Freelance writer and S&C contributor Phoebe Hedges reviews the first of two Pompey quarter-finals in the Isle of Wight New Blood competition.
As someone who spent their formative years in bars and basements, with her head by the speakers and eyes glued to the stage, entering the Wedgewood Rooms felt like coming home. I took my place in the crowd and soaked up the atmosphere; there was a clear air of hope and anticipation, with each band knowing that this was their chance to prove themselves, not only to their fans, but to the mysterious industry professional who would decide on a second act to go through to the semis.
Although as the night progressed more and more people trickled through the doors, when the first band hit the stage at 7.30pm, the crowd comprised mums, dads, partners and me. It wasn’t the audience I typically associate with rock shows, but what is music for, if not bringing people together?
No one can accuse the bands of giving the performance anything less than everything. Unbridled energy and unfiltered passion blasted from the speakers from the minute Blithe stepped onto the stage until DXTA stepped off. The crowd responded in kind. Though there weren’t any furiously moshing mothers, fans and friends of the bands pushed themselves to the front of the crowd to show their support. Ekowe, most notably, had a very enthusiastic fan who, when she wasn’t dancing wildly in a puddle of her own vodka, cheered louder and longer than anyone else in the room.
Blithe were first to the stage – tasked with opening the show, they eased the audience into their ‘chaos and parties’ style with an instrumental piece exhibiting their guitarist’s talent with a plectrum. Their debut single, Did You Get the Message was a strong finishing number, and one that probably turned the votes in their favour.
Following Blithe were Hallan who upped the ante by being the first – but not the last – band to have a member jump from the stage and push forward into the audience. Hallan were a band who had impressed me through their Spotify releases, and performing live, I saw the force of their music is also found in their stage presence. As frontman Conor bounded about the stage, bashed on his drum and poured his voice into the microphone, an intimidating aura radiated through the venue. It grabbed me by the ears and made it hard to look away.
The New Shoes brought some funk to the punk and a calmer atmosphere to the Wedgewood stage. The lads of the New Shoes were bouncy and energetic, and as their frontman grooved to the music, it was obvious that they were all just doing what they loved. Their latest single, Little Racket, elicited head-bobbing from across the entire audience and though this may not seem like a huge accomplishment, it goes to show that the New Shoes have a type of power that few bands may have. Being able to convince a room of people who aren’t necessarily your own fans is no mean feat.
The softer, less aggressive style of punk continued in Ekowe’s performance. Though there is a space for the head banging, foot stamping beats and riffs found in Blithe and Hallan’s sets, I’ve always been a sucker for the softer, more emotional and introspected styles of punk which can be found in Ekowe’s music and stage presence. Despite the always-impressive and seamless transition of Social Surgery into Stuck on a Fairground Ride, I found it hard to focus on Ekowe’s set as the aforementioned fan was all over the place – including me, several times. Although the overly enthusiastic fan later apologised, I can’t deny her performance was a significant distraction from theirs.
Closing the show was DXTA, and it’s right about now that I should apologise. When I wrote my feature article introducing the bands playing at the Wedgewood Rooms Tuesday night, I didn’t list them as performers, which not only did a disservice to them, but to you, the readers. So, if you want to hear what you were missing, you can find DXTA on Spotify here. I also did a disservice to myself because DXTA are the definition of eclectic and electric. Their performance provided foot-stamping music dashed with the whole band’s endearing personality, as well as the frontman’s, Dexter Krenal.
Once the lights went down on DXTA, there were only five minutes left to cast my vote. In the end, I struggled to pick just one band to vote for, and I decided to make my decision based on who I wanted to see get the chance to develop their raw stage presence into a single, or even an album. Knowing my criteria didn’t make the decision any easier.
I went into the Wedgewood Rooms having favourites from Spotify – Blithe and Hallan – based on their ability to implant earworms and create catchy guitar riffs. Watching Ekowe and the New Shoes, I was impressed by their humble and endearing personalities – when Ekowe’s bassist dropped a pancake-day pun, I was moved.
Finally, I chose – in my mind – the wildcard: DXTA.
Their frenetic performance and the eclectic nature of the band, to me fully embraced the punk spirit. For me, DXTA has it all – the personality, the talent, the energy and the aesthetic. They took a bold risk by incorporating a brief cover into their set, but it paid off. Although all the bands are more than ready, I thought DXTA most deserved to graduate from supporting-act status onto the main stage.
At the end of the night, however, it was Blithe and Ekowe who won a place in the semi-finals, which take place later this year in London. Though they didn’t get my vote, there’s no denying that both Blithe and Ekowe have worked really hard and are undoubtedly deserving of their place in the semis.
I look forward to following all the bands on their journey towards success.
Photography by Phoebe Hedges.