Sometimes it’s easy to take Brighton’s music scene for granted and things such as 234 Fest may pass you by. Thankfully, I was sent to 234 Fest at the Green Door Store for what was coincidently my last weekend as a permanent Brighton resident. It served as a reminder of all the great things that happen in the city and reminded me what I’ll miss. Certainly an appropriate send off.
The bill for the weekend was full of bands that provide fuzz-ridden feedback in various forms. As I suspected, there were lots of surprise bands on the bill that I hadn’t heard of, but which would become the highlights for me. The days were split in terms of the acts that were offered; the Saturday being mainly bands that played very heavy music that would lean closer to the indie spectrum. The Sunday was comprised of slightly weirder bands, some of which bordered on the hardcore. Both days left my ears ringing.
I peaked at the very start and saw what turned out to be my favourite band that I saw over the weekend, Sick Joy. Fortunately I’d turned up a bit early to get a good spot for The Baby Seals who were on after. However, I was completely blown away by Sick Joy. Underneath all the fuzz and chaos there were some brilliant riffs and chord progressions. They sound like Nirvana before they started having huge singles. All the ingredients are there, it just hasn’t happened yet. They don’t come off as a Nirvana clone band either. That influence is certainly there and visible, but they very much have their own sound and their own songs to go with it. There was a real sense of seeing a successful band before they broke with Sick Joy, I left thinking it would only be a matter of time before I come across them again.
I’d turned up in the afternoon in order to see The Baby Seals, who played a great set, however, the sound issues which were present throughout the weekend became noticeable at this point. The Baby Seals were brilliant and they sound like a slightly more crass version of The Tuts. Their irreverent songs and banter are fun and catchy, often addressing sex and gender themes. Waco, who came on after, played a set at the bar and, as their name would suggest, things get slightly odd. Their frontman is incredibly animated and eccentric. He looks very zen and is launching kung-fu kicks across the room. The band’s set is good, but their stage antics distract slightly from the music. They make for a very entertaining show however.
It’s at this point I slip off for a few hours for some food and a cheeky sit down. It gradually dawns on me that I can’t actually hear anything any more. The festival has been very generously sponsored by Marshall Amplifiers, which I’m sure was a huge bonus for the festival. However, it’s like bringing a rocket launcher to a duel at dawn, it’s just a little too much. In the audience you can’t really hear much beyond the low end fuzz and the bass. It’s a challenge to make out much of the vocals nor many guitar riffs, which forces the bands to try and push even further. It becomes a little more problematic during Slowcoaches’ set who clearly can’t hear anything onstage and they end up introducing their last song after their time is up as they can’t hear the soundman at the back.
For some bands this is more of a problem and for others it works in their favour. It serves brilliantly in creating a sense of chaos which is what a lot of the bands want to do, especially on the Sunday. The line-up is a really good mix of bands from all over and quite a few local artists. The way the festival is organised is very fair and stops anything from dragging on; it’s never too long before you’re hit with something new. Every band is a contrast to the previous and they all have half hour sets with a 15 minute break to set up the next. Everything runs smoothly and nothing ever gets boring.
I’m slightly flagged by the next day, humidity is high and ears are battered. Equipped with ear plugs I’m ready to dive back in. The turn-out isn’t as high Sunday as it was Saturday. However, it is nearly all the same faces again that are back for more. The festival almost becomes a small secret for the audience.
Indian Queens were a real change of pace from everything on at the festival. Their music is delicate and quite beautiful. It sounds almost vague; you can’t really tell specifically what they’re doing apart from creating moody and euphoric music. But I guess that’s probably the point.
I was especially excited to see Youth Man play. I’d only been reunited with them because of this festival. I’d discovered their Bad Weather EP last year – only to lose it and subsequently forget the band’s name when I wanted to find it again. I saw them on the bill and felt like I’d found something that I’d been missing for years. Like being reunited with a stuffed toy animal, except it’s a thrashy punk band. But enough of sentimentality. Their set didn’t disappoint, despite it being clear that they were also suffering from everything being too loud, they keep pushing and pushing till you have no choice but to hear them. Their music is already high paced and frantic. They rise very well to the challenge of doubling it. They end on ‘Skin’ which is the track that started it for me with them, it feels like it’s come full circle now.
234 has catering courtesy of Dirty Vegan who do seitan hot dogs and jackfruit baps. I’m curious of both and arm myself with something called ‘The Linc’ which is a Lincolnshire-style sausage topped with optional jackfruit which I indulge in. The food is going down a storm, sadly I’m battered and knackered by this point and wolf the thing down without much notice. It’s certainly enjoyable and appropriate fuel for an incredibly humid weekend.
Saturday’s headliners were Milk Teeth, whom my friend dubs as the Bristol Massive and wants the band to know this. For Milk Teeth the room gets very busy and lively. They play very well to the huge sound and really deliver. They have a very good balance of chaotic songs put to a pop music template. They’re brilliant headliners and are very well suited to cap off the Saturday, however 234 doesn’t really have the sense of having a headliner. Milk Teeth are the biggest name on the bill and have the prime slot but they have the same stage time as all the other bands. It’s this that makes 234 quite special for me. Every band gets the same shot, any issues are experienced by all and they all get a decent crowd. It really feels like a festival which is genuinely about the music, it’s even free entry. Sunday’s headliners Petrol Girls are a completely unexpected headliner. They use their set to play hardcore punk and in between take moments to talk about consent and gender roles. It becomes something of a punk style Ted Talk.
I’m really very grateful to live in a city where things like this exist. Granted similar events happen all over the country but the Green Door seems to host these free festivals once a month and cater to everything imaginable. 234 was something really special and something I feel is very valuable in creating music scenes around cities. 234 was put on with the sense that the organisers are using this as a chance to share with you their favourite upcoming bands from Brighton and everywhere else too. Despite a few sound issues it serves as a reminder as how much Brighton does value its music and its art. I’ll be making the journey down again next year for sure.