Takedown Festival 2023 Review

Takedown Festival 2023 - Final Line Up Poster - Stage Splits

Takedown Festival, the Hampshire based all day Rock & Alt Festival is finally back, after an eight year hiatus. Moving from its original home in Southampton Uni to Portsmouth Guildhall, the Festival made a welcome comeback this Easter weekend.

Takedown has always had a special place in the hearts of music fans for being an affordable fan friendly event that has showcased many up & coming bands throughout the years, including ones that have gone on to do huge things since. It also gave some more established bands a chance to headline events and grow their own fan bases as well.

The organisers have always had their fingers on the pulse of what is going on in the scene right now, and in some cases they were a step or two ahead of the curve. This year’s return event was headlined by the mighty Skindred & band of the moment Sleep Token, with a diverse undercard of established and newer bands ready to make a splash.

We were lucky enough to be on the ground for the big relaunch, where we were able to take in some of the day’s biggest & brightest and even a couple of hidden gems across the festival’s multiple stages.

Autumn Fires (5) are one of the first bands on for the day. They had the somewhat unenviable task of opening the Total Rock Stage. They try to motivate the slightly apathetic, minimal crowd. Their particular brand of pop punk manages to get a few people moving and the audience does become larger and more responsive throughout their set, but unfortunately they are a little too derivative and their performance a bit too by the numbers for them to really leave any form of lasting impression. (LC)

Dendera (8) are a Takedown mainstay, having played the Festival multiple times throughout its tenure. Today they open the Main Stage, hoping to get the masses moving with their Judas Priest meets Killswitch Engage blend of Trad-Core. They put in a spirited performance that is hampered slightly by the sound mix not being quite right, even in spite of the issues they are more than up for it, they even throw a brand new song in the middle of the set, that goes down a treat. A fun set that feels all too brief, yet manages to kick off the Main Stage with a bang. (SC)

Red Method (9) Are one of the day’s most buzzed about bands. At least 1 in every 10 people here is wearing a Red Method shirt. Today they look every inch the menacing threat they come across as on record. Cuts like Ideology of the Sick, Split & Slaves to the New World Disorder take on punishing levels of brutality live. The band themselves feel like caged animals stalking & roaming around the stage, they create a palpable sense of unease, giving off a feeling of unpredictability that makes them one of the most exciting & dangerous live bands around today. Make no mistake about it, this performance was a statement of intent from a band who is on the cusp of taking things to a whole new level. (SC)

Asleep at the Helm (7) are a Bolton based metalcore collective and they receive an enthusiastic and involved response from the gathered crowd that is packed into the rather small Down For Life Music Stage. While they are unfamiliar to me, there does seem to a be contingent of the audience here to see them, and the aforementioned response showed that.

While the gutteral screams of the lead vocalist Dylan Barrett are impressive the clean vocals that are spread out between Guitarists Brandon Carson, Adam Kenyon & Bassist Ryan Johnson, while not used as often, are really the stand outs and help set them apart from some of the other bands on today’s bill. A short, sharp set from a band that is worth keeping an eye on. (LC)

Brighton trio CLT DRP (8), that’s “Clit Drip not Clit Drop” as the singer informs us bring some good fun to the Total Rock Stage, with some excellent Electronic pop beats underneath lyrics covering self love to feminism via mental health. Singer Annie is definitely in their element on stage giving an entertaining and energetic performance with the kind of attitude that shows that they know how to perform and hold an audience. Both guitarist Scott and drummer Daphne hold their own on stage but the star of the show is clearly Annie giving her all whether we go full pop punk electronica or even when the slower more melodic parts hit. Closing out the set with Ownership,  you feel that drum beat in your chest upon opening, Annie’s vocals take on a seductive quality that sound just as good if not better than on record. It is a hell of a way to close a set, that will have won them plenty of new fans. (LC)

Fearless Vampire Killers (7) FVK return to Takedown after curating and headlining their own stage in 2015. Coming out to opening chords of I’m still standing, a fitting introduction for the band that reunited in 2022 after a near 6 year hiatus. 

After blowing an amp during sound check they explode (sorry) headfirst into things, with Kier and Lawrences mics  so low in the mix that it makes it difficult to hear the lyrics being belted by both singers. However even with the sound issues throughout the set the band’s energy proves captivating as fans gathered at the main stage are singing back with no issue. The 6 song set manages to cover the band’s entire discography serving as a reminder of why people loved this band so much in the first place. It’s a welcome return for a band that has clearly been missed, while also providing an excellent introduction for newcomers. (LC)

As December Falls (7) are having a hell of a run currently, with their video for Carousel having regular rotation on Kerrang, as well as receiving frequent Radio One airplay. They amass a sizeable crowd, who are into it from the get go. Bethany Hunter is a confident and assured presence fronting the band. Their sound can be a little bit sugary in places, but its not hard to see the appeal on a sunny day like this. The proof is in the pudding, whichever direction you look in, there are people smiling, dancing and having a great time. The band matches the energy and gives it back in spades. As December Falls are certainly a band on the up and one of Takedown’s genuine highlights. (SC)

InMe (9) are playing a very special set here today, by marking the 20th anniversary of their debut album Overgrown Eden, with a full album playthrough. This was one of my most anticipated sets of the festival, as this was one of the albums of my youth, and one I hold dear to my heart. There is a considerable age discrepancy in the Takedown Festival audience, and it is clear who the key demographic is. Lyrics are shouted at full throated volume, heads are banged and tears are shed. Frontman and remaining original Dave McPherson is in fine form today, cracking jokes and bantering the audience between songs. The album itself is still one of the most impressive debuts to have come out of that mid 00s time period. Songs like Underdose, Crushed Like Fruit & Mosaic haven’t aged a day. whereas lesser known tracks like Wounds & Icewarm take on new life in this setting. A triumphant set that transported this particular writer back to a very specific time in his life and I loved every minute of it. (SC)

As night falls on a surprisingly warm spring day in Portsmouth, Punk Rock Factory (10) take to the Total Rock Stage. Opening with the Pokémon theme sets the band up with all the nostalgia and good will any band could ask for; let’s be honest here everyone knows the Pokémon theme and it is catchy as fuck. A memorable run of You’re Welcome turns into a sing along of the Fresh Prince theme half way through keeps the energy up, ensuring the set keeps going from strength to strength.

The Power Rangers & Spongebob Squarepants themes go out to all the 90’s kids (and adults) in the crowd, with the latter featuring some excellent call and response. Running up that hill is a surprise inclusion in the set, following the newfound popularity of the hit after being featured in Stranger Things. While it’s an entertaining rendition of the classic, when mixed in with the rest of the set it feels like a low point – not to say that the Punk Rock Factory version isn’t an absolute banger because it is, however it seems out of place. 

Can you feel the love Tonight gets things back on track, It feels like both the band & the crowd are feeding off each other this evening, keeping things lively and upbeat. We don’t talk about Bruno, the hit song from Encanto that you could not escape continues to be catchy as hell, potentially even catchier with a punk rock makeover, everyone lights up their phones for Isabella’s refrain with instruments stripped down and the crowd singing along. Bringing the set to a close with How Far I’ll Go from Moana, the band leaves everyone dancing and smiling with total abandon as they bring their high octane set to an end, leaving everyone with mile wide grins plastered across their faces. (LC)

I have been wanting to see Loathe (10) for the longest time and tonight they did not disappoint in any way shape or form. They sensitive brand of tech infused metal strikes the perfect balance between the heavy & the heartfelt. They are tighter than a scene kids jeans and they absolutely bulldoze everything in front of them every riff hits like a punch to the chest. There is simply no fat on their performance and the vocal interplay between Kadeem France & Erik Bickerstaffe is truly spine tingling live. On any other day they would be headlining a Festival like this and it would be a brave band that would want to follow that. This will be a performance that many will be talking about for years to come. (SC)

It seems redundant to say this, especially after all these years, but it always bears repeating. Skindred (9) are probably the greatest live band of all time. It has been said time & time again and it’s a hill absolutely worth dying on. You know exactly what you are getting with a Skindred live show, whether it’s their own headline show, a support slot or a festival appearance like today. Benji Webbe is in the conversation for one of the best frontmen of all time. He just gets it, knowing exactly how to control a crowd like no one else, and the band themselves are so locked in & in sync with each other that they can feel like the most well oiled machine and the loosest jam band in the world all at the same time, and make the entire thing seem completely effortless.

Tonight they throw in some new tunes from their forthcoming new album Smile, which are already being treated like familiar classics. There is not a single person in tonight’s gathered crowd that is standing still, everyone is jumping, laughing and having the best of their lives. Skindred have become old reliable over the years and tonight is further evidence of why they are such a beloved and adored band. If there was any justice in the world, they would be on every single bill for the rest of time. (SC)

Tonight’s Main Stage headliners Sleep Token (8) are probably the most talked about band on the bill. There is a large gathering of the faithful here and I’d say at least another equally large group who are somewhat curious as to what the fuss is all about. They run an eye wateringly 25 minutes late before making their appearance. The Main Stage has filled up to a degree that would make a can of sardines jealous. When they finally do make their way onstage to the opening strains of Chokehold, the fans in the audience treat it as if it’s the second coming (it is Easter after all) whereas the more casual observer gives a more muted response. There is a clear divide in the audience, and it becomes obvious that the mysticism & more aloof elements of the what the band does wear thin to the unfamiliar amongst the crowd very quickly. Regardless of this Sleep Token are clearly a great live band, Vessel particularly manages to convey all the heart wrenching emotion live to a goosebump raising degree. Tonight’s set draws mostly from their upcoming 3rd album Take Me Back to Eden, yet they still manage to squeeze in fan favourites like The Offering, Alkaline & Hypnosis which all send their fans into a frenzy. Despite playing a truncated set Sleep Token close out the return of Takedown with an impressive performance that showcases why they have amassed such a rabid and committed fanbase in such a short period of time, if they can keep this momentum going then they could evolve into something truly special going forward. (LC)

Takedown Festival has managed to come back very strong. It feels as though it never went away, even with the change of location, the vibe & intention were still present throughout. A very welcome return indeed and we can only hope this is the start of another incredible run for the event now it’s back. Same time next year?

Reviews by Simon Crampton (SC) & Leigh Crampton (LC)

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