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Visions Festival review: a fresh pack of British guitar bands bare their teeth

From Squid to Scalping, Orville Peck to Black Country, New Road, the new breed come in different shapes and sizes but all prioritise intensity and weirdness

It’s a good job that Visions Festival precedes its day-long schedule with a dog show. If there weren’t a host of pups to lure everyone into a zen-like state around lunchtime, the oncoming melee of razor-sharp, high-intensity guitar music at the Hackney-based all-dayer might be too much.

First up with a pummelling onslaught of noise are Bristol’s Scalping. Opening things up at the dingy basement of Hangar, the band’s set is a mind-bending one that sees the four-piece melting together techno, blackened punk and noise in a refreshing, boundary-crossing direction. It all comes together on debut single and set closer ‘Chamber’, a true dancefloor-filler that feels perfectly at home with both dance music purists – it’s been dropped by DJs at techno megafests – and fans of grubbier punk, stretching its arms out across traditional genre boundaries while not spreading itself too thinly. From today’s showing, it looks like they’ve got plenty more of this calibre in their locker, too.

Orville Peck at Visions Festival 2019
Orville Peck. Photo: The Red Beanie

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Visions appears to have its finger firmly on the pulse when it comes to the next wave of noise coming out of the capital, and if this year’s bill is much to go by – especially those that sweat pounds away in the Hangar basement – we’re heading for an esoteric new age. Black Country, New Road are next up, mixing drawled lyrics about Ariana Grande and “sourdough, my daily bread” with warped instrumentals that head for drawn-out wanders down strange paths before kicking back into gear with intense thrashes through rip-roaring punk, always thrilling in its unpredictability.

Also not content to do the usual thing is Orville Peck, a kind of masked cowboy-cum-Elvis impersonator. An acquired taste there’s no doubt, but also pretty impossible to take your eyes off. The draw of the day seems to be Squid, though. There’s a palpable sense of excitement around the Brighton bunch at the moment, proved by the sweaty rabble of moshers at Mangle. Punk but not without fun and lightness, there’s intensity here but it’s transmitted in playful ways, and healthy doses of cowbell. Drummer-singer Ollie Judge also manages to be more of a frontman than most who aren’t even shackled by an instrument, let alone sat down. With recent single ‘Houseplants’ their calling card, lashing out at lingering stereotypes of millennial laziness, the five-piece are on a blistering streak at the moment, and able to win over even the steeliest of crowds.

Iceage at Visions Festival 2019
Iceage. Photo: Eleonora C. Collini

From four bands leading the way in the newest breed of British guitar band to a four-piece that you’d bet more than half the line-up cite as a vital influence, Iceage are as gloriously messy as ever. Though they’ve smoothed down the edges of their rabid early punk beginnings, the Danes still prioritise looseness, with frontman Elias Bender Ronnenfelt the captivating drunken conductor. From dive bar shanty ‘Thieves Like Us’ to the invigorating rallying cry of ‘Hurrah’, new album ‘Beyondless’ saw the band finally feeling comfortable in a skin they’ve been slowly tinkering with since day one, and tonight’s suitably unhinged showing proves just why so many of the young bands on show today probably wouldn’t exist without them.

With the breakout of Shame and IDLES having set a precedent of straight-up barrelling punk music that’s brilliant in its directness, the following British pack on show today are taking things in weirder, more outlandish directions. It might give you a headache, but boy is it exciting.

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