Skip to main content
A Magazine for Sheffield
Live / stage review

Float Along 2023 surfs a joyous wave of success

Strange Days' visionary sophomore Sheffield festival showcases the UK's very best alt-indie, writes Steve Hunting.

23 September 2023

Either Mark and the team at Strange Days have a magical crystal ball or they are in possession of collectively extraordinary vision in putting together a line-up of the hottest alt-indie bands and artists the UK currently has on offer, from Dublin heavyweights The Murder Capital to Leeds quartet English Teacher.

In their sophomore year, The Leadmill, Sydney + Matilda and Corporation provide the three venues across six stages for over 30 acts, with a showcase talk by the king of indie himself, Steve Lamacq, thrown in for good measure.

John M Ouse

John Mouse at Float Along 2023.

Welsh beats troubadour John Mouse – his third visit to Sheffield this year, including a set at Delicious Clam in April – kicks off mid-day proceedings in comic/observational fashion with songs like 'Dancing With My Neighbour', 'Welsh Words' (not enough of them in songs, according to co-contributor Gruff Rhys) and 'Le Pigeon', accompanied by a dance that... well you can guess the rest. Oh, and in throwing his T-shirt to the crowd, Mouse seemed somewhat unsurprised when it was thrown back at him.

Benefiting from BBC Introducing support, Barnsley and Manchester based shoegaze duo Just The Wolves enthrall with a heady mix of groove and drone. I ask the band how the gig came about for them. "We had some airplay on the radio and got invited. It's our first show," said singer/guitarist Helen Phillippo.

Christie Gardner and Helen Dixon met in secondary school in Winchester aged eleven and now form the bedrock of Lilo, a band soaked in skin-tight harmonies and crafted acoustic arrangements, all evident in crowd pleasers like 'Settled' from their recent EP, I Don't Like My Chances On the Outside.

Indie icon Steve Lamacq needs no introduction of course, and his entertaining walk through his career via the NME, the Britpop explosion and BBC 6Music draws a large crowd to the S+M Yard.

I raise the question with him about his recent involvement in the Save Our Venues initiative managed by Mark Davyd, the CEO of the Music Venue Trust, which raised £2.1m for nine grassroots small gig spaces.

"I got a call from Mark pretty much telling me to put some money into the pot as he needed someone with a fairly well-known face to help publicise the scheme," Steve says. "It's a fantastic initiative and there will be more to come. You can invest as little as £10, plus you get 3% interest, as well as knowing you're helping to preserve venues for new and up-and-coming talent to perform in".

Alaskalaska only formed a year and a half ago, but this six piece from London has already built up quite a following. Predominantly playing tracks from 2022's Still Life, including 'TV Dinners', 'Person A' and 'Rise & Shine', it's the eponymous title track – with it's monstrous groove via a smorgasbord of effects from keyboard maestro Fraser Rieley – that closes their Alt-J tinged set. Definitely a band to watch out for.

WH Lung

WH Lung at Float Along 2023.

As with Just The Wolves, radio airplay provides a critical lifeline and leg-up for any up-and-coming band. Glasgow based proto-punks Humour fall into that category, having their current single 'Big Money' getting copious plays on – you guessed it – Steve Lamacq's 6Music show.

I had a chat with lead singer Andreas Christodoulides, complimenting him on his scattering, unique ranged vocal that adds a real edge to their menacing guitar-based songs. "Thanks. We pretty much wrote all of our material during lockdown. It really helped us focus on our sound. We're currently touring with Nottingham's Do Nothing, which is great." I ask about the support from Steve Lamacq. "Don't know – never met him!" smiles Andreas. You get the vibe he's quite happy for the band's music to do the talking.

Moreish Idols hail from Cornwall originally. Now London based, they've expertly constructed a sound incorporating an intriguing mix of high-energy guitar mixed in with a thought-provoking 7/8 time signature that surprises and captivates. Dylan Humphreys' saxophone interventions spin songs around on their axis and clear the way for Jude Lilley's guitar and vocals.

To The Leadmill, where a somewhat subdued Genghar – and a similarly withdrawn crowd – ease seamlessly through their set. Once labelled as guitar darlings of 2015 via their critically acclaimed inaugural LP A Dream Outside, the band are supporting their latest June release Red Sun Titans with airplay for current single 'Fill My Gums With Blood'.

Bdrmm may not know it, but their wall of sound guitar splurge would give the legendary Phil Spector's studio skills a run for its money. Founded as a bedroom based shoegaze band – hence the moniker – they are well supported by a loyal contingent from their home base of Hull, drawing on material from their two releases so far, Bedroom and I Don't Know, including highlight 'Gush'.

In contrast to Genghar – and to a degree heavyweights The Murder Capital, who cruise through their set – W.H. Lung whip up a storm and take an exuberant crowd with them. Named after a Chinese supermarket from their hometown of Manchester, they take the step up from last year's Steel Stage performance in their stride, mixing their beat-driven and synth-pop hook laden songs to great effect.

Leeds based English Teacher have grown substantially in confidence since the somewhat nervous big stage performance this reviewer saw at 2022's End Of The Road. Singer/keyboardist Lily Fontaine throws glares at two chatting audience members before the band launch into an explosive rendition of new single, the superbly titled 'The World's Biggest Paving Slab', evidencing their strength at crafting damn fine pop songs.

Personal Trainer

Personal Trainer

But all the plaudits and acclaim must go to festival showstoppers from Amsterdam, the mercurial Personal Trainer.

Overcoming the logistical problem of squeezing the seven band members onto the Steel Stage – the keys guy plays perched on a ledge, whilst frontman Willem Smit's lack of space finds the microphone stand resolutely stuck up his sweat stained T-Shirt for 'Former Puppy' – they launch their way through an eleven song set that covers their impressive back catalogue. From '1,000,000' to 'The Lazer', 'Key Of Ego' to 'Politics', each connects immediately with the packed crowd, none more than fan favourite and closing sonic whirlwind, 'Milk'.

Willem Smit tells the crowd: "We came here from Amsterdam today and go back on the ferry from Hull tomorrow. It was worth it. Thank you, Sheffield."

As I'm leaving, a Hull-based wife and husband share a story: "We've had lots of bands sleep on our floor before getting a ferry from Hull. We had IDLES once. Personal Trainer would be welcome any time."

Proverbial caps doffed to all at Strange Days for an incredible day. Roll on 2024 – and get that crystal ball out.

Filed under: 

More Music

More Music