big thanks to everyone at Hit The Deck for allowing us to come along! Keep an eye out for our interview with Seahaven, coming soon!
Additional words provided by Madison Convey, Rhodri Owen and Dan Hess.