Words and Photos by Steve White
This time we haven’t had to wait a whole year to attend what isn’t only a highlight of the music calendar in Northern England but arguably the best small festival of the year anywhere. Postponements because of the pandemic mean it’s a mere nine months since Long Division 2021 but it’s now slotted back nicely into June. Saturday night in Wakefield has always had a certain buzz to it, a buzz that seems to be increasing year on year with a walk along the main road (Westgate) feeling like you’ve been trapped in a cheesy nightclub with rooms a mile long. But thankfully the gaudy, neon lit disco balls of the main strip are not what Long Division Festival is about. Spread over 3 days and with it’s heart firmly set in the community – over the year there’s a programme of training events for young people – Long Division brings people to this city from far and wide. Friday night opened the festival proper with a sold out evening of conversation with Poet Laureate Simon Armitage whilst Sunday closed the festival with a day of free live music showcasing the best of west Yorkshire’s artists in Vortex night club.
But it’s the main event on Saturday that draws the crowds in and for good reason. With over sixty bands/acts spread across nine venues there really is something here for anyone and everyone with even the smallest like of mainstream live music as well as those whose musical preferences are well off the mainstream highway ( fancy a bit of “instrumental dream-pop-post-folk-neo-everything” ?). Having spent my teens listening to and watching the first wave of punk bands back in the late 70’s there has, in my own opinion, been a resurgence over the last few years of young bands producing really exciting new music and exhilarating live shows to back it up. The music scene at the moment is the best it’s been for decades. And every year Long Division Festival manages to book some of the best of these bands.
So with clashfinder in hand, complete with arrows marking our musical journey for the day, we head to Venue23, the old Warehouse 23, to see Rebecca Lou pump out some excellent doom laden yet incredibly catchy indie rock all underpinned with great melodies and a nod towards great pop music. Already well established in Denmark it hopefully won’t be too long before her reputation for great songs spreads over here. Considering the 12:15pm start, when most people are contemplating what to have for lunch, the numbers in Venue23 point towards us hearing more about Rebecca Lou sooner rather than later.
1:00pm and it was a quick dash up the road to Mechanics Theatre for the first of the many “absolute must sees” on my list. Pit Pony are on the rise, word is spreading beyond their North East base and today that word will have spread further. A melting pot of noise, dark, lurking beats with some real foot tapping melodies and lyrics dealing with all the nuances of our daily lives it won’t be long before Pit Pony are in demand for the late evening slots rather than early afternoon.
Low Hummer headlined Mechanics theatre last year and it’s testament to the impact they had that the much bigger Venue23 is packed for their early afternoon slot today. They like to tackle harsh realities – social isolation, manipulation and being conditioned by others to follow specific paths in life – and do so over layers of slicing guitars and a seriously clever mix of electronica, dance type beats with real punk attitude. Onstage there’s plenty of smiles but the underlying pent-up frustrations at the world today is there for all to see. Unfortunately clashes mean I only get to see the second half of their show but in the case of Low Hummer I’m glad I made the effort.
The walk from Venue23 back to Mechanics takes me past Vortex, one of Wakefield’s go to places to hang out if you want to avoid the awful disco drone from the high street and hear some decent tunes. On stage Straight Girl is hammering out some incredibly hard-hitting dance noise. This is beyond the commercial ‘rave’ of your mega clubs. It’s a mesmerising performance that completely holds your attention. Straight Girl is frustrated by some technical hitches, chewing up the setlist and spitting it out. Only they notice the issues. The rest of us just enjoy the vibe.
But Straight Girl clashes with Shelf Lives so I don’t stay long and get back Mechanics to witness a band who, prior to this week, weren’t on my radar but who are now firmly glued to it.
This Canadian/British duo, now based in London, hammer out an incredible 30 minutes of superb, urgent electronic based post punk noise. Vocalist Sabrina, all smiles between songs, becomes a completely different character once she’s belting out some truly dark lyrics, “I hate people like people hate me”, twisting and writhing whilst guitarist, keyboardist, producer, noise maker Jonny pounds round the stage like a person possessed. There’s plenty of ‘adult’ language both between and during songs and little concession made for the couple of (very) young people present. “It’s OK, they’re wearing earphones” / “They’ll learn it one day anyway”. I Don’t Like Me Like You, Call Me, Shock Horror, She Gon’ Kill Ya – pure punk attitude with an irresistible dance groove underpinning it all. Fantastic.
Deep Tan are not in your face, noisy, aggressive post-punk. Yet they can still intimidate with deep stares aplenty and an icy cool attitude. Perfect minimalist post-punk, complex, hypnotic funky bass lines and drum beats together with the bare essentials of a spikey guitar (imagine a particularly pared down Verlaine/Television or modern day Slits) and deadpan vocals dealing with deception, disconnection and an excessive ‘sesh’. Deep Tan fit the vibe and atmosphere of Long Division perfectly but with a completely unique sound set well apart from the noise of many of their contemporaries.
It’s only 3:30pm and Long Division 2022 has already surpassed any expectations I had. Five great bands already, brilliantly organised, friendly staff – whether on the doors, issuing tickets, working the bars, security in venues, all greeted you with a smile, a “hello” and, later in the day, an acknowledging nod of the head. The PA’s and whoever was responsible for sound did a sterling job in every venue I visited, and this job can’t be easy with such a quick turnaround between bands who vary not just in sound but in the number of people and instruments on stage.
What hasn’t been mentioned yet is that a ticket for today’s event didn’t cost £50/£60 although even at that price it’d have still been a bit of a bargain. Prior to the day itself a ticket was just over £30. Read that again please and think about it – more than sixty bands to choose from, nine venues all within a couple of minutes walk of each other. All for just over £30. Even on the day the price only jumped to £39. What’s more, if you didn’t want to buy a ticket, three of the venues were free entry, meaning it was quite possible to have a day out, socialise, listen to a choice from nearly twenty bands all for whatever amount you chose to spend at the bar.
It’s in one of the free entry venues that I get to witness Gad Whip and their intense mix of in your face punk, post punk, spoken word, bittersweet tales of the path through life. Anyone who can release an EP with the title ‘Trapped In A Pinhole Camera’ gets my vote. Latest album Fanimal Arms is excellent. Another of the days highlights.
Back to Mechanics for what turned out to be one of two absolute standouts of the day.
MEMES, a Glasgow duo formed just 3 years ago, absolutely tore the place apart with their furious punk infused, jagged guitars, droning bass riffs and witty lyrics. Loud, intense, exciting and danceable. What’s not to like?
It’s 5:30pm, we’re still on a high from the explosive energy of MEMES but we’re knackered and need sustenance. LIFE, in Venue23, don’t quite live up to the expectations we had.
No fault of theirs. Recorded output is excellent so I’m blaming the desire to leave early on the need for carbs and caffeine.
Suitably replenished the second visit of the day to Vortex brings about standout act2 in the form of DEADLETTER. With an incredibly catchy background beat underpinning the skewed guitars, and dry pokes at the ills of society DEADLETTER bring something completely new to the glut of modern day post-punk outfits on the brink of wider recognition. DEADLETTER don’t do the sonic guitar assault and screeching noise/yelling vocals typical of many other newer bands and the additional off-kilter saxophone is a stroke of genius. They’re far more subtle but no less acerbic in their social commentary and delivery of high energy soundscapes. Possibly my band of the day.
Then it was time for something completely different. Part of the excellent rosta of bands signed to Dan Carey’s Speedy Wunderground label Honeyglaze brought 30 minutes of wonderful, paired back, soulful, chilled vibes to Mechanics. Singer Anouska Sokolow’s dreamy, pensive vocals full of both brutal honesty and wit perfectly matching the minimal rhythms emanating from the bass/drums of Tim Curtis/Yuri Shibuicchi. Seven beautiful, richly woven songs. The only thing wrong with this set by Honeyglaze was it’s time span of just 30 minutes.
More an atmospheric soundscape than a band playing individual songs, Haiku Salut fill the Town Hall with sounds that lull you into an almost meditative state. It’s miles away from the type of music I’d usually buy or even listen to but their blend of guitar, accordian, keyboard and all manor of sampled sounds is strangely addictive and keeps me in the venue for far longer than I’d initially intended.
Modern Woman drag us back to reality in Mechanics Theatre with their unique blend of punky attitude, experimental noises and raw, high pitched, folky vocals. They really can’t be compared to anyone else. The music and lyrical delivery are intense and, as more people witness them they’ll split opinions down the middle. No one will simply say “They’re ok”.
And so, a full ten hours after our first band of the day, we head back to Venue23 for the main headliners. Sea Power are a band I love. Always have done since buying ‘The Decline Of…” in it’s week of release. Their live shows are always a spectacle. If it’s not a stage decked out with plants, branches and birds then it’s 8 foot bears dancing amongst the crowd. Violist Abi Fry is back as part of the live show. Their latest album is great. But tonight something’s missing. Perhaps it’s the time it takes to get everything ready. Perhaps it’s the complete lack of any sort of decent lighting front of stage. It’s a struggle to see them at times. There’s no bears (to be fair they don’t always appear). Perhaps it’s just me. Others present in the packed-out venue seem to love it. And finishing their set with The Great Skua always brings a tear to my eyes being as it is one of the most perfect set closers ever written. Perhaps I’d just been spoilt with the shear number of brilliant bands I’d already seen today.
And so Long Division 2022 ends. As a festival it has to be one of the best there is. Family friendly with a number of venues being ‘all ages’ and only two being 18+ for the whole day. Community based – Long Division brings more than music to the city of Wakefield with youth programmes and workshops throughout the year. It’s organised and run by a team of dedicated people which means it just works well on the day. Friendly, helpful staff. Easy, walkable distances between venues and, whilst it’s probably obvious where my musical tastes lie, Long Division really does offer the chance to see a hugely diverse range of musical genres. It brings people together, there’s no pretentions, no competitive nonsense. Just a lot of music lovers walking, sitting, dancing, drinking with smiles on their faces. Wakefield is easily accessible with decent transport links, decent parking at decent prices.
Finally, value for money? I doubt you’ll find a festival anywhere in the UK that offers better.