Skindred deliver classic set at Nottingham's Hit The Deck

Plus: While She Sleeps, Cancer Bats and more bring the ruckus to NG1

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Now in its fifth year, Hit The Deck has transformed from a glorified Blue Banana advert into a genuine event that holds its own within a tide of UK festivals. Skindred top the bill in 2015 – Arse Full Of Chips couldn’t make it, sorry – and eleven hours of loud music looms before us.

We begin our delectable day of debauch with IDIOM [6]. A band that’s been on the cusp of something spectacular for a while, the Southern foursome inhabit the Rock City main stage with their usual charm; Grant Knight perversely tickles his bass like a forlorn lover, while Matt Sharland’s voice hops from the acidic screams of a man gargling piss-stained razorblades to, well, clean vocals sounding akin to Butters’ Dad from South Park. Still, Braindead is a massive modern metal tune, and this band has plenty left in the proverbial think tank – they just haven’t had their ‘moment’ yet.

Stumbling into Stealth, the supreme power of ZOAX [8] batters our eardrums and rattles our ribcages as if they are abacuses. The bass is uncomfortably loud, so once that’s dealt with, we’re left with the band’s angular ‘letlive. for people who don’t like letlive.’ musings. And it’s bloody brilliant. Unpredictable, unabashed and uncontrollably anthemic, Adam Carroll commands the cacophony with a flurry of heart-wrenching croons and screams, spurting quips about The Human Centipede and other random anecdotes; from the floor, the stage or balancing on the barrier, Carroll is an effortlessly cool frontman, and one who will hopefully take ZOAX from the dingy confines of Stealth and stick them on the main stage next year.

**Zoax’s Adam Carroll **Photos: Tracey Welch

TIM VANTOL [8] serenades the Rescue Rooms with a smattering of folk punk somewhere between Andrew Jackson Jihad and Frank Turner, forcing the gaggle of bearded, drainpiped audience members to chant the chorus of If We Go Down, We Will Go Down Together! Which is quite sweet. Back in Rock City, ALLUSONDRUGS [6] all do appear to be on something; one of them falls flat on his arse as soon as he steps on stage and frontman Jason Moules seems to have arrived here by accident, inanely mumbling and coaxing the crowd to shout ‘HERPES!’ for no real reason. That being said, the grungy psychedelia of tracks like Nervous will never tire, but it feels like the overall delivery is somewhat lost on the Hit The Deck crowd.

Allusondrugs, live at Nottingham Rock City Photos: Tracey Welch

If you’d been a member of My Chemical Romance, you’d expect to be treated like a megastar. **FRNKIERO ANDTHE CELLABRATION **[8] are playing a short acoustic stint in the Dr. Martens shop down the road, and Frank Iero just been given some new Docs. The whole band has, in fact. It seems that they have to wear Docs in order to play. Which is strange. Footwear aside, Iero greets this weird Beatlemania situation – fans have been queueing all day and girls are stood outside, filming through the window and weeping – with welcome charm. He only plays a couple of tunes; She’s The Prettiest Girl At The Party And She Can Prove It With A Solid Right Hook sounds even better stripped of its electric trappings, proving that Iero is, first and foremost, an excellent songwriter. He also stays to sign stuff. What a lovely chap.

**Frank Iero and friends **Photos: Tracey Welch

The antithesis of lovely is brewing in Rock City. HACKTIVIST [9] have arrived and they are spitting blood, kicking arses, taking names – the whole shebang. Whatever aggressive idiom you can apply, it will work here. The group’s dastardly blend of rap and Meshuggah grooves – not using the ’D’ word, not happening – makes perfect festival fodder, with the likes of Hacktivist and False Idols reaping insane amounts of applause. Their Jay-Z and Kanye West cover is an obvious highlight, but a new song – with guitarist Tim Beazley singing a note that lasts for about seven years – gets circle pits going too. Hacktivist are the first band to make the main stage audience truly lose their shit, and it’s only a matter of time before they’re headlining this little shindig themselves. They haven’t even got an album out yet. Just let that sink in.

**Hacktivist’s Ben Marvin **Photos: Tracey Welch

While that does, indeed, sink in, sail back to the Rescue Rooms to mourn the loss of THE SWELLERS [7]. It could be said that most modern pop punk sounds less appealing than the baby T-Rex from Jurassic Park: The Lost World moaning over three chords, but The Swellers have always excelled at penning anthems that are, well, actually good. This is their final tour and they spare no time for frills or theatrics; thirty minutes are bashed through with frenetic vigour, The Best I Ever Had brings everything to a close and The Swellers are gone. In the words of frontman Nick Diener: ‘If you remember one thing, we’re the Swellers. We had fun.’ We had fun too, mate.

The Swellers’ Nick Diener and Anto Boros Photos: Tracey Welch

We’re feeling a bit teary-eyed and nostalgic, so a dose of testosterone from CANCER BATS [9] is more than appreciated. The Canadian quartet are something of a house band at Hit The Deck; this is their third appearance – or fourth, if you include Bat Sabbath – in five years, and they’ve clawed their way up to a respectable third place on the main stage. With good reason. Arsenic In The Year Of The Snake tears into the crowd’s collective gut like a titanium tapeworm, rumbling along with Sabbathesque gloom. Vocalist/jumping bean Liam Cormier is a seemingly endless fountain of energy, zipping across the stage and never staying still, commanding singalongs through new tune Satellites amidst others. Some poor soul in the crowd loses his phone, to which Cormier says: ‘Fuck his phone!’ He soon shows remorse and claims he’ll ‘grieve for the phone later’, but it’s a poignant message. Fuck technology. We’re at a gig, and at a gig we flail our limbs around to Lucifer’s Rocking Chair, R.A.T.S and other hardcore anthems.

Cancer Bats’ Liam Cormier and Scott Middleton Photos: Tracey Welch

The Bats’ genius cover of Sabotage inevitably causes all sense and reason to flee from those affected – some dude tips his beer from the balcony, and that pint costs around the same as my rent – as that iconic bassline kicks in and the clock strikes silly o’ clock. Even with this Beastie Boys gem in the setlist, the singalong to Hail Destroyer still remains the not-so-secret weapon in Cancer Bats’ arsenal. It’s just brilliant. The band are going mental onstage, the crowd are probably getting a bit dizzy by now and this night has become a giant middle finger to people who say this sort of music does not translate well on bigger stages.

While She Sleeps’ Loz Taylor and the band, live at Nottingham’s Rock City Photos: Tracey Welch

WHILE SHE SLEEPS [8] do an admirable job succeeding the Bats, but they just can’t quite match that sheer intensity. New World Torture signals the coming of the Sheffield mob; this should be a ground breaking moment, but the band are a tad static and the urgency of the song is slightly lost. The lads soon limber up, though – Brainwashed, This Is The Six and Seven Hills one after the other? Who are you, fucking KISS? This band only has two full-length albums to date and the amount of audience participation on display tonight does not reflect that; this is something you’d expect to see at a Slipknot gig. Once they hit their stride, While She Sleeps are absolutely ravenous. Loz Taylor spits those lyrics as if he’s willing to die for them, and even bassist Mat Welsh’s incredibly nasal backing vocals reek of gravitas and drama in an incredibly nasal manner. It’s been a rather tumultuous road to album number two, but While She Sleeps are only getting started.

**Skindred, live at Nottingham’s Rock City, and right, Benji Webbe **Photos: Tracey Welch

Following Cancer Bats and While She Sleeps, one after the other, is a death sentence for most bands. But most bands aren’t SKINDRED [10]. Most bands don’t walk on stage to a remix of the Star Wars music, nor do most bands have the audacity to sample Thrift Shop at a festival largely populated by wearers of skinny jeans and owners of unnaturally coloured hair. Then again, that’s just Skindred.

While it’s championed diverse music ever since its inception, Hit The Deck has never been very daring with its headliners. Skindred are a genuine curveball, and they’ve grabbed this chance by the haunches and humped it for all it’s worth. The band emerge in front of a packed Rock City and Benji Webbe swaggers forward, toking on a cigarette before launching the band into Kill The Power. From here on in, it’s sixty minutes of ragga punk power; the band have dropped a fair chunk of their ‘look at how wacky we are, our singer twerks!’ act and have reclaimed their status as the best live band in the UK. Proceed With Caution’s thrash metal rumble proves that Skindred can wrangle with heavier bands on the bill, while Selector and Ratrace destroy just about any other singalong we’ve heard today.

The band’s key-fingerer and sampler, Dan Sturgess, has blossomed into his role as the band’s dogsbody – Benji berates him, bullies him and eggs the audience on to boo him. We’re sure he loves him really. Mikey Demus even slots a cheeky guitar solo into the tail end of Trouble – it’s not quite the spectacle it was at Wembley, but that’s because he looked like a rock god when he did it at Wembley. Point is, the band have grown as musicians – bassist Dan Pugsley has grown a sterling beard, too – and they’ve perfected their craft.

There is no other band on this planet that sounds quite like Skindred, nor is there any other band on this planet that gets an audience going like Skindred. Benji abuses the crowd and goes through way too many pairs of sunglasses, Warning kick-starts the now legendary Newport Helicopter and, with this, Hit The Deck secures itself a truly classic headline set. Arse Full Of Chips would have been better, though.