Make A Scene Festival. Middlesbrough. 15.07.2023.

Teesside might not be the first area to come to most people’s mind when asked if they could name somewhere that was jammed with musical activity but for anyone with a love of live music it’s a place where you could probably catch a live event almost every night of the week. And not just in your local pub where your local covers band plays. Stockton is home to numerous small venues – check out North East Volume Music Bar, The Green Room, The Georgian Theatre and The Globe whilst Middlesbrough has The Empire Theatre, the Town Hall, The University Union and was home to the fantastic Westgarth Social Club until it’s sad closure earlier this year. On top of the usual gigs by touring bands Teesside is also home to a number of one day festivals each year that promote not only up and coming talent and established acts but have been the first step on the ladder for many band just starting out. Events such as Twisterella, Stockton Calling, Munro Festival, Songs From Northern Britain regularly sell out every year and you’ll often see a band that just a few years later will be gracing the stage of major festivals across the UK. The people behind Make A Scene have one major aim – to bring people together in a safe, inclusive, exciting place to enjoy music and perhaps discover their new favourite band. Now household names for anyone with an interest in the alternative music scene Funeral For A Friend, Skindred and Wheatus are just a few of the bands Make A Scene has hosted in the past.

This years event, held across three stages within Teesside University’s Student Union building has brought 27 bands to play in the space of just nine and a half hours. That takes some serious organisation, perfect timing and a very well-oiled machine in order to make sure things go to plan. But everything does come together perfectly. The staff – those on the door, stage security, bar staff – are friendly and helpful and the people here to see the bands create an atmosphere of acceptance. Regardless of how you look, your dress sense, your hairstyle, your age this is an event where everyone feels comfortable. We knew we’d likely be the oldest here (we were, and not by just a couple of years) but one of the great things about music nowadays, especially the alternative/punk scene, is that there’s always a plethora of new bands emerging and with them a whole new take on what the DIY, independent, indie, alternative, punk scene looks and sounds like. Discovering new music is not reserved for the under 30’s.

Unfortunately transport and other commitments mean we don’t catch the days openers but do get to see seventeen bands. And within the alternative scene there is huge variation in the genre of music you’ll hear which makes our choice of bands to watch a little easier. Sinners Club Stage is the place to be for the real hardcore, Nu-Metal/Metalcore bands and fans. We catch just two, Motions early afternoon and later, Creak. Both deliver a huge noise, powerful songs that are full of menace and anger yet packed with soaring riffs and moments of glorious melody.

But, being a massive fan of punk with tunes, offbeat post-punk, guitars, drums, a beat you can tap your feet to and lyrics you can easily decipher there’s a limit to how much growling and screaming this reviewer can take so it’s the two stages upstairs, Touchdown and Rise that grab, and keep, our attention. Not a single band disappoints. The early afternoon slot by Headcage  – huge soundscapes, massive guitar riffs and vocals verging closely on crooning, it’s a great start to a fantastic day of quality bands. Say It Anyway bring perfect slices of pop-punk. Catchy, bouncy, fun they quickly win the audience over but with just 30 minutes given to most of the afternoon acts it’s over quickly and it’s a short dash to the other end of the room and the Rise Stage where Artio deliver a storming set of rock infused with an underlying dance beat that’s infectious. Vocalist Rae Brazill dominates the stage and from the word go the crowd is with them, singing, dancing. Keep an ear open. Artio could well be that band that in future years a few people can say “I remember seeing them at Make A Scene?”

Noyou bring something completely different to the Touchdown stage. Refined, funky, dancey, poppy it surely can’t be too long before the mainstream crowds catch on. Catchy, singalong tunes that  have the potential to become earworms for millions.

Blight Town are a band of many types. We’re not talking personalities but sound and they would really benefit from making a decision about which road they will travel. The addictive, dance infused, funky beats of songs such as opener ‘Feel Better’ and set closer ‘Hawaii Six-O’, the middle of the road, crowd pleasing rock of ‘Swerve’, the slightly harder ‘Frostilicus’ or the manic, shouty, metal infused ‘Al Gore Rhythm’. They do them all well.

Back on Touchdown stage Gold Bloom bring a real punk-party atmosphere. A fantastic blend of fast paced USA influenced alt-rock with just the occasional hint of ska. A joyful blend of anything and everything from Green Day and Bowling For Soup to The Barstool Preachers. Smiles all round from both band and crowd and the whole place having a great time.

Bronnie is exactly what any festival needs for it’s late afternoon slot. That part of the day when your feet let you know you’ve been stood on them for hours, when the few drinks you’ve had start to kick in, when your brain and stomach starts to demand food. Then Bronnie bounces on stage and all your niggles disappear. Bronnie owns the stage. Lively, powerful, upbeat. Explosive energy, angst, passion, anger all underlaid with explosive, punky melodies. Little wonder she’s adored by those here to see her and it’s clear there’s a mutual bond between the person on the stage and those punching the air bellowing the words along with her. Musically and visually a real highlight of the day.

Led By Lanterns believe in bringing fans together and through their Lanterns Alliance connect with their followers on a much more personal level than most bands. Clearly some of that Alliance are here today. There’s cheers as they take the stage and a moshpit starts soon after opener ‘Paralysis’ rings out. It’s a set of relentless non-stop energy. Catacombs see’s the crowd bouncing. Bodies smashing into each other. The music is heavy yet uplifting, the atmosphere electric. It’s the first time we see a couple of security take real notice of what’s happening on the dance-floor. But they needn’t worry –  as well as having a great time and releasing pent up energy these fans look after each other.

Back on Touchdown stage Lizzy Farrall brings something completely different. A feelgood mix of polished rock with a real pop base. A unique sound that mashes up perfectly a blend of rock, catchy hooks, bubblegum pop and electro dance with some very dark undertones. Serious issues delivered with addictive hooks. It takes real talent to blend lyrics covering the ills of society with a genuinely uplifting sound. Farrall has mastered it. 2020 album ‘Bruise’ dominates her set. If you haven’t heard it yet then make sure you do.

Cody Frost’s 2022 album Teeth is a superb mash-up of hard, dance infused grooves, industrial beats and experimental noise. Frost’s distinctive voice spits anger, vulnerability and occasionally fun. Live her sound is more abrasive, more in your face. Backed by a band with guitar and drums the whole set is a powerful cacophony of wonderful noise with Frost at the centre weaving around the stage, eyes fixed in an often mesmerising stare. As soon as the set is over we’ve made our minds up that it’s very likely going to be the standout of the day. Brilliant. And, I’ll admit right now, that if someone had told me I was going to rave about a previous finalist on The Voice (2016) I’d have laughed, having never seen a single episode of that or any other Saturday tea-time TV talent contest.

7:15pm and the need for sustenance overpowers the desire to see another band so we head out for food. This means we miss Superlove who, by all accounts, were another highlight, and Caskets. We return to catch the last few minutes of Dream State who are tearing the place apart.

As December Falls walk on stage to an absolutely rammed venue. This is a band that knows how to deliver a stage show. Bursting with energy, rarely still. The Rise stage really does struggle to contain their infectious enthusiasm for what they’re doing. Bethany Curtis is all over the place as she belts out her lyrics. And what this band deliver is superb. From the opener Go Away, through Afterglow, Nothing On You, Mayday, the crowd participation for No Money and more the band has the place in the palm of their hands. Forty minutes of fantastic, sonically charged, soaring guitars, uplifting pop-punk. Little wonder the place is bouncing. To top it all As December Falls are fiercely independent. No big money backers here. They do it all themselves, releasing two albums and a number of singles through sheer hard work. New album ‘Join The Club’ is released on Friday (21st) with all vinyl pre-orders having already sold out. They then head out on tour until the end of the year to promote it. Catch them while you can in a small/medium sized venue. As December Falls continue to rise and they’re not going to stop anytime soon.

Touchdown stage headliners Trash Boat close the day with their superb blend of punk and hardcore. This isn’t a band delivering constant fast paced, jump around punk, although it is here. Trash Boat absolutely pummel you with slower, powerful bass riffs and heavy drum beats. Hardcore with soaring melodies and singalong lyrics – Trash Boat prove it can be done and be done well.

Sadly the limits of public transport mean we don’t witness their full set.

Make A Scene has scored on all fronts. Safe, inclusive and brilliant value. Bands from across the whole spectrum of punk/alternative/hardcore/noise/nu-metal. Brilliantly organised, Make A Scene makes one thing abundantly clear – the young of today are not limited to the mass marketed, hugely commercial, heavily financed music that blares out of nearly every radio station, advert and TV music programme. There’s no need to pay £50, £100, £200+ to sit at the back of a massive stadium watching a band on a giant screen. The alternative scene is alive and well and there’s still a whole load of new stuff for those of us who grew up with the first wave of punk to discover.

Photos/Words: Steve White

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Steve White

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