As the 15th Y Not? Festival returned to the fields of Pikehall, Derbyshire with a plethora of indie-rock acts – both old and new – Sarah Taylor and Freya Thomson headed down to the Peak District to review.
Manic Street Preachers – The Big Gin (ST)
Manic Street Preachers were second from topping the bill at Y Not? – the penultimate act on The Big Gin on the first evening. However, plagued by technical difficulties and a lengthy 45-minute delay, the Welsh rock veterans’ set was curtailed at 35 minutes – a real shame considering how electrifying the band truly are when you get to experience the music live. Having spoken to bassist and lyricist Nicky Wire shortly before their set, it seemed the band had some surprises in store – perhaps a few deep cuts from 2001’s Know Your Enemy, which will be re-issued later this year, but instead, they chose to eliminate these, resting instead on their laurels. That’s not to say their hits didn’t satisfy. The audience only had to hear the opening notes of ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ and ‘You Love Us’ before they began bouncing around. Notably, the anthemic ‘A Design For Life’ was played mid-set, with 1998’s ‘If You Tolerate This, Your Children Will Be Next’ rounding off an eight-song set. A slightly underwhelming set, yes, but given the circumstances, a pretty damn good one. And we still got to see Nicky leap into the air and scissor-kick just as high as he did in the 90s.
Pixey, Do Nothing, The Mysterines – The Giant Squid (ST)
On Saturday, the third stage at Y Not? – The Giant Squid – was the place to be, showcasing an abundance of up-and-coming talent. Scouse-starlet Pixey took to the stage early at 2pm with a selection of summer bops including ‘Sunshine State’, ‘The Mersey Line’, and ‘Free to Live in Colour.’ She was followed shortly by Nottingham post-punks Do Nothing, whose set was a surprising highlight. Frontman Chris Bailey’s partly-spoken, partly-crooned delivery had audiences hanging on his every word. Not long after, The Mysterines brought their heavier, grunge-influenced brand of guitar rock to the Giant Squid. The Merseyside alt-rock band, whose excellent debut album Reeling reached the top 10 earlier this year, clearly resonated with their crowd. They played to a full tent of festivalgoers, suggesting they may have benefited from a slightly bigger stage, especially as the tent became noticeably emptier for following band Sorry.
Yard Act – The Giant Squid (ST)
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been looking forward to Yard Act’s set. Having seen the Leeds quartet twice this year already, I was aware of their spontaneity, and frontman James Smith’s showmanship, which often verges on something more akin to a stand-up show. They played to a tightly packed tent of festivalgoers at the Giant Squid, which resulted in several would-be crowd surfers being pulled over the barrier. Smith and Ryan Needham’s whip-smart writing partnership, and of course Smith’s sharp delivery and charismatic stage presence are undoubtedly the band’s driving force, but praise should be given to the knotty riffs worked by Sam Shjipstone on lead guitar too. They relied mainly on their debut The Overload, which recently received a Mercury nod, along with a few tracks from their 2021 EP Dark Days. A string of tumultuous sprechgesang songs ensued: the politically charged ‘Dead Horse’, the tongue-in-cheek ‘Fixer Upper’, the sprawling ‘Land of the Blind’, and their very first single, ‘The Trapper’s Pelts.’ During the latter, the band leant the mic to three girls at the barrier, who sang – well, shouted – its final verse, receiving rapturous applause from fellow audience members. Ending with the album’s explosive titular track, Yard Act left their eager crowd wanting more. Perhaps they’ll return to a slightly bigger stage at Y Not? next year, however, with crowd interaction so crucial to their live performance, I don’t think I’d like to see them on the main stage just yet.
Dream Wife – The Quarry (FT)
I’d liked what I’d heard on Spotify, but Dream Wife live was a totally different experience. Heavier, punkier, and well, a mesmerising performance from the London-based indie band. Rakel Mjöll is everything a frontwoman needs to be – and more. Gliding, stomping, and jumping around on stage, Rakel sang, screamed, and shouted with abundant energy and self-assurance. She also regularly sustained intense eye contact with members of the audience which only added to her captivating and fervent show.
Guitarist Alice Go and bassist Bella Podpadec should not be overlooked, playing and moving around on stage with real passion and zeal. There was a lot of leg kicking! Rakel also engaged the musicians in a theatrical battle of their respective instruments on stage, which was just as entertaining as it sounds!
‘Hasta La Vista’, ‘Let’s Make Out’ and ‘Hey Heartbreaker’ came out top but ‘Somebody’ took on an even greater poignancy following the dystopian overturning of Roe v. Wade in the US, effectively banning abortion in some states. I am confident that ‘Somebody’ lyrics “I am not my body / I am somebody” resonated with every single woman standing in the room and I hope that it made men think too.
Dream Wife is a fiercely feminist band, having recently recorded ‘So When You Gonna’ with an all-female recording team. In the words of Rakel “Put your money where your mouth is!” The indie rock four-piece has been heralded as one of the most talked about new bands, and judging by their epic performance at Y Not?, it’s not hard to see why.
The Vaccines – The Big Gin (ST)
With a decade-long discography to choose from, The Vaccines treated fans to their biggest hits, as well as several cuts from their superb debut, which recently turned 10. Frontman Justin Hayward-Young exuded confidence, sometimes strutting across the stage, other times crawling, and at one point curled up in a ball. For ‘Handsome’, he was handed a beautiful white acoustic guitar – one which he claimed to have been gifted by none other than Dolly Parton, before humorously dedicating the song to the country music icon. Stopping mid-set, the winning result of the Women’s Euros was announced by Hayward-Young himself, as a dozen inflatable footballs were launched into the crowd. Tracks like ‘Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)’, ‘Headphones Baby’, ‘I Can’t Quit’ and ‘Teenage Icon’ sent the audience spiralling into mosh pits. Equally, The Vaccines provided tender moments: a poignant rendition of ‘All in White’ prompted a second acapella chorus from Hayward-Young and the audience.
Blossoms – The Big Gin (ST)
‘Sunday Was a Friend of Mine’ – that’s the title of a track taken from Blossoms’ third record, the criminally underrated Foolish Loving Spaces, and it’s one that they performed, quite appropriately, as Sunday headliners at Y Not. Stockport’s finest pop-rockers gave a masterclass in headlining a festival, rolling out every trick in the book. They invited rising star Brooke Combe, who was first to play on The Big Gin at midday that same day, for a duet of The Human League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me’, a cover that the band had included on their 2021?? Covers collection and have previously performed live. The cover song has become a staple of Blossoms’ live shows – usually a big 1980s’ banger – think Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’, for example. I’ve followed Blossoms’ gradual rise over the years – from performing at libraries, to headlining Edgeley Park, home of their beloved Stockport County F.C., and from topping the bill of the first ever concert since the onset of COVID-19 to selling out a 20,000 strong Manchester Arena gig. So seeing Blossoms finally headline Y Not? – a weekend-festival – seems, well…about right. They have a plethora of huge sing-along pop hits including the kaleidoscopic ‘At Most a Kiss’ and the shimmering ‘There’s a Reason Why (I Never Returned Your Calls)’, as well as the acoustic balladry of ‘My Favourite Room’ (you couldn’t count the number of people atop their friend’s shoulders for this one!), and their somewhat predictable, yet cathartic set-closer ‘Charlemagne.’ Frontman Tom Ogden even found time to strum out Baddiel and Skinner’s ‘Three Lions’, in equal parts responding to the Women’s England Team’s Euro victory, and the crowd’s incessant chants of “it’s coming home” whenever the field fell silent between songs.
Sleaford Mods – The Quarry (FT)
Sleaford Mods do not exist to please or impress and their ‘take it or leave it’ attitude remains intact at their latest performance at Y Not? Festival. The Nottingham spoken-word duo sounded heavier than when I last saw them, but admittedly, that was a few years back. In fact, it felt a bit like a rave watching a sea of lads in bucket hats bouncing around to Jason Williamson’s cutting vocals over Andrew Fearn’s stripped-back electro. Jason seemed pleased when a mosh pit formed.
Jason, Sleaford Mods frontman, is one of British music’s most authentic poets, who talks, sings, and swears about his lived experience in clever rhymes, striking a chord with many. As a result, the Mods – who are not actually Mods – have built up a strong fan base in the UK, and perhaps quite surprisingly, in the US too. Andrew has recently started dancing like Bez which hasn’t quite grown on me yet, but maybe he got bored standing over his laptop. Jason, as always, moved around with sporadic, and spasmodic vigour on stage whilst spitting lyrics into the mic.
‘TCR’, ‘Kebab Spider’ and ‘Jobseeker’ all got the crowd going, but the favourite of the night was easily the latter. Although Jason has come a long way since he brought out the track in 2007, for many fans it’s the first song they heard from the Mods. At least it was for me. Instantly recognisable, funny, political, and – I’m sure – a validating experience for anyone who’s ever had to sign on at the Job Centre. They also played ‘Nudge It’, a recent collaboration with Amy Taylor of Amyl and the Sniffers. Unfortunately, the Aussie punk did not make an appearance on stage like she did at their Nottingham show in November. Not that anyone was expecting that, just wishful thinking from me – a diehard Amyl fan.
Never pretentious, Sleaford Mods offer a contemporary take on punk, with a refreshing dose of gritty realism.
You can read Freya’s interview with Sleaford Mods here.
Early bird tickets for Y Not? Festival 2023 are on sale for £109.50 here. It will take place on 28th-30th July 2023 at Pikehall, Derbyshire. The line-up is yet to be announced.