Review: Butserfest 2013

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Butserfest is a bit of an anomaly in the small festivals of the UK, in that it has a strict no drugs and no alcohol policy for both the punters and the bands performing. This means that the festival attracts a far younger crowd than many others of its kind and presents a unique opportunity for many young music fans to get up close and personal with their idols thanks to a comprehensive program of signings and meet and greets throughout the day.

The Glory or Death stage manages to provide the first pleasant surprise of the day, with Aurora giving the first really good performance of the day. Vocalist Jessica Calvesbert has Aurora-600x400one of the most astonishing vocal ranges I’ve ever heard, swinging from high pitched clean vocals to full-on death growls over a background of heavy metal guitars sprinkled with dubstep-style synths, resulting in a band that sounds like the mutant offspring of Paramore and Bring Me The Horizon. And I promise you, that’s a good thing.

This sets the tone for the day, with several bands turning in excellent performances. We Start Partys however start with a misspelled name and things only go downhill from there. Their music is a lightweight combination of electronica, dubstep and pop-punk and the lead singer has an incredibly grating voice, which soon gets on the nerves of anyone over the age of 13. Luckily for him that’s not a huge proportion of the crowd.

Max Raptor do better, but they’re still not terribly exciting. They know what their job is, and that is providing ballsy rock anthems for the crowd to scream along to. This they do well, working the crowd into quite a frenzy and inciting a mosh pit. There’s nothing standout about Max Raptor’s punk rock anthems, but they do get a good atmosphere going. The anthemic rock music of New Forest band Natives, suffers from the same problem: they’re good but a bit unoriginal, and fail to really ignite any interest.

wearetheoceanAlso underwhelming are the evening’s headliners. On the Glory or Death Stage, Bleed From Within suffer from the problem that they’re good at what they do, but Butserfest is not really the right audience for it, and their tent is barely half full. We Are The Ocean have a better attended set on the main stage, but they’re very like other bands on the bill and this hammers home the fact that there are others who do this style of music better. We Are The Ocean are certainly an enjoyable live band, but after some brilliant performances they probably needed to be better than just enjoyable to stand out.

Another pleasant surprise came from Subsource, a dubstep-metal hybrid in a similar vein to the Korn-Skrillex collaboration Path of Totality. They’re very good, a polished enjoyable live act which incite  the first really violent mosh pit of the day. Their sound is by turns euphoric and danceable, but also crushingly heavy. Although they’re a very good live band the fact the fact that they’re the third band today to feature dubstep in their sound has some metal purists muttering into their over-priced soft drinks.

Arcane Roots are another of Butserfest’s better offerings, and it’s unfortunate that they have a disappointingly small crowd. This is a real shame, as Arcane Roots make intelligent, mature rock music which deserves a far wider audience that it gets. Their set swings from heavy, loud rock, to gentle ballads, all with their own unique twist. ‘Belief’ is one such gentle number, it’s an affecting and rather lovely song, sort of Biffy Clyro meets Imagine Dragons. It’s a real set highlight and proves this band are deserving of big things.

Mallory-Knox-300x200While there are quite a few good bands here today there are really only two contenders for best band: Fearless Vampire Killers and Mallory Knox. First to play are the boys of FVK and they immediately receive a deafening hero’s welcome from the crowd. Both sonically and visually they’re unlike anything else either of the stages have seen today. They’re theatrical, bold and daring; with their cult gothic-steampunk stage costumes and their operatic rock songs, performed with charisma and flair.  Every song’s an epic sing-along and the band has great chemistry, both with each other and the crowd. By the time they wrap things up with a rousing performance of ‘Could we Burn Darling?’ there’s not a single unhappy face in the whole crowd.

Mallory Knox are definitely equal to the challenge Fearless Vampire Killers have set them, however, and launch into an excellent performance that encompasses all the hits from their back catalogue, as well as some lesser known, older songs, which are met with delight by the crowd. However, Mallory Knox can do heavy too. At one point at least 75% of the crowd is in some kind of circle or mosh pit, with the rest of us huddle on the outskirts looking alarmed and trying not to die. There can be no higher compliment for a band than that.

The idea of a strictly no-alcohol event like Butserfest may seem strange to some, as many festivals typically tend to be rather drunken affairs. However, although the no alcohol rule resulted in a younger crowd than at many other small festivals on the whole, there were plenty of older people there too, and it certainly didn’t stop the crowd from getting sufficiently wild and moshing during more popular performances. Some of the very heavy hardcore bands on the Glory or Death stage failed to really connect with the audience and played to small, though dedicated, audiences. However, this is just as likely to be due to the younger age profile of the festival punters. That said, overall, the mood of the crowd was just as jubilant as at any festival I’ve attended this summer, and Butserfest goes a long way towards proving that festivals don’t need to be all about hard drinking to be a great day.

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