Whoever booked Heriot to play first on their stage today needs to be seriously spoken to, because there’s no way a band this far at the forefront of heavy music’s future should be given a slot as unthankful as this. Fortunately that’s barely a roadblock for them, pulling in a crowd more akin to a mid-afternoon one in density, and free of any semblance of early-day rust. It’s the full-force bludgeoning that proves most effective, the hardcore attitude paired with a tar-thick-and-black metallic ferocity that’s utterly earth-shattering. The tone is perhaps most impressive, in the guttural wrenching that’s lost none of the impact found on record. If anything, between Jake Packer and Debbie Gough as a vocal duo (the latter also boasting a guitar gurn emblematic of someone among the best in her field), Heriot’s decimating power only feels more impressive and palpable here. Let’s make early-morning tents a thing of the past for them, because this deserves its time to shine much further up the bill.
As memories of The Blackout continue to gradually fade, they’re also a healthy reminder of just how far Sean Smith and James Davies have come in Raiders. Yes, the name association isn’t nothing (and Smith’s assertion of expecting no one to show up is slightly unbelievable for it), but they’re also a far more impressive prospect musically. They’re more akin to early Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes or even Every Time I Die musically, with Smith’s screams that became more or less phased out in his other band sounding suitably refreshed for what’s overall a more exciting musical direction. At the same time though, it’s hard to not put Smith as a character on a pedestal above most else. He’s genuinely funny, irreverent as always (the extended riff on bad band names like Wet Leg and Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs is the standout kicker), and brings the sort of personality to match an athletic display that has him in the crowd and outside the tent within the first handful of songs, which brings far more than just hints of a new career upswing. More so, Raiders come as a genuine rebirth, all of what worked last time funnelled into a more feral hardcore mould, and with all the power in the world to continue their impression.
Right now, Petrol Girls are at the absolute apex of their career so far, and for good reason. New album Baby is a remarkable, bone-deep statement through and through, and for a band who’ve always been shaped by their feminist politics, their righteousness has never been more resonant than right now. So when Ren Aldridge precedes Fight For Our Lives with a ground-shaking speech citing femicide and the monthly protests for reform in Austria she’s involved with, it gives off a commitment and application to the punk ethos of a band ready for war. That song in particular highlights how deeply Petrol Girls are able to saw, skirting around notions of festival fun for a demonstration of how grounded and incendiary they are. Between Aldridge prowling and stalking across the stage with a glass-shattering scream translated immaculately from record, to chest-rattling drums and guitar tones, Petrol Girls bring a taut, violent brand of punk that vastly surpasses the bulk of the competition in every respect. Utterly essential, live as well as on record.
If any band on this bill is more delighted to be playing here specifically than Orchards, they’re doing a great job at hiding it. In what’s become something of a live home for the indie-poppers, the packed-out Axiom represents exactly the sort of crowd they should be attracting with music as overwhelmingly pleasant as theirs is. Particularly amid the day’s heatwave, the watery trickles of guitars and synths sound even more phenomenal, and being held together by Lucy Evers’ boundless, infectious energy only cranks that brightness up even further. She’s always been excellent as a fronting presence, but there’s an effervescence today in her big, beaming smile and bottomless zeal that adds a significant amount. To put it simply, Orchards aren’t reinventing themselves as much as they’re clicking back into place with irrepressible ease.
Spare a thought for Saint Agnes today, who find their black-clad aesthetic completely at odds with the ever-increasing heat for what must be a fairly taxing experience for them. To be fair, they’re not giving anything away if it is; they’re the sort of band bringing steely, unshakable confidence to a situation that befits it immensely, where it lends touches of nu-metal crunch to an already sturdy alt-rock base. That peaks with a cover of The Prodigy’s Firestarter that has Kitty A Austen really going for the throat vocally, but in truth, Saint Agnes bring a consistently fiery and formidable sound. As far as stage presence goes, that takes a bit more time to ramp up (for the first couple of songs, they’re a bit static for the music they’re delivering), but otherwise, you’ve got a band at the beginning of inevitably a fruitful run of main stage appearances.
Anyone writing off Salem as ‘just a side-project’ probably hasn’t seen how much of a draw they are. Sure, when there’s someone with the napalm-intense adoration of Will Gould at the helm, a big crowd is a given, but Salem truly are the real deal. It’s not unexpected to say this is like the early days of Creeper but it isn’t unwelcome either; the straightforward, punchy punk of Fall Out Of Love and DRACULADS serve as one hell of a one-two opening salvo, with Gould on fine form as usual as he casts a typically long shadow for frontmen with this sort of vamping personality. Just like in its recorded form, it’s an ideal foil to Creeper, where their opulence continues to grow while Salem deal more in the quicker, shot-in-the-arm punk, with both fitting their purpose with few complaints to be had. When it’s played with this much panache, why would you?
When half of them are already climbing the stage scaffolding before a proper note has even been played, that’s a pretty telltale sign that Heck have well and truly returned. Yes, that glaring secret set slot has been filled by one of British hardcore’s most decorated live acts, making their resurgence after five years with barely a trace of rust on them. Granted, for a band whose stock tends to begin and end with how feral they can get, that’s a somewhat skewed bar, but it shouldn’t take away from how impressive this is. From a musical angle, theirs is the sort of frayed, electrified hardcore that lends itself perfectly to Heck’s natural explosiveness. Even now, there’s a bleeding edge placed all around it that the current waves of mathcore are still replicating now, albeit without the live prowess and climbing skill that, yes, continues to serve as Heck’s killer app. It can’t not when it’s so high on their itinerary, the jolts of energy and clambering, spasmodic movement that really do define a Heck live show, even after half a decade’s absence. But that what makes them such a special part of British hardcore’s history, and why this return—for however long that may last—carries exactly the importance that it should.
At this point, there’s really no good explanation for why Puppy continue to fly under so many radars. They amass a decent crowd today but it could and should be larger, especially when it’s a set that plays out like seasoned arena-rockers peeling out masterclass alt anthems with ease. Even at the expense of visual spectacle—they’ve got their banner, but otherwise, this is a stock-still sight—the performance conquers all, particularly on the tried-and-true dirges like Black Hole and World Stands Still that, as always, have phenomenal might to them. Sadly the same isn’t true for Jock Norton’s vocals, less in the performance and more in his naturally nasal style that the stage mixing can struggle to pick up on. Otherwise, this is exactly what you can coming from Puppy, as the basslines quake, the guitars crunch with both metallic strength and power-pop sweetness, and the melodies and harmonies are as immovably colossal as they come. Even if it’s not a showing for the ages, the degree to which Puppy play to their strengths makes for an immeasurable win on their part, and another notch for a band whose live reliability is yet to be shaken.
It’s refreshing to see that, among this heinous wave of pop-punk soloists that’s currently underway, the one who’s continuously being taken seriously is KennyHoopla. As it should be, given that he’s a far more adept songwriter and performer, as well as having the drive in that lane to integrate into whatever territory is necessary. At 2000trees, he’s not exactly on home soil for his sound, but talent ultimately speaks for itself. Launching into silence is also an answer// makes for a killer start as always, which really never lets up in terms of how meaty and propulsive Kenny’s pop-punk is. It might get redirected for the bass-strutting pop comedown of lost cause// or the sweltering dance-rock of how will i rest in peace if I’m buried by a highway?//, but there’s never a point of outright stoppage or slack. On top of that, Kenny himself is just a stellar frontman; bonus points for possibly the first backflip of the festival, but he’s exactly the kind of performer that throws himself headlong into his live work, a rockstar in the truest sense of the word with all the payoff. Even in a set of few surprises like this (in terms of song choices, that is; it’s generally the same as what’s comprised his runs this summer), you just have to admire how much such a real, genuine talent is being fostered here. Oh, and estella// is still a perfect set closer in any estimation, by the way.
How many more superlatives are there to really dole upon Rolo Tomassi at this stage? Between their own reputation as post-metal wunderkind with a penchant for regularly topping themselves to stupid degrees, and the veritable home-field advantage they’ve got here (this is some of the most significant tent overspill seen thus far this weekend), there really isn’t much more to say to highlight how their phenomenal win rate remains unbrushed. As is proven once again, they’re incapable of faltering, as the moments of beauty sound just as ethereal and elegant as ever, brought crashing down to titanic heft by just how versatile as a vocalist Eva Korman is. She’s inarguably the highlight, a magnetic presence in both onstage vibrancy and how quickly she’s able to shift, and it lends a dimensionality to Rolo Tomassi that most simply can’t muster. It’s calamitous in how crushing it is, and how another gleaming mix allows the synth ripples and clean guitars all the more breadth to be ripped asunder. Honestly, it’s the sort of set that’s Rolo Tomassi’s bread and butter at this point, but that’s no sort of criticism whatsoever; they remain a band at the apex of heavy music’s brutality and sophistication, and who just keep searching for new ways to climb higher.
Looking back at the entirety of 2022’s 2000trees, there’s not much that feels closer to an “I was there” moment than Laura Jane Grace’s set. Free from setlist constraints and armed with only a plugged-in acoustic, she comes onstage with beaming gratitude that, particularly from the frontwoman of one of modern punk’s premier acts, is still so humbling to see. It’s mainly Against Me! songs that make up the set—Unconditional Love and Black Me Out get some of the most righteous scream-alongs—but there’s seldom a dip in how well anything goes down. She’ll go into The Devouring Mothers’ I Hate Chicago or her solo number The Swimming Pool Song, and they’re still welcomed like classics. Furthermore, it’s got all the intimacy that solo sets like this thrive on, be that in her rendition of The Replacements’ Androgynous charmingly described as her one permitted cover, or how she’ll bring out her ‘dysphoria hoodie’ as a prop before the titular song. All the while, Grace has the personality and humanity of someone jamming among friends; she throws in extended tangents during I Hate Chicago or an impromptu encore of I Was A Teenage Anarchist, all completely unhindered and showing a DIY streak that’s so refreshing to watch play out. It’s the sort of special treat of a set that really only 2000trees seems to offer anymore, and it’s practically unparalleled even among that.
As easy as it is to rag on Young Guns for being the 2010s Britrock band whose shelf life was overstayed in the least flattering way for themselves, to question the catalogue of nostalgia-boosted bangers they have to curate a festival set just wouldn’t be proper. This was originally billed as a full rundown of their debut All Our Kings Are Dead for the festival’s initial incarnation, though seeing that scrapped for a more standard run down the hit list is probably a more beneficial prospect. At least when they are drawing from newer, generally weaker material, it’s stuff like the crashing Rising Up or openly anthemic cuts like I Want Out and Daylight; they aren’t given as robust a mix (particularly the former), but there’s enough there to assimilate with the main attraction. That is, of course, the material that put Young Guns on the map in the first place, as they kick off with a titanic Weight Of The World and run from there. You really only get a sense of the extent to which that material holds up in the live environment, especially when a song like Bones with its hook clearly designed for the hugest of festival stages is served up in its exact element. As for the band themselves, they aren’t all that special in what they’re doing, though Gustav Wood has some nice reverberating weight in his delivery that’s at least a bit more unique to him. Really though, it’s more a showcase of what Young Guns can still do to get them back on track after a few years away, more fit for purpose than looking to move the needle too far. That doesn’t mean it’s not a lot of fun though, closing out with the first live airing of Crystal Clear in eight years, and feeling like an achievement that, overall, Young Guns have earned.
When you’re pulling in bigger crowds than the headliners at the festival you’re playing at, that’s definitely something to take note of. Such is the case with Turnstile, easily 2000trees’ biggest draw who’ve been rising steadily up the ranks year on year, to where a hotly anticipated sub-headline slot feels like a conscious audition for the real deal. And when you remove that from any context of whether or not they’re commercially ‘ready’ for that (not like that’s much of a factor at this festival anyway), there is no doubt whatsoever that Turnstile could pull it off. They’re basically there now, with an hour-plus set largely comprised of material from their acclaimed GLOW ON, of which that’s the perfect demonstration for how far Turnstile have come, and how well they can cater to stages like this. There’s still a hardcore edge, but there are tangible moments of melody and calm among that, presented to a baying crowd reciprocating to every music turn offered to them. The sound clarity is notably excellent, but also fluid enough to where the stomp of Real Thing or Drop makes a seamless transition from sweaty clubs to a huge outdoor stage like this. After all, this is a band who’ve also hit both Outbreak Festival and Glastonbury in the same summer; the sluice gates are well and truly open for Turnstile now, where nothing is off-limits and their adaptability is second to none. Simultaneously, they carry themselves like both scrappy punks and hardened arena-rockers, a hard dichotomy to pull off, but for hardcore’s top act, it’s just the next step on the road to certain domination.
As with a lot of bands who play this festival, Vukovi have a certain kinship with 2000trees in particular. It’s here where they played their Main Stage set in 2019 that felt like their graduation into modern rock’s upper echelons, and now with a headline set of their own (albeit with the confines of the NEU Stage being much smaller), they commit to similar leaps again. It’s actually rather staggering to see how far Vukovi are now; Janine Shilstone has more strut and swagger now than ever before, as she surges her way through a dense alt-rock palette that’s more a backdrop for a rowdy, carnage-ready crowd than a lot else. That is to say, the density of Vukovi’s sound can sometimes be a little much for the sound system to handle, but there’s no denying how earth-shaking the likes of C.L.A.U.D.I.A or Animal are, examples of how tightly and succinctly Vukovi have honed their melodic chops since their early math-rock days. It’s just terrific stuff from a band for whom that’s quickly becoming the norm live, and everyone involved is clearly having the time of their lives. In all, then, another big win for Vukovi.
Yes, Thrice are a niche headlining option. Yes, playing an album in full does make it even more niche. Yes, even when the album is as beloved among their fanbase (and post-hardcore in general) as Vheissu, airing it in such a casual setting as a festival—even one more specialised like this—can be a hurdle nigh on impossible to clear. In truth, Thrice’s losing battle is established quite early on from the post-Turnstile exodus that doesn’t leave them with an audience that’s spottily populated at best, but all credit to them—they seem completely unfazed. That can be in some part down to how those down in front are dedicated enough to really love this in concept (when Image Of The Invisible kicks off, it’s frankly insane how much fervour it inspires), but Thrice also have an ease about them that’s clearly keeping them ploughing along. Especially now that Dustin Kensrue’s voice has hoarsened and roughened, there’s a gravity to all of this that can be pretty astonishing. More so in the set’s back half honestly, when Vheissu’s airing is done and Thrice move onto a crop of hits that, with easy wins like Black Honey and Hurricane, serve as their more straightforwardly festival-ready fare. If nothing else, there’s something of a novelty factor to a set like this, getting to hear the deep cuts from a beloved album that might seldom get to be heard, but as far as real crowd-pleasing bouts go, Thrice are very much preaching to the choir here. It’s still good, for sure, but most likely would’ve resonated more strongly under different circumstances.
Words by Luke Nuttall