Icebreaker Festival is an annual event that takes place in a variety of pubs and venues in Southsea, Portsmouth. Every year unsigned artists apply to play the festival and are selected to play in various venues along Elm Grove and Albert Road, with the headliners performing in the iconic Wedgewood rooms; a venue which has hosted international artists like Vampire Weekend and The Strokes, as well as British acts like Oasis and Damon Albarn.
Last weekend a host of new artists filled the usual pubs and venues, showcasing a wide variety of genres. The whole thing kicked off around midday with bands playing in several venues, so there was plenty to choose from.
My first stop was at The Wine Vaults where we watched Southsea local, James Laurence, who played chilled out tunes that lulled the room into a mellow state. As it was early still early in the day the room wasn’t packed but those who were there quietly swayed along to the music.
Laurence’s baggy hoodie, loose trousers and cap spoke clearly to the influences of his music. His Mac Demarco-esque appearance was matched by his self-described ‘lo-fi indie fuzz rock’ sound played on a left-handed baby blue Stratocaster combined with a Fender twin reverb amp to match the Canadian artist. He is self-aware of this likeness however referencing Mac, quoting the lyrics “rock and roll nightclub,” during one of his songs.
The indie rock music was oddly calming but Laurence’s use of fuzz and loop pedals added depth to his sound. His final song seemed darker than the others with a heavier and more unique style leaving me looking forward to how he might develop as an artist.
The Isle of CC
In the next room over we made it in time to watch The Isle of CC. This Brighton based six-piece band brought a soulful and funky tone to the venue, drawing in passers-by who weren’t necessarily intending to see the group. The room was packed by the time the frontwoman began to sing, her casual newspaper print suit drawing all eyes to her, hitting every note effortlessly. The band was also made up of a back-up singer, guitarist, drummer, bass and a keytar played by a guy dressed in a neon orange jumper with a mohawk.
The isle of CC was a well put together band who clearly knew their music well and were all great performers, moving together, sharing their enjoyment with the audience.
Despite being an unsigned band scheduled to play earlier in the day, they gave a great performance. On their third song the front woman made the bold move of suggesting audience participation and despite the small room and limited crowd it was a success. As the audience bopped along and cheered when directed, the day really began to feel like it was ramping up.
This was followed by a cover of Careless Over You by Sasha Keeble, allowing the singer to show her range and stage presence. This fantastically illustrated their funky roots and the audience was encouraged to ‘boogie’ as they played out their set.
Feeling suitably chilled and happy we moved onto our next venue, the Lord John Russell, where the atmosphere was notably different. This venue was bigger than the last two, which was good as more people showed up to see the next band. The audience was made up of a variety of age groups ranging from their teens to their 70s. Despite this age gap they all had something in common; their enjoyment of music.
Fuzzwalker, a four-piece indie rock band hailing from Guildford, took to the stage in brightly coloured psychedelic blazers immediately drawing all eyes to them. The atmosphere at the Lord John Russell had more of a buzz, as the music blared from the speakers and people began to move along to the high energy songs.
Unfortunately, the volume of the amps drowned out the vocals so it was hard to make out any of the muffled lyrics. Nonetheless, the audience was having a great time, moving to the music with some people even dancing. The antics of some of the band members were entertaining on top of the music; with the lead guitarist at one point wrapping his arms around the singer and continuing to play his guitar, despite the awkward position.
Near the back of the crowd a girl in her twenties began dancing and invited a man in his seventies to join her. The two broke into a spontaneous dance that reminded me of the old dance halls you see in movies set in the 50s. It was a heart-warming moment, to see two very different people who had seemingly never met before come together in a moment to just enjoy the music, despite the jig not quite fitting with the bands more aggressive sound. When the song came to an end the pair smiled at each other before going their separate ways.
After a bite to eat we headed to the Wedgewood Rooms to finish off the night. The Wedgewood rooms acts as two venues; the main stage and a smaller room to the side. Before we headed to the side room, known as the Edge of the Wedge, we caught the end of the set on the main stage. Drusila, another band from Portsmouth, were performing their set on BBC Music’s ‘introducing’ stage.
Despite only hearing two songs it was a set I wish I had seen more of. Once again, the atmosphere in this room took on a new vibe as people danced and sang along with the band. For the first time that night it was clear that people had actually come to see a band whose music they knew, rather than choosing at random or going to see their friends band. With ambient stage lighting in blues and purples and a keyboard covered in fairy lights, the staging really fit with their 80s style electronic sound.
In the Edge of the Wedge, as we shuffled to the front of the room, Burning House had finished their soundcheck and were almost ready to begin. The four-piece Southampton based band had drawn a significant crowd for the small room, with the audience crammed together from wall to wall.
This was the first band of the event that I had seen before, catching them at the previous year’s Icebreaker when they did a set at the Fat Fox, however they were a three piece when they performed last year.
Burning House gave the audience a loud, fuzz filled, shoegaze set that was largely enjoyed by the audience. However, some of the audience unfamiliar with Burning House’s music were forced to cover their ears as the volume was just a little too much. Those with their ears covered were not at a loss for missing the lyrics as the singer’s vocals were mostly drowned out by the music, although not entirely distinguishable the reverberating drone from the singer seemed to fit the tone of the band, adding another element to the wall of sound that engulfed the audience.
The final act of the night was Wedgewood Rooms headliners Crystal Tides. Once again it was clear that this was a band that people knew, members of the audience were singing along to the soundcheck and trying to get the bands attention. Before the soundcheck was over the room was packed, with people bumping into each other as they tried to get closer to the stage, or anywhere for that matter. It seemed like almost everyone with a ticket to the festival had come along to see the main stage headliner. Whilst there were a range of ages in the audience it seemed clear that Crystal Tides main audience was university aged, both male and female.
It was the female voices in the audience that could be heard as the lights went down and the six-piece band picked up their instruments. As the mist floated around the stage and the pale blue lights came up the crowd quietened slightly to hear the band play.
It was obvious why they had drawn such a crowd as they played upbeat feel-good indie rock songs. The high energy from both the band and the audience made the whole thing more enjoyable, as people jumped along to the drums, cameras raised to get the best shot and prove they were there.
Icebreaker festival is definitely the place to go if you want to hear the music of up and coming bands from the South Coast. I have been going to Icebreaker for several years now, but for the first time they will be putting a second event on in the summer this year, which I am excited to attend as well. I saw many bands throughout the day of music; however, I barely even scratched the surface as many other venues were hosting bands too. Whether you’re into chilled out soulful sounds or heavy metal there really is something for everyone.
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