Live Reviews

FESTIVAL REVIEW: Takedown Festival 2023

Photo Credit: Abbi Draper 

Back after eight years in its new home, we headed down to Portsmouth Guildhall on a sunny Saturday in April for the new format of the beloved day festival. With four stages alongside the opportunity for VIP ticketholders to enjoy extra acoustic sets from artists on the line-up, we were guaranteed a packed day of music.

With every new event, there are bound to be some teething issues but sadly one of these was incredibly apparent as we headed to the Total Rock Stage to see Southampton trio Slackrr. As the band took to the stage, the guitar and drum output overpower the vocals from Scotty and Cait. Their pop-punk sound was well received by the crowd who were keen to see the trio who have relentlessly toured and clearly love every minute in front of the crowd. It might have been out of their control with the sound issues, yet we know that our next meeting with Slackrr will be one we look forward to. 6/10

One of the greatest things about festivals like Takedown is that it is championing new music. Over on the Down For Life Music stage, this was the best to be if you were looking for your new favourite band or just appreciating the great line-up on the Down For Life Music roster. Our first taster of this came with pop-punk quartet Royals, as we made our way into the packed-out room, we had feeling we’d just wandered upon something very exciting. Showcasing tracks including Fair-Weather Friend; a track for everyone’s who ever been fucked over by someone else, it was something all of us could definitely relate to. Their twangy pop-punk saw a bouncing crowd trying to keep up with the quartet’s onstage energy especially during latest single Circles featuring Autumn Fires.  As Autumn Fires vocalist Charlotte joined the band onstage, we found ourselves singing along to the infectious chorus and clapping in-time when instructed along with the rest of the crowd. 7/10

Back outside for CLT DRPs (pronounced CLIT DRIP) set, we were looking forward to finally getting the chance to see the Brighton trio live for the first time. They are brash, in-your face and the perfect match for the outdoor stage atmosphere. Vocalist Annie Dorrett has a certain swagger about her stage presence, clearly within her own world and dancing as if nobody is watching during opening track I Don’t Wanna Go To The Gym. Their spoken word singing style entwined with their fast-changing sound going from heavier, mosh-pit inducing to delicate vocals is well received by the Portsmouth crowd. However, we can’t help by feel today’s crowd was lacking the much-deserved size and fire which CLT DRP really deserved. The band are quirky, captivating and ones to make sure you check out live during 2023 if you want a dance and great time. 7/10

As with every festival, clashes were rife and with meant we were unable to see full sets from the likes of Fearless Vampire Killers, Meg Emelie and Punk Rock Factory who are all worthy of a mention. After playing Southampton Takedown all those years ago, Fearless Vampire Killers were the perfect addition to the line-up bridging the gap between old and new. Making their comeback last year, the band still maintain their theatrical musical styles with a solid fanbase and pockets of pits opening up. Sometimes the best music discoveries are those you stumble upon, Meg Emelie being one of these over on the DFLM stage. Stripping things back and accompanied by her boyfriend Lewis on guitar, Meg’s vocals were the showcase of her set. A little unexpected on the rockier Takedown line-up by with flawless vocal riffs leaving us stood in amazement, it proved some gems really are hidden. Later on in the day, Punk Rock Factory took over the outside Total Rock stage with their fun takes on some of everyone’s favourite tracks including the Pokémon theme tune, SpongeBob SquarePants and Let It Go. Did we ever think we’d hear Under The Sea at Takedown 2023? No. Did we absolutely love it when we did? Yes.

Saint Agnes had been on our must watch list, as soon as we knew they’d been announced for the festival and they didn’t disappoint. Bounding onto the stage, Kitty A. Austen made her presence known stomping her way across the stage. Daughter Of Lucifer was sharp, gritty and had a sense of danger in the air even from the twirling guitars of the electronic introduction and dual vocals from Jon Tufnell. Gutsy chants of ‘this is my family, this is my home’ were true as the band were performing as if this was their headline stage. Having just announced their new album, this was a chance for the band to flaunt their new material coming with latest single and album title track Bloodsuckers and the live debut of At War. Keeping the crowd hooked, but showing their musical versatility came with their take on The Prodigy’s hit Firestarters, with Austen dedicating this to Keith. As every track kicked off, it felt like another spark within the band’s heart were lit, with pints in the air, pits open and the musical chaos we’d been waiting all day for from Takedown Festival. Our only complaint? We just wish it was longer set! 8/10

Having spoken to them earlier in the day, we were looking forward to seeing As December Falls taking to the stage. From the start of Afterglow, the trio’s excitement to be back on stage was clear which in turn led to the crowd continue to increase in size and having the greatest time whilst watching. During the band’s set, pockets of very enthusiastic fans were opening their own mosh-pits, forcing everyone around them to dance with them but also ensuring those who may need a little more help could all get involved. One of the most beautiful moments of the day came when a wheelchair user was lifted up above the crowd by a squad of As December Falls fans, allowing them to fully throw their horns in the air and highlighting just how inclusive the community is for all.

Their radio-friendly pop-rock with some punky twists, is inoffensive and incredibly fun. Take No Money for example, you could be a loyal Faller or you could be someone trying to find a band to fill a gap in your schedule but either way you would be singing back ‘Ba da da da, no money’ to Bethany Curtis and co. With their new album Join The Club set for release in July, new track Alive received its live debut in front of the Takedown crowd as they were whipped into a frenzy watching Bethany ferociously dancing, moving and smiling as the crowd sent plenty of love their way. Recent single Carousel has one of the biggest (and easiest) choruses of the day and became the perfect summary of what As December Falls are about. Emotive, relatable lyrics, powerful vocals and the combined slick guitar work of Ande Hunter and Timmy Francis, having their own party onstage not caring what anyone else was thinking. The trio are a perfect example of what can be achieved with hard work and being willing to go that extra mile with your fanbase, standing out as one of the most genuine and enjoyable sets of the day for us, we can’t wait to get to a headline show soon! 9/10

Back in the intimate surroundings of the DFLM stage, Two Year Break were taking over the stage with their heavier sound and their clearly dedicated following giving it their all like they were the main festival headliners. The band’s single Double Life with Royals, who previously performed on the stage earlier in the day gave rise for the chance for Luke Smithson to come back on for vocal duty along with Bradley Tyler. Unleashing inflatable dices out in to the crowd, the Two Year Break party was in full spring as they bounced around the room and were even spotted at other performances later in the day. Set closer Lovin’ Every Day, which originally featured none other than Charlie Simpson is pit inducing track with heavy alt-rock twinged guitar lines taking the crowd on a musical rollercoaster within the three-minute duration of the track. Vicious, spitting vocals and one of the biggest stomp breakdowns we saw across the day made it clear that they simply were lovin’ every day and their crowd were lovin’ every minute of their set. 8/10

Back over on the main stage, the penultimate band of the day for us was Loathe who definitely needed no introduction as the room was rammed for the Liverpool outfit. If anyone hadn’t already got their steps in, then they it was guaranteed they would during this set as the room did not stop moving from the moment opener Aggressive Evolution began. It was chaos, it was sweaty and it was everything we’d have expected from a Loathe set. Albeit at times on tracks such as New Faces In The Dark the sound became muddled, making it challenging to distinguish between the guitars and vocals, this was a small issue which luckily resolved themselves as their set progressed. An unexpected but absolutely gorgeous moment came with Is It Really You? as emotions ran high and it was an absolute treat for all those in the room. The beautiful dual vocals of Kadeem France and Erik Bickerstaffe reach new levels when performed live, combining gutsy screams and clean vocals bouncing off each other to make a really magical vocal output. Going into a Loathe set, you’d be fooled into thinking this is going to be full of nothing but rowdy moments as France spins across the stage but musically, Loathe are simply one of the best offering up a varied set of tracks whilst showcasing their 2020 album I Let It In and It Took Everything. Simply magical. 9/10

Having to make a decision over which headliner to watch is never easy, but with the hype around Sleep Token increasing by the day we knew this was something Portsmouth may not see again especially in a venue this size. Due to ongoing technical issues, they finally took to the stage twenty-five minutes later than planned which only led to further excitement building as they finally began with Chokehold as Vessel’s impressive vocal range was showcased supported by a trio of backing vocalists. For a band whose identity remains hidden, the emotion expressed was addictive and something we hadn’t witnessed live in a very long time as we felt like nothing else outside of that room mattered. Their theatrical performance sees them swirling, jumping and managing to get everyone’s attention even if nobody was quite sure who’s behind those masks.

A beautiful moment came with Granite, the hard hitting, magical vocals and undeniable funk showed again a new side to the band as Aqua Regia sees a calmer side to their set, as the mosh pits take a break and a delicate keyboard segment and sweeping guitar lines fill the room with the guitarists spinning and kicking their way around the stage. Unsure of whether due to the delayed start we’d be treated to an encore, a sea of happy faces lit up the room as they returned for The Night Does Not Belong To God. It was euphoric, tear inducing and an experience you had to be there to appreciate. Closing on The Offering, Portsmouth gave it their all with pits opening up throughout the crowd as the heavy banging introduction slammed in and bodies flew across the room. The atmosphere in the room made it clear everyone was there for the right reasons; to simply appreciate incredible live music.

A band of few words, as in no words except song lyrics and small talk is absolutely unheard of, their mysterious presence is hard to not be fascinated by. Whether you knew what you were here specifically for the ritual or just wanted to know what the fuss was about, it was the perfect way to end Takedown Festival’s debut Portsmouth event. 8/10

Takedown Festival have announced they will be returning to Portsmouth for a two day event on 13th and 14th April 2024, early bird tickets are on sale now so keep an eye out for line-up announcements.

Review By: Nicola Craig

Photo Credit: Abbi Draper

Photo gallery featuring CLT DRP, Seething Akira, Fearless Vampire Killers, Saint Agnes, Our Hollow Our Home, As December Falls, Jamie Lenman, Punk Rock Factory, Loathe, Skindred and Sleep Token.

Nicola Craig
Head of Live with an unwavering love for the seaside, live music and writing about others instead of myself. Twitter: @nicolalalalar