Rockoff Festival
27 July 2008
Islington Academy, London

The Rockoff Festival is an event put on by the people at UK Unsigned which gives unsigned bands the opportunity of some exposure playing with larger known bands. For this year’s event, twenty bands played across the two stage of the Islington Academy. With overlapping sets it was impossible to see everything but we attempted to get a flavour of as many bands as possible.

Having checked out most of the band’s MySpace sites in advance, the Axl Rose like vocal emanating from the main stage immediately alerted me that there had been an amendment to the prior running order and Ever Rest were on stage. Lead singer Drew could quite comfortably front a Guns’N’Roses tribute band, though the band backing him have a much more heavy groove metal approach. Unfortunately, Drew announced Sound Off as the last song of the set, so this was only a brief taster of Ever Ready and despite the unsurprisingly sparse crowd at this early stage in the day, the band acquitted themselves well.

Down at the second stage, a line of girls about ten feet from the stage stared lovingly as Boys Kill Kids bounced around the stage like their own private playground. Soon it was not big enough to contain the twin blonde vocalists, who bounded around the crowd and hung off the speaker stacks. The band’s MySpace describes their sound as “power pop/hardcore” and sure enough extreme shouted verses are moulded with sugar sweet chorus. Boys Kill Kids do this sound well and certainly the young crowd enjoyed their set and not just the young, with an old lady on the end of the line of girls (check out the photos!).

Back on the mainstageWooden Boy’s frontman Rob Davies could try stand-up as an alternative to music. He comically berated his Telford fan base who cheered at the mention of their town’s name, but apparently loathe to live their. His slightly geeky persona was matched by his spectacles and plaid shirt attire which brought back memories of the grunge era which was echoed in Wooden Boy’s music. Add to that a touch of off-kilter indie and a sprinkle of metal, assuming drummer Gaz Ayres Manowar shirt wasn’t just ironic, and you have much of the ingredients of the band’s sound. Music By Numbers was the only title I caught, but it certainly didn’t best describe the band’s interesting mixed bag of styles. My overriding memory though will be of Davies telling us he’d pissed down his leg on route to the stage.

Man Of Kin were well out of their depth in comparison to the rest of the unsigned bands today. Vocalist Jaz Oberoi struggled to be heard and when he was he was distinctively off key. The band featured three guitarists, but it’s not clear why. Aside from solos, the three seemed to play the same guitar lines for the most and it just made for a very crowded stage. There was a lack of confidence that requires more time in the practice room and smaller gigs before mixing with the quality of the other unsigned band’s playing today.

Man Of Kin set list:
Gasoline / Blindside / RnA / Jigsaw / The Light / Cross We Bare / Primitive

In complete contrast, Scarset tore up the mainstage with their slabs of primal metal. Easily the best band of the day so far, Scarset’s mixture of Pantera like groove with a relentless metalcore edge was like a hammer to the skull and kick started a violent pit amongst the band’s fans. This is a band that are well rehearsed, with a rhythm section tight as the proverbial providing a backdrop for Daz’s crunching guitar and Alex’s inhuman screams and roars. In a brief moment of humour Alex announced that Scarset are from Melton Mowbray, with “Big up the pork pies!”. But it was soon back to the business of punishment with a set which left no prisoners.

Scarset set list:
Symmetry / Beg For Existence / Left To Fear / Absent Inside / Deathwish / Humane Error / You Know / I See

On the second stage, Drive Chain matched the high quality mark set by Scarset, though in a different style. Names I wrote down whilst watching the band from Exeter included Life Of Agony, Volbeat and a much heavier Alter Bridge. It’s the deep rich voice of frontman Matt Roberts that initially grabbed your attention. Equipped with such a weapon, Drive Chain steer clear of the morose nature of a band like Staind by adding a bit of muscle, actually both musically and physically in the shape of guitarist Jonathan Wood. At times a couple of the songs seem to lose their way a little, but overall Drive Chain showed a lot of potential.

Drive Chain set list:
Protect / Salvation / Three Feet / Fist To The Fire / Black Honey / Opium Tree

Set overlaps meant although we arrived in time for a few photos of Lost In Vegas, they were already on their last song What Are You Waiting For and we were soon heading back to the second stage for a very quick look at Symphony Cult. Knowing they had a female singer, with a name like that I was expecting something more in the vein of Nightwish or Within Temptation. However, musically they had more in common with a band like Lostprophets. Opener Fade Away was presented in a nervous fashion, however Charlotte Lubbock seemed to relax somewhat by second song Nightmare which had a Lacuna Coil feel to it. Once again set overlaps meant that we had to head off to the mainstage.

Marshall Law have been compared to Judas Priest throughout their career, but any Priest fan left wanting by the Nostradamus album could do worse than turn their attention to Marshall Law’s forthcoming Razorhead album judging by the quality of the two songs aired tonight. The album’s title track could be Marshall Law’s Painkiller and the only thing holding it back today was the lack of guitar in the mix at the start of the band’s set. Despite the rather stand-offish audience, the band went at it 100% with frontman Andy Pike working the whole stage. With a delayed start, the set was limited to just six numbers and old favourites such as Victory At Last and Leviathan mix it up with the two new songs. Certainly the most traditionally metal band of the day, Marshall Law left smiles on faces and anticipation for their new album.

Marshall Law set list:
Razorhead / Victory At Last / Headtrap / God King / Under The Hammer / Leviathan

Again it’s just a quick stop off at the second stage from the fittingly named Red Mist who were wrapping up a brutal set with frontman Gibbzy stating, “and you thought Devon was such a quiet place.”

Amazingly this was finally my first encounter with Evile, a band hailing from my own home town of Huddersfield. Since signing with Earache, Evile have been at the forefront of the thrash revival, choosing not to attempt to reinvent the classic sound but remain true to the spirit of early Metallica and Exodus. Clearly honed by much stage experience, Evile’s performance was slick and confident as they cherry picked seven songs from their Enter The Grave debut. Sitting mid set, We Who Are About To Die eased the pace for some headbanging before it raced off at a frantic pace. The album’s title track remains the gem in Evile’s set and it will be very intriguing to see how the young band follow up that debut album.

Evile set list:
First Blood / Thrasher / Man Against Machine / We Who Are About To Die / Armoured Assault / Bathe In Blood / Enter The Grave

Back at the second stage I did a double take at Carnal Rites frontman Simon Rice who resembles a younger Chris Neighbour of the sadly now defunct Fourwaykill. Unfortunately the London thrashers had been schedule right at the same time as Evile and hence they were clearing off stage pretty much as soon as we arrived. Then, as fellow thrashers Terrathorn took to the stage it was time to head up to the mainstage. In retrospect I actually wish I’d stuck around, as the Southampton band looked up for the performance and impressed with their opening song.

A This Is Menace show is a rare event and hence one to catch I had thought, though I was initially confused to see it was not Pitchshifter’s Mark Clayden handling the bass. In fact, This Is Menace came across completely different to how I had expected and were something of a disappointment. In terms of singers, this appeared to quite low key show with Colin Doran (Hundred Reasons), Mikkee Goodman (ex-Sikth) and Paul Catten (ex-Medulla Nocte) amongst those due to take the microphone. The change over’s of singers gave the set a disjointed feel and it resembled a competition of who could scream along loudest to the backing band. Before long I was ready to check out what was happening on the second stage.

This Is Menace set list:
Predisposed / Return The Favour / Totality / Sarcophagus / Displacement / Beg For Silence / High Road / Deadman / Oversight

Passing through the foyer, a man with a megaphone was encouraging people to get in to the second stage to see some “real metal” with Sanguine. I have to confess that a few minutes of Tarin Kerrey’s screeching convinced me it was time to get some well needed food.

Breed 77’s last album had mainly left me a bit cold, seemingly moving towards a more commercial territory. Interestingly the two new songs featured tonight hinted that the band are headed in a heavier direction and sat very well in a very well crafted set of the band’s highlights. The best two songs from last album In My Blood kicked things off with Breed 77’s experience shining through from the start. Individuo and Worlds On Fire from the Cultura album sandwiched the pick of the new songs, The Horns of Hatin, which was a pacey epic. Mocking someone in the crowd with a comb-over fringe, frontman Paul Isola rallied against “fashion scene bands” with a particular bee in his bonnet about band’s with Boy in their title – that’s two already today! Whilst under 60minutes, La Ultima Hora was a fitting title to close Breed 77’s very strong set.

Breed 77 set list:
Petróleo (You Will Be King) / Alive / Individuo / The Horns Of Hatin / Worlds On Fire / Wake Up / Zombie / La Ultima Hora

Catching the tale end of Idiom’s set on the second stage, the band impressed with their screamo meets Rage Against The Machine sounding, sucking in the young crowd and driving them wild for closer Placebo.

After over seven hours of music it was weary legs that carried us back to the mainstage, but it didn’t take Pitchshifter long to inject life into proceedings, with the golden oldie Triad kick-starting the set. Hitting us with Microwaved so early was a good move to ensure the crowd were paying attention, before ploughing through a set very similar to the band’s last resurrection in October last year. Jason Bowld showed off his drumming prowess during a very strong Hidden Agenda and Mikee Goodman appeared once more to share vocal duties on Virus.

Apparently, J.S. Clayden was out until the wee hours last night and has a 6am flight back to the States the next morning, but it didn’t slow down his, as ever, energetic performance. The Pitchshifter faithful bopped away to the likes of Down, though it was noticeable that each time I’ve seen the band since they went “inactive” it is to a smaller, though devoted, crowd each time. New song Messiah, which was also played at last year’s show made an appearance and it’s hoped that the band stay true to their promise to release a new album in their anniversary year of 2009. Obviously they’ll have to secure a label first, as J.S. comically noted, “We were asked to headline, but the irony is we’re unsigned too!”

Genius wrapped up an enjoyable hour in the company of Pitchshifter and a rewarding day at the Rockoff Festival. The day had presented a “smorgasbord” of unsigned talent and was undoubtedly a successful event.

Pitchshifter set list:
Triad / Microwaved / Scene This / Eight Days / We Know / Hidden Agenda / Messiah / Down / My Kind / Subject To Status / Virus / What’s In It For Me? / Shutdown / Please Sir / WYSIWYG / Genius

Rockoff Festival
UK Unsigned
UK Unsigned
Breed 77
This Is Menace
Carnal Rites
Red Mist
Marshall Law
Symphony Cult
Lost In Vegas
Man Of Kin
Ever Rest
Boys Kill Kids
Wooden Boy