LIVE REVIEW: Hit The North | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: SHAME by Thomas Jackson

Words: Thomas Jackson

On paper, Hit The North is the epitome of what a metropolitan festival should be – a city pulling together, venues overflowing with great music all day, featuring a mixture of established acts, breakthrough artists and local talent. It’s a tried and tested model, and it works. But that’s on paper.

On the music front, Hit The North 2019 was a fantastic event, that can’t be denied, with Shame, Sports Team and Sheafs all turning in standout performances, whilst the local contingent were well represented by The Lake Poets, Dylan Cartlidge, the up and coming Roxy Girls, and a superb showcase by newcomers Parallax Skies.

What stood out a mile on this bill was the scarcity of women who had been booked to play, particularly in the more prestigious venues. Yes we had Lauren Aquilina, She Drew The Gun and Catherine McGrath, and all are superb, but seeing a woman onstage at this event is becoming somewhat akin to playing Where’s Wally. If music is about voice and expression and protest (and I believe it is) then we need to address this imbalance with regards festival booking. The old argument that ‘there aren’t any female acts of the right level’ just doesn’t
wash any more.

It’s been noted time and time again that scheduling appears to be a challenge for Hit The North. Without any apparent central organisation, and venues left to ‘do their own thing’, time slippage quickly means that the published timetable is a thing of fiction. At one point late in the day, a packed and increasingly restless Riverside audience was faced with a clearly frustrated SOAK standing onstage for around 45 minutes twiddling their thumbs whilst not much at all seemed to be happening. When they finally got started, around 75 minutes behind schedule, their already short set was curtailed to just 20 minutes, much to the bemusement of those who had tolerated the lengthy delay. Similar scenes were reported from around the festival, ensuring that carefully planned routes soon went out of the window, and highly anticipated acts missed.

By far the biggest issue with this event, however, is the security provision, or lack thereof. When customers are paying £40 a ticket, they are entitled to expect a certain level of safeguarding. Several venues (including The Bridge, Brewdog and at times even bigger venues such as The Riverside) weren’t even bothering to check wristbands. More worrying, however, was the lack of pit security in place. I can accept that smaller venues generally don’t need it, and those audiences tend to be self-policing, but it is staggering that Riverside headliners Shame, probably the heaviest band on the bill, were not seen to necessitate pit security to ensure audience welfare. It is only thanks to luck, and a responsible crowd, that no-one was hurt during their frenetic, raucous set.

Events of this scale are obviously prone to logistical issues, and with sixteen stages and around 140 acts to contend with, the organisers had an unenviable task on their hands. Promoting gigs is hard, and promoting festivals is exponentially harder, however, if Hit

The North is to continue from the gig-going community of the North East, there are major issues which surely must be addressed in the 2020 iteration.

Image: Parallax Skies by Thomas Jackson

Words: Damian Robinson

If the previous day at Live at Leeds has taught me anything it’s that inner city, multi-venue festivals are hard to organise. They’re also hard to participate in. Changing times, overlapping favourites, time-consuming distance to venues; none of these facts are particularly helpful to music fans who want to see as much good live music as possible.

What inner city festivals perhaps require the most is the understanding from music fans that these things are hard to co-ordinate. As a reward for your understanding you get the payoff of seeing a number of artists at a decent price. Quite simply, inner city festivals are a trade-off between logistics and line-up. 

My own inner city festival tactic is pretty simple; I choose to dig in. Gone are the days of trying to be in four places at once and sacrificing being at the front in one venue to have to start all over at the back in another. If you’re at an inner city festival for the music, then it’s sometimes best to avoid the party and hedge your bets on one venue.

So at Hit The North I spend most of the day at the Head of Steam which seems to have the best line-up for dance, hip-hop and grime fan, starting with local MC, and an artist who deserves to be topping rather than opening the day, Kay Greyson. Given a thirty minute set Grayson is on blazing form with her De La Soul style of laid back, intelligent, rhythms. Standout cuts Colours, Come Down, Give It All, Sauce and Call The Police all show off her remarkable style and growing library of impressive tracks. 

A ridiculously quick turn around and Drive are up next with their blend of 80’s retro dance pop. Playing their first ever gig they need the first song to steady their nerves before nailing their sound with second track, Freeze Frame.  By their third track, Monolith, they’re finding top form with lovely pop melodies and early Depeche Mode references.

In a diverse line-up it’s hard to make out the connection between Kay, Drive and next artist Sweets until someone points out that they’re here as part of the Soul Kitchen party, a nod to the local label and presumably part-home to our first three acts of the day. It’s a mood-changing showcase given its hip-hop to pop and back to hip-hop narrative, but it works well with Sweets showcasing his hip-hop flows about lads’ holidays, trying to find meaning in life, and getting into misdemeanours with friends.  This being his Newcastle live debut he’s on fine form and as he raps on standout track Girl From Ibiza one day he may truly fall from the stage and his audience will catch him.

From hip-hop we return back to electro pop in this afternoon’s flip-flop of genres with three-piece San Junipero.  Upbeat, electro, and in search of pop’s golden melodies, there’s something of Alphabeat about them and their quest for the dance floor.  Standout tracks #077, and fellow EP-mate Black Ice cause some dancing in the crowd but it’s standout Stargazer which steals the set with its deep grooves and infectious beat.   

We’re back to hip-hop next with Irish MC Kojaque and his hard-hitting rhymes about toxic masculinity, youth violence and having no-future.  Part braggadocio fronting of Connor McGregor and part heartbreak and street tales of Gil Scott Heron, Kojaque’s skill is to find his in your face confidence, and then shatter it by letting you see the reality of where this confidence comes from.  As Kojaque himself raps, this might be Ireland’s answer to The Chronic and he’s someone well worth watching out for if you like The Streets and Plan B.

Kojaque’s set kicks us off onto an amazing run of three superb live shows, and on any other day he would end with the title of standout performance. However, today’s not any day and even his precise flow and deep rhymes can’t stave off the absolute carnage that comes with London spitfire-act 404 Guild. Likened in some quarters to the mayhem of early Libertines, 404 rip the Head of Steam apart with their grime orientated 30 minutes of sheer sweat, removed t-shirts and crowd interactions. Non-stop movement from the three MC-strong set up, with bangers Boost and Acid Rain make this the most intense show of the day.

Which also means it’s a difficult show to follow; though luckily local hero Dylan Cartlidge, who was also ordered by 404 to stand at the front and participate in their show, has the crowd and good tunes on his side for his follow-up. Playing to the largest Head of Steam crowd of the day, Cartlidge makes good use of the stage with his funk/hip-hop inspired set which has the crowd dancing along.  Standouts Monsters Under The Bed and Scratch, Sniff showcase his technical bass playing skills as well as his ear for creating a bounce. He’s worked with Danger Mouse and he’s on top form.

The reality of our three-piece belter means that at some point it’s a hard bar to reach and although Delilah Montagu gives it her best effort with her Carol Kaye inspired Californian pop, and Huntar with his electro pop, by the twilight of the evening the Head of Steam is looking a bit lonely and the running time delayed by about 30 minutes.  Montagu’s 7 Days of Rain steals the evening’s highlights, though it’s slightly lost in a venue which requires intimacy rather than groups of heavy drinkers acting up and it’s unfortunate that a venue door can’t be shut, or a steward can’t gently nudge people for silence. Perhaps this may be the first sign today of unwise curation on the part of the organisers, or a lack of supervision.

And then it’s outside and across to O2 Academy for Jake Bugg, lines of people and pints of lager. And whilst Jake is very good it’s suddenly all very corporate with set lists and cleverly curated light shows, what today proved to me was that innovation and excitement comes from the grassroots, something that the acts that I saw on the Head of Steam stage provided.  The rest can sometimes prove a slight let down by comparison.  Inner city festivals provide a great line-up, we just may need to see the balance of logistics improved in the future.


Image: Tigress by Thomas Jackson

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