WAVES 2023 – Everything that happened

Written by on 22nd November 2023

Written by Peter Doherty and Floyd Cordelia

The annual WAVES festival hit Sunderland’s shores on Saturday, November 11. Sweeping up the city’s venues, WAVES fest attendees made their way through the streets of Sunderland city to catch the best that the North East and its surrounding areas had to offer.

The morning sun set the chilled November day up to be another great day for the city of Sunderland. Sirens rang out as match day commenced across the Wear – Sunderland A.F.C v Birmingham City F.C.. The stripes of red and white were on display in every which way. Clouds threatened as the morning turned to afternoon, although they only threatened – water stayed well up there within the clouds.

Once the festival wristbands had been attained, festival-goers were given free reigns to explore the participating venues at their leisure – the only rule in place is that once a venue is full, it’s full; punctuality remains firmly in place even at somewhat free-for-all events such as music festivals; the old age adage of ‘be there, or be square’ rings true.

Participating venues include: the ever-present Independent, The Bunker, Diegos, The Ship Isis, Port of Call, The Peacock, Pop Recs, and The Fire Station.

The proceedings got underway at 1pm through the reverb-laden sounds of Palma Louca; Independent was the place, and a dark and atmospheric setting was the space.

13:00 – Palma Louca – Independent – Peter Doherty

Palma Louca are a five-piece consisting of a lead vocalist, two guitars, bass, keyboard and drums. The band cut to the chase and kicked into their intro track. Palma Louca’s dream-y and searing sounds fill Independent and welcome us to WAVES ’23.

With the occasional waft of smoke filling the room, and more and more people appearing from behind said smoke, Palma Louca made their way through their set. Song two morphs straight into song three without space for applause – there’s no time to waste for the Palma Louca camp. A snare drum like a gunshot meets galloping bass lines as the keyboardist puts his dancing shoes on – he’s not the only one enjoying the tunes. The lovely pitter-patter of his playing adds sweetness to the sound of Palma Louca. “This one’s called Midnight Ride.” The pace of the set slows down.

Palma Louca at WAVES Festival 2023

Photo courtesy of Edie Brady

”This is one of our earliest songs, it’s called ‘Free Float’.” Accompanied by a light Hip-Hop-like groove, which makes way for a full-bodied breakdown of sorts, Palma Louca rip through their next track. Once again, they shoot straight into the next song. Squawking guitars lead the way as the drummer plays in a manner reminiscent of Arctic Monkeys Matt Helders or The Killers’ Ronnie Vannucci Jr. More than just keeping time, there’s always space for a little flare.

The last song features a beep-boop tennis-like back-and-forth – underwater-y, like a submariner siren call. “We’ve been Palma Louca. Thank you for listening.” A superb start to the 2023 WAVES festival.

14:15 – Camel Island – Independent – Peter Doherty

Camel Island, The South Shields-based band synonymous with their immaculate cover sets and rapacious gig ethic – they have also produced some of the best original material that the North East has to offer in recent times – took to the Independent stage.

”This first song is called ‘Stalling’.” They play the first track without guitarist, Dan. Malfunctions attempt to upset the band, but they persevere. Frontman, Will, substitutes the song’s guitar solo with speech – something along the lines of: ”this is where a guitar solo usually is, something that sounds like your favourite guitar player.”

As Stalling comes to a close, the guitar comes back to life and begins to work – a blown fuse fails to stall the show. “We’ve got sound’‘ calls guitarist Dan. ”Dan, you ready?” “I’m ready.” Camel Island slip into their cover clothes and perform a rendition of Supergrass’s Britpop classic ‘Alright’. Alright finds Dan floating on stage. A happy customer, as always, to the band’s opportunity to play live gigs. Alright gives way to ‘Too Soon’. Will and Dan talk telepathically, catching each other’s eyes as they harmonize. And then out comes the coveted cowbell. “This one’s our latest single. It’s called ‘She’s the One’.”

Camel Island at WAVES Festival 2023

Photo courtesy of Edie Brady

Bassist, Jay, can’t help but smile as he plays ‘Auto-Pilot’. Drummer, Alex, is in the zone with a focus that can’t be bought. You get the sense that the band finds delight, as well as a sense of well-poised purpose, within performing.

It’s the band’s debut festival appearance. One can confidently assume that it’s the first of many.

WAVES ’23 was off to, and continued its perfect start.

14:45 – CROWLEY – Pop Recs – Floyd Cordelia

Hailing from Newcastle, CROWLEY have an energy of a different time, drawing on influences from the likes of Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, bringing a smoky haze of 70’s rock and roll to the Pop Recs stage.

In sitting down for an interview with this band, the passion for what they do was evident from the start. On how they formed the band, it all started with a simple message, snowballing into the powerhouse that is CROWLEY, perfectly encapsulated by vocalist Lidya Balaban, “Did we just become best friends?” Describing themselves as “basically the same person”, the unity between members is shown in the way they have fun together on stage.

Like witches emerging from the forest, heavy riffs and raw vocals create an atmosphere that could be felt all throughout the venue. With their 2022 single ‘The Witching Hour’ and their newest release ‘Pyre’, not a single head was still as they crashed their way through the set, having the whole audience in the palm of their hand.

With upcoming shows all around the UK, CROWLEY isn’t going away any time soon.

15:15 – Twister – Independent – Peter Doherty

Twister takes over the Independent stage. The crowd shifts as the style of music morphs more in the direction of metal. The air within Independent changes – a sea change of sorts. A different kind of animal is at hand. The band begins with their backs to the crowd. Uncertainty of what to expect takes hold. As Twister dive straight into things, it’s apparent right from the get-go that the sound levels have been upped. “It’s very lovely to be here folks.”

The frontman is a showman – born to perform. Crowd interaction comes with ease. “We’re very rarely in Sunderland. Usually only when we’re in trouble.”

The singer’s tongue pokes through his teeth as he sings certain things. The bassist sings along even though he doesn’t have a mic. Sweat runs down the body of the frontman’s guitar – it’s certainly a hot one. The lead guitarist stands on the edge of the stage as he shreds. The room fills pretty quickly as Twister pushes the sound system to its limit.

Twister at WAVES Festival 2023

Photo courtesy of Edie Brady

A call and response is thrown out as a bit of a tester for the crowd. “It’s a Saturday afternoon in Sunderland. That’s F’ing class” is the reaction as the call and response goes down well. Safe to say, the test was passed.

“In the last 6 minutes our drummer has broken a kick drum, a snare pedal, and a mic stand. We’re gonna love you and leave you. This is called 64 white lies.”

Twister closes out their set to rapturous applause. The crowd is full of die-hard fans of the band.

16:15 – Zela – The Peacock – Peter Doherty

Up the spiral stairs of The Peacock we go. Backed by black curtains, with the members of the band, except for the lead singer, also dressed in all-black – a contrasting effect which makes certain members of the band stand out – female-fronted Zela made their way onto the stage of The Peacock.

Draped in a rather large fur coat, and honing an attitude which can only be referred to as fiery, the frontwoman asserts dominance over the stage – she’s got the sort of confidence that you could only wish for, akin to the likes of Dua Lipa. “I’ve come out here with the biggest coat ever. Givin’ it the biggun.”

A disco-ball elegantly spins over the crowd of The Peacock. As far as I could tell, they’re the only band with an electronic drum-kit aspect to their sound.

17:15 – Mt. Misery – The Bunker – Peter Doherty

As 5pm came around, and as the sun went down, a slight trek from The Peacock to The Bunker, via the Bridges Shopping Center, was made.

The long-halled labyrinth that is the Bunker – a building which has hosted names such as Björk, Billy Bragg, and The Clash – was home to the ‘BBC Music Introducing…’ stage.

Mt. Misery setup for their set at WAVES Festival 2023
Mt. Misery – great name – get their gear in order as people anticipate the gig. It’s a compact space. About as intimate as they come, a sign on the door states that the maximum capacity is 50 people, however, you get the feeling that 30 would be pushing it.

“We’re Mt Misery, we’re from Hartlepool.” The crowd cheers. “We never get cheers for Hartlepool. This song’s called ‘Spinning Top’.” As the song comes to a close, the guitars synchronize and meet halfway – “that’s very Thin Lizzy” states a member of the crowd.

Mt. Misery at WAVES Festival 2023
The bright red Fender Jaguar of frontman, Andrew Smith, strongly contrasts his sombre green jumper.

“A bit of a fact check for the craic, our bassist is from Sunderland” says frontman, Smith.

Mt. Misery have a sound very reminiscent of York’s ‘Bull’, a band that made an appearance at the 2022 WAVES festival. It’s somewhere in the ballpark of happy-go-lucky with a melancholic twist.

“This is a new song. It’s so new we don’t know the intro to it.” *plays a couple chords* “We’ve figured it.”

The room fills with smoke as the band falls into the fog. “The room’s smokey innit? Bloody hell. We’ve just got a very small man vaping down there….. I’ve took it off him.”

Mt. Misery at WAVES Festival 2023

You can catch Mt. Misery at Pop Recs on the 23rd of November in support of Caleb Nichols.

18:00 – bigfatbig – The Fire Station – Floyd Cordelia

High kicks and girl power was the theme of the next band, Sunderland’s very own legends, bigfatbig. Making the stage of The Fire Station their own, this band brought a bounce to the crowd, with lyrics you can belt out in your car and a groove you can’t resist.

Performing at BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekender earlier this year, and with plenty of other achievements under their belt, it was easy to see why they are taking the north by storm. Songs from their latest EP release “Rockin’ and Rollin’ and Whatnot” had the whole crowd shouting “SHUT UP” to one another, and loving every second of it.

Showing their appreciation for Sunderland and the opportunity to grace the stage, ‘Wrong Place, Wrong Time’ is a song about their love for their local scene and is a perfect example of why bigfatbig should be in all of your playlists.

18:30 – Post Rome – The Bunker – Peter Doherty

Post Rome setup to the sounds of Gang of Four’s ‘Damaged Goods’ and David Bowie’s ‘Golden Years’. Two of the four members of Post Rome remain on stage post-soundcheck. The drummer calls the crowd to come closer to the stage as a pre-gig ritual takes place – the drummer takes a ceremonial swig of Madri from his shoe. The other two members of the band slowly make their way on stage one-by-one. On with the gig.

The drums find themselves on the end of a barrage. The drummer, Martin, tips his head to the side to keep his ear-piece in place until he can get a chance to fix it – his style is nothing short of ferocious. “We’re having what you’d call a mare. Martin’s lost his ears.” The frontman, Ben, comments.

The bassist, Steve, vibes in his baseball cap as the lead guitarist, Elliott – in a Yin and Yang-themed jumper – takes on guitar solo duties. They exchange a glance as if to say ‘sick stuff’.

Post Rome at WAVES Festival 2023

“This one’s called ‘Floral Shirt’.” – fitting for the floral shirt that finds itself adorned by the frontman. It’s a track that’s in a similar lane to The Kooks’ ‘Inside-In/Inside-Out’ era.

“Accumulatively, if we all take a big sip of our beers it’ll be a bit less awkward, wouldn’t it?”

A brief break is had as the band’s lead guitarist exits the stage and the room.
“Elliott’s gone to check the weather outside.” A bit too much was had the night before. “It’s rock n’ roll after all isn’t it?” The drummer pulls out the ‘chicken or beef’ question as the lead guitarist checks the weather. Beef seems to be the food of choice. The guitarist finishes his check-up on the weather and returns as if nothing happened. The band carries on with their set.

The ‘BBC Music Introducing…’ sign gently rocks back and forth from the weight of Post Rome’s performance.

The gig comes to a close as the drummer slaps and punches his hi-hats. He must have something against his drum kit, and in a way, what drummer doesn’t?

Post Rome have certainly got the look and feel of a band that has big things on the horizon.

Post Rome setlist from WAVES Festival 2023

19:15 – Pigs x7 – The Fire Station – Floyd Cordelia

The energy of the Fire Station shifted as Pig x7 joined the stage an anticipation fell over the crowd. After travelling all around the world playing shows, Pigs x7 had made their way to Sunderland to create some chaos. Emerging onto the stage, barefoot and raring to go, an explosive set held the crowd in awe, with the feeling of being sacrificed to the music.

Vocalist Matthew Baty stormed about the stage, displaying a raw emotion that sucked you in and refused to let go. The guitarists, Sam Grant and Adam Ian Sykes, made the audience feel invincible with driving riffs and soundscape effects that transported you to another realm.

Widely welcomed by the crowd, the movement and electric energy in the room was hard to miss, with the band’s attack filling every space and forcing every person who can hear them to come forward and bang their head.

Heading off next to the US and Australia, we can be sure this isn’t the last time you’ll hear of Pigs x7.

Tobias Hodgson – Independent – Peter Doherty

The poet in residence for WAVES appears on stage seemingly out of nowhere before Dead Pony. Wearing a shirt that reads ‘Tobias the Tw*t’, the poet begins with ‘Jesus Christ’ and ends with ‘My Lover Wears Socks’. We later find out that his name is Tobias Hodgson.

An unexpected highlight of the WAVES festival to say the least. Utterly refreshing. Limited edition copies of Tobias’ poetry were handed out to those willing to ask.

Tobias Hodgson pamphlet from WAVES Festival 2023
20:00 – Dead Pony – Independent – Peter Doherty

Independent’s final act of the evening came in the form of Glaswegian band ‘Dead Pony’.

Dead Pony takes to the stage through the small door which sits behind the drum set, minus the lead lady who makes her way shortly after with bottles of water in hand. “We’re Dead Pony and we are from Glasgow.” The gig gets underway.  The second track brings with it a strong The Prodigy influence. Alternative Metal, Big Beat, sub-atomically structured.

The lead singer’s voice pierces through the thick veil that the band musters up. “These two at the front have come down all the way from Inverness. Thanks for the support.” Dead Pony clearly has a following. The band dip into a Nelly Furtado ‘Maneater’ cover.

The lead singer has a great stage presence and uses said stage to its full extent. She even makes her way into the crowd at one stage – the crowd parting to make way in the process.

“Here’s a song from our upcoming debut album. It’s going to be out sometime next year. This is a song about love.” The lead guitarist rocks his head with his hair in a slinky bob. He plays around with a few chords between some songs as the band gathers their bearings.

“This is the one that went down the hardest on tour.” The snare drum ends up getting hit as hard as it ever has. The hi-hat is of a disfigured nature – chunks are missing; pieces jingle around on top while it’s hammered.

“We’ve got one more song for you.” They tease a ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ cover. “Sorry. We’ve already done our cover for the night. We’ve been Dead Pony. This songs called ’23, Never Me’.”

Independent closes on a stormer.

20:45 – Lambrini Girls – The Peacock – Floyd Cordelia

If you’re looking for a band to say exactly what you’re thinking, Lambrini Girls are the ones for you. The quiet, otherwise unassuming hall of The Peacock was transformed into a swirling pool of bodies, all standing for the same thing, girl power!

Lambrini Girls at WAVES Festival 2023
Originally from Brighton, Lambrini Girls are known for their powerful political and social stances, saying ‘no’ to gender conformity and standing up for gay and transgender rights. Opening by stripping into her underwear and ordering shots while standing on the bar, vocalist and guitarist Phoebe Lunny made it very clear who was in charge of the room. I can say with confidence, it was an honour to have her guitar take a chunk out of my lip in the mosh pit!

Playing their breakout hits, ‘Boys in the Band’ and ‘Help Me I’m Gay’, the floor of The Peacock took a sheer beating from the slamming drums and jumping bodies.

With remarks from legends such as Iggy Pop, calling Lambrini Girls his “favourite new band”, and appearances in Rolling Stone Magazine, the band are proving that girls really do run the world, either get on board or get out of the way!

21:15 – Everything Everything – The Fire Station – Peter Doherty

WAVES fest, for me, ended at the Fire Station with Newcastle’s very own Everything Everything. The Art Pop outfit bolsters an electric ear for off-kiltered earworms and infectious rhythms.

The pre-gig mood was set with pink, blue and yellow stage lights. Soothing, and oddly shaped, circles spun around in slow motion along the venue’s walls and dance floor – a calming aesthetic was at hand. The crowd slowly filled the Fire Station. Row-by-row the dance floor grew backwards. ‘Pizza Boy’ shirts are spotted in the crowd.

Everything Everything, robed in beige-blue Beach Boys-esque outfits, and all, less the keyboardist, bleach-blonde, feel like a full-on and well-worked collective. The setlist features some of the bands best work to date, and also their latest single ‘Cold Reactor’, the first single released in the run-up to their next full-length project ‘Mountainhead’ which is set for release on the 1st of March, 2024.

The band are laid-back, yet so technically proficient. A certain flamboyance is radiated. The crowd is a sea of swaying bodies – as if in the breeze; the closer to the stage, the stronger the breeze. Everything Everything shows that there are levels to the music game – it’s pop music done right; absolutely brilliant. Its impact is strengthened by the fact that the crowd loves a good call and response.

Everything Everything at WAVES Festival 2023
“This is the last gig of the year for us. It’s a pleasure to spend it with you.” The closing track – ‘No Reptiles’ – goes down a treat. The chorus of:
‘it’s alright
to feel like a fat child in a pushchair
old enough to run
old enough to fire a gun’
seems to be a fan favourite.

Everything Everything certainly leaves the WAVES audience with a reinvigorated spirit.

People filter out of The Fire Station and make their way across to The Peacock as The Galaxians take the 2023 edition of the WAVES festival off into the night.

The WAVES festival is a prime example of a close-knit collective of like-minded creatives and venues coming together in an effective fashion. It really is a gem in the crown of the North East music scene. 

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