LIVE REVIEW: MARRAPALOOZA @ Various Venues, Ouseburn Valley (19-20.05.23) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Martha

The Ouseburn Valley, with its countless venues and watering holes, has always been a beckoning Bermuda Triangle of sorts for the cultural and the curious. Wander down out of the centre of Newcastle on any given summer’s evening, when the air lingers mildly and the soft pinkish sun recedes into the gentle night, and it is easy to get lost amid a pleasant slew of gigs and scran and pints concocted in breweries you’ve never heard of.

Where better, then, to host the inaugural Marrapalooza festival, a two-day gathering of like-minded pilgrims paying homage to the UK’s seemingly undimmable DIY scene? For one weekend in late May – across five spots within spitting distance of each other – an incalculable throng of familiar cult favourites and undiscovered obsessions mill about in a hazy maelstrom of good music, communal admiration, and shocking fuchsia wristbands.

And I’m there too, just kind of missioning around.

Taking a pair of safety scissors to Friday night’s proverbial ribbon are indie pop dreamsters Mt. Misery. The Hartlepool collective float along on a lazy river of charming melodies and vivid instrumental musings, and it’s hard not to be bowled over by the astute craft of it all. Slacker tendencies never sounded so tight, and heartache never sounded so… lovely. Rarely do opening sets leave such a wholesome impression.

For their part, Fast Blood could hardly have christened themselves with a more suitable moniker. The local quartet quicken the pulse exponentially with their exquisite brand of canny fury, careering along like a thundering stampede of politically-conscious buffalo, kicking up great, billowing dust clouds of punky ferocity and punchy ear worms as they pass by. If tonight’s headliners Martha had an evil twin in yellow heart-shaped sunglasses, they would almost certainly sound a lot like Fast Blood.

Speaking of Martha, I’m just going to level with you; I don’t make a single note during the entirety of their glorious, glorious set. Does that make me a bad reviewer? Yes. Does it also make me a human – a simple, flawed human – who is too busy being swept along by the terrific thrum of a band at their cosmic zenith to worry about clumsily hammering bullet-pointed adjectives into my phone? Also yes.

The Durham four-piece are the ceaseless darlings of a decent revolution, the voice of the browbeaten hopeful, and in the thick, oppressive heat of a packed Cluny, they are embraced with fervour, like all-conquering heroes making landfall after a Homeric odyssey.

Nobody does this kind of punk-infused power pop better than Martha; nobody can hold a flickering candle to their irresistible choruses or their seraphic harmonies. Four albums in and you sense that they are only truly getting started. Newer cuts like Hope Gets Harder and Flagburner nestle effortlessly alongside entrenched jewels like Curly & Raquel and Wrestlemania VIII, and every hook – every syllable of every earnest, intelligent, goofball lyric – is hollered back at the people singing them with an unending, adoring enthusiasm.

By the time old faithfuls 1967, I Miss You I’m Lonely and Ice Cream And Sunscream are flung forth for a raucous encore, this sweltering crowd might as well be a puddle of delirium. To experience such rapturous appreciation on something akin to Martha’s doorstep is borderline evangelical, and it leaves you in little doubt that they are very probably the best band in the North East. Hell, they might just be the best band in the world. You try convincing the revelers leaving the Ouseburn this evening that they’re not…



Image: Swine Tax


Saturday’s shenanigans begin at The Cluny once again, this time with local rabble rousers Swine Tax. I’m not entirely sure that I believe in love at first sight, but on the evidence of their late afternoon set, I am absolutely a convert to the notion of love at first synth line. The quartet’s futuristic post-adjacent-punk is equal parts seething and soaring, and at times it feels like listening to the soundtrack of a Scooby Doo chase through the Death Star.

If there is one slight injustice, it’s that the room is not packed to the rafters. Make no mistake, we’re not talking tumbleweed on the dancefloor or anything anywhere near that drastic, but much like throwing a teabag from one side of your kitchen and landing it in a waiting mug as the kettle boils, you just wish more people could have been there to see it. In short, Swine Tax are positively riotous and absolutely sublime.

I’m still reeling a little by the time Cardiff’s Live Do Nothing take to the stage. A patchwork orchestra of sorts, there are keytars and cellos and cowboy hats aplenty, all swirling and melding to weave a bright, sweeping jumble of utter loveliness. From bouncing, bopping delights to sprawling indie bangers that slowly descend into playful, laconic jams, it largely feels like standing in the middle of a spinning kaleidoscope, and it’s just a shame that it’s over far too soon.

Sometimes you’re fortunate enough to see an up-and-coming band who instantly convince you of their waxing greatness. bigfatbig are one such band. The Sunderland natives are a grin-inducing powerhouse, and their insanely contagious tunes brim with a forceful, articulate urgency and sugary sweet addictiveness that come bolting towards you like a herd of candy floss thunderclouds in steel toe cap boots.

They are, in other words, an absolute joy, and it is not a matter of whether they are going places, but rather how fast they will get there. They are the heir apparent to Martha’s glinting punk pop crown, and I stubbornly defy you stumble across a catchier song than Wrong Place, Wrong Time anywhere in the Ouseburn Valley this weekend. If youre not already on the bigfatbig hype train you are a self-detrimental fool and you need to amend that oversight as soon as humanly possible. Like, preferably immediately.

Afterwards, I saunter up to Little Buildings and happen upon one of the weekend’s true hidden gems. Bolton’s Pageant Mum are a refreshingly scrappy gang making their Toon debut, and they offer up a salvo of wonderful noise that heavily belies their relative infancy as a band. Hard-hitting and fiercely unafraid, they possess a knack for seductive hooks that could take them far. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay them is that they manage to pull off a cover of Rage Against the Machine’s Bulls On Parade without it straying anywhere near to the hackneyed or gimmicky. It is no mean feat.

And then it is time for Pit Pony. From the moment that they walk out to Finland’s beautifully batshit Eurovision entry, you get the sense that The Cluny could be in for a leveling. So it proves. The quintet are petrifyingly good, a surging basilisk zipping through the lowering dusk, propelled forward by a pulsating rhythm section and towering tsunami waves of expansive, skulking guitars. This writhing mass of sonics might be overwhelming if it wasn’t so bloody magnificent, and every song feels like a jackhammer to the soul.

From Black Tar to Tide of Doubt to Supermarket, this is a swaggering, celebratory reminder of how and why Pit Pony have stomped their way through the underground and right up to the gates of the mainstream in recent years. If the smattering of songs from their sophomore album that we are treated to here is anything to go by, big, big things are coming.

Finally, with ears ringing and legs failing, I drift towards The Cumberland Arms for one last set of the weekend. Toodles And The Hectic Pity are, pleasingly, as hectic by nature as they are by name, and are also genuinely superb. Imagine Wheatus on steroids, or the illegitimate love child of Fugazi and The Front Bottoms, and you’re sort of halfway to envisaging their sound.

This is punk in its rawest, most primal guise; one acoustic guitar, a rhythm section that is at once both vacuum-sealed and endearingly ramshackle, and approximately one metric tonne of simmering angst. Taken in combination, it produces something that flirts with the ambrosial, and it’s hard to imagine a better band to see in a cramped room above a pub on a Saturday night as the earliest hours of Sunday morning creep into tangibility. It feels like a near-perfect way to bring the curtain down on a near-perfect weekend. That might sound a bit corny, but it’s true.


Image: Pit Pony by Nigel John

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