Festival Review: Hockley Hustle 2023

Words: Caradoc Gayer, Bassey, Karl Blakesley, Liam MacGregor-Hastie
Photos: Nathan Langman, Nigel King
Monday 30 October 2023
reading time: min, words

350 stellar acts were lined up to deliver a fantastic showcase of Nottingham’s thriving music scene at the biggest ever Hockley Hustle on Sunday 22 October. Here's LeftLion's verdict...

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KaBen at the Six Barrels
KaBen were my first act of the day. At 3pm the Notts-based duo, now with ten years of gigging experience, brought their minimal, bluesy sound to the Six Barrells Draughthouse. The venue was packed out, perhaps unsurprisingly, considering KaBen’s well-loved reputation. Then, when they started to play, the music lived very much up to it, with the soulful vocals and delicate, jazzy guitar fitting together like perfect puzzle pieces. The duo also showcased some very well-chosen covers, including Heard it through the Grapevine and Groove is in the Heart, all of which added to the serene, lazy-afternoon sort of vibe. If you’re looking for some guaranteed calm and irresistibly soulful kind of gig then Kaben certainly isn’t a band to miss. Caradoc Gayer

Ellie Stainsby at the Carousel
Ellie Stainsby played The Carousel at 5pm, as part of the Young Creative Awards line-up. Throughout the day she’d played multiple sets, but didn’t seem tired in the least. Her vocals were top notch and clear as crystal while her piano playing filled the room with a lovely, sometimes jazz-inflected, ambience. Ellie covered two songs; Beautiful Lies by Birdy and Runaway by Aurora, both of which were set highlights, as they perfectly suited her voice. She finished the set with the sweeping Silent Snow and Winter Months, at which point it became clear that she stands out amongst rising Nottingham talent as someone to keep a very close eye upon. Caradoc Gayer

Nostalgia for Ruins at BrewDog
I walked to the BrewDog bar at 6pm, where Nostalgia for Ruins were playing. With a name like that, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the band. Their set turned out to be a thrilling ride through angular, post-punk guitar riffs and machine-gun-fire drumming which, together, reminded me of the experimental band Battles in the best possible way. Each track was instrumental, and overwhelmingly joyous, inasmuch as you could tell that these two guys loved playing together. It was a shame that the venue didn’t lend itself to moshing. All the same, I’ll be seeing the band again next change that I get, so that I can well and truly cut loose to those lovely riffs. Caradoc Gayer

Cam Mannix at Rough Trade
It was 8pm at Rough Trade when Cam Mannix came onstage. It felt, at this point in the evening, as if it were high time in the Hustle for an indie rock artist to get some feet moving. Cam was more than happy to provide that kind of atmosphere. Alongside his four-person backing band, he played some electrifying renditions of his released and unreleased music. including his recent single Our Days and St Grapefruit’s Day, which is more of a subdued and introverted song on record but live, became a spacey, prog-rock-esque banger. Cam and his band’s live chops were razor sharp; each song was performed with buckets of energy and feel. It was clear that Cam, as a rising young artist, is set to go far. Caradoc Gayer


Davina Songbird at Revolution
Cultural Vibrations presented another great lineup at Revolution as part of the Hockley Hustle and the day kicked off with awesome tunes from DJ Suga Lion, followed by singer songwriter Davina Songbird and her band. A Neo Soul, Jazz masterclass from this wonderful vocalist who deserves much more attention as her vocal range leaves other singers breathless. She made everything seem effortless as her powerful soulful voice floated above the bass, guitar and drums, music this early in the day did not make things easy for the following artists. A big voice and hopefully a big name soon. Bassey 

Rezzonator at Wax Bar
Less than an hour after playing drums for the three-piece post rock influenced band Time In Antartica at Brewdog, Nottingham drummer, electronic artist and music teacher Rezzonator gave an incredible one man solid performance at the Wax Bar. An energetic, high paced performance and armed with just a laptop, drum machine and several other pieces of hardware, he managed to create a highly danceable performance. Consistently featured on BBC Introducing, Rezzonator is the electronic artist to look out for in the Nottingham music scene at the moment and he worked hard to make sure the Wax Bar shows happened on the day. Bassey

Dusker at Brewdog
Leicester's four-piece noise rock band Dusker are loud. Now the Brewdog had been playing loud music all day but when Dusker hit the stage it was noticeably much louder, but noise isn't the only thing they bring to the party. Tight and high energy rock with plenty of harsh vocals, what's not to like. Folks moved away from the front of the stage because of the noise but they stayed to watch and it was one of the busiest sets Brewdog experienced on the day. Guitars, drums and vocals all at maximum level number eleven and a really tight performance from every member of the band. Keep an eye out for these guys and remember to take ear plugs! Bassey

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Jonny Olley at Rough Trade
I simply had to kick off my day of guilt-free Sunday festivities with a lunchtime serving of Jonny Olley’s rip-roaring indie folk rock at Rough Trade. Having followed this chap for a few years now, I knew that he’d be packing an espresso-like punch that’d get the juices flowing and set the stage for a long day of musical delights. His trademark display of relatable lyrics and visceral furore was made all the more palpable against the backdrop of his band. I’d only ever seen him in an acoustic open mic-type setting so it was great to feel the full force of his performance live in the flesh. A combination of easy-listening, feel good Indie Rock with elements of Country and Blues, tied together with hard riffs and sweet melodic vocal embellishments. A good way to kick off the day. Liam MacGregor-Hastie

Jazz Bastrds at Mimm Studios
The beauty of the Hustle is the freedom to roam without any particular direction, to get carried away by the meandering crowds and to get purposefully lost. I’m sure Tolkien had a quote about that. One moment you’re having a coffee at Fox’s and, the next, you bump into an old friend who takes you to Mimm Studios to see some band. Jazz Bastrds - or ‘Jazz People’ as they referred to themselves in front of the children in the crowd - were probably the most fun of the acts seen that day. Carried away on a smooth spread of sultry keyboard wizardry, a shuffling, scuffling, syncopated rhythm section and a spasmodic flurry of lead guitar liquid lightning, we were taken on a journey. The Persian rug that they were standing on looked like it was about to take off, fuelled by the fervent pedal-revving of the guitarist. Interspersed with dry jokes and non sequiturs from the keyboard player, it was a performance both profound and light-hearted. Liam MacGregor-Hastie

LYVIA at The Bodega
Reluctantly, I was dragged along by my friend’s girlfriend who, in turn, was dragged along by some random people she met on the night to see a pop performance at Bodega. After being told that the upstairs room was at capacity, we snuck in through the back entrance by the loos. LYVIA was in full swing on the ‘BBC Introducing’ stage and the crowd, consisting mostly of adoring women, was loving it. A Geordie man, after making a wise-crack about my height, told me that he (39) and his missus (43) had come all the way to Notts just for this act. I was intrigued. It took me a few songs and an overpriced mixer before I understood what the hype was about. Silky smooth vocals with hints of soul and R’n’B singing songs of heartbreak, love and the usual girly stuff. This crowd came prepared, knew all the words and screamed when they were engaged with by the singer. It was surprising to see this level of confidence and stage presence coming from a 23-year-old who wouldn’t look out of place at the NTU library. I see a bright future in this seemingly humble, grounded Nottingham artist. Liam MacGregor-Hastie


JJ Lovegrove at The Bodega
Being the first act opening a stage can be a difficult festival slot, but cinematic art-pop artist JJ Lovegrove seemed to take it all in her stride. Quite literally too, gracing the stage in her bare feet with her piano and her incredible voice the only instruments required. Playing upstairs in The Bodega on the BBC Introducing Stage in the early afternoon, the small but vocal crowd who had gathered were treated to an utterly mesmerising performance, as JJ played through tracks from her recently released debut album, The Lines We Leave Behind. The set hit an emotional peak in its penultimate moment, as JJ dedicated her song The Bet to the memory of Michaela Warriner-Woods, who sadly passed away last year and was known locally as part of much-loved, ambient-punk outfit, Wilted Flower. Not wanting to end the set on a sad note though, she then brought her set to a triumphant close with a soaring performance of her recent single, Trouble. Karl Blakesley

Katie Keddie at The Bodega
Handpicked by BBC Introducing host and local legend Dean Jackson to perform on The Bodega stage, singer-songwriter Katie Keddie has been quickly making a name for herself on the local scene. This is reflected in the large crowd that have turned out to watch her performance, with The Bodega at near capacity by the time she takes to the stage. For the most part everybody watches on in hushed silence (annoyingly there’s a bit of chatter!), as Katie quietly stuns them with her intimate renditions of tracks off her recent Alaska Sadness EP, as well as just released new single Hydroplane. It’s a wonderfully understated set, that shows just why Katie is so hotly-tipped for big things. Karl Blakesley

Emzae at Wax Bar
Having played an energetic set upstairs in The Lord Roberts just a short time prior, Derby-based electro-popstar Emzae grabs a well-earned pew for her second set of the day, this time playing across the road in Wax Bar. It’s a set that pulls entirely from her excellent debut album, All Those Things I Thought I Knew, which came out back in September, with a few faces in the crowd (including my own!) noticeably mouthing the words along with her. The catchiness of her songs continues to spread throughout the bar, with tracks like Some Kind of Cliché, Extraordinary and Thrive standing out in particular. A set that would have no doubt earned her a few new fans among those catching her for the first time. Karl Blakesley

Rob Green at Broadway Cinema
Last year at Hockley Hustle, soul-pop sensation Rob Green’s acoustic set at Metronome was such an undisputed highlight, I was wondering how he could possibly touch it this year. Well, he managed it. Performing in the corner of Broadway Cinema’s café with the Rob Rosa String Quartet accompanying him, people are literally queueing at the door to catch even the smallest glimpse of his incredible thirty-minute set. And rightfully so, as the enigmatic performer has this unrivalled ability to bring immeasurable positive energy to a room and leave the audience sitting on Cloud Nine. Storming through performances of early singles Life Goes on and Sleeping on My Own, Rob gets noticeably emotional when the crowd singalong with recent single from his forthcoming EP, I’ll Be Around. “It’s so good to be back in NG1,” he exclaims, with the Nottingham faithful grateful to have him back. He then ends as he always does with a joyously euphoric medley of classic covers, leaving the crowd in Broadway Cinema fully uplifted and proving once again why he’s the best live performer in Nottingham. Karl Blakesley

Express Office Portico at 31K
With so many sets taking place in short timespans in venues not typically set up for live music, the space for error is there and unfortunately it is synth-pop outfit Express Office Portico who fall victim in this case. After twenty minutes trying to sort out a major technical glitch that threatens to completely derail their set at bar 31K, the band finally manage to overcome the problem to perform for the packed bar – a crowd that even includes current Everton Manager and Notts music scene champion, Sean Dyche. Due to the tech issues, it’s only a short but sweet set but the band still manage to leave an impression with polished performances of their anthemic singles Forget the Name, Cosmic Joke and I Like It Weird. Karl Blakesley

Seas of Mirth at Metronome
Headlining the Metronome stage is the self-proclaimed “aquatically enthused outfit” Seas of Mirth, who arrive fresh off the release of their album Kriller in September. The set expectedly draws heavily from that record but that’s not a bad thing, as it doesn’t take them long to get the crowd in the party spirit with their energetic blend of math-rock, punk and… deep-sea funk. As some of the audience dance excitedly along, Jellyfish made of light-up umbrellas elegantly whisk and bob amongst the onlookers, which quirkily adds to the whole experience. Great fun and a cheerful way to end proceedings at Metronome. Karl Blakesley

Hockley Hustle took place on 22 October 2023.

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