Review: Wanderlust Festival, Southampton

Review: Wanderlust Festival, Southampton

Words: Vicky Greer. Pictures: Opus Kink by Callum Linklater.

For Southampton gig-goers, brand new festival Wanderlust is a dream. A whole day of hopping between our favourite grassroots venues to see the best up-and-coming names in indie and post-punk on a sunny bank holiday weekend? Nothing could be better. The inaugural festival saw 30 bands playing on stages across Heartbreakers, The 1865 and The Joiners, culminating in a riotous headline set from Shame. 

The day begins at The Joiners, where Desire Path kick off the festival with their multi-genre fusion of pounding post-punk, hypnotic synth and brutal, hardcore punk vocals. Just after midday, the room is already starting to fill up with people who want to get the day started as quickly as possible. 

Aside from a quick stop at Café Thrive for fuel, I set up camp at The Joiners for the first half of the festival. I catch Shtepi’s set, which begins with more intricate, low-key alternative rock before building to a potent post-punk intensity. They have a lot of energy on stage and the seething ‘Under The Chairs’ is a standout moment. Then, we have Isle of Wight’s Reminders burst onto the stage with a short and sweet pop-punk set.

My plan to stay at Joiners was the right call. During Reminders’ set, people are already talking about the long queue reaching down the street ahead of special guests Dream Wife’s arrival on stage. It’s one of those uniquely Southampton moments of a bigger artist performing on a tiny stage that everybody wants to be in the room for. Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky, and the queue continues outside once the venue has hit capacity. 

Dream Wife deliver triumphantly on the art-punk manifesto they laid out in their acclaimed albums. Lead singer Rakel Mjöll is a captivating frontperson, throwing cunning smiles to the audience before losing herself to the pure punk energy of fan favourites like ‘Somebody’ and ‘So When You Gonna…’ The crowd is surprisingly tame throughout the performance – perhaps because it’s early in the day, but it’s remarkable that ‘Hot (Don’t Date A Musician)’ doesn’t open up a pit. 

At this point in the day, tough decisions have to be made. Like with any festival, there are some painful clashes to contend with. In the end, I reluctantly tear myself away from Dream Wife just before the end of their set and head over to Heartbreakers in time to see Ellie Bleach. 

It was the right call, and her captivating set quickly became the highlight of the day. She’s a thrilling artist, and her latest EP Now Leaving West Feldwood stands as some of the best music of 2024 so far. Her songs are character-driven, literary concepts which tell stories you can fall in love with. Playing tracks from early in her career as well as from her recent release, Ellie Bleach brought her songs to life in new and exciting ways. The creeping obsession of ‘Hottest Man Alive 1995’ reaches new, feral heights, and on stage she embodies the characters she writes about in ‘Pamela’ and ‘Lakehouse.’ A genuine joy to watch. 

Following on from this powerhouse set is Fraulein, the Northern Irish/Dutch alternative rock duo who lie between the glamourous guitar music of Placebo and the otherworldliness of PJ Harvey. Wanderlust, it turns out, is a special show for the band. Guitarist and vocalist Joni prefaces their performance by telling us that this is their first show after an extended break due to illness (“I got whooping cough, like a Victorian child,” she explains). With plenty of water breaks, her voice lives up to the challenge, and the duo look like they’re having the best time on stage as they move from slower, more mellow moments to the heavy, scream-filled numbers to close the set. Fraulein are definitely a band to watch.

Next up are Opus Kink over at the 1865 with their jazz-influenced experimental rock, in a similar vein to bands like black midi. Their eclectic sound had the whole room moving. “Last time I was on this stage, I was electrocuted and my spleen ruptured,” their vocalist announces at the beginning of the set. By the end, the crowd are energised, and everyone’s spleens appear to be intact. 

Over in the Joiners, Man/Woman/Chainsaw are cramming onto the stage, a 7-piece indie band from London. So rarely do we get to see somebody genuinely rock out on the electric violin at a gig, but tonight was one of those precious nights. Comparable to their peers Black Country, New Road and English Teacher, Man/Woman/Chainsaw enthral the crowd with their potent experimental numbers ‘Sports Day,’ ‘Easy Peasy’ and grand finale ‘What Lucy Found There.’ Their set is one of the moments that makes a festival like Wanderlust so special, walking into a room to see a name you’ve never heard before and leaving with a new favourite band. 

Then we have Willie J Healey, who surprised festivalgoers earlier in the day by announcing an even more intimate acoustic set at Vinilo Record store ahead of his spot at Heartbreakers. It must have been a great warm-up because he’s in fine form later in the day, dazzling the room with his funk-infused indie pop jams. It’s the most packed I’ve ever seen Heartbreakers, and every single person in the room is dancing. Selecting cuts from throughout his career, from the early ‘Subterraneans’ to recent single ‘The Apple,’ every song is met with delight, with ‘Thank You’ erupting into a group singalong. At the end of the set, the crowd files out and makes their way to The 1865 for Shame, the festival headliners and final act of the night. 

“We played South Korea on Tuesday,” announces lead singer Charlie Steen at the beginning of their set. “We played Wuhan on Thursday. We played Beijing. But we had to be here in Southampton on this bank holiday motherf***in’ weekend”.

If the band are suffering from catastrophic jet lag, they don’t show it. In fact, they’ve brought the wildest energy of the festival to this final set, and the crowd are jubilant. Mosh pits are quick to break out and crowd surfers are led by Steen himself. Playing all of the fan favourites from their three critically acclaimed albums, as well as a few “new ideas” they end the night on a perfect note. ‘Six Pack’, ‘Adderall’ and ‘One Rizla’ are met with elation, and ending the set with ‘Snow Day’ And ‘Gold Hole,’ there’s time for one more stunt before the night ends. Steen scales the venue, balancing precariously on the edge of the balcony, before launching himself into a crowd full of waiting arms.

There’s no doubt about it. Shame were the perfect headliner for Wanderlust’s first outing, an exciting premonition of what the festival will grow to be. And more exciting still are the posters that adorn the walls of Heartbreakers today, announcing that Wanderlust will take place on 3rd and 4th May next year, and that super early bird tickets will be for sale in the coming week. With double the time and no doubt the best names on the bill, Wanderlust could be the festival that puts Southampton on the map the way it deserves. And I, for one, won’t be missing it for the world. 


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Opus Kink by Callum Linklater
Opus Kink by Callum Linklater

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