Rockaway Beach 2023 @ Butlin's, Bognor Regis, UK, 6-9 January 2023 | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, June 12th, 2024  

The Anchoress

Self Esteem, The Anchoress, Yard Act, Peter Hook and the Light, Low Hummer, OMD

Rockaway Beach 2023 @ Butlin’s, Bognor Regis, UK, 6-9 January 2023,

Jan 18, 2023 Photography by Shaun Gordon Web Exclusive
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Rockaway Beach is the big three-day weekender at Bognor Regis Butlins and the perfect holiday camp for everything indie! The unmissable event unites definitive legacy acts with a colossal cultural impact with the essential bands defining the current stylistic climate and the hot new things bubbling just under the surface, sure to shape the way of things to come. No wonder we love it, and our favourite festival has become an unmissable event for the serious gig goer’s calendar.

The killer combo of bringing together the best of the past, present and future that makes it so exhilarating, and attendees agree with tickets selling out for the first time making this the biggest Rockaway yet! And the festival has grown to meet demand, now featuring over 40 performing acts and DJs plus Q&As on the Main Stage, Reds second stage and Bar Rosso. And now, for the first time ever, the growth has caused slot clashes for the very first time, ensuring Beach Bums enjoyed a choice between the expertly curated line up ensuring a continued high-quality experience bespoke to their tastes.

When it comes to seminal headliners, it doesn’t get much better than Peter Hook & The Light whose illustrious career spans two truly pioneering bands. The burly bassists opted to open with his origins and kicks off with a set centred around Joy Division, playing such gloomy masterpieces as “Disorder”, “She’s Lost Control” and “Transmission” to an adoring audience, a good half of whom are uniformly wearing an Unknown Pleasures T-shirt.

Peter Hook & The Light
Peter Hook & The Light

Hooky can’t really go wrong with so many hits to choose from, and the mood changes from chin stroking to jubilant as the second half moves into the New Order era, raising the roof with “Temptation” and “Blue Monday”. He even chucks in his side project Monaco’s “What Do You Want From Me?” for good measure. And what better way to end than “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, which prompts a hair-raising singalong response from everyone present.

Similarly, The Undertones kept bringing out hit after hit rousing the Sunday crowd with such pop punk classics as “Jimmy Jimmy”, “MyPerfect Cousin” and “Here Comes The Summer” bringing a bit of well needed brightness to rain drenched Bognor. Further brilliant blasts from the past came courtesy of Brummy ska legends The Beat whose anti-racism message and challenge to the power of the cruel right wing is as vital now as their heyday. And The Primitives who remain sharp as ever and frontwoman Tracy Tracy is still cool as fuck, delivering “Crash” with such sublime nonchalant ire.

There’s a homely feeling to Rockaway and none are more welcome back than Rebecca Lucy Taylor, better known as the now Mercury nominated R&B / alt popstar Self Esteem. Her second time gracing Bognor Butlins and now on the main stage, there are many who came first and foremost to see her, and they certainly are not disappointed as we’re treated to a first class set centred around her crucial second album Prioritise Pleasure.

It’s maybe less slick in terms of coordination compared to her own shows and other festival slots, and maybe that’s due to the sense of familiarity Rebecca seems to share with both the festival and her many fans. As she seems more at ease, confident that her points are proven, and her greatness acknowledged. The Rotherham lass waves goodbye to all, tells us “This is called “The Best”. Ta-ra “ and leaves on such a rousing high with one of her most powerful tunes.

Self Esteem
Self Esteem

We were also very pleased to see political post punks LIFE back for another year, also now on the Main Stage where they rightly deserve to be. Their latest record North East Coastal Town may not be as frenetic as their previous output, opting for a more considered and introspective account of living in the often overlooked Hull City, but their slot becomes as riotous as ever with singer Mez Green sat on the shoulders of yours truly during heart racing single “Popular Music” and the fevered mob chanting along to all their energetic anthems, finishing on the truly epic “Friends Without Names”.

And although it was their first time at Rockaway, it was also a brilliant blast from the past to enjoy Sunderland’s finest The Futureheads again – especially as indie sleaze has become a thing again. Initially expecting to be drowned in nostalgia, it was fantastic to see the boys on top form, blasting out such classic mid-00’s hits as “The Beginning of the Twist” and “Decent Days And Nights” like they had just written them. Their enthusiasm is infectious, literally as Barry Hyde complains he’s lost his voice “from having a weak immune system living in this dystopian nightmare”. But the energy remains high all the way through offering one of the rowdier moments of the weekend.

Looking at this year’s highlights, and we need to talk about The Anchoress aka songwriter and producer Catherine Anne Davies. From the moment she strides onstage in sharp leopard print suit, she conveys a sense of complete control, finding her place amongst an impressive array of keyboards and synths. She then proceeds to deliver revenge as a dish best served cold; metering out a measured yet considerable rage that continues to simmer dangerously throughout her appearance.

It’s been a long time coming, as Catherine has been forced to isolate for years due to health concerns and this is the first time she has been able to perform tracks from her latest LP The Art Of Losing. We are treated to such sharp songs as “One for Sorrow”, “Show Your Face”, and more, each executed with flawless precision (save one little mis-start performing the title track). Far from an easy listen, given the subject matters of sexual assault and miscarriage, we are kept dangling on a hook, with each song giving an unflinching account of her own bitter experiences as Catherine is both poisoned and passionate. She ends on her unique take on “Bizarre Love Triangle” (which Hooky missed a trick not playing the night before) before bowing out with her cutting single “The Exchange”, proving to be the most compelling artist of the weekend.


And although it would have been a real treat to watch Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark as the Saturday night headline on the main stage, Leeds based supergroup Yard Act certainly don’t disappoint in Reds, playing with more boisterous confidence than we’ve seen from them before. It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year since their debut album The Overload nearly topped the charts, and there is a little disappointment when they tell us just ahead of their slot that there will be no new material tonight (unless you count “Human Sacrifice!). But, with killer tracks like “Payday”, “Witness (Can I Get A?)” and “Dark Days” who cares? And sure, OMD have got the legacy. But this is now, and the Leeds lads provide the wild ride we want. If this is the high level of quality that clashes at Rockaway will produce, let’s have more.

Singer James Smith’s greets the crowd, initially jubilantly crying out “Cheers for the vibes Bognor. First week of January you silly cunts” but his mood sours somewhat half way through the set when he can’t be arsed to recite the poetic bits of “Peanuts” and asks if anyone can remember it and do it for him (no-one can). But it doesn’t dampen the spirit of the band nor the roaring audience who generate an over eager crowd surfer during last track “The Trapper’s Pelts” to Smith’s chagrin. It will be interesting to see the reception Yard Act get when they tour Australia in the coming weeks, and how a very Yorkshire take on sprechgesang is received Down Under. But here in Blighty, they are clearly on top of their game, and we can’t wait to hear their sophomore record.

Yard Act
Yard Act

And speaking of Yorkshire; Hull is also the hometown of a much talked about sextet Low Hummer whose brash mix of new wave with post punk and boy / girl lead vocal dynamic sounds so perfect on their colossal anthems “Sometimes I Wish (I Was A Different Person)”, “Talk Shows” and “Panic Calls”. It’s a rapid-fire appearance from a group who know you don’t win fans with self-indulgence, going in hard and fast with so many bangers it’s leaving Reds speechless. Which begs the question; just why aren’t they huge yet? Certainly, they have the songs, the style, the attitude. And the roars of approval from the onlookers as they leave suggest that they agree, showing every sign of a group in continued swift ascent, destined to be indie icons.

As mentioned before, Rockaway is the best vantage point to see the direction of the year ahead and get an early glimpse of the major names of the year. Leading the way are festival openers openers Panic Shack who are showing every sign of being THE breakthrough band of 2023 thanks to their ramshackle, riot grrl informed punk rock. It isn’t easy being the very first act on, but the nervous smiles and shy shrugs give way to a solid set of snotty, barbed shouting and angry three chords plus they even chucked in a couple of DIY coordinated dance routines. It’s a testament to the Cardiff kids appeal that Reds has never been so busy so early, and the Beach Bums flocked to see them a second time the next day.

Posed, positioned and immaculately cool. London trio deep tan have yet to make a real impact, and that may largely be due to their wilfully uncomfortable sound. But there is a brilliance in their unconventional approach to deconstructed disco and broken-down post punk. Their style is so abrupt, they often end before stunned spectators expect resulting in slight awkward silence in between songs. Yet I hear an incredible honesty in their honed talent, tight and precise, without the need for cheap gimmicks or crowd-pleasing theatrics. Their taut sound will soon infect the airwaves and see venues packed full when they reach headline status.

Low Hummer
Low Hummer

A little attitude goes a long way, and Modern Woman have bags of angst. Singer Sophie Harris’ voice reaches heavenly heights and punctuates syllables with considerable force despite her protests that she thinks it’s going to give way any moment. Their growling blues rock draws obvious parallels to PJ Harvey, and similar iconic importance beckons.

Another welcome surprise were The Goa Express who are heavier than the name suggests and prove to be heavier live than their wonderfully jangly studio output. Looking impossibly young and effortlessly cool; it’s C86 without the woolly nonsense and I’m most definitely here for it. Whereas lesser acts have stumbled upon a sound but don’t have the skill to pen the songs; The Goa Express are a relentless locomotion of anthems. Next stop, cult band status. Final stop; true greatness.

And if you see feminist punks Dream Nails, Rotterdam indie pop sensations Rats On Rafts or violin led post punk troika Pozi playing a stage near you, make sure you grab a ticket because you’re in for a treat!

Once again Rockaway Beach must be congratulated on their expert curation, providing the perfect party atmosphere for those with a discerning palate, eclectic tastes, and an eagerness to discover something new. And whereas many other festivals seem to shamefully struggle to get even a single woman in their line up; Rockaway continues to lead the way with a diverse roster of gender and ethnicity proving there’s way more thrilling music out there than just middle-class white boys with guitars. When summer comes around and I’m stuck in a field, bored by a joyless line up forced upon us in a cynical bid to get punters to buy as many overpriced pints as possible; I’ll be dreaming of Bognor Butlins and looking forward to the little bit of magic only their wild imaginations can conjure.


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