Festival review: Long Division, Wakefield

Billy Bragg performing at Wakefield Cathedral during Long Division festival. Picture: Anthony Longstaff
Billy Bragg performing at Wakefield Cathedral during Long Division festival. Picture: Anthony Longstaff
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Following a break in 2017, Long Division – Wakefield’s annual DIY music and arts festival – returned to the city last weekend.

Showcasing gigs, talks, poetry readings and Art installations across multiples venues, the event was largely free to attend. Founded by Dean Freeman in 2011, the festival continued its tradition of championing local venues and artists.

Charlotte Hatherley was among the performers at Long Division festival. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Charlotte Hatherley was among the performers at Long Division festival. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

By working in collaboration with BBC Introducing West Yorkshire and the social media initiative Girls That Gig, festival organisers also made clear their commitment to the promotion of emerging talent and equal gender representation on music festival line-ups.

The focus of the festival was the 100-plus artist line-up, filling bars, church halls and Arts centres across the city on Saturday June 2.

Leeds-based Jellyskin were one of the first acts to perform, the duo’s deep bass chug and frankly creepy monotonous harmonies were demonstrated with a performance of their latest single ‘Judder’. Their particular blend of synth-heavy electronic grunge filled The Art House somehow making the middle of the day feel like the end of the world.

Those who came to dance were sated by funk-rock collective I Set The Sea On Fire who brought an undeniable energy and woodwind edge from Sheffield to Wakefield’s St Austin’s Theatre, producing perhaps one of the day’s most energetic early performances.

Galaxians appeared at Long Division festival. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Galaxians appeared at Long Division festival. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Then came the unmissable Leeds art-pop five-piece The Golden Age Of TV whose instrumentation rose and fell with the simply beautiful vocals and storytelling ability of vocalist Bea Fletcher. Their upcoming release ‘Television’ will be available on vinyl from June 22 via the singles club Come Play With Me.

There was some artist crossover with the metropolitan festival Live at Leeds, which took place in May. Having only recently formed in 2017, electro-pop trio Loux played an open air stage at LAL but their precise, funky guitar hooks and dulcet vocal tones proved to be much better suited to an indoor setting. Bouncing off the walls of The Art House, their lyrics could be fully appreciated for their sassiness and simplicity, though capable they are of evoking complex ideas about romance and identity.

Genre-wise the line-up was diverse, though punk in various forms featured heavily. Post-punk band Drahla, with their deadpan delivery, Gothic lyricism and squealing saxophone, were one example.

Another was headliner folk-punk legend Billy Bragg who performed in the stunning setting of Wakefield Cathedral. His largely doting audience appeared to know almost every word and the nostalgia evoked by classics such as ‘A New England’ and ‘There Is Power in a Union’ was palpable.

Glass Mountain at Long Division festival. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Glass Mountain at Long Division festival. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

Known for his dedication to the political Left, Bragg brought a contemporary relevance to his earlier releases, discussing immigration and global warming.

Bragg also performed tracks from his 2017 mini-LP ‘Bridges Not Walls’ including ‘Full English Brexit’ a sympathetic take on the woes of a fictional Leave voter. Whilst there was no need to win the crowd over he certainly inspired, stressing that social change is not in the hands of the performer but their audience, and stating that it is from the audience that draws the energy to “recharge” his own activism.

Bragg was a fitting headliner for an event which centres itself around community, a festival for which growth appears almost certain.

The Membranes at Long Division festival. Picture: Anthony Longstaff

The Membranes at Long Division festival. Picture: Anthony Longstaff