For young people who feel they have outgrown the likes of Reading and Leeds Festival, Derbyshire’s Y Not Festival feels like the perfect next step. Where Reading and Leeds offers an almost-feral experience, and the promise of a tent set on fire, Y Not is a natural graduation in your concert-going career. Last weekend in Pike Hall, Derbyshire, thousands of keen (and muddy) festivalgoers headed to Y Not, to enjoy a weekend full of music in the countryside.
The opening day’s headliners were indie mainstays Bombay Bicycle Club, who succeeded in putting on a fantastic show that revived us from our long journey and whet our appetite for the days of performances to come. Following this, we headed to one of the bar tents for a drink and a dance and were met with 30-odd people singing The Strokes’ ‘Last Nite’ at the top of their lungs, along with a proud-looking DJ, giving the warm, happy feel of a family wedding or a school reunion.
Waking up on the Friday morning, naturally hungover, we decided to explore the whole of the festival grounds. Y Not offered many delicious street food stalls, selling almost any cuisine you could think of. Prices reflected the rising costs of the festival. Pike Hall also boasted a multitude of bars, stages, and even a hair salon.
The first act we saw on Friday was The Pigeon Detectives, who came on in the early afternoon due to a scheduling change, yet impressed me with their huge levels of energy and enthusiasm while performing. They even admitted to the audience that they hadn’t expected to be greeted with such a large crowd. They delivered a fun set of noughties nostalgia (think ‘Take Her Back and ‘I Found Out’, a song immortalised by its use in Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging) revving up the pace of the day brilliantly.
The next act we saw was the Rotherham-based indie rockers The Reytons, who took to the main stage. Whilst I was not a particular fan of the band’s songs, they undoubtedly related to and enthralled the crowd, with mosh pits and impassioned singing rife throughout the audience.
The highlight of this day would have to be the next act we saw on the main stage, The Wombats. An indie festival staple, this Liverpool trio never fail to deliver, with a stellar setlist of songs both new and old, lively and melancholy. They continued the noughties nostalgia set by The Pigeon Detectives earlier, with an added injection of chaos that saw me fall over in at least two mosh pits.
The evening’s line-up rounded off with a visually perfect performance by headliners Royal Blood. The Sussex-based rock duo took to the stage in their signature red and black, with lead singer Mike Kerr donning a black leather jacket and wet-look hair that, partnered with their huge musical sound, gave a very polished, classic rock vibe.
We ended our evening with visits to both the silent disco and Y Not’s on-site nightclub, Club Malibu. The silent disco was not free to enter but not expensive, at £5 a pop, and was fun with a good selection of tunes to choose from. It provided exactly what it said on the tin: cheesy 80s music.
Our Saturday started off with the Lancashire Hot Pots, an impossible to hate, comedy folk band from St Helens, whose infectious tunes had everyone in the crowd singing along by the end of the set, even those who had never listened to these songs before. There was even a conga line that included the entire audience.
Manchester legends James took to the main stage on Saturday evening. Lead singer Tim Booth’s distinct vocals and cool performance style were a hit with the audience, as thousands turned up to watch the band, singing emphatically to legendary favourites like the 1990 hit, ‘Sit Down’.
Saturday night saw the standout performance of the weekend. Kasabian, the veteran band and staple of the alternative rock genre wowing audiences with their setlist and energy. The new trio formation of the band, led now by guitarist Sergio Pizzorno, proved that absolutely nothing can slow these rock giants down, not even the loss of their frontman from the line-up. Flying straight into the set with ‘L.S.F’, Kasabian started as they meant to go on. They electrified the crowd with their densely packed discography, even mixing in a few well-known dance tracks, before ending with ‘Fire’, a song that created an atmosphere that was as if we were being called to war together and this was our anthem.
This was one of the maddest crowds I have been in. The Leicester-originated three-piece have well and truly earned their legendary status. The simple, yet effective chant of “Sergi-ooo” echoed throughout the crowd with every pause of the music, a well-deserved recognition of Pizzorno’s place amongst the great rock frontmen.
On Sunday afternoon, I sat down with the lovely Henry Camamile and Oli Khan of indie rock band Sea Girls, a band whose traction in the indie genre has been increasing at a rapid rate, given they only formed in 2015 and released their acclaimed debut album Open Up Your Head in 2020. We talked to them about what it meant to them to be back at Y Not and what they’re excited about in their upcoming journey as a band.
Having arrived at the festival site less than an hour before my talk with them, lead singer Henry met me at his dressing room door with a smile and an extended hand. We sat down inside, joined by drummer Oli, and the boys told me which sets they were interested in catching before their performance: “Twin Atlantic are on before us […] I saw them at TRNSMT a year or two years ago and I thought they were awesome.” Khan explains, before Camamile adds, “I was a fan when they were around the first time […] all these guys were like ‘Who are these guys?’ when we saw them at TRNSMT and I was like ‘I know all these songs!’ I like DMAs as well, I’ve become quite a big fan recently of them.”
After explaining that I had seen them perform live a few times before, dating back to Community Festival in 2019, I asked how festival sets compare to headline shows, and whether they would say they prefer one to the other – given that it feels like they really thrive in the festival setting. Hinting at the idea that he is still not used the spotlight, Camamile tells me, “It’s kind of weird, every show kind of goes as it goes… and it takes for me to get off stage to know if I like it”, with Khan contextualising today’s gig by saying, “I feel like this weekend’s a good one because we did a warm-up show last night, so we got to do both so that’s pretty good.”
Hinting at new music, the boys told me that one of their favourite songs to play live at the moment was their upcoming release, ‘Weekends and Workdays’, a track they informed me would be played live that evening. Camamile says, “It’s an exciting time at the moment… we haven’t put a track out for a while so there’s a lot of that stirring […] hopefully The Quarry stage will know the lyrics by the end of it.”
Explaining the significance of Y Not Festival to them as a band, Henry tells me that “It’s quite an important festival for us […] we had a great time in 2019 it was our first big festival, we played The Quarry stage early on and now we’re headlining it so that’s quite special, and this is our first proper stage headline we’ve done”. Interestingly, drummer Oli Khan tells me that he came to Y Not festival twice with his family before he was in Sea Girls, reminiscing on watching Catfish and the Bottlemen and Circa Waves here, the latter being a band they now know personally. Camamile comments, “It’s wild because now we kind of know Circa Waves and then we know people like The Kooks which is wild,” adding to the same idea that Sea Girls’ fame and success hasn’t quite caught up with the band members yet, who remain humble and excited at every opportunity they are presented with.
I managed to catch the entirety of Sea Girls’ performance headlining The Quarry stage that evening and was hugely impressed with their confidence and control. The matching Levi’s jackets sported by the boys signified their synchronicity with one another as the four-piece ensemble flowed through their set without a hitch, conveying their gratitude and love for the crowd as they went. The tent was overflowing with fans desperate to see the boys, many braving the rain and the mud for the privilege, demonstrating the exciting pathway to indie stardom they are quickly travelling down. Their festival season does not end here, however, with sets at both Victorious and Reading and Leeds lined up.
Also playing on the Sunday evening were Australian rock band DMA’s, whose main stage performance felt like an intimate and close acoustic show of ballads, despite the thousands in attendance to witness the trio perform.
Y Not wrapped up a weekend of stellar performances with ‘the Modfather’ himself, Paul Weller. Exuding coolness and dispelling any accusations of being too old to headline a major festival, Weller delighted the crowd with songs from The Jam, The Style Council, and his solo career alike, even dedicating a song to the late Sinead O’Connor, whom he referred to as his “sister in song.”
The growth of this festival is an exciting one to watch, the atmosphere in the crowds was some of the best that I’ve experienced, and the names it is attracting are getting more exciting – I can’t wait to come back.