Dismaland, Savages, Sleaford Mods - review

Dismaland - Pic Jeff Wood


With chip-eating seagulls and a dramatic sunset, Weston-super-Mare was in danger of charming the people filing in to Dismaland for Savages, Sleaford Mods, and The Pop Group.

Ritualistic verbal abuse at the hands of the pink-vested security staff was hilarious and unsettling in equal measure, conditioned as we are into high pre-flight anxiety, that not even cardboard x-ray machines can dispel.

Dismaland - pic Jeff Wood

The balmy air, twinkling fairylights and tantalising smells from the Rehab Pizza Kitchen created quite the festival vibe. But this was an unfest, with more in common with pre big business Stonehenge Festival free-ness, than the current logo-ed up corporate crop. Banksy is now an art world legend, but the work in Dismaland was a lesson in passion, politics, and activism.

The art seduced, shocked, tore at heartstrings, and the deeper you dug the more you got out of it. Even tiny artefacts - a stamp with a beheaded Queen, dead Action Man postcards, someone’s guerilla art drop of miniature packets with cut out animal shapes ‘Take a picture not a trophy’ – made an impact, along with the mock Congestion Charge sign redesigned as a social cleansing Curfew alert. Banksy had invited exhibitors from across the world, including Palestinian, Syrian and Saudi artists.

Boat pond, Dismaland - pic Jeff Wood

Banksy’s twisted Mermaid had fallen victim to the Weston winds and had to be stretchered out of the park. Near where she had stood, on corrugated iron on the side of Cinderella’s troubling ‘castle’ that made us all complicit, was a daubed slogan that was to sum up the night – “un-fuck the system”.

For this thought-provoking bemusement park had gathered together musical provokers of thought to perform on a truck-stage under the gaze of a giant smug-guzzling David Cameron artwork.

Sleaford Mods, Dismaland - pic Terry Tyldesley

Sleaford Mods

From the first blast of ‘Live Tonight’, punk-hop duo the Sleaford Mods took Dismaland like Ninja warriors. The brooding dismal chants at the beginning of ‘Tweet Tweet Tweet’ have never sounded better, more vital, more belonging to their surroundings. Andrew Fearn the Sleaford Mods’ music creator, is a master of beats and mood.

“This is the human race, UKIP and your disgrace’’ chanted vocalist Jason Williamson, a stunning chronicler of the nation’s disemboweled disenfranchised society, as well as an agent provocateur. The band are soon to feature in hard-hitting documentary Invisible Britain.

An evocative seaside-esque piano roll heralded latest single and eight-legged earworm ‘Tarantula Deadly Cargo’, a massive crowd-pleaser.

Jason was alternately angry and vicious, then cheerfully hand-slapping members of the crowd. It felt like a homecoming gig even though the duo is from Nottingham. He was also mocking his ‘dad dancing’ while the multi-generational audience threw their own shapes and pogoed.

Sleaford Mods, Dismaland - Pic Jeff Wood

‘Tiswas’ and ‘Tied Up in Nottz’ became cathartic sing-alongs, just like ‘Jolly Fucker’, and ‘No-One’s Bothered’ from the new album Key Markets. Red smoke flares burst to life above the crowd – Jason looked concerned for a moment, perhaps for people’s safety, then tore into his lyrics again as if buoyed up by a spirit of revolution.

‘Fizzy’ was a triumph, with Jason’s knife-sharp vocals, a jabbing finger pointing straight at Cameron’s likeness at the end as he shouted “Sack the fucking manager!” The audience cheered and booed in agreement.

Dismaland - Pic Terry Tyldesley

Next up was the ‘Local Band’ originally advertised, revealed late in the day to be Bristol’s The Pop Group – originators of the political post-punk dance dub melting pot. They’ve had a split single recently with Sleaford Mods and often share a bill. Mark Stewart and Gareth Sager performed as a duo, electrifying with what they billed as a ‘noise set’, Gareth on sax, guitar and keys. Dub and electronic sounds swept through the Dismaland complex and Mike Coles of Malicious Damage provided some powerful visuals.

The sound in the amphitheatre-like mini arena was fantastic. That shouldn’t have been a surprise with Portishead, Beak, and Invada legend Geoff Barrow behind the music side of the event, but open air gigs in new locations are notoriously difficult to get right. Geoff was mixing the sound for The Pop Group and also DJ-ing along with Fat Paul.

Savages, Dismaland - pic Jeff Wood


Headliners Savages were quite simply on fire. Stabbing, tight, they tore through their post-punk classics including ‘Husbands’ and ‘She Will’, and unveiled some fantastic new tunes. They too seemed inspired by the surroundings and by new political beginnings, with compelling singer Jehnny Beth thrilling the moshing and dancing crowd, jumping in amongst them.

Savages, Dismaland - pic Jeff Wood

Gemma Thompson is one of the best guitarists around, playing an incredible range of cut-throat riffs and shimmering sounds that carried through the charged night air. Fay Milton’s drumming exudes power, drama and precision, and Ayşe Hassan’s furiously driving and brooding bass sounded better than ever. The songs ended sharply, dramatically, put to death in a split second, no guitar echoes to spoil the kill.

Savages, Dismaland - Pic Jeff Wood

Jehnny Beth announced ‘Adore’ as a new song about “hope and death and life and survival” and it was a visceral thriller, a rollercoaster of a tune that culminated in a simple but fiercely repeated affirmation “I adore life”.

The set climaxed with an explosive version of ‘Fuckers’ – “don’t let the fuckers get you down… we can fight until we’re dead, don’t let them walk upon your head”, that saw Jehnny referencing the looming Cameron.

Dismaland - pic Jeff Wood

Where Sleaford Mods roused with an anger that allowed the audience to vent, Savages somehow twisted their fury into a demand-promise of action and, yes, hope. They finished to passionate chants from the crowd of “Corbyn, Corbyn”. That has to be a first. ‘un-fuck the system’ at work.

Dismaland - pic Terry Tyldesley

  • See more of Jeff Wood’s Dismaland pictures here.