STRAND X Community Festival: The Hottest Rock Acts For The Mid-July Heatwave



Two Door Cinema Club performing at Community Festival

Photo by Talia Andrea


Opening and closing words by Marino Unger-Verna


In the upswing of the UK summer’s most eye-wateringly intense heatwave, thousands of music fans gathered in Finsbury Park for the return of London’s Community Festival for the first time since 2019. Headlined by Two Door Cinema Club and featuring sixteen other hit acts, including Nothing But Thieves, The Wombats, and Pale Waves, the star-studded lineup made it easy to forget you were just a short walk away from the bustling streets and shop corners of North London. A three-year break from festivals and fun may have been rough, but as the saying goes, good things come to those who wait—and Community Festival’s attendees found, as we did, that their patience largely paid off (for an extraordinarily reasonable ticket price, starting at just £45). We were right there in the crowds with them, braving the heat and blinding sunlight to bring you our two cents on the long-awaited return of these wonderful artists, and the joy that is festival culture in the heart of our capital city.


 

12:30 PM - JUST WONDERING

Talia Andrea


Hailing all the way from Dublin, Ireland, up-and-coming electropop trio Just Wondering were the first to take to the Community Festival’s coveted main stage, performing to the slightly-more-than-modest crowd that had graciously turned up for the beginning of the 11-and-a-half hour festival. The low-key, summery synth lines and slippery processed vocals of their live performance made light work of warming up the crowd (for the performances to come; it wasn’t as if anyone needed much more warming up physically).


The three young men—Jack, Wale and Adam—exude a lot of energy despite the stripped-down set; they strike you as four guys who would just as easily be seen doing band practice in one of their parents’ garages after school (which is almost how Jack and Wale originally started out, minus the garage). The trio have clearly kept their teenage enthusiasm, which is reflected just as much from their performance as the songs being performed—their set blends together material from their 2021 mixtape Float On with newer releases, giving the crowd half-an-hour of glitchy, warped electronic pop to dance to. It’s a solid effort at the notoriously hard task of pulling off electropop for a live audience, and they do admirably well, their unique sound keeping the crowd (of predominantly rock fans, at that) entertained. This might also be a credit to their oddly hybrid sound—pitch them and their music up and you get something like 100 gecs, pitch them down and you’re closer to The 1975. Their hooks and harmonies could be repetitive, but that might just be what makes them so appealing to a festival crowd. A lot of their performance doesn’t sound like it would (or should) work, especially on paper—but it did, and we’re looking forward to seeing which stages they’ll take (or take over) next.


1:45 PM - PRIESTGATE

Maisie Allen


Northern dream-pop band Priestgate were one of the first bands to take to the N4 Stage at Community Festival. They drew an almost surprisingly big crowd for a non-main-stage act performing so early in the day, with even more festival-goers trickling in as their set went on. Hot on the heels of their recently-released EP, Eyes Closed for the Winter, the band gave a thirty minute set fuelled by copious amounts of eyeliner and gothic guitar riffs. Carving a niche out for themselves with their music, their songs ranged from the edgy summer song ‘Summ(air)’ to the darker title track of their EP, ‘Eyes Closed for the Winter’. With their strong bass lines and grungy vocals set against light percussion and electronic riffs, Priestgate seemed keenly aware of their brand and their music, and the crowd lapped it up. With a sound reminiscent of Spector’s early discography, Priestgate look set to make their own mark on the British indie scene in the very near future.


2:40 PM - CRAWLERS

Talia Andrea


At 2:40PM, hotly-tipped alt-rock act CRAWLERS creep up onto the main stage, for their first ever main stage set at a festival (their excitement at this was palpable both on twitter before the set, and during the set itself—“This time last year we wouldn’t even have been [playing] at a festival,” lead vocalist Holly mentions between songs with a hint of incredulous pride in her voice). Her approachable, down-to-earth personality stands in stark contrast to her persona when she’s performing, which involves a lot of impassioned writhing well-suited to a band called ‘CRAWLERS’ (as she also notes, the band was originally going to be called ‘CREEPERS’, but the name was taken).


CRAWLERS on the big screen at Community Festival
Photo by Talia Andrea

Nevertheless, a band by any other name would sound as sweet, and the change in their imagined branding hasn’t stopped them from being branded the newest cool-kids on the alt-rock block. In CRAWLERS’ eyes, the corner-of-the-classroom goth is where it’s at; a sentiment there’s definitely a market for if the social media popularity of the Hex Girls from Scooby Doo is anything to go by. With a blonde (Amy, guitar), a redhead (Liv, bass) and a raven-haired vocalist (Holly) forming three-quarters of the lineup, the parallels between the fictional band and the one on the stage of the Community Festival have to either be an extreme coincidence or an intentional decision. Whichever it is, it can’t be denied that their appeal as a band speaks for itself. Calling them a female alt-rock band would be a disservice (especially to the male drummer, Harry), but the distinctly feminine energy of the three female band members drew the crowd in, as did the irresistible riffs and relatable lyrics of their songs from ‘I Can’t Drive’ (humorously dedicated to “all the b**ches with their provisional licences”) to unreleased single ‘I Don’t Want It’ (which will very surely be released soon enough, given the crowd’s enthusiastic reaction to it). Interspersed with moments of smudged-eyeliner sex appeal and tongue-in-cheek humour are moments of genuine vulnerability—“It’s pretty scary to put your thoughts out into the world,” Holly says of recent hit ‘F***k Me (I Didn’t Know How To Say)’, before launching into a performance that makes it clear how much the intensely personal lyrics mean to her. Their set—a safe space for the misfits and weirdos in the same vein as those of similar Northern English band Hot Milk—is a sonically rich, sultry-sounding call to realise that there’s probably a little bit of a misfit in all of us.


3:45 PM - ALFIE TEMPLEMAN

Maisie Allen


Nineteen-year-old Alfie Templeman has the stage presence of someone much more used to big festivals than himself, and clearly knows how to appeal to his crowd. Dancing around with his band, Templeman brought infectious summer songs like ‘Happiness in Liquid Form’ to the Community Festival’s Main Stage with a zealous enthusiasm, matching that of the overwhelmingly Gen Z audience watching his set. Switching it up from his usual indie pop aesthetic, Templeman and his band tried out a cover of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ near the end of their set (a growing trend at gigs and festivals it seems) which, whilst encouraging the rest of the crowd who were perhaps unfamiliar with Templeman’s discography to join in, seemed to jar with the rest of his music; the rebellious angst seemed out of place with the sugarcoated melodies of Templeman’s other hits like ‘Film Scene Daydream’. His allowance of his guitarist to take centre-stage during the cover did show his desire to not fully soak up the spotlight himself, contrary to what one might expect from a nineteen-year-old performing on a festival main stage—but as his guitarist was running through the photo pit, it felt like watching friends at their first gig⁠: endearing but slightly odd. Templeman clearly hasn’t figured out what kind of festival musician he wants to be; nevertheless, his music (in a similar vein to Declan McKenna and Rex Orange County) fits the joy only found at festivals: optimistic and carefree.


5:25PM - KID BRUNSWICK

Talia Andrea


5:25PM is when the intensity of the heat and the music both reach their apex, with Kid Brunswick’s set on the smaller—but by no means lesser—N4 Stage. The 23-year-old artist brings to the stage his own brand of blisteringly loud punk-rock with a teenage sensibility, which gives his act an appeal to the mostly young-adult crowd which doesn’t revolve entirely around his looks. Nevertheless, the looks are part of the performance—for someone with such an anarchic sound, Kid Brunswick comes surprisingly sharply-dressed in a black two-piece suit that looks to be made of a very sweat-unfriendly material like silk or velour, and vinyl chelsea boots to, well, boot. The fact he’s able to even think about performing in the outfit he’s chosen is an impressive feat in itself, and is probably part of the reason why the audience response to his ‘How are you?’ is a mixture of general vested interest (no pun intended) and a few women expressing their feelings of “Is it getting hot in here, or is it just me?” (the answer, for once in Britain, actually being ‘both’).


Beyond his paradoxical well-dressed bad-boy image, the music itself is electrifying, its barbed-wire guitars and healthy doses of screamo vocals cutting through the crowd. And the crowd is a sizeable one, at that; it’s yet more impressive given that the main-stage act he’s contending for attention with is fan-favourite group The Wombats. This fact didn’t go unnoticed by the artist himself, who has recently caught the eye of a few major music industry players since the release of his genre-bending latest album, XFOREVER, in mid-2021—“The cult is growing,” he said of the audience in a way which seemed to make clear his plans for world (or at least chart) domination. His dance moves occasionally recall the occasional jerky movements of ultimate world-dominating rocker Mick Jagger, which is accidentally parroted by the onstage photographer as he ducks and dives to get what promises to be good shot after good shot of punk-rock’s next hottest act (literally, given the clothes, or maybe figuratively, given the audience reaction every time he came anywhere near the metal barrier separating the stage from the crowd). Give it a few more performances, and his vision for cult-like world domination might not be so far-fetched.


6:00 PM - THE WOMBATS

Maisie Allen


Given that they’ve been around for a while, The Wombats came onto the Community Festival’s main stage with a clarity of who exactly their audience were, and what they wanted to hear. Opening up with some of their older hits, like ‘Moving to New York’, the band were met with an infectious excitement from the crowd as they all burst into song and into the mosh pits. Despite being UK music festival veterans by now, The Wombats still seemed keen to express their appreciation for the crowd by paying homage to the songs that made them popular in the first place, which can often be forgotten by bigger bands (especially ones so close to the headline act).


Photos by Nicole Soh


Keeping the energy levels up, The Wombats reserved their setlist for the ‘big ones’, like ‘Greek Tragedy’, ‘Turn’, and ‘Kill the Director’, which spanned several of their eras and reinventions and brought the crowd together into a collective dance floor and chorus (encouraged by the three people in wombat mascot costumes who came onto the stage halfway through their set). Even for those standing nearer to the back, their stage presence was hypnotising as they showed exactly why their music is loved by so many, regardless of whether you’d been following them from the start of their career, or if you’d only started listening to them the week before. Naturally, they finished with festival favourite ‘Let’s Dance to Joy Division’, in all its ironic and infectious glory, setting up a very hyped-up crowd in advance of the similar songs of headline act Two Door Cinema Club.


6:20 PM - POLICE CAR COLLECTIVE

Maisie Allen


Police Car Collective performing at Community Festival
Photo by Talia Andrea

It’s never easy for smaller bands, especially ones not familiar with the UK music scene, to play on smaller stages when a powerhouse of the British indie scene like The Wombats is performing at the same time as you. However, Police Car Collective still brought all they had to the N4 stage, even when a crowd of 30-something attendees might not be the most atmospheric for performing. Similarly to Alfie Templeman, though, the duo didn’t seem too clear on what their ‘niche’ was; rolling around on the stage and whipping shirts off whilst playing songs suited to a coming-of-age romantic comedy felt jarring to watch and listen to.


Given that they have only been performing for less than a year it is understandable, and from a non-critical standpoint they tried to offer an alternative to maybe the music of the ‘establishment’ that The Wombats has arguably begun to offer as they enjoy more mainstream success. Their penultimate song, ‘I Think I Think Too Much’, clearly resonated with the crowd, who dutifully sang along at the barrier; the flattery was clear to see in the eyes of the duo performing. Making a playful dig about ‘some guys singing about Joy Division’ at the end of the set, the lead singer gave an emotive monologue about the reasons they set up the band—because they didn’t fit into any boxes, meaning that their listeners didn’t fit into those boxes either. Whilst slightly trite, both musicians did give all their energy to the set, even throwing out ‘I Love Police Car Collective’ t-shirts to the small crowd afterwards as they jumped off stage. With more festival performances and gigs, they’ll realise the band they want to be, and with their current enthusiasm and attitudes, look set to reach that.



7:30 PM - NOTHING BUT THIEVES

Talia Andrea


From the moment Nothing But Thieves break into the powerful opening riff of ‘Futureproof’ from their latest album, Moral Panic: The Complete Edition, it’s clear to the early-evening crowd, who are all practically vibrating with anticipation, that their set at the Community Festival will be an unforgettable one. As the band mentioned in a tweet about the festival some days before the big day, “it’s been a while since [they] played so close to home”, and from the looks of the crowd, there was definitely an appetite for it. By the time the band gets to their second song, ‘Is Everybody Going Crazy?’, everybody is, in fact, going crazy. From the band’s perspective, it must be just as much of a thrill: lead vocalist Conor Mason sounds happy to be back when he proclaims, “I f***ing love a London crowd!”, and it’s easy to see why.


Or maybe it’s not the London-ness of the crowd that’s to credit for their enthusiasm, but the incredible show the five-piece put on. Mason is known in the rock music community for his impressive live vocals, which he only proves once again in a series of hits which never miss (‘I Was Just A Kid’, ‘Forever & Ever More’, 'Phobia’, ‘Amsterdam’). It would be almost funny, if it wasn’t utterly striking: in a simple white polo shirt and canary yellow tracksuit bottoms, his vocals don’t at all match what you’d expect from his image—a paradox which you imagine is part of his appeal. Another part is his sense of humour; “I look like a banana,” he admits modestly. Two of the other band members are wearing t-shirts from other bands: Pearl Jam and Metallica join the Community Festival lineup by association. Despite the band’s humble Southend-on-Sea beginnings and their equally humble continuations since, you get the sense that their music was really meant to be performed live, on a stage just like this one. During the final song of an all-too-short set, the emotional ‘Impossible’ (which was recently used as the theme of a highlight reel for the latest Champion’s League final—just as emotional depending on what team you support, especially if said team isn’t Real Madrid), confetti was launched across the crowd. It fluttered through the breeze to the immeasurable joy of the audience, who tried (often fruitlessly) to catch it. The aptly-named Nothing But Thieves are much better at stealing things—in this case, the show.



Confetti being launched during Nothing But Thieves's set at Community Festival

Photo by Talia Andrea


9:05 PM - TWO DOOR CINEMA CLUB

Talia Andrea


The night’s main headliner, Two Door Cinema Club, finally come onto the stage dressed to the nines for nine o’clock—in full suits, mirroring a polished sound just as slick. Despite being the final act on the bill, it was clear that the three-piece band was who many of the crowd came especially to see—the turnout in front of the main stage was more packed than ever before, with only a select lucky few able to get anywhere near the front (and who had probably been there since Alfie Templeman’s set over five hours earlier, given his popularity and that of the rest of the main stage’s star-studded lineup after him). No matter the band’s popularity among a crowd of indie-rock enthusiasts, the trio have always kept their classic branding (in set, styling and sound), which they’ve had going since releasing their debut album, Tourist History, a full twelve years ago and counting.

Two Door Cinema Club performing at Community Festival

Photo by Talia Andrea


Now that the sun was (finally) setting, the stage lighting could be used to full effect—to broadcast psychedelic geometric graphics in shades of red, blue, purple and orange which were just as hypnotic as the grooves the band played on their guitars. Visually, they don’t seem much like a band you’d think would be rocking the festival circuit, but they pull it off as well as anyone who knows them would expect them to; and given how many people sing along to their songs across their hour-and-a-half long set, it seems that the number of people who know and love them are many indeed. Their particular brand of bouncy pop-rock ended the evening on a mellow, optimistic note, complete with more confetti (blue this time), and a final performance of the song you could tell everyone was waiting for—the 108-million-YouTube-view hit (at the time of writing) that catapulted them to indie-rock fame: ‘What You Know’. With everyone singing passionately along, the night ended with Two Door Cinema Club having brought a real sense of community to the Community Festival, which lasted right up until they left the stage, and everyone tried to be the first in line to get to Finsbury Park tube station.


 

The day was long, but nobody in the 45,000-strong crowd ever looked as if they felt it wasn’t worth it. As one onlooker standing behind us shouted just before the final act, it was true that we were all “so f***ing tired” by the endbut we were tired together for one of the first times since early 2020, and would do it again in a heartbeat. There’s something truly special about being able to see a full, diverse range of passionate artists perform live for crowds of their dedicated fans and first-time listeners alike, and getting to watch both groups come together in their enjoyment of the moment. With festivals seemingly back to stay, keep your eye out for Finsbury Park’s Community Festival this time next year—it’s an experience worth every penny.


 

Edited by Talia Andrea, Music Editor

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