My First Experience At Twisterella Festival, Middlesbrough*

13 Oct 2019

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times - Teesside is the place to be right now. I'm sure you're all sick of me harping on about how the area is constantly flourishing and how the more arts-based sectors are on the rise. However, one thing I haven't talked about much is the music scene, which is something that I've been in touch with since I was a kid. I've been to plenty of local festivals, like Stockton Calling and Middlesbrough Music Live, but one that's always managed to slip under my radar is Twisterella, a massive multi-venue festival that celebrates up and coming artists in the local area, as well as national and international artists. Luckily, I was given guest list access for the 2019 date, so that I could give you guys the inside scoop.

Kicking off in 2014, Twisterella launched with a bang in the centre of Middlesbrough, taking over popular music venues like the Westgarth Social Club, Teesside University's Students' Union and The Townhouse. Fast forward to their sixth festival in 2019, the organisers managed to bag 10 venues across the town, with two stages in the Westgarth, giving festival goers 11 different spaces to see their favourite artists or brand new names!

And that's the whole point of Twisterella Festival - discovering something new that you may not have otherwise stumbled upon. I'll admit, I looked at the line up for 2019 and thought, 'I don't know anyone on here at all' which put a bit of fear into me. I had the irrational thought of 'how will I enjoy myself if I don't recognise any of the names' and looking back now, that was a ridiculous thing to think. How would I ever discover new artists if I only ever stuck to the names that I knew? I ended up having an unbelievably fantastic time, but I won't get too ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning!

We're lucky enough to live a 5 minute walk from Teesside University, which is where we began our day to get our wristbands and programmes. We had a little pre-event pitstop in The Southfield to make a bit of a plan and to put out a tweet to find out who we absolutely needed to see. We knew we wanted to see as many people as possible to soak up some atmosphere and hopefully discover some new music to look further into. The only problem is that there were so many names that sounded interesting, but there were time clashes that meant we wouldn't be able to cram everything in, so finding out some key artists from the fans was essential.

With somewhat of a list in hand and our trusty programme in hand, we headed off for our marvellously musical adventure across Middlesbrough.
This plan of sort of diving into the unknown with no real knowledge of anyone on the list was probably the best thing that we could've done! Of course, it is nice to go see someone if you're an established fan, but because we literally knew nothing at all about any of the artists, we had no idea what to expect from anyone. Sometimes,you can look at a band or artist name, and think, 'yep, that's gonna be metal,' or 'that's going to be chart pop-style', but we really couldn't guess ahead at any of the genres we were about to see.

We trekked across the entire festival map, making sure to drop in to as many venues as possible, which is another fantastic thing about this kind of festival - you end up in venues that you might not have visited before. I've been a Teesside dweller all my life and never once had I stepped foot in The Townhouse, but I was in there at least twice for Twisterella! I also lived next door to the Westgarth Social Club whilst Alex was in his second year and we heard the live music through the walls every Saturday, but I had never been in until this weekend. It definitely opened my eyes to places to watch for music in the future!

For me, there were an absolute ton of highlights, but I have to admit, the band that really stood out to me was Red Rum Club. It was easy to see from the get-go that they were popular, with a packed out crowd, people yelling the lyrics back and raucous, catchy tunes. Even as I type this now, I still have 'TV Said So' in my head! I fell head over heels for their punchy rock sound that mixed Americana trumpet with Scouse accents. They were seriously brilliant and definitely worth checking out.
A couple of other artists that really stick out in my mind were Mt. Misery, the first act that we saw on the day, and Martha Hill. From the name, I sort of expected Mt' Misery to have a sort of Morrissey or Joy Division tone, but they were quite the opposite! They were a fun, surf rock band clad in green dungarees, so there really wasn't anything to dislike. We also caught this fabulous four-piece playing alongside Micah Erenberg later in the day, which was a real treat. Martha Hill had two separate shows - one stripped back performance in The Bottled Note and a full band set up in Teesside Uni's SU. I missed out on the acoustic set, but it was clear from her show in the SU that she had a firm following and knew how to work a room. With quirky little dance moves, a live cellist and a raw sound, she's a true Geordie, musical diamond.

Other people that we saw during the day were:
  • Travis Shaw - relaxed, alternative rock. This was a pop-up session, so all the songs were played acoustically and it was beautiful
  • Nel Unlit - we caught the end of their set, but from what we heard, I like to think that this nine-piece-strong group are similar to Alt-J and Bon Iver
  • Shakk - energetic rap artist. We stumbled in on Shakk without checking who was playing and ended up really enjoying his stuff
  • Talk Like Tigers - twin singer songwriters with hypnotic electro pop sounds
  • Komparison - best friend singer songwriters from Redcar with gorgeous, bubbly personalities
  • Michael Gallagher - a Hartlepool-based rock singer songwriter with a complete band set up. He gave me Oasis vibes (definitely a long lost Gallagher brother), but a bit heavier
  • Llovers - gorgeously catchy indie pop. These are one to watch!
  • Pom Poko - a Norwegian group with soft, sweet vocals infused with punky guitars and crazy riffs
  • Dancing On Tables - infectious pop rock that's packed full of Scottish charm and harmonies
  • Dylan Cartlidge - of course, we had to see the Mighty Redcar's finest! He's all about bringing a unique blend of alternative hip hop and funk to Teesside

All together, including my stand out artists, we saw 14 different acts, which I think is pretty good going for a festival where I knew none of the musicians. But I've come away with a big long list of exciting artists to check out, as well as fan recommendations who we didn't get to see, but who I absolutely want to research into!
Despite having my 'I don't know any artists' mini wobble before we went along to the festival, I'm so so glad that we spent the day there and I'm beyond grateful to have been on the guest list, because it was honestly such a brilliant day. It's been a long time since I've been to a festival like it and what made it even better is that it was based in my hometown. You guys know how passionate I am about Middlesbrough and shouting about the Teesside area in general, and this is an event that is absolutely more than worth shouting about.

Middlesbrough is slowly but surely creeping on to everyone's radars and it's festivals like this that help that to happen. We get put down a lot because of the deprivation in the area and the negative brush that the media has tarnished us with, but there is so much work going on to prove all of those people wrong, and I'm so proud to be a part of that. Our music scene is continuing to grow, along with the arts sectors, business and education, so I absolutely can't wait to see what comes next.

As for what comes next with Twisterella, I'm absolutely sure that this festival will return for its seventh year in 2020, and I'm 100% going to be popping along. Never again will I be afraid of discovering new music!

I was placed on Twisterella's guest list in exchange for a blog post. All opinions are my own.

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