FESTIVAL REVIEW + PHOTOS: No Play Festival 2023

If you look into it, you’ll find that No Play Festival joins a fairly decently-sized list of all-dayers and venue-based rock and alternative festivals in Liverpool. Most did end up fairly short-lived (remember Radstock? Or Fury Fest?), but you can’t fault the intent either way. And they were good days out on the whole, something which No Play looks to replicate on its maiden voyage, before you’ve even set foot in the surprisingly snazzy confines of the Invisible Wind Factory. The lineup speaks for itself after all, condensed but markedly short of real lows in terms of acts carving a noteworthy place for themselves in the scene. It’s a pretty succinct mirror into the exception health the UK rock music is currently in—dotted all over the musical map, following a creative arrow to where a good few occupy subgenres exclusively of their own, but all legitimate high-risers in their own right.

But of course, the elements are pushing back. The outdoor Best Life Records Stage has been rained off entirely, and a late start has put a time crunch on pretty much everything to follow. It doesn’t hinder Angel Number too much though, who seem to get done everything they set out to with their couple of available tricks. Even if their self-styled ‘electrogaze’ is far from diverse, they’ll knock on some moments of pseudo-gothic expanse that pulls it together in the end. Much more consistently successful, though, are Knife Bride, who feel like they’ve already shaken off any and all greenness of a band new band to stand fully ready to take the UK scene by storm. Armed with some impressively heavy alt-metal (and blessed with a sharp, crisp mix on top of it), they’re a fiery live prospect already. Vocalist Mollie Buckley might be the obvious focal point, but guitarist Sean Windle and bassist Craig Glynn certainly put in the work too, to split the different between a well-oiled metal unit and one for whom the jolt of unpredictability doesn’t go amiss. With a new EP on the horizon, there’s definitely something brewing with Knife Bride that’s worth keeping an eye on.

As for Gen And The Degenerates, their experience on the live front is rather palpable. Not only are they the most visually distinguishable act on today, but they bring the most unique energy, a nice change of pace when their brand of rock isn’t typically associated with an inherent stylishness as so many others on this bill. If there’s an unequal distribution of fun among straight-down-the-middle rock bands, Gen And The Degenerates easily have the lion’s share, in what can feel borderline punk in execution at times. You’ll find that in earnest with Gen Glynn-Reeves, an inimitable superstar at the band’s head who’ll dart through the crowd on Girl God Gun, and carry a bold, magnetic spark at every other juncture. As Anti Fun Propaganda wraps things up (with a guest appearance from Mallavora’s Jess Douek, seemingly for no other reason than a bit of fun), said spark is just as incandescent as the instant it was lit. With Gen And The Degenerates at this stage, that’s just to be expected.

So let’s just say, for its contingent of heavier acts, No Play’s decision to bundle them in the basement on a tiny, barrier-less stage is a fairly inspired one. For many, it’s their natural habitat already; for others, it’s bringing them back to their roots for a savagery that carries so much more effectively. And for Death Goals, it just wouldn’t feel right to have them anywhere else. In fact, the presence of a stage itself feels more ancillary than anything, when Harry Bailey is just as content to position themself mid-floor for their blistering hardcore missives there. It’s a shining example of what the right combination of sound and environment can achieve, blistering and short-fused to an almost insane degree, and totally in sync with a crowd receptive of both its inclusive messaging and propensity for unfettered release—you don’t get a Macarena pit in any other situation, do you? As for Creak, they burn a smidgen less white-hot (they’re mainly rooted to the stage, for one), but as far as bladelike hardcore / nu-metal fusions go, they’re still difficult to fault on the basis of feral intent. Their (spoiler: very good) debut album is imminent, and it’s great to see how none of its firepower feels diminished even slightly; if anything, it might be amped up even more. Even if they’re wanting for some live individuality (that’ll inevitably come with time), Creak have already landed pretty impeccably.

Apparently it’s been three years since Lizzy Farrall released new music, though if you’d expect that to translate into some onstage rust, you’d be mistaken. Even as the definitive odd duck on this bill, she slots in with remarkable ease, more than just the ‘customary’ alt-pop inclusion, but a real heavy-hitter in her own right. She strikes the silhouette of a real popstar immediately, and that never fades. Despite some relatively iffy mixing at times, she’s always the high point, be that on more lithe, dancey cuts like Balloon, or the looming pop cuts like Yellow Paint or Gaslighting that feel more her bread and butter. Even with the most sparse stage setup yet, she makes use of the available space; in her whole enterprise, she’s by far the glittering centre of it all. Not that the rest is bad—far from it—but there’s an undeniable presence to Farrall as a performer that’s so uplifting across the board.

As they soundcheck by running through a beefed-up version of Fall Out Boy’s Sugar We’re Goin’ Down, Going Off immediately sever any ties with a po-faced, hardcore-or-die attitude that—for some reason—still hasn’t left this scene. And while they’re undoubtedly rooted in the purest-of-pure hardcore punishment, the sheer entertainment factor that Going Off bring to the table is just as prevalent. Key to that is frontman Jake Huxley, with both the look and the sneer of a prime Gallows-era Frank Carter as the screaming, writhing dynamo front and centre. He might just be a player for the most captivating hardcore frontmen in the current crop, barely containing the electrified surge that finds him ending up off the stage and on the floor, as he’s clearly been dying to all set. The contributions of the rest of the band shouldn’t go unnoticed either—caving and animalistic with not a single moment of respite to speak of. It ends with just as much seismic fury as it begins with, and never falters for even a moment. Add to it the fact that it’s wholly captivating from every possible angle, and Going Off are among the standard-setters for current hardcore, hands down.

As good as Higher Power frequently are, it’s become difficult to say much about them. Their universal quality simply doesn’t leap off the page in a particular way; it’s just notably, wholly good. And while that might sound like a pretty nitpicky critique, it’s not supposed to. They still know how to command a set from front to back, with hardcore soaked in ‘90s aesthetics and styles, and an abundance of grooves that are so easy to sink into. Frontman Jimmy Wizard especially has some great energy through it all, pushing through with a lot of big, all-encompassing vocal leads that refine just how grand this current incarnation of Higher Power is. They’re definitely trending mostly in their grunge direction now, and with a showcase of bass and drums individually to show how tight the rhythm section is, it’s a strong move. Again, it’s all just good, to where there isn’t much to say or elaborate on past that—Higher Power just know how to hit a sweet spot, and stay there.

The likelihood is you won’t be finding Graphic Nature in rooms as small as the Invisible Wind Factory’s basement again. For one, the integrity of rooms like this mightn’t be able to stand it, given how ‘restraint’ is something that Graphic Nature have less than no interest in. You can physically feel your eardrums cave in the second the first anvil of a riff drops, in what’s possibly the heaviest incarnation of themselves yet as they keep cranking up the intensity with every appearance. Their sound certainly lends itself to that, as the blend of Slipknot-aping nu-metal, the most hoary and brutal of metalcore and its industrial veneer is so well-executed. There’s also the inclusion of some drill touches into their drum ‘n’ bass breaks, yet another highlight for the pitch-darkness of Graphic Nature’s sound. It’s rampaging and volatile to a fault, and with frontman Harvey Freeman often found prowling in front of the stage in the space left by the throng of onlookers, the sinister edge doesn’t go amiss either. But there’s a consistent thrill to it that makes this all so brilliant, as Graphic Nature continue to decimate any and all barriers that might stand in their way.

As the band whose name has adorned easily the most t-shirts today, Vukovi naturally draw the biggest crowd so far. And on a day where the majority having been spotty (to put it charitably, in some cases), to see a proper, no-nonsense draw is pretty heartwarming. Though, Vukovi’s showing makes it particularly clear why they’re the ones to do to it, when they’ve evolved in a titanic crowdpleaser in all aspects of themselves. They sound great, for one, never getting swallowed by their own density and always remaining punchy and powerful. Theirs has been this big, all-consuming alt-rock goliath for a good few years now, and to see it streamlined in this way to highlight both the heft and the quasi-dance-rock tightness feels like a culmination of plenty of hard work paying off. But it’s the presence that tips them over into real greatness, in no small part due to Janine Shilstone being as obvious as superstars come. On a day with no shortage of terrific women staking their claims in alternative music, Shilstone is right up there, in terms of vocal power and as a visual touchstone that’s impossible to ignore. And with La Di Da to round off with what’s become an especially explosive closer, Vukovi as a whole might just be better now than ever before.

It can be tough to quantify how ready Yonaka are as festival headliners. Their material has predominantly consisted of EPs with an occasionally ham-fisted approach to genre-blending (reflected in how they turned out overall), but there’s clearly a bristle of excitement for them to take to the stage. But when they do, things become a lot clearer. They’ve always been a band whose live prowess has surpassed their recorded output, but even by that standard, they’re exceptionally seasoned as performers now. There’s a glamour and a comfort at putting it forth that comes easy to them now, and their particular angle towards sonic fusion works much better when there’s a visual aspect to both buoy it up and tie it together. It’s where Theresa Jarvis feels the most in her element as a frontwoman, tacitly flamboyant and unmistakably commanding, in the way that feels perfectly right for pop-rock like this.

Yonaka do got for broke as a whole though, as guitarist George Edwards and bassist Alex Crosby embrace some rockstar impulses to be a bit more erratic and impulsive; this could easily feel like a rote headline show from the bill’s easiest crossover name, but it passes that. Perhaps not in the music, which does bear a lot of radio-readiness in its stead, but it’s hard to deny how well it works. It’s fielded by some shockingly dedicated onlookers, though with how much improved this seems to be in the live environment, it feels a bit more understandable then. It soars more unimpeded, popping a lot more and placing Yonaka among the acts for whom the day’s clear mix has benefited the most. And even if it’s rarely revolutionary in any capacity, it comes together in a way that just feels cool and fresh, adjectives that Yonaka have always looked to extol but have infrequently gotten all the way with. Here…yeah, totally, it’s understandable.

Words by Luke Nuttall

Photos by Faye Roberts (Instagram)

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