Rockaway Beach festival review – a blast of indie retox and roll

Butlin’s, Bognor Regis
John Cale and Jesus and Mary Chain line up with newbies Black Country, New Road and Nova Twins in a January festival as bracing as the wind whipping off the Channel

While much of the country detoxes after Christmas and new year, a small corner of the south coast continues toxing like nothing’s the matter.

Lubricated with a blend of lager and glucose-intense alcopops that would profoundly trouble Joe Wicks, Rockaway Beach, which takes over a Butlin’s holiday camp in Bognor Regis, nevertheless manages to blow at least some cobwebs away with a weekend of diverse indie rock that’s often as bracing as the wind whipping off the Channel.

It is more modest in scale than the ATP and Bloc holiday camp weekenders of old, but still has the wonderful cognitive dissonance of installing a load of indie nerds into a space set up for family fun. Dad-bods convene in a wave machine to sluice away the previous night’s hangover; there is heavy flirting between leather-clad individuals among a cluster of VR experiences; Burger King is always a moment of weakness away.

Black Country, New Road at Rockaway Beach festival.
Black Country, New Road at Rockaway Beach festival. Photograph: Tony Jupp

Into this calorie-rich, responsibility-poor arena are pitched a heap of indie up-and-comers topped with a smattering of legends. Black Country, New Road, though slightly hampered by a lack of volume, show why they’re one of the most exciting new acts in the country. The band’s spoken-word vocalist, Isaac Wood, has the air of a man inhaling deeply from a handkerchief he’s stolen from a woman’s handbag, a febrile and intense psychosexual energy powered up by the almost Balkan sax and fiddle to his left; they also have something of the 1990s Chicago school of jazzy post-rock, only less polite.

Garage rock abounds, from Peter Perrett, celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary with new wave romances, to Our Girl’s pleasant enough slacker ballads and Welsh trio Adwaith’s charismatic bilingual songs that also, on Wine Time, bring in a slick, soft-rock wedding band edge. Speaking of wedding bands, you could do much worse for your nuptials than booking Princesteen, a covers band who alternate between Prince and Bruce Springsteen, and Self Esteem also blasts through the indie with tightly harmonised pop originals that recall girl groups from the Ronettes to En Vogue.

Heavier moments include post-punk trio the Sweet Release of Death, who build an intense atmosphere between their peppy rhythm section and a gorgeous squall of echoing lead guitar. Nova Twins get a wild reception for their assault of double fuzz-guitars and rap-rock vocals somewhere between Zack de la Rocha and Nicki Minaj at her most eyelid-retracted; Life, with a frontman in the same narcissistic-mime heritage as Jarvis Cocker and Alex Kapranos, blaze at high speed through robust, ranting post-punk pop songs.

John Cale at Rockaway Beach festival.
John Cale at Rockaway Beach festival. Photograph: Tony Jupp

Headlining is John Cale, with a set that has some ponderous sub-Scott Walker moments obliterated with a psychedelic nosedive through Waiting for the Man. Jesus and Mary Chain round off Saturday with a reminder that, for all their occasional tendency towards haze, they’re a rock’n’roll band. Jim Reid’s voice initially feels too thin, a papery reed buzzing in the wind, but this soon becomes the core of their appeal – it’s as if he slinks up to you through the fog and inveigles himself, letting you in on secrets: “I want to die just like JFK …” And closing the weekend are Fontaines DC, who are energetic but moodier than on record, the chirpy musicality of Grian Chatten’s melodies pared down into a flatter bleat. It’s as dourly beautiful as a January day, much like this entire festival – it lacks the razzle and ambition of a major summer event, and some of the music is a little grey, but it is nonetheless a spirited alternative to a weekend spent spiralising courgettes and looking up yoga routines on YouTube.


Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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