In the overcrowded festival market you have to offer something different to stand out. That can be an amazing location, a big name headliner, or in the case of DIY Popfest, booking a load of bands you’re not likely to see at any other festival. The three-day event, which took place this week across three of London’s finest small venues, was a showcase of the great and good of the UK’s small, but thriving, DIY Scene. It featured bands from across the country, performing within a multitude of genres and styles, but all tied in with an ethos of making music for the simple joy of making music.
The event began at the spiritual home of the London DIY-Scene, DIY Space For London, a cooperatively run social centre located in South London. This venue, run entirely by volunteers, is set up to give everyone an equal voice, particularly those who are not always heard or appreciated. The opening act, Charmpit, are a fine example. Charmpit formed last year, on the back of a DIY Space initiative, First Timers, which is designed to give new acts a chance, and puts a strong emphasis on increasing diversity within the DIY community. A year on from their first ever show, Charmpit arrived on the verge of a UK tour, and with a new EP on the way. “Road-testing” new outfits from an upcoming video they emerged dressed as, “two mermaids and a fish“, and proceeded to run through a suitably energetic set. Their sound merged the sweet harmonies of 60’s girl-groups, with the ragged energetic streak of punk. Living up to the name it was utterly charming, and in Buckfast, a tribute to the legendary tonic wine, “a drink we thought sounded really classy”, they have a shout along anthem in the making.
Charmpit, a last-minute addition in their own right, were followed by an even more last minute addition, CabramacabrA, who stepped in for Kamikaze Girls, who unfortunately had to pull out due to a caput car. CabramacabrA, describe themselves as, “Londoner post emotional metalpunk band formed by Brazilians and british goats”. No goats present as far as we could tell, but despite clearly being a little rusty, they’re actually rather thrilling. They deal in expansive walls of noise, guitarist Marcelo Terrier and fantastically cool looking bassist Marcela Reis, taking it in terms to scream at each other over the top. Sure a stop-start cover version, of something indecipherable, is the wrong side of ramshackle, but there’s an awful lot of promise here. They’re followed by Upset The Rhythm signed Londoners, Dog Chocolate, a band we must admit we don’t really get, existing in the previously, and possibly sensibly, untapped middle ground of Sleaford Mods and Melt Banana – however we were informed by two people that they’re geniuses, so definitely one to judge for yourself.
The much anticipated set from Leeds’ Living Body is somewhat curtailed by a skiing injury and work commitments reducing them to a two piece. None the less, coming across all Josh T. Pearson, Jeff T. Smith managed to coax a hell of a racket out of a single guitar in a ragged and intriguing set. While the twin vocals, Jeff joined by singer Alice Rowan, are wonderful, the paired back dynamic serving to emphasise the bands bruising/beautiful dynamic that is so key to their music.
Closing proceedings were Lisbon’s Pega Monstro. The sibling-duo, consiting of guitarist Maria Reis and drummer Julia Reis, are set to release a new album, Casa de Cima in June, and played a set lifted almost entirely from that – a fine decision. The pairs new material came across as a gentle departure from previous record Alfarroba; while that record combined garage rock with a dream-pop shimmer, their new material is an all together more ambitious and textural sound. Julia’s clever use of drums, producing an array of intriguing sounds, add as much melodic detail as they do rhythm, while Julia’s soaring guitar work is a perfect foil to their stunning vocal delivery. Their set is a thrilling close to the evening, and they seem like a band undeniably on the rise.
We arrived at the charming George Tavern just in time to see London’s own Deerful take to the stage, showcasing material from her upcoming album Peach. A performer who has clearly grown in confidence, her combination of rich choral vocals, synth-driven melodies and processed beats is entirely different to any other band playing this weekend, and the quality of her set stands out all the more for it. Deerful were followed by re-formed indie-poppers Po!, the Leicester based trio originally formed in the 1980’s have a certain charm and excellent stage patter, but fail to truly capture our attention.
Next up were the Yorkshire-based quartet Crumbs, despite a run in with a dodgy bass amp, their’s was a thrilling set. Fusing angular post-punk rhythms, with danceable choruses and in singer Ruth Ellen, they possessed a reminder of the joys of having a charismatic front-person, free from instrumental distractions. Quite possibly the set of the weekend.
The only break in the day’s proceedings- time to eat at the festival was cut very slim so as to fit all the bands in- was followed by the intriguing prospect of London’s MOLAR. The quartet might have looked very nervous, but they sounded remarkable, a huge sludgy noise in the best way possible, the whole thing cut through by duelling yelps from guitarist and drummer – they tred the lines of punk and noise-pop, and come out sounding remarkably fresh on the other side. MOLAR were followed by the actually quite similar sounding Witching Waves, a band we’ve seen on numerous occasions and still never seen the same bass-player twice. Despite the constant membership changes, the combination of Mark’s scything guitar lines and Emma’s mesmerising, twitchy, drumming sounds as thrillingly raw as ever, and they remain a jewel in the London DIY-scene’s crown.
Only half of Glaswegian band The Pooches were able to make it, but nonetheless they impressed with a set that merged the indie-pop of their native Glasgow, with some American college-rock influences: imagine the middle ground of Orange Juice and Pavement. A cover of the Nick Lowe/Elvis Costello track, (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding is a particular highlight, and despite the lack of members they were a thoroughly enjoyable presence. We’re long-established fans of Mammoth Penguins round these parts, and they didn’t disappoint with a typically energetic set; Emma Kupa’s impassioned vocal and fiery guitar work joined by bouncing bass-lines, and clattering, energetic rhythms, they showcased a number of promising new tracks alongside old favourites, the best of which remains the frenetic, millennial anthem in the making, When I Was Your Age.
Skinny Girl Diet headlined, and drew an impressive crowd, seemingly bringing a lot of people in just to see them. If we’re honest their slick take on mid-90’s grunge left us a little cold, but you can’t argue with the masses who seemed delighted to see them.
After the George Tavern’s lovely arched windows, that provided genuine sunlight, the backroom of The Shacklewell Arms was a reassuringly dark and dingy spot, which seemed rather fitting for opening act, Worm Hears. The London trio deal in the ragged end of grungy-emo, singer Charlie an anxious but intriguing front-man, their impressive use of moments of stark calm between the furious instrumental assaults made for an intriguing introduction. They were followed by fellow Londoner’s Fresh, the trio ostensibly a vehicle for the songwriting of front-woman Kathryn Woods. In the mould of bands like Doe or Trust Fund, they hark back to the 90’s alt-rock heyday and despite their between song self-deprication, they are very good at it.
The ever intriguing Garden Centre were reduced to just three, and for the most part one, member, but their songwriter, Max, remains an intriguing performer. His idiosyncratic vocal delivery, blackly comedic lyricism and tender guitar playing are entirely beguiling, and he has an ability to instantly get a crowd entirely on his side. The numbers where they fleshed out to a three-piece were considerably more chaotic, but no less charming. They were followed by Durham queer-punks Pale Kids, part of the small but fertile Durham punk scene, live they are an energetic and noisy thrill ride, their set largely showcased material from the recent EP Holy Mess and it was the frenetic, yelped joys of Prayer List that stole the show.
We missed the first couple of tracks of Suggested Friends due to not looking at our watch, but what we did catch suggested a band growing in confidence and developing their sound into intriguing and more individual territory. The new material sounded exciting and raw, while old favourites were given a certain sheen by the well polished delivery, and despite the set back of a broken string it was a set professional enough to justify the huge crowd who had gathered to see them. They were followed by black feminist punks Big Joanie, whose aim of inspiring more young black kids into punk is an important goal in a very white scene, but their music leaves us a little non-plussed.
Young Romance have been knocking around the DIY-scene for a long time, and their combination of primal beats, soaring vocals and ferocious, scuzzy guitar work remains a thrilling prospect. Closing the festival was the somewhat legendary Helen Love, a big bubble-gum rush of noise, with a huge projection screen, and an array of sound effects. It’s pitched somewhere between The Ramones, K-Pop, Jeffrey Lewis and your local karaoke bar, and just as bizarre and intriguing as that would suggest.
DIY Popfest was a weekend that more than anything showed the sheer versatility, acceptance and collective spirit of the UK’s DIY-scene. A place where you can produce any sort of music you want, as long as you do it with gusto and throw yourself into it. There were bands at the start of their musical journey, and other well established, old favourites, and in this melting pot of ideas there was some of the most exciting music currently being made anywhere in the world.