Twisterella Festival. Middlesbrough. 14.10.2023.

Now in it’s ninth year Twisterella Festival, a one day musical extravaganza, spread across five main venues in the centre of Middlesbrough is guaranteed to bring something that will appeal to lovers of practically any musical genre. With two of the main venues situated in Teesside Uni’s Student Union, another (The Townhouse) a mere 150m stroll away and the final two less than a 10 minute walk it’s easy enough to get between places to catch the bands on your list of ‘must sees’ or to simply wander and take a chance that you might just discover your new favourite band. This reviewer did indeed have a small number of those not to be missed, one rather irritating clash (although the desire to take some photographs made that decision easier later on) and the hope that a band I’d not previously heard of would turn out to be a favourite of the day. In this last respect I’m pleased to say there was more than one.

My type of music might not be yours so there’s really little point going into minute detail about every band seen. Over a period of nine and a half hours, and sticking to a mates mantra that you can’t claim to have seen a band unless you’ve watched at least 4 or 5 songs, the total came to 14. Starting out in The Townhouse, a venue I’m sure is absolutely perfect for hen/stag parties and late night grooving on it’s dance-floor but one which needs to seriously invest in some decent stage lighting for concerts, Gone Tomorrow start my day off with their catchy blend of raw, often melodic, alt rock. Dutch Uncles opened the stages in the University Hub with a decent set of funky, dance along, indie pop whilst the next half hour is split between two artists. Back in The Townhouse Polish born and Middlesbrough raised Eyeconic plays a great set of grimy rap. Supported by a DJ tucked away in the corner I’m seriously impressed by the confidence, attitude and cohesive sound of this young artist. Praise indeed from someone who would ordinarily give any sort of music under the heading ‘grime’, ‘rap’, ‘MC’ etc an extremely wide berth. A quick dash back to the Student Union Terrace stage sees Jen Dixon and band deliver a quality set of rock infused, guitar driven pop.

3pm and I see the first of my highlights of the day. New to me, Dilettante – multi instrumentalist Francesca Pidgeon and band – blends everything from fizzy, spiky guitars, off kilter saxophone, almost random drum beats to produce songs that are both captivating and completely unique. Listen carefully and you might catch the occasional experimental sound of The Slits (if you’re of a certain age) and her love of artists like St Vincent might be an influence but ultimately the sounds of Dilettante are completely unique which can only be a good thing.

Adult DVD were a definite must see and didn’t disappoint under the dim red lights of The Townhouse. On a stage just about big enough to hold them and their instruments it’s a perfect 30 minutes of quirky, funky, full on electronic grooves littered with twisted guitars and rumbling bass riffs. Electro-pop done properly.

Chef The Rapper brought a smooth blend of chilled out tunes to the Uni’s main stage.

Then it was time for the first change to the original line-up of the day. Marketplace pulled out. Their replacement, Brighton’s Monakis, were for this reviewer and absolute standout of the day. Pure, in your face, grungy punk with absolutely no let-up in energy from start to finish. A fantastic noise of super-charged beats, slicing guitars from a band oozing quality and attitude. Superb.

New venue for this year – Off The Ground Coffee – hosted no fewer than three of my top five bands of the day. Irked hammered out an absolutely ferocious set. Screeching vocals from a vocalist who simply cannot remain in one place. Pacing through the crowd, kneeling on the floor, standing on benches whilst throughout it all the remaining band members remain cramped in the small stage area pounding out  a real spiky punk sound. I doubt I’m the only one really looking forward to an official release from this lot.

Shelf Lives, always a great live act, brought their sonic charge of angry electro-punk to The Townhouse. Guitars, keys, distortion and wild beats the background to songs confronting much that is wrong in today’s society. Afterwards there’s a couple of comments about the sound not being particularly good for them. Personally I didn’t notice.

Back in the Uni SU Hub Ciel are another absolute favourite of the day. Glorious, grungy-pop with a distinct nod to some of the great shoegaze bands of the 90’s. Think Primitives, Lush etc with a distinctly modern twist.

Avalanche Party headlined The Townhouse. Massively popular on Teesside it was always a guarantee the place was going to be rammed. The ‘must see’ for loads of people here today I actually didn’t bother, preferring instead the perfect guitar driven poppy punk of Northern-Irish three piece Cherym back in the Uni. Powerful vocals, incredibly catchy hooks and a whole load of tunes that could easily become real earworms. Foot tapping stuff and a decision I didn’t regret.

Twisterella ended for me with two incredible sets back in Off The Ground Coffee. South London trio Alien Chicks turn out to be my band of the day. I knew they’d be good just from a quick listen on that well known streaming service but live they are something else. Incendiary post-punk that completely obliterates the current crop of bands delivering this genre in big venues. Songs such as ‘Candlestick Maker’, ‘Cowboy’, ‘27 Stitches’ and ‘Woodlouse’ really are a complete assault on the senses. They’re also a band clearly enjoying themselves, immersed in their own noise, completely owning the floor. The whole experience is topped off brilliantly by a two and a half year old at the front who’s dance moves would outmanoeuvre most of those seen in any late night club.

Having seen Opus Kink, Twisterella’s main headliners, numerous times already this year the choice to remain in Off The Ground for Mouses was an easy one and they didn’t disappoint. Seven years since they last appeared at this festival and, with the exception of recent single Illusion, seven years since they released new music and over two years since they last played in Middlesbrough. This was always going to be a little bit special. And special it was, the Billingham duo absolutely tearing the place apart with their own unique blend of garage-punk. Helped along by a dedicated crowd of fans it’s a set full of emotional, political, fun filled, self deprecating, life-affirming songs that, at the end of a long day, leave you on a real high and the perfect end to Twisterella 2023.

Brilliantly organised, some truly fantastic bands in some great venues, a choice of over 30 bands covering a huge variety of musical genres for a ticket price of just £22.50. That is, quite simply, incredible value. Westgarth Social Club is sorely missed but it’s not the only venue to have closed recently. Times are tough. Businesses are struggling, people have less spare cash for leisure activities so for today’s organisers to continue pulling together something as brilliant as Twisterella is nothing short of miraculous.

Words+photos: Steve White

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Steve White

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