Bigger and better each year, Castlefest 2019 was set to be a scorcher. Maybe not weather-wise, but the sun doesn’t need to shine in Luton when there’s a weekend packed with the best new names in heavy music, possibly the world’s best chicken vendor (shoutout to Chicken George), and a copious amount of Pink Gin (or was that just me?).
Near the start of what was set to be a rowdy day of breakdowns and beer, Tether. on the Castle Stage showed the early-birds what was to come. With rambunctious energy so early on in the day, the band encouraged the crowd to wake up and spend their Saturday lunchtime wisely – by getting down to their post-hardcore grit. The people gathered to watch were certainly vibing with what Tether. were bringing to the table, and the set was a perfect example of what a festival like Castlefest is about – discovering the best in new music.
Mid-afternoon does not mean a time to settle and snooze at Castlefest. Black Coast were on the Castle Stage to make sure that no one got any ideas of getting too comfortable. There had been chatter about Black Coast and how they were going to absolutely tear up the stage, and the rumours were not wrong. A guitarist in a boilersuit and a vocalist down in the crowd, the band were here to do business, and their set can be described as nothing less than deranged.
Castle Stage Duracell bunnies MSRY were not here to play a few songs and leave. They were taking every Castlefest attendee and holding them as wilful hostages in their maniacal performance. Guitarist Charlie Bishop decided the stage was rather too boring to play on and opted for a step-ladder instead, before standing on the stage’s barrier. Meanwhile, vocalist Kial Churcher had someone carry him around the pit on their shoulders while he taught every single person in the crowd what a MSRY show looks like. Ending on ‘Death of the Party’, Churcher mentioned that every party comes to an end, and that this was the end of the MSRY party. It almost felt like the end of the party in general.
Following on the Castle Stage were their four-letter counterparts in MTXS. Everyone’s favourite Essex boys had turned up to keep the morale strong and show everybody just what the South East hardcore scene is capable of. Brutal and bold with an undeniable stage presence, they didn’t even need to encourage the people of the pit. The crowd was packed to see them tear up the stage in the assertive fashion they always do, and it’s clear that approbation for the band has never been so strong.
Jay Devlin Stage high-ups God Complex provided a hefty set, showing off their might in stage presence and technical prowess. However, a speech from frontman Harry Rule about how “The police aren’t your friends” was the false wisdom no one asked for – or needed. The crowd were clearly sad to see them go, though, with chants for one more song filling the ears of all around, although asking for suggestions on what to play proved a challenge, as none could offer up a request. “If you’re not gonna tell us what to play, we’ll fuck off” was a slight ego overstep from Rule, but nevertheless, the crowd got what they wanted.
Castle Stage headliners and overall heavyweights SHVPES turned up to show the kids how it’s done. They unexpectedly gave newly-released ‘One Man Army’ a miss – possibly a smart choice for a festival, as many bands often overlook the fact that fans want to hear mainly classics when there’s limited time in a festival slot. Engaging and energetic, SHVPES were responsible for the crowd turning out in a big fashion to hear them play banger after banger, and get them ready for what was set to be a long night of after-partying ahead. Think of their set as Saturday night pre-drinks.
Closing the festival on Saturday were northern powerhouse Blood Youth on the Jay Devlin stage. Gifting us a set of hardcore anthems performed by a tight and together group of people who know their shit, the band proved that the recent success they’ve garnered is all for a reason. Like a fine wine, Blood Youth improve with age, and it’s no mystery how they managed to keep people hanging around right up until the end. A massive high to end on, Castlefest really does have one of the best line-ups in terms of name and talent.
The downpours outside may have discouraged attendance for the last day of Castlefest 2019, but it only served to make it all the more cosy. Parting Gift warmed up the Castle Stage with their atmospheric but all-too-short six-song set. The band could only be seen as silhouettes from the way the stage was artistically lit, and it remains to be discovered whether they were hoping that this would mean no one would notice that vocalist Zac Vernon wasn’t present. Yet to release a statement about Vernon’s apparent departure, the band continued on with grace, and Superlove’s Jacob Rice filled mighty big shoes for tonight’s performance. Whether he’s staying with the band long-term or not, he seems a perfect fit.
Over on the Jay Devlin Stage, funny man Sean McGowan entertained in spades at that felt like an intimate gathering of friends, legs-crossed on the floor. Filled with laughter and good vibes, it was as much a stand-up comedy show as it was a concert. “I do this for a living, no wonder I’m skint,” McGowan jibed – in reality, he was the highlight of the day. He told the audience that good people still exist in the world, and proved it himself with his nuggets of positive ideology throughout the set. It all came to an end with, “I’m Sean McGowan, and I’m just trying to figure the world out.” He’s the kind of guy you’d want to go for a pint with.
Where Sean McGowan had been a chilled break from guitars and beatdowns, Ravenface brought the brawn to headline the Castle Stage, providing a big sound and bigger energy. Proving once again to the Bedfordshire crowd that northerners know how to do heavy, they belted out solid tracks as sustenance to keep us going through the last stretch of the festival. Drawing a decent crowd for a rainy Sunday evening, it’s fair to say Ravenface walked away from Castlefest having done a very decent job of things.
All things come to an end, but when the thing is this good, it’s hard to let go. Having Welsh wonders Dream State bring it to an end, though, was a consolation we could all live with. It has to be noted that frontwoman CJ Gilpin is a marvel in her own right. Charismatic and calming, she truly puts her all into the performance. Small in stature but mighty in all she does – a bit like Castlefest itself – she has fun with it, head in the clouds; bouncing around the stage and dancing like she’s in her bedroom with no one watching. Dreamy and delightful, Dream State are the headliners we needed to top off such a fantastic weekend of acts.
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