Long Division Festival, Wakefield, UK

  • Steve White posted
  • Reviews

Long Division Festival

September 25th 2021 - Wakefield, UK

It’s finally happening. After everything ground to a halt in March 2020 and then the rearranged/cancelled again dates of so many gigs and festivals Long Division Festival is back in Wakefield. With the exception of 2017 and the pandemic of the last year or so it has been a highlight, not only of the Wakefield events calendar but also for many people from much further away, since 2011. A Saturday night in Wakefield has always had a buzz to it but Long Division brings that feeling to the whole day. And to pull together such an event with all that’s been happening is, quite honestly, nothing short of miraculous. Not only have the organisers managed to bring a full music festival to the city they’re also heavily involved in the local community with an education programme and a specific team of young people involved in all aspects of the event itself. But back to Saturday and the main event. Over the years Long Division has hosted a long list of big name acts including The Cribs, Billy Bragg, Gang Of Four & Peter Hook And The Light to name just a tiny number. This year is no different and despite main headliners The Futureheads having to pull out because of Covid, the organisers still manage to grab Gruff Rhys as a last minute replacement.

Now think very carefully about this next fact. For less than £30 this year there were 68 bands/artists performing across 9 different venues. Less than £30! How many reasonably big bands can you see nowadays for that amount of money? If you only like 2 or 3 of those playing there are few excuses not to be here.  And there really is something for everyone meaning if you’re the only punk/alternative/indie lover in your family/friendship group there’ll still be something the others will love making this the perfect festival for all. It’s all here – punk, post punk, rock, hip-hop, electronic. Not only that but three of the venues have free entry meaning you could actually have 6 or 7 hours of live music for no cost at all. As I don’t spend festivals watching just one or two songs by as many bands as possible. I knew who I wanted to see and planned accordingly.

WX is a relatively new venue in the city. The former market hall has the capacity to host big name bands and is seriously impressive as a place for concerts. Midday sees opening act The Golden Age Of TV deliver a seriously impressive set of powerful, riff heavy, indie rock. This five piece from Leeds have proved beyond doubt that it’s always worth arriving at events for the opening act. Bored At My Grandma’s House replace Galaxians (who have moved to a later slot to replace another Covid casualty). Amber Strawbridge, aka BAMGH, blend together shoegazey layered guitars and keyboards with songs touching on things most people will have experienced over the last 18 months. Isolation, lockdown and the rollercoaster of emotions from the lowest points to the highest. 

A quick dash down the road to Mechanics Theatre and Mayshe Mayshe (Alice Rowan, multi instrumentalist with Living Body), standing solo behind a keyboard, manipulates synth sounds, loops and background beats to deliver a hypnotising array of electro pop. Unfortunately I can’t stay for the whole set as the first of my “must sees” will soon be on back at WX. Hands Off Gretel just get better and better. A sonic onslaught of grunge tinged, manic, distorted rock n roll underpinned with hard to resist melodies and topped with the fearless, venomous, searing vocals of Lauren Tate, Hands Off Gretel bring enough noise, power and attitude to wake the dead and there’s a noticeable shift in the atmosphere from “we’re at a festival” to “we’re now witnessing a band to be reckoned with”. The sheer force of emotions in songs such as ‘War’ and ‘Milk’ together with a band who dominate the stage, who throw 100% of themselves into every note, who are never still Hands Off Gretel clamp you in a vice like grip, throw you around and refuse to let go until the dying sounds of the last notes. Little wonder their current Still Angry tour is selling out quickly. Catch them in a packed, hot, sweaty venue while you still can.

Sadly another must see, Venus Grrrls have had to pull out but on a positive note it means a disappointing clash doesn’t happen and I can see Home Counties who do two things. One: knock out a fantastic set of angular discordant sounds and spikey post punk noise without falling into the pretentious outlook some of their modern-day contemporaries might have. Songs that live and breathe todays big city landscapes taking a cynical pop, as they do, at unjust economic policies, those who believe a six pack is the most important thing to have and various other elements of today’s culture. Two: boldly show that young bands around at the moment don’t always conform to the considered mainstream giving hope to those longing for something different.

Back in WX CUD, a late John Peel favourite from the 80’s/early 90’s and a mainstay of any self-respecting indie nightclub at the time show just why they’re still so popular with a perfect set of bass heavy, guitar soaked, off kilter funk. There’s a dedicated core of fans at the front who lap up every word and note as CUD show the sizeable crowd exactly why they’re still relevant and haven’t gone away. Not only are they still around they’re still releasing new records. ‘Switched On’ should, if there’s any justice, go down a storm in any modern day nightclub.

Back at Long Division 2019 Knuckle drew a crowd that packed out the back room of local hostelry Henry Boon’s. Wakefield loves a bit of Knuckle and this year they’re in the bigger space of Mechanics’ Theatre where the seething vocals of Jonny Firth top the gritty, raw, hard hitting garage rock n roll this Huddersfield three piece do so well. Huge melodies, massive riffs, hard hitting lyrics. As always they’re adored by the dedicated following here to see them and those who might not have seen them before are immediately won over.

A five minute walk takes me to The Establishment, one of the three venues today with completely open and free admission. Got to admit I’m surprised the band I’m so looking forward to seeing are playing here and by the time Big Joanie walk on stage the place is packed. Full of punk attitude Big Joanie are not your typical manic paced, ferocious guitars punk band. Big Joanie are about attitude, opinions and feelings. Big Joanie preach tolerance and solidarity. They sing about recognising racism, hating injustices, how things happening can be twisted to make us feel worse, not better about ourselves. This self-declared “black, feminist punk band” play infectious, repetitive, 60’s influenced scuzzy songs where you can actually hear clearly every word, guitar note, bass line and minimalist drum beat. Yet for all their lower key, quieter approach to punk they make a huge impact. The new year will see them touring with IDLES and a guarantee that you’re unlikely to see them in a small, corner bar/venue dripping with atmosphere ever again.

Seven o’clock sees me back in Mechanic’s Theatre for what turns out to be the highlight of my day. I knew The Lounge Society would be good. I wasn’t prepared for just how good this four piece from the remote Calder Valley would be. Signed to Speedy Wunderground and with just two releases under their belt, 2020’s seven inch ‘Generation Game’ and recent twelve inch EP ‘Silk For The Starving’, The Lounge Society seem to release all their pent up energy stored over the years from an existence in mundane surroundings and channel it into snarling, seething anthems aimed squarely at those in power (Generation Game), the environment (burning heather to satisfy the sick habits of those who participate in the ritual of grouse shooting), and the state of mind that often accompanies small town living. Yes, there’s the so-called jangly guitars associated with today’s post-punk bands but The Lounge Society are ferocious in their use of them. Loud, frantic and hammered home with an energy rarely seen on a stage they blow the Mechanics Theatre apart. All underpinned with infectious beats it’s no wonder the crowd are moving. It’d be impossible to remain still. The energy from the stage is relentless. Singer/bass player Cameron Davey is all over the place. When he’s not yelling his words into the mic he’s pounding the stage so absorbed in what he’s doing he’s almost incapable of taking a breath. There’s instrument swaps as guitarists Herbie May and Hani Paskin-Hussain change things around with only drummer Archie Dewis remaining in the same place for more than a few seconds. Even slower moments in songs fizz with energy. It remains to be seen if The Lounge Society can keep this relentless assault on music up in future years but if they do gigs like todays will be talked about for a long time to come. Superb.

Vortex Bar and Nightclub has developed a reputation as the place to go to hear rock and metal. The cellar bar area giving the immediate impression of being a safe space for anyone into this scene and a welcoming place for anyone else not enamoured with the thud, thud, thud of the disco-dance places lining the High Street. Upstairs Vortex is a venue for gigs and it’s here Weekend Recovery, one of our favourite bands here at The Punk Site, play a bold set of songs that swing between super charged full on raucous punk rock n roll that draws comparisons to bands such as The Runaways and gorgeous, gentler but no less powerful sounds of recent release ‘Surprise’ and the perfect indie pop of ‘There’s A Sense’ which, had it been released a few years ago by a band such as The Primitives, would have been a huge hit. Great songs executed perfectly it was the correct decision to catch their whole set then head back to Mechanics for the final couple of songs by bdrmm rather than the other way round.

Headlining Mechanics Theatre are Low Hummer. Social isolation, manipulation and being conditioned to take certain paths in life are themes Low Hummer like to tackle. Layers of driving guitars and a seriously clever mix of electronic dance beats and unconstrained punk underpin a powerful performance full of social observations, irony, bleak commentary with choruses that invite you to shout along. Debut album ‘Modern Tricks For Living’ was released just a week ago and is already attracting well deserved rave reviews. If you’ve not done so already get out and see Low Hummer and spend some time with ‘Modern Tricks…’. Neither will disappoint.

Finally it’s a 20m stroll up the street to the Town Hall which is already buzzing with atmosphere in anticipation of the return to Long Division of The Lovely Eggs. In 2018 they headlined Warehouse 23 and played a blinder. And today, after some initial problems sound checking, they play another. The Lovely Eggs are fun. The Lovely Eggs deliver perfect pop-punk tunes. The Lovely Eggs have attitude. And The Lovely Eggs call out a wanker in the crowd clearly up to no good and tell him to either move right to the back or else leave. What more could we ask for? As with all their releases 2020’s album ‘I Am Moron’ is brilliant in many different ways but they’re not here simply to promote it and we’re also treated to a cross section from their back catalogue. Hard to believe it’s just two people producing the noise coming from the stage.

It was a tough call choosing The Lovely Eggs over Mush, the other 10pm headliner back in Vortex and eventually I opt to skip the Eggs last 10 minutes to see if I can catch a tiny slice of the band that played an early afternoon slot back in 2018 but who, since then, have released two albums packed full of arty post-punk drawing influences from the likes of Television, Sonic Youth and The Fall. I see just one song so won’t claim to have ‘seen’ them but that one song provides the perfect ending to a fantastic day amongst brilliant people all sharing a love of great music.

What a fantastic day Saturday at Long Division is. Fans of indie, punk, post-punk, alternative rock – whatever label people give it nowadays – will never have a dull moment wandering the various venues and, with an open mind, might just discover their new favourite band. One of the many great things about the organisers is the opportunity they give to bands who may just be starting out or who have only released a couple of songs. And don’t forget there’s also a huge variety of musical genres here that will satisfy anyone who loves music of just about any description.

Long Division returns to it’s usual June slot in 2022. Saturday June 11th. Put it in your diaries. Early bird tickets are available here.