Live Review: Icebreaker Festival Winter 2020

Icebreaker Festival returned last Saturday (25th January) bringing the best in unsigned, upcoming bands/artists to Portsmouth’s Albert Road and Elm Grove. 2020 saw the festival return to a one day event for the Winter but it is set to expand to include a one day event this summer instead. At least we don’t have to wait a whole year to do this all again!

This year, most of the exciting stuff was going on away from the Wedgewood Rooms, specifically beyond 6pm although I was disappointed to miss LibraLibra and Drusila. Both rooms at the Wine Vaults definitely had most of the action going on, especially towards the end of the day. The clashes this year were better although I still ended up missing loads of bands, but that’s probably just down to me by this point. Every single venue I went in was suitably filled with various sets being on a “one in, one out” basis.

One of the first bands I saw on the day was Blood Red Sky (FKA Soma High), a band who were actually featured on one of our first ever blog posts, in fact, our first Icebreaker preview 4 years ago. The band played a full set of brand new material and for only their second gig under the name Blood Red Sky, it was a very strong performance which was heavy where it needed to be.

The Fat Fox now has obnoxiously bright LED lights which, in contrast to the last couple of years, makes it amazing to photograph and I wish I could’ve spent more time down there. I then moved onto The Deco on Elm Grove for the first time since the first Icebreaker I’d done, making an exception for Luna Rosa, an alternative rock band from Northamptonshire. Their set was filled with intense, urgent tracks and a heavy live performance.

We then saw Finding Kate who we came across at the Wedgewood Rooms for Icebreaker Festival last year performing a stripped back, acoustic set in the Edge of the Wedge as a two piece. Their tracks took on a new form dominating the room with their powerful minimalism in contrast to their usual full band performance.

Leeds based Askies were definitely one of my highlights of the day and my favourite of the bands I hadn’t seen before. I’d only been listening to them for a few weeks, so it was quite refreshing to recognise most of the tracks they played live. Their live performance at the Wedgewood Rooms matched the dynamics of their tracks with epic highs and more relaxed parts in between. Southampton based DJUNO who also played the Wedgewood Rooms stage had the most energy of any band I saw all day.

Both the Wine Vaults rooms definitely had two of the best lineups of the day. The first band I saw a full set from there was Hooli who brought their funky, blues-tinged rock to the venue with live favourites such as ‘Fresh Piece’. The band have the riffs and the energy to make for a fun live performance.

Believe it or not I hadn’t seen blog favourites The Stone Birds live in very nearly 3 months. The band returned to the stage with a set consisting of half new tracks including their forthcoming, yet to be named next single. The Stone Birds live performance is intense, straight to the point and filled with riffs for days. I’ve never seen a band pack as much into half an hour as they do without it feeling rushed, while still managing to make their set feel too short! The Wine Vaults was deservedly packed like sardines for the duration of the bands set and was said to be at capacity on a one in, one out basis.

Icebreaker Festival saw the first live performance from ex-Kassassin Street bassist Tom Wells latest project Fast Trains, with a band comprised of various familiar faces including ex-bandmates Nathan Hill on drums and for one gig only, standing in for Dan of Offbeat Offensive, Ryan Hill on bass. I only managed to catch a couple of tracks from the beginning of their set (too many bands, too little time) but from what I heard it sounded great. The live version of ‘Measure by Measure’ is huge!

My second to last band was Portsmouth favourites Hallan who were playing at The Fat Fox. I only managed to catch the last three tracks of their set (who decides to clash Hallan, Fast Trains and The Pretty Visitors anyway?) but it was probably the best I’d ever seen the band. I walked in on a new track, I think they said it was their next single (?) and it sounded brilliant. This was followed by, as predicted, the mosh-pit inducing and super-catchy latest single ‘Habit’.

The last band of the day for me was Sad Palace who headlined the Wine Vaults to a still suitably packed crowd despite Currls and Fake Empire being on at the same time. It’s easy to get lost in Sad Palace’s music and they’re just brilliant live, one of the best local bands, but also so underrated. Their set consisted of favourites from their latest EP ‘Longbaby’, a few older, but timeless favourites including ‘Rainbow Melt’ and ‘Breeze’ as well as a couple of new tracks.

2020’s Icebreaker Festival was by far the busiest one I’d seen with bands packing out venues even at 3pm in the afternoon. The festival once again brought together a brilliant collection of local unsigned, upcoming bands as well as a few from further afield this year. Already planning their next festival after the success of last Saturday, Icebreaker Festival returns for Summer 2020 taking place on 18th July!

Tickets are available here for just £12 with the £5 early bird tickets selling out within 6 hours of going on sale. You can also find the first part of our photo posts from the festival here which includes Hallan, The Stone Birds, Fast Trains, Sad Palace and more. Part 2 of the photos is set to come soon.

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