Our run-through of this year’s killer lineup for the left-field rock all-dayer
With a hefty bill of hard-hitting UK and local alternative acts set to play Bad Pond Festival this year, we decided that it would be the best way to spend a May Bank Holiday weekend in sunny Brighton. This was the festival’s second year at the fantastic Concorde 2 after having managed to put on a show last year whilst many other festivals just couldn’t go ahead. Over the past few years, they’ve clearly cemented themselves as one of the best alternative small festivals in the UK.
The venue is split into two areas with a stage in the bar and the main stage, which means a fast turnaround between acts. We kick off at 12pm in the bar.
LET’S SWIM, GO SWIMMING
Jumping in at the last minute to replace Witch Fever, who couldn’t make the festival due to a rare non-COVID illness, the math-rock duo Let’s Swim Go Swimming kicked off proceedings and gave the drum kit in Bad Pond’s bar setup a run for its money.
The math-rock duo had an almost endearing nervousness to them; they were relentlessly self-effacing in their stage patter, but really, there was no reason for them to be. A small but appreciative crowd quickly formed around their monitors as the guitarist stomped on complex pedals to create buzzing soundscapes. Armed with the left-field time signatures we’ve come to know and love from math-rock, we could never quite get our bearings amidst ever-changing tempos while the boys got their groove on, but we were happy to indulge.
If surf rock is the soundtrack to chilling on the beach, this lot are very specifically the soundtrack to chilling on Brighton beach by the sunlit burnt-down pier while record shop employees sitting behind you argue about the merits of the new Black Midi album.
LATE NIGHT VENTURE
The debut act on the Concorde 2’s main stage filled the room with heavy music’s answer to experimental ambience.
Late Night Venture’s brand of atmospheric, grungy metal that spends as much time looking at its feet on the pedalboards as it does looking out into the crowd stands out from the punk acts that would come to thrash about the stage later.
However, their understated stage presence didn’t stop people from headbanging away to their slow but powerful tunes. A bit of variety was provided by both the different textures to the rumbling guitar riffs and the frontman’s voice, just raspy enough to create an ominous vibe that properly rings throughout the room.
They’ve already got support from legends of punk The Buzzcocks, who selected them as tour supports earlier this year, but City Dog came away from their bar set at Bad Pond with guaranteed new fans.
City Dog are influenced by acts like Queens of the Stone Age, but with a much more prominent DIY ethic. Their drums were breakneck, barrelling through tracks like ‘The Tide‘ at a frenetic pace made for the mosh pit, and their levels of distortion made a bass tone you could feel vibrating through your collarbones – a feeling nothing other than live music can replicate.
This no-fuss, scrappy punk three-piece were a shot of adrenaline, pairing punchy performance with the shouty delivery of Oi!. I’m a simple person, really; if you play low, snarly guitar riffs with the occasional wailing high note for riotous flavour, I’m there.
You’d half expect a band with as ferocious and floor-filling a sound as Sit Down to be some sprawling collective of countless committed rockers. With their scene and committed fans behind them, however, the garage rockers are more than capable of filling the Concorde 2’s main stage.
Sit Down came to their performance armed with new material from their debut album which, like their set, plunges listeners into a doomy rock soundscape. Intertwining songs with galactic swirls and rumbling pedal feedback, their opening number led expertly into long-standing set opener’ Mothership‘ to build otherworldly hype.
Bassist Lilly, the newest addition to the band splitting time between Sit Down and Lambrini Girls, fit in brilliantly with this band’s energy. She stomped around her pedalboard in tandem with guitarist Greg, hair flying for the both of them as they shredded away, all tied together by vocalist and drummer Katie’s effortless drifting between sultry singing and untamed shouts of rage on tracks like the mosh-worthy ‘Honeysucker‘.
When you get down to it, Lambrini Girls are a live band, having spent the past few months making a name for themselves as formidably feral performers on any stage or floor they get their hands on.
Their bar set at Bad Pond was no different; in fact, having seen them perform bar sets at events like Green Door Store’s 234 fest previously, it seems they’re most comfortable as a band when they’re on the same level as their audience in view of a bar that frontwoman Phoebe Lunny can strut across. At a Lambrini Girls show, partial nudity is a given, and dragging mic stands and guitars into the crowd until their cables are at breaking point isn’t a bug, but a feature.
One of the trio’s strongest qualities is their ability to pair some pretty serious songs like ‘White Van Man‘ and ‘Boys In The Band‘, which focus on street harassment and abusers in the DIY music scene respectively, with a lighthearted performance style without it feeling like they’re taking the mick out of their own art. Instead, audiences are forced to confront their humanity; it’s quite hard to see as a mere statistic on sexual harassment when you’ve just seen them shout in your face about being a gay legend. Their lyrics can be startlingly confrontational, such as the references to feeling like a spectacle due to your LGBT identity being over-sexualised in personal favourite track ‘Help Me I’m Gay‘, but instead of wallowing, they drag audiences in to rage with them.
Making their UK debut, Standards illuminated the venue not with strobes or technicolour but with a sunny approach to experimental indie rock.
With pink hats emblazoned with their name at the merch desk and a setlist of tracks named for every Urban Outfitters shopper’s favourite things – ‘Kale & Strawberries‘ and ‘Astrology‘ spring to mind – there was an irresistible charm to the duo that encompassed their entire set.
Even in their performance, there was no mistaking the love of the music in their expressions of joy and concentration. The darkest we veered into with Standards was the feeling of major-key melancholy on some tracks that seemed a little more unsettled in their time signatures, keeping audiences on their toes. Mileage may vary, but it wasn’t hard to leave Standards’ set feeling a little lighter.
While they’re not punk per se, quirky indie outfit Orchards weren’t an act to miss. They were the first band I saw in Brighton way back at my university induction, and to me, Orchards are as emblematic of this city as The Laines, Lucy and Yaks, or the faint smell of incense and hash that hangs around the student flats. Think jumping in defiant celebration, rather than moshing: think twinkly guitar riffs, cowbells, and heartfelt lyrics on mental wellbeing.
Frontwoman Lucy may have seemed wholesome in cottagecore attire, but her passionate belter of a voice wasn’t to be underestimated. It was best shown off on these more confessional tracks like ‘Sincerely Overwhelmed‘, where compassion spilled from her soaring high notes as well as the more lilting phrases.
‘Girlfriend‘ was just evocative, showing a more defiant side to the band with themes of breaking free from patronising sexist stereotypes. With impressive math-pop riffs, they prove they’re as deserving of a headbang as any all-male punk band – and, as Lucy said at the song’s outset, “I can do it in a pretty fucking dress as well“.
THE ST. PIERRE SNAKE INVASION
The St. Pierre Snake Invasion would like to know, in their words, what the fuck us new listeners have been doing for the twelve years they’ve been tearing up stages. School, mostly, in my case, but that’s beside the point.
The best time to discover the hardcore may have been in 2015, when the world was introduced to their stellar debut album A Hundred Years A Day, but the second-best time is now. Throaty vocals as fearsome as the band’s name didn’t leave us for the duration of their set, which balanced the rage of the hardcore scene with more cerebral tunes carrying a dour complexity.
While our frontman seemed a little resentful to be playing fan favourite ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Workshops‘, its scrappiness was a welcome refresher amidst their slower and denser tunes.
Often described as alternative Brighton’s worst-kept secret, you’re not really an edgy resident of this city if you haven’t seen CLT DRP. The electro-punks are truly iconoclastic, carving their own niche by virtue of the fact that no other band on the scene sounds quite like them. It’s this individuality and reputation for consistently top-tier live shows that drew crowds in from the smoking area and right up to the front of the stage en masse.
It’s hard to call any CLT DRP song a crowdpleaser; their tracks are almost uniformly powerful, each packed with endlessly memorable riffs and unabashed, radical honesty. The band certainly didn’t take their feet off the brakes when it came to their onstage presence. Guitarist Scott and drummer Daph clearly put everything they had into the set, as energetic as ever on their respective instruments and sporting looks of sheer determination.
Frontwoman Annie’s known for her aura of brittle confidence on a live stage as much as she’s known for her vocal range unlike anyone else’s in the punk scene right now, and her Bad Pond performance is no different. She seems to always move just how her body commands her to, dancing intuitively if she’s called to it and letting the pain of her lyrics fill her facial expressions if she can’t contain it.
They swapped their typical finisher of ‘Always Liked Your Mother Better‘ with the unstoppable ‘Where The Boys Are‘, just as cathartic in its rage but perhaps better suited to a crowd of this size with its chorus that’s hard not to scream back at the performers. Ending their set on the indignant lyric “don’t we deserve it?!” brilliantly summed up a band that – whether we’re discussing their sledgehammer-heavy sound or their feminist politics – don’t pull any punches.
I’ve got a massive soft spot for Saint Agnes shows. I can fondly remember crowd surfing to the monster riffs of ‘And They All Fall Down‘ the way people remember significant football victories, so there was no way I wasn’t going to be upfront for their set. They certainly made it worth it, playing the aforementioned gothic-rockers-do-a-cheer-chant banger at the very start of their set just to make sure everyone was paying full attention.
The theme of community in their set couldn’t be overstated. From the opening track’s lyrics, “I got a bigger gang than you”, to the rallying cry for strange found family that is ‘Daughter Of Lucifer‘, the message that your scene can be your family and uplift you like one rang through the crowd as loudly as their fuzzed-up basslines.
We were treated to plenty of tracks designed to make you want to strut down a dark alley with your eyeliner-clad biker gang in tow, and frontwoman Kitty’s choice to dive into the pit for their knockout cover of The Prodigy’s ‘Firestarter‘ proved their commitment to convening with their audience wasn’t all talk.
After the struggles the live music industry has gone through in the past two years, it makes perfect sense why bands that thrive so much on seeing their loyal supporters face-to-face would foreground the idea of their fanbase as their chosen family. These difficulties don’t go ignored by the band but are instead used to fuel their frantic prowls around the stage. As Kitty puts it: “if we’re here, we might as well fuckin’ be here”.
You’ll have a hard time finding a band as committed to embodying the real spirit of punk, that defiance that prioritises speaking truth to power over being radio-friendly, as Bob Vylan. There’s certainly no one else that sounds like them.
By blending punk and grime, two genres apt for moshing, Bob Vylan make it nigh-on impossible to stand at the back of their shows like a Radio 6 dad and let their tracks merely wash over you. Given how direct their lyrics are on the importance of direct action, this refusal to be consumed passively seems deliberate.
The ironically titled ‘Pretty Songs‘ that crowds at Bad Pond clamoured for is a pretty apt summary of this: starting with a sweetly played acoustic guitar, the track lulls audiences who don’t know what’s coming into a false sense of security. Before long, they’re dancing to a proud callout against punks who preach pacifism while not protesting injustice in any other meaningful way.
Festivals like Bad Pond, where the crowd are predominantly from the same punk community, are uniquely positioned to call out problems like this that are specific to the scene. It’s all well and good to play an anti-government punk song in a room of punks who also hate the government, but it’s another level of bravery entirely to point out the complicity of people who in your audience.
In their quest for a radically engaged crowd, Bob Vylan weren’t afraid to get up in our faces. The anti-colonialist lyrics of ‘I Heard You Want Your Country Back‘ are a lot harder to ignore when one half of the band are chanting them right at you from the mosh pit. Ultimately, they get this involved because they care. At the outset of ‘He Sold Guns‘, a single from their recent album, Bobby on vocals joked about how he’d want a Fender acoustic and a tambourine to make the track as “anyway, here’s Wonderwall” as possible, but the jokes don’t prepare audiences for just how vulnerable the song is.
In Bobby’s performance is years of exhaustion; his screams of “take a look at this place” in the chorus aren’t just cries of anger, but anger fuelled by real anguish. There’s a fire in Bob Vylan lit by a messed-up world, and amidst the rubble of a music industry that doesn’t seem to care, it burns pretty damn bright.
Bossk’s contributions to the fest were a little slower than previous acts, but trust us, they were no less impactful. With their sludge metal influences, they’re not the kind of band I’d usually find myself listening to, but the post-hardcore heavy-hitters (from near my hometown, might I add) refused to be underestimated. They proved you don’t need to drum at a manic pace to keep a crowd energised, and that a precise focus on kickass riffs is enough to make your set pack a real heavy punch.
Less was more when it came to this group’s atmospheric sound. Their latest album brings the word count down with a focus on smog-filled ambience, but this reduction in vocals only kept fans more attentive. They seemed less dynamic than the audiences of previous sets, but their gazes up didn’t seem like apathy, and many loyal supporters were hanging off every word screamed with raw power by frontman Sam. Their low, thundery riffs were the focal point for many of their tracks, and a personal favourite element; with a magnitude better measured by the Richter scale than the volume dials of a bass amp, we weren’t letting their sounds wash over us so much as they were completely sweeping us away.
GOD IS AN ASTRONAUT
To close the festival are Ireland’s ‘God Is An Astronaut’, bringing a heady mix of Space Rock, krautrock and Post-rock to the Bad Pond Festival audience. They’re a band that really are hard to describe, with a sound that wraps around you with moments of pure beauty interposed with moments of sheer menace, slabs of jagged guitar juxtaposed to the emotional and creative keyboards; think Hawkwind meets War Of The Worlds.
With nine studio albums to date and a faithful following, GIAA delivers a set that gets the crowd rocking one last time tonight. For me, the set’s highlights were the haunting ‘Burial‘ and ‘In Flux‘, which evoked Nine Inch Nails and the incredible THUMPER.
GIAA is not a band I’d have ever checked out on their own tour, which is the great thing about independent festivals like Bad Pond curating creative lineups like this and taking some of us out of their comfort zones.
Maybe I’m just new to it, having only seen it in previous years live-streamed to my laptop during the lockdown, but Bad Pond feels like an all-dayer unlike any other. The bands showcased were truly unapologetic in whatever alternative sound they committed themselves to.
With the glistening lights of the Concorde at their side, they embraced sounds, settings, and stage personas some are just too intimidated to touch. What I really noticed, though, was how the fest felt by and for its people. Its lineup made it uniquely capable of uniting Brighton’s heavy music communities under one beloved roof, and from the crowds, some of the most vocal supporters were always other bands themselves. The alternative community’s not perfect – as some of the bands addressed themselves with their sets – but after time apart during its darkest spell in living memory, the members of this little scene made sure to stick up for each other.