October marks the return of Middlesborough’s Twisterella festival; a celebration of rising musicians, giving attendees the chance to get up close and personal with local talent in a plethora of intimate venues. The North East certainly boasts no lack of artists striving to forge a name for themselves and these are showcased triumphantly alongside future stars from the region and beyond - in particular, Scottish acts seem to be leaning into the limelight this time around.
Starting off the warm Saturday of tunes is Hartlepool five-piece MARKETPLACE who groove up the room with a loose and vibrant show perfectly matched to the chilled aroma of The Townhouse - eccentric synth warbling capitalises on the funk induced by two glistening disco balls and dual vocalists show off a bright array of tunes, including teases of future material.
Luke Royalty continues the trend of inspiring hope for the region. The Darlington singer-songwriter shows off a Northern flavour of soulful hip-hop / indie-pop, delivering a slow, smooth and low-tempo performance despite the occasional flurrying vocal. With no lack of confidence or joy, the band back him up with a mix of electronica and live drums alongside squirming guitar lines, forming a pretty slick show - future release ‘Commuter’ is a highlight.
Ramping up the energy, James Leonard Hewitson brings a drawling post-punk live energy to his 2020 debut LP, ‘Only the Noise Will Survive’ - swirling, disjointed sonics brought to live by his involved live band overflow the small TSOne pub with chaotic and expansive soundscapes, with the guitar and bass players ending up in the crowd by the end of an energetic set.
Infusing the line-up with an early afternoon rave, STRAIGHT GIRL brings an interesting change of pace without remotely slowing things down. After thrashing onstage to some big, twisted beats, the Leeds-based composer mounts the bar to begin an aggressive vocal onslaught to accompany them. A combination of layered synths and rumbling, distorted bass feels somewhat out of place in the best possible way, and instrumental sections prove enthralling and dominating.
As their name might suggest, Bare Roots bring a sticks and stones indie-rock show to the Teeside University SU, although sax accompaniments do elevate the show too. Great stage patter and crowd interaction help to smooth other some set mistakes, and frontman Anthony Francis knows how to work a crowd - having recently played This Is Tomorrow, the Geordie three-piece and cultivating a great live presence likely to garner success with more innovative material.
The first act here to cross the Scottish border on their way to the Borough, MEMES show that they are far from a virtual joke and instead an impassioned live force to be reckoned with. The Glaswegian duo utilise a tracked drum beat but the sheer power of the frontman’s rock spirit (and some huge speakers) mask this in a storm of energy. Despite a vicious set, they choose to close with debut single ‘Cheer Up’, and the crowd clearly takes this message to heart.
Having stormed onto the indie-pop scene in 2020 and recently dropped the full-length ‘Once Home, No Longer’, Mt. Misery provide punters with a frankly much-needed break with a chilled atmosphere in the upper room of Westgarth Social Club. A classic four-piece setup enables flourished sonic environments from the Hartlepool up-and-comers with a sprinkling of keys, light and jangly guitar tones and soothing vocals; a tight-knit live act facilitates a delicate and absorbing flow.
Talkboy are a ragtag, off-kilter bunch that, as wholesome and unifying as their large act is, are not afraid to whip out killer harmonies and impressive shredding. Their large collective fills the SU stage and forms playful, vibrant soundscapes. The six Northeners are super comfortable on stage and this filters straight through to the involved audience, with earwormy hooks in ‘Wasting Time’ and addictive energies in ‘Over & Under’ certainly helping too. Fresh singles prove raucous and show further promise for an act embodying the joy of live music and revelling in its return.
Amongst a long list of acts playing multiple stages, Dream Nails provide some crucial representation with loud outfits, songs and attitudes that hold pride of their identities at the very core and harness the power of punk for refreshing and positive empowerment. Far from being preachy, the nuisance of some reckless fans proves that safe spaces are needed and the crowd is more than willing to participate. Political speeches during communal rhythm segments (envisage an entire room clapping in unison) show that progressive politics and great music are a powerful combo, and bangers like ‘Kiss My Fist’ and ‘Text Me Back’ are excellent examples of this.
Hotly-tipped indie-rockers Swim School pull from their dream-pop and punk influences in a live set for the ages, navigating vulnerability, anger and adoration across stand-out tracks from their debut EP ‘making sense of it all’ - choosing any specific highlight is an impossible task. A cathartic and sweaty performance draws from the unique talents of four individually gifted Scots and demonstrates that they have earned their status as a top-tier support act; with more performances like this, they’ll be selling out further headline shows across the country imminently.
With the skies darkening and the celebratory evening starting to draw to a close, it’s time to bring out some headliners. Lauran Hibberd dons a bright neon dress and a reinvigorated desire to perform for a journey across her slacker-pop hits, including fan-favourites ‘Shotgun’ and ‘Hoochie’. Rocking the room with tracks off recent EP ‘Goober’, she makes the long distance from home worthwhile in a festival appearance between thrilling headline tour shows.
Yorkshire’s The Howl & The Hum make already made a big impression on a national scale with last years ‘Human Contact’ record, and now is their chance to finally manifest that title with an intimate and desperate execution of momentum-building rides like ‘Hostages’ and ‘Hall Of Fame’. As Teeside’s swarming but silent and attentive Student’s Union will attest, they do not disappoint.
Having recently returned with their first offerings in three years, Glaswegian rock outfit Fatherson gift the humid floors of Westgarth with a fittingly loud and proud delve into their discography. A thrilling setlist including past hits and freshly unveiled content makes for a perfect concluding statement that surmises the attitude of the day; having a ball to songs that gave past days their glory, and looking forward to revered hits of the future.
Overall, 2021’s Twisterlla exudes an air of passion that makes the small price tag an excellent value-for-money purchase. Strong headline acts may bring in the crowds but hidden gems are where the beauty of this festival lies, and it looks like the vast number of Northern acts will be walking away with hordes of new fans. An accessible set-up highlighting local businesses is always a plus, and Middlesborough’s October day out once again cements itself as a win-win scenario for the region.
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Words: Finlay Holden
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