Mutations Festival – Hansen Hall, Portslade – 23rd February 2019

Photo by Iain Lauder

Despite previously appearing back in 2015, the return of Mutations Festival feels like a brand-new festival. Now an all-dayer in a single venue rather than a multi-venue bash, as well as relocating to Portslade’s Hansen Hall and bringing Small Pond on board as co-promoters, it already felt like a whole new thing entirely. As such, there were certainly some teething problems on the day, such as a lack of facilities for such a large number of people, problems with the screens in the main room and, crucially, running out of pints way before its conclusion. However, there was certainly enough promise to keep Mutations alive long enough to become an annual tradition.

First things first, the lineup was stellar throughout. From brilliant up-and-coming local acts endearing themselves to larger than normal crowds, to wonderfully unique takes on the worlds of psychedelia, all the way up to indie heroes bringing the house down, there was enough musical talent onboard for a few days’ worth of entertainment. Additionally, Hansen Hall – rarely used as a music venue – is a lovely site with two quite excellent rooms to experience live music. Alongside food stalls and a gaming area, too, it felt like an extremely unique and enjoyable place for a festival.

Brighton’s Orchards kickstarted our day off with an explosion of enthusiasm. Described as “50% pop, 49% glitter and 1% oat milk”, and signed to Big Scary Monsters, the band performed songs from last year’s Losers/Lovers. Built on spiky, anxiety-riddled riffs, with lead singer Lucy Evers’ beautiful glistening pop vocals, the band provided an excellent start to the festival. Likewise, on the very same Theatre Stage, Chicago’s Ohmme produced one of the set’s of the entire day. Taking a barbarian twist on Tune-Yard’s brand of indie meets afro-beat, the band were utterly magnificent. ‘Icon’, in particular, from their record Parts, is an exotic earworm that no doubt swirled around the entire audience’s mind for the rest of the day. Ending their first ever tour at the festival, I already can’t wait to see them again.

Later on, Wigan outfit Tvam proved that the Theatre Stage was the place to be for the infancy of the festival as they crafted their extraordinary krautrock psych with aplomb. Situating an old-school, 90s block TV smack bang in the middle of the stage, which showcases striking psychedelic images as the band play, it was an incredibly atmospheric performance that harked back to the days of Air and Neu! The crazy delirium-tinged psych continued on the main stage, too, with London-based post-punk outfit Snapped Ankles. An exhilarating quartet, who enhance their atmosphere by donning ghillie suits and planting performers in the crowd to get the audience going, they created one of the most eccentric, yet marvellous moments of the festival.

International psych explorers, Flamingods, continued the rich vein of form seen on the main stage, too, with a quite superb showcase of psych meets jazz. Their new single ‘Marigold’, in particular, is a gorgeous slice of exotic psychedelia that enraptured the audience into their crazy world. Alongside Innerstrings’ superb visuals as their ace backdrop, it was this moment where the festival really started to get into its outrageous groove. Unfortunately, South London quartet Goat Girl brought the place back down to earth. Eschewing new material for songs that are over 18 months old now, and looking thoroughly bored throughout, it was definitely the disappointment of the festival. A terrific band on their day, with a brilliant back catalogue, this was a performance that simply didn’t click.

That cannot be said of headliners White Denim, however, as the Texas outfit brought energy in abundance. Lead guitarist James Petralli and bassist Steven Terebecki are explosive bundles of energy, who play off each other with a brilliant sense of ease. A performance truly worthy of headline-status, the likes of ‘Magazin’ and ‘Performance’ are brilliant psych songs that fit with the festival’s ethos perfectly. Ultimately – a few problems aside – Mutations Festival gives One Inch Badge and Small Pond a very impressive platform to build on. A festival with a great sense of character already, let’s hope it continues into 2020 and beyond.

Liam McMillen