On June 23rd this year Middlesbrough welcomed the fresh and exciting Heelapalooza Festival. Coral Daniels checked this brand-new festival out for Miro Magazine

In the dirty side streets of Middlesbrough, quaint venues, with the smell of musty cigarettes, beer and sweat lingering, shake with the thunderous roar of cacophonic, angst driven music. Thundering so loud, you needn’t look at a map for where the venues were; you simply followed the noise.

Despite this being Heelapalooza’s first year, it sold out and had Base Camp, Hit The Bar and Spensleys Emporium heaving, from the first band to the headliners Sick Joy.

After a full day of entertainment, everyone somehow managed to find the energy to turn Base Camp into a swirling pit of flailing limbs, as beverages were tipped and people slipped, to the grungy pop  tones of Sick Joy. So beloved by this industrial town, that when their set finished, an encore provoked an awkward realisation- they played all the songs they had!

This led to a rather democratic approach on their behalf; a vote. The crowd essentially just yelled song names at them, all at once, so they couldn’t actually hear anyone. After much fuss, it was universally decided that the encore would be selected from the second half of the set and they settled on ‘Heaven’- a smart choice. The festival ended on an adrenaline saturated high and the promise of new material from Sick Joy, to avoid further awkward situations. After all, if you’re gonna kick ass like they did, then be prepared for people to love it so much they want more.

Everyone involved appeared to be committed to making the festival work, an example of that came from the band Gloo. Their drummer turned up even though he had a broken hand. He didn’t play in a literal sense though. He sat on stage with his bandmates (and stand in drummer) air drumming to the songs and provided backing vocals, with a bit of humour between songs too. Although, we didn’t find out how his hand broke, it’s safe to assume it was karma for his crimes against fashion; wearing socks and sandals- even to a festival.

Humour also played a part in sets from the bands playing at Hit The Wall, as various TV comedy shows played on the projector behind the bands performing on stage. Mt Misery, with their awkward charm, found this out as they weren’t too sure if people were grinning because of the music, or due to That Mitchel and Webb Look was playing behind them. However, they seemed sweet and their songs calming, as band members swayed in their matching bottle green dungarees. They even brought along some shakers and a tambourine to involve the audience at the end of their set; creating a warming shared experience.

To add to odd experiences too, Spensleys Emporium was home to a fair few heavy bands, like Triggerthumb, whose refined chaos rivalled System of a Down, but with the stage being high up, as you gazed up, it was hard not to be distracted by the plastic ivy plastered over the ceiling, with dangling beach balls, hula hoops, inflatable dolphins and a flamingo rubber ring. Not your usual decor for a music venue. Yet, it also does fit the whole independent and breaking boundaries vibe that Heelapalooza tried to establish, with their focus on DIY artists and venues. So by not fitting it worked.

If one thing was clear though, it was the range of talent on display, representing different parts of the country, from the moshing knee-sliding Ten Eighty Trees, through to the head-splitting duo Myok ,local favourites Swears and body slamming wrestlers from the no ring no rules match.

The label running the festival ‘Sad For Life Records’ wanted to offer “ an air of escapism in an area often hailed as gritty and working-class. Since their inception in 2018, Sad For Life have dedicated themselves to not only the artists signed to their label but nurturing the music scene around them” and that’s exactly what they did, so props to everyone involved and here’s to hoping next year’s Heelapalooza on June 20th 2020 will be just as titillating.