Harley Young spends three days in the pit with sticky shoes at Radar Festival (and wouldn’t have had it any other way)
My partner and I headed down on Friday evening after finishing work, met up with his workmate, and prepared ourselves for three days of pits, pig squeals and pints.
Radar Festival rocks. It’s such a privilege to be here.
Gutted that we’d already missed half a day’s worth of acts, we got straight into the festival spirit by grabbing some (rather pricey) ciders and heading over to the merch stall to spend all our wages on band T-shirts. After all, who needs money for rent and bills when you look cool as fuck?
Within moments of being in the queue, a young woman behind sparked up a conversation with us about which hoody she was going to buy, which bands she was here to see and how much she loved my hair. An interaction that reminded me that there’s still decent people in the world.
That’s the thing with metalheads - we might look terrifying in our T-shirts with torn open lamb carcasses and scrawly band logos in fonts that are barely legible, barrelling our way around a crowded concert like the Tasmanian Devil, but deep down we’re just loveable people with a passion for scary music that makes you feel something. Think of us like golden retrievers, but if they wore lots of eyeliner and had tattoos instead of fur (that’s only a simile…don’t come for me, PETA).
We secured the goods; two Sleep Token T-shirts in the last sizes they had - XXL. They absolutley buried us both, but we didn’t mind when we quickly realised that every other person there was donning one too. Hence the crap size availability by the time we’d arrived.
We took our new T-shirts and wandered over to the main stage to catch Haken readying the stage for their set. The band of Londoners walked out to applause from avid fans and those about to join them, each of them donning a floral shirt that matched the backdrop behind. The colourful shirts and white jean combo threw us a little as it didn’t give off the stereotypical metal vibe. I wondered if we were about to hear some samba instead of face-melting guitar riffs, but was pleasantly surprised when lead singer Ross Jennings belted out some eyewatering clean vocals.
To give you a taste of what we’re working with here, Haken describe their track Lovebite as a ‘Phil Collins inspired upbeat love song in 11/8 with Cannibal Corpse inspired lyrics’. It was a wild ride, but one that I was thrilled to partake in.
Haken wrapped up their set to another thunderous applause and we left the main stage to explore the venue in a little more detail. To the left of the bar, in between the main and smaller stages, sat a chill-out space filled with benches, classic arcade games ranging from The Simpsons to Terminator 2, and a signing tent for fans to meet their favourite bands.
We wandered out to the courtyard to get some fresh air and found two vendors and a van to buy vapes from. I’ll be honest, the festival was a little lacking in the food department - one stall sold veggie and beef burgers (£10) as well as reasonably priced nachos (£5), whilst the other sold chicken or halloumi gyros (£10). Vapes were priced at three for £10 making this van a considerably more popular choice for punters. Who needs food when you’ve got a candyfloss vape?
The crowd for Sleep Token was already beginning to build by this point, so we decided to join them for fear of being unable to secure a decent spot if we turned up any later. For those unfamiliar, Sleep Token are an ethereal progressive metal band shrouded in mystery. Their lead singer, known only as ‘Vessel’ wears a black hooded cape and a mask that evolves with every album. Each member all wears some form of disguise. If that doesn’t scream edgy and cool then I don’t know what does.
Despite having no bloody clue who actually makes up the band, they were the main draw that brought us to Radar Festival. I’d seen them a year prior and been absolutely enthralled by their eerily beautiful stage presence and haunting vocals.
They began their set with Chokehold, a track from their latest album Take Me Back to Eden, and it wasn’t long before Vessel and his entourage had whipped the crowd up into a frenzy, causing a pit to form as soon as the breakdown of the song started.
Vessel worked the crowd like puppets, taking each member of the audience through a physical and emotional journey with heart-wrenching tracks like The Love You Want and Higher before drawing the night to a close with a punch-packing song to thrash around to; The Offering.
We arrived at Victoria Warehouse for day two of Radar, fresh faced and ready to face another day of experimental metal music. After warming up with two killer sets from Crushed By Waves and Modern Error (and a couple of pints for good measure), we headed upstairs to check out the Music Market - a musicians dream, filled will everything you could ever need to start your own band.
We perused stall after stall of instruments and sound equipment, including a RØDE microphone stand that encouraged participants to step into a soundbooth and try their hand at screaming like their favourite metal vocalist. Challengers who hit 105 decibels or over were entered into a draw to win their own mic. I bullied my partner into taking part and was impressed by his 114 decibel entry. However, he was less than impressed that I’d failed to mention the huge digital screen outside the booth that everyone could see him on. His workmate and I had a good laugh, at least.
As well as musical equipment, there was a number of computer gaming systems available for attendees to get involved with. From shooters to RPGs and puzzle games, they’d really thought of everything when it came to creating a space to hang out between bands.
We headed back downstairs to enjoy a handful more bands; Tiberius, ALLT, Pupil Slicer to name a few, before admitting defeat and buying a burger each to keep our headbanging levels up. I went for the regular cheeseburger; beef, cheese, lettuce and a dollop of ketchup on a brioche bun. It wasn’t anything to write home about, but did the job at keeping us from getting hangry.
After resting the old legs for a while it was time to watch Dream State, a band my partner had recently gotten me into. Fronted by brutal vocalist and all-round powerhouse, Jessie Powell, the rock band from Wales took the smaller room by storm, drawing in such a crowd that they could have easily performed on the main stage. I managed to grab five minutes with Jessie over by the merch stand after her set. After I’d finished fangirling, I asked her how she’d found the weekend so far.
“Radar Festival rocks. It’s such a privilege to be here. I would like to see a few more ladies rock it in a frock on stage.” said Jessie, adding that there’s already some great female-fronted bands like Lake Malice that have played here this weekend, but it would be great to see even more female representation on festival line-ups like this one.
“[Radar] is doing a really great thing here. I hope to come back next year on the main stage.” she smiled.
We noticed an ominous glow coming from the main room and wandered over, like moths to a flame, to see what the craic was. It turned out to be the Parisian synthwave heavyweight Perturbator.
Unsure what to expect, we watched as an impressive lighting rig with a pentagram in the middle was wheeled out and flashed through the colour spectrum before thunderous drums synced up with industrial music. It was confusing, cinematic, emotional, and all three at once. Festival-goers who were chilling out in the smoking area and by the bar quickly caught wind of what was happening, intrigue getting the best of them as they rushed to the main stage in an almost battlefront fashion. We were entranced, there was nothing we could do but watch in awe as the insane lights and even crazier rhythmic songs coiled together heavy metal and dark techno, each track growing wilder and faster than the next. For a moment the festival was transformed into a rave of sorts. Something Victoria Warehouse is all too familiar with.
After what felt like a few minutes (but had actually been an hour), one final beat rang out and the lights lifted. What a fucking wild ride that was. I couldn’t add them to my Spotify playlist fast enough.
IGORRR closed the night with a powerful set combining operatic vocals with interesting instrumental builds, but unfortunately it was no match for what we’d seen from Pertubator a few hours prior. Unfortunately for IGORRR, a performance like that is often near impossible to top. We wondered whether the two artists’ sets should have been switched around due to the sheer nature of Pertubator’s lighting and rave music style.
We were all realising how out of shape we were at this point. Three days of jumping around like a lunatic, drinking pint after pint and shouting along to your favourite songs at the top of your cannon really does take it out of you.
It felt bittersweet to be on the final day of the festival. The weekend had been kind of a blur, we were having such an enjoyable time that we hadn’t noticed how fast the time had gone. But I really couldn’t wait to rest up and reminisce from my bed as my arthritic knees were giving me aggro. (How very rock n’ roll.)
Another day, another solid list of bands. The Radar festival team have their head screwed on when it comes to picking a lineup that has something to suit everyone with interests in a specific genre.
In between sets from Lake Malice, The Callous Daoboys and Calligula’s Horse to name but a few, the heavens opened and it absolutely pissed it down in true Mancunian fashion. Luckily for us, indoor festivals like Radar meant there was no chance of the weather raining on our parade. Without a need to go outside, we just battled it out with some digital thrashing on The Simpsons arcade game.
Liverpudlian quartet Loathe rained down with fierce vocals and brutal instrumentals, packing out the smaller room and causing crowds to overspill into the breakout areas by the bar. There was crowd-surfing, spin-kicking, head-banging. You name it, it was all kicking off on this Sunday afternoon.
Headlining the third and final evening was Periphery, an American progressive metalcore band from Washington D.C. Beginning their career back in 2005, they’re believed to be one of the pioneers of the ‘djent’ movement; a style of metal music that’s recognised for its complex and syncopated rhythms. It’s hard to keep track of and even harder to replicate, but works wonders when it comes to creating a deep, distorted sound that’s literally music to a metalhead's ears.
They kickstarted their set with Muramasa - a track they haven’t played live for eight years - before moving into Ragnarok, Masamune and Icarus Lives!, taking the crowd on a whistlestop tour through their discography of almost two decades. They finished their performance with 2015 hit Stranger Things - a song that seems to highlight the potential of irreversible damage we could cause to the planet if we’re not careful. A poignant note to end the festival on and one that I’m sure will stick with the crowd for time to come.
Despite beginning its life in 2019 and hitting a few setbacks (cheers, COVID-19), Radar Festival has quickly catapulted itself back into the limelight like a phoenix from the ashes. After a triumphant return in 2022 which bagged them the title of ‘Best New Festival’ at the UK Festival Awards, it’s clear that Radar weren’t coming to dick around. They know what they are capable of doing and consistently do it well.
I’d like to see a few more local food vendors getting their moment in the spotlight and hope to see the Music Market expanded next year. All in all, this was one jam-packed weekend of metal that has captured my heart.
I came away from the festival with a handful of new favourite bands to add to my Spotify playlist, a bunch of killer merch, and even made friends from across the globe. I’m eagerly anticipating Radar’s 2024 return to Victoria Warehouse and hope to see a few familiar faces in the pit again next year.
All images provided by Radar Festival.
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