Small Pond Records have always done things their way; supporting bands that they genuinely want to succeed. Thus, their very own festival, Bad Pond Festival, now bigger and better than ever, was a showcase of the alternative side of the music industry and a perfect encapsulation of the Small Pond ethos. Whether it was math rock, indie, pop, or psych, it was a celebration of the bands on the outside of mainstream music, and it had a real community feel of bands supporting bands. Ultimately, it was a diverse and interesting array of acts over two fantastic days and two unique stages, which were staggered in stage times meaning you could catch every single band you wanted to.
The festival kicked off in ferocious style with Birmingham duo Cut Glass Kings, whose riff-heavy style created a raucous opening to the festival. Their brand of bluesy rock and roll with a dirty edge certainly made use of The Arch’s loud sound-system. There’s more than a little touch of Royal Blood to the two-piece but, with a lovely slice of psych brought into proceedings, it’s clear to see why they’re signed to James Skelly’s (The Coral) Skeleton Key Records, which has been the home of Blossoms, She Drew The Gun and Sundowners.
Next up was Brighton’s very own Wild Cat Strike in The Arch’s offshoot venue The Hub. The band have been making a name for themselves around the city with some sweet support performances for the likes of The Xcerts and Demob Happy. The Small Pond signees are a difficult band to pigeonhole, which makes them all the more exciting, but there’s an almost melancholic Americana twinge to their songs that reminds me of a heavier version of The National, or Biffy Clyro at their slowest. Importantly, though, there’s a melodic edge which makes their songs not only incredibly catchy but also very easy to sing-along to.
The main stage then offered up the heavier side of psychedelia. Firstly, Brighton’s own progressive metal band Toska, who were returning to the festival for the second time, showcased their driving, dynamic psych music with monstrous riffs that offer a killer edge. It was loud, in your face, and very impressive. Then, Croydon’s Slabdragger impressed with a ten minute cover of Frank Zappa’s ‘Muffin Man’ which perfectly blended the laid back nature of Zappa with the dirty riffs of the band.
Taking the headline slot on the Friday was The Physics House Band, who offered up their delicious amalgamation of math and jazz-rock with a heavier, moshier edge in the live sphere. Simply put, the band are exciting, technically excellent and an incredible live experience under atmospheric and eccentric lighting. They also played an as yet unnamed new song, which they’re planning to record when they jet off to Italy in a couple of days. There’s clearly more to come from The Physics House Band and, on this showing, with the crowd at its most passionate and rowdy all day, they’ll certainly be back with a bang. With mosh pits for nearly every song, and the band on top form, they were head and shoulders above every band on the Friday.
The Hub, which proved to be the place to be for most of the Saturday, started proceedings with Brighton duo Sit Down, who played an early set before they supported indie-grungers Drenge at The Old Market. Describing themselves as, “Trash punk”, it was certainly the perfect band to offer a pick me up to anyone still suffering from last night’s events. Sit Down were exceptional, essentially a blues-rock outfit in the vein of The White Stripes, the exciting element of the band is the interchanging of vocals between the two band members.
Young band Drip Gloss, who have pricked Brightonsfinest ears with some excellent support slots for the likes of FUR and Willie J Healey over recent months, continued The Hub’s excellent form. The four-piece are like Sunflower Bean and Paramore meets The Big Moon, by way of Charlie XCX and, honestly, if that isn’t the most exciting description of a band I don’t know what is. Essentially built on catchy indie-pop tunes, they have an exceptional amount of polish for a newer band. With the likes of ‘Caffeine Queen’, which is an indie pop banger, they’re sure to breakout of Brighton before the year is out. It was the best set of the weekend by a country mile.
Bristol six-piece and Small Pond favourites, Cousin Kula played the main stage next with their brand of bursting psych-pop with traces of a dubstep mix. There’s definitely a measure of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd but with a modern edge that effuses a Tame Impala sensation. At times the main stage did seem a little big for them, but with final song ‘Working For It’ they seemed to own the sparse space with its churning riffs, and tropical trip-hop-style drum patterns, evoking the likes of Glass Animals. The six-piece are an incredibly exciting band, and I’ll be first in line for their first Brighton headline show.
Brighton four-piece, Libra Libra, who are riding high off their excellent debut single ‘Animali’, were up next in The Hub. “It’s our second ever show, so be gentle” lead singer Beth Cannon stated before rocking into their first number. They’re definitely heavier than the Tune-Yards-inspired ‘Animali’ suggests, but it’s hard not to be captivated by Cannon’s impressive, Beth Ditto-esque vocal abilities.
Brightonsfinest favourite wavy pop quartet Yumi and The Weather were next to continue The Hub’s consistency. The Hub wasn’t quite the best place to showcase the band but, nevertheless, they seem to be developing lots of different exciting sounds. “We’re playing lots of new stuff that is hopefully out in August” stated Ruby Taylor halfway into their short set. It’s exciting news, and on this display, with mixes of shoegaze, psych-folk and indie pop, it’s sure to be an exciting year for the band.
Such was the diversity on the line-up at The Hub, pop punkers Gender Roles were up next capping off their ‘Free Entry’ tour in their home city. The band are built on two to three minutes bursts of pop-punk, with new song ‘Always Picking Up’ displaying that they show no signs of let up when it comes to exciting, chorus-led bangers. Their on-stage talk was impressive too. In the middle of their set, while they were tuning for the next song, frontman Tom Bennett simply stated, “Anyone got any jokes? Jokes about dog costumes?” before bassist Jared Tomkins chipped in with “Sting and Shaggy have done an album together!” They’re an exciting band, with a live show that feels different every time you see it.
There was a running theme going through the main stage monologue that started with London trio Tangled Hair. Not only did all three of the final bands – Tangled Hair, Delta Sleep and headliners Ttng – play similar, dynamic psych with little vocals, but they all complained about the smoke on stage which, frankly, did become a little ridiculous. “We’ve got enough smoke” Tangled Hair announced at the start of their set, while Delta Sleep comically stated, “Can we stop with the smoke? I’ve got asthma!”
Oxford math rockers Ttng then performed a headline set which was truly fantastic and classically of the band. With the excellently composed, delicate guitar work and sophisticated and complex drumming, it was an incredibly tight set. Of course, for a band that have been around for almost 15 years, they are completely comfortable on stage, playing the complicated time signatures and nailing the offbeat timing with confidence. Furthermore, the vocals are impeccable throughout, with the band perfectly making use of The Arch’s atmospheric lighting.