Featured Image: Sarah Oglesby
With the number of festivals springing up across the UK growing every year, Humber Street Sesh has achieved the remarkable with a monopoly on the first weekend of August for music fans in East Yorkshire. What started as a one-off celebration of Hull’s music scene has grown into a 14-stage affair covering both sides of Hull Marina, giving a platform for local music that few other cities can boast of. Last year saw the festival grow from the traditional Saturday Sesh to include a Friday evening slot as well, acting as a celebration of past headliners and Hull music legends. In 2019, the aim for Friday night was to open the festival up to bands on the national touring circuit, well-seasoned on the ins and outs of how to play to a festival audience, and give the weekend a slightly bigger feel whilst retaining the sharp focus on local and unsigned musicians.
Friday evening’s first band, Autosuggestion, kicked off on the Big Top stage (although without an actual Big Top tent which had got flooded somewhere else the weekend before). Post-punk is a genre that Hull has become somewhat known for in recent years, and Autosuggestion showed that the city’s output is still going strong. Sure, the post-punk clichés were there: outfits best suited to an eighties TV salesman and a singer doing his best uncomfortable squirm in tribute to Ian Curtis, but Autosuggestion put together a set of solid post-punk that exhibited a knack for songwriting. Given that the band has only debuted in the last year, they’re certainly ones to catch soon as a rise to the top of Hull’s music pile seems likely. Following on the Big Top was Low Hummer. Risen from the ashes of local legends La Bête Blooms, their half hour set gave the sizable audience no reason to mourn what came before as they powered through a collection of almost entirely unreleased material. They take the La Bête Blooms sound but infuse it with something fresh, a bit LCD Soundsystem, or maybe something like a hint of Team Picture for a slightly more Yorkshire reference. Hopefully the rest of the year will bring about a single release or two as the group begin to rev up.
Over on the Main Stage, Brighton group YONAKA were the first of Friday’s major label acts aiming to give the festival a bigger presence in the national touring circuit. They seemed to engage with the large crowd well, bringing an energy and confidence that showed their previous festival experience, but three forgettable songs in the style of Bring Me The Horizon circa 2014 were enough for me and I headed back to the Big Top, leaving behind both band and their backing tracks. Next on the Big Top, LIFE, headliners two years ago, returned to their hometown off the back of a summer full of European festivals and increasing excitement in the music press over their upcoming second LP, A Picture of Good Health. They proceeded to give a case study on how to smash a festival slot. From start to finish, Mez Green, aka “fucking legend”, flaunted around stage showcasing exuberant wit, while the rest of the Hull punks tore through a collection of tracks both new and old. A set without any dips or lulls, LIFE, with their DIY attitude and astute perspective on 21st century England, really are a band that Hull can be proud to call their own.
Whilst The Hunna headlined the main stage, rapidly on the descent towards indie landfill, Doncaster/Manchester’s The Blinders finished off the Big Top for the Friday. Despite having the tough task of following LIFE, The Blinders know what they’re doing when it comes to showmanship. After nearly a year of touring debut album Columbia under their belt, their stagecraft is well honed, and it showed. Standout singles like Brave New World proved why they’ve become a big booking for events like Street Sesh and Gold Sounds in Leeds a few months previous, and despite the occasional ten-minute psych indulgence, they did a solid job of capping off a successful Friday night.
This year’s Saturday line-up was missing a few acts that in previous years would’ve been earmarked as definites for me, whether due to disbanding (miss you Vulgarians) or simply not playing this year’s event (Team Picture, Strange Bones, Black Delta Movement, etc.). Instead, I thought I’d use the day as an opportunity to try catch some bands that had so far evaded my presence and I hadn’t seen live yet. Having said that, the first band of the day I saw three weeks ago: Spilt Milk have only been gigging a few months, but the teenagers are starting to carve a bit of a name for themselves in Hull. Mixing a post-punk rhythm section with the barky, aggressive vocals of a late-seventies punk snarler, they clearly know there influences but do a good job of setting themselves apart from them as a fresh sound.
Over on the main stage next was Trueman. A solo project spawned out of the band Vague, Trueman’s style is self-described as ‘bad theatre sounds’, with reverb-drenched guitar shimmers accompanied by synth and witty, introspective lyrics. Definitely not lacking in confidence, he justified a main stage slot with ease. Next up were Sesh-favourites Bull from York on the Strummerville stage. A band I’ve probably seen four or five times now, Bull radiate warmth wherever they play, like a big sonic hug. The personification of nonchalant, the occasional failing of a guitar amp is taken in stride. A band who make every performance feel like they’re playing in your living room.
Back to the main stage, Tallsaint was the first of a few artists coming over from Leeds for the day. Recently she’s been playing a few joint headline shows with fellow Leeds group Peakes, and you can see why. Electronica and synth pop are sounds that Leeds do well, and a string of solid releases has highlighted Tallsaint as one of the best. Festival coverage then took a brief intermission as I tried my hand at playing in the warmest pub north of the Sahara, before resuming with another Leeds act. B-ahwe can be seen as part of that West Yorkshire Tight Lines/Leeds College of Music/nu-jazz scene that has produced other acts like Têtes de Pois and Necktr (in which she currently sings), but there’s more of a soul/RnB flavour that sets her apart as something different to the rest. Playing on the Speak Easy Yurt stage, there was a bit of noise pollution from the adjacent Funky Wormhole which was a shame, but did little do detract from a stand-up performance.
Back on the other side of the marina, Brosnan took to the Dead Bod stage. Having steadily worked their way up the bill over the past couple of years, they gathered a solid crowd down in front of the river. There’s small tastes of the kind of jangly but sharp guitar riffs found in some of The Cure, as well as a slackness in the vocals giving a nod to 90s indie Britain. Polo were up next on the BBC Introducing stage. Although they’ve been regulars at Street Sesh for a few years now, this was the first time I’d caught them after the addition of a second synth player on stage. With it came a definite step up in sound. They filled up the stage nicely, and previews of upcoming or unreleased material gave good reason to keep one’s eyes on the Leeds pop merchants.
Down the street and back at the Dead Bod stage, Let Man Loose were beginning their set as the sun went down over the Humber’s north bank. They give out the sort of riffs that might be found on early Queens of the Stone Age material, but replacing the aggressive stoner delivery with one more akin to contemporary indie.
No matter what stage you ended up at by festival close, you were guaranteed a good headline performance. Bdrmm, Mint and Pearl’s Cab Ride all played on the east of the marina, while Chiedu Oraka and Têtes de Pois both brought about an end to the day on the west side. However, it was over to the main stage for Saturday’s headliners. The Hubbards were one of the first local bands I saw back in 2014, and the primary party responsible for dragging me into what turned out to be a thriving local music scene. Headlining their hometown festival seemed to me like the end of the beginning for The Hubbards. They’ve steadily been creeping into the national conscience over the last year or two, aided by the release of their latest EP Petty Grudge Pop, and you get the feeling that now they can really threaten the big time. Throwing in a few old numbers for the veterans in the crowd, The Hubbards closed the festival with a set encapsulating the embracing attitude that the weekend as a whole is about.
Words by Leo Joslin