Equal parts gnarly hard rock and unapologetic noise, Detestival is Sheffield’s temple of shock. As the name suggests, and the body horror flicks spinning on the wall reminds us, there’s a perversity guiding Detestival, a wanton freakishness wildly mixing things that shouldn’t work, just to piss off the ‘isn’t rock sacred?’ crowd. On a very basic level, it’s about provocation. It’s also about fantastic, odd bands painting a kaleidoscopic picture of rock music past and future.
This is a messy two-dayer, not just because of too many burritos and too much beer. There are musical casualties too; Hookworms in particular seem to lose control of their apocalyptic din, unable to convey the subtler intricacies of their music. The set is curtailed after twenty minutes. At their best, Hookworms sounded like a really great party… happening upstairs while you’re strung out on Beechams watching Logan’s Run – catchy, but distant. Likewise, Bloodsports have a thoroughly jamming (this word will be used again) approach to live performance, a consciously divisive tack that will hypnotise Steve Reich-loving math rock fans and alienate many others. Hookworms sound like a system of cogs gently shifting out of sync. Honourable mention from Day One needs to go to Leeds’ Black Moth, a metal band both very tight and very slow with a penchant for fast pummelling turnarounds. They have some get ensemble playing with firm structural twists and turns.
But it’s a horrible, competitive world out there, so here’s the Day One winners – Wet Nuns, Wolf People and Bo Ningen. As curators par excellence, Wet Nuns have the best of both worlds – massive hometown anticipation, a formidable live reputation under their bandanas, and a slew of bands here to ratify their style. Wet Nuns are God and they’ve built Detestival in their image, delivering the K.O. to Day One with all the best parts of what’s gone before them. These chaps are also genuinely warm and self-deprecating on stage, which compliments an all-killer, no-filler set chockful of blues riffs and slack-strung noodling, tightly focused into hook-laden songs. Duos don’t have anywhere to hide live, so Wet Nuns skilfully trend the loose/tight tightrope, with particular credit going to Rob’s fine growl. Oh, and they do their smutty Beatles routine (Alexis went to Mexico recently; it becomes a ‘Ring Of Fire’ gag), sparking off each other like a comedy double act. It’s not hard to see why people are falling head over heels for this lot. After a breathless set, Rob physically lifts the top of Queens Social Club and has a good old rummage around – I don’t know why, but that’s intimacy right there. And hey look, I got through a piece without any wet puns. Win win.
Personal favourites Wolf People are a world apart from the rest of Day One – they’re preoccupied with melodies. After Wet Nun’s mammoth set, the lights don’t even dim for Wolf People’s epilogue to Day One, which actually gives their show an nicely informal hue. Part Led Zeppelin, part beard, they’re honestly bewildered by the warm welcome but deserve it all as the most richly musical band on the bill. As each member tirelessly conjuring tunes and hooks, Wolf People do as good a job as anyone to rehabilitate folk-rock while summarising the best rock music that’s come since. There’s something about the mournful vocals, stylistically free guitar manoeuvres and a bassist channelling major Jamerson/McCartney vibes that makes me wish 1967 never ended, that Detestival didn’t exist. Wolf People are startling proof there’s more to rock than drone.
Jesus, Bo Ningen. Who are you? Does Queens have ample parking for your rocket ship from the future? They’ve been acclaimed, but this is ridiculous (Twitter was later awash with bitter awe from the rest of Detestival’s bill). From that first echoed scream, Bo Ningen’s show was sheer voyeurism into the unchained mind of four Japanese red silk psychopaths. The lighting guy got a serious fit of ADD at this point, ushering an hysterically OTT rock maelstrom that other rock bands can’t match. The London post-rockers sound so utterly massive and carry such presence it’s not even rock any more, and makes you feel like you’re witnessing Little Richard’s revolutionary proto-rock’n’roll all over again. There’s a pure expressionism that ties in with the frontman’s bizarre agonised face-pulling and abstract gestures, laced with acres of delay. It’s hard rock in a cathedral and you’ve drunk too much Communion. Samara from The Ring formed a band. Spectacle of the festival, hands down.
Oh dear, Sunday is a tender time. As the throng wearily wonder back to Queens Social Club for Detestival Day Two, our spirits are buoyed by another day of top-notch live acts, starting with angry young men Temple Of Coke (sadly, Hawk Eyes cancel at the last minute because of an amp/toe altercation). If yesterday was more metal-leaning and stoner-rockish, Day Two is shot through with plenty of punk punch.
Salem Rages straddles the void between doom-rock frustration and punk catharsis. Maniacal giggles and a shaman of a frontman chatting shit and/or being Jim Morrison (‘What day is it?! Easter?! Christmas?!’) coat a ragtag bunch of Cure-y and thrash metal inspired tunes. Taking a turn in the road, next up comes John J Presley and his band of merry men, pedalling a deeply ferocious desert rock somewhere between Wet Nuns and Nick Cave’s Grinderman. John himself looks fucking serious while rocking out, preaching his sermon from the stage, with a sound well-spaced and underpinned by traditional song-writing clout.
As Kult Country wrap up the afternoon with shades of shoegaze and space rock, Queens Social Club is starting to get tired and emotional. Sad to see Detestival slowly floating back to the Great Drawing Board In The Sky, knackered and pretty drunk, there only two slots left to capture the joyous mood – retro-tastic upstarts Temples and experienced groove dudes Toy. These two are also something of a departure of the rest of the weekend’s line-up – Temples, super-classical pop psych kids with a sole radio-slaying single to their name, and an obsessive jam band with a sadistic streak, formerly of indie hype stardom, now called Toy.
Temples are Detestival’s only pop band, and the only band with a sing-along, ‘Shelter Song’ (which is kinda the same thing). The singer, the spitting image of Marc Bolan, isn’t big on banter, but the antique instruments and vintage harmonies on display say it all. The poppiest act on this weekend but not the most memorable, Temples have a pristine sound without much ‘live’ character to elevate their set about the relaxed improv seen elsewhere, though by the sound of their next single these chaps may escape the shadow of ‘Shelter Song’. Still a work in progress.
With Hawk Eyes now off the schedule, Toy are the Day Two’s de facto headliners. Largely made up of ex-Joe Lean and The Jing Jang Jong (remember them?), their faces may be familiar, but their sound, hairdos and wardrobe have moved on. Cue krautrock elongations, unironic cowboy shirts and Lynyrd Skynyrd-style curtains. No one expected Toy to take home the Loudest Band award after the line-up we’ve endured, but they clinch the accolade with set closer ‘Kopter’, a handful of chords creeping up in volume and density over seven, blood-curdling minutes. I’ve never seen My Bloody Valentine live, but I’ve heard that idea whereby the extreme volume first brings panic, then serenity – there’s peace in the powerlessness. Toy achieve something like that with ‘Kopter’, a strange tranquillity. Not pop, not prog, not really krautrock, Toy are closer to an ambient punk music, above all interested in bloody great noise. Just what Detestival’s all about.
We were right to be excited about Detestival. Under the careful eye of Wet Nuns, the weekend has brought together a group of bands as sympathetic as they are diverse, showcasing a crop of talent you probably won’t have even known existed. With a genius line-up and the kind of intimacy you can only get from fourteen bands and one venue, Detestival has hit the nail on the head – this is what small festivals should be like. Wet Nun’s guitarist Rob, teased during their set that Detestival may return next year – let’s hope so. Detestival, after all, is just the beginning. If you didn’t have a chance to pop down, catch these lot live, download their album, buy the T-shirt… and cross your fingers for next year.