Briefings From Beacons

While this won’t be as sprawling as some of my other festival reviews, I figured I should offer some thoughts on this weekend’s festival, as a) Joe of Please Please You was kind enough to offer me guestlist for it and b) I just read a somewhat unfairly negative review on Louder Than War that talked about precisely one band (and even then didn’t make it fully clear which band they meant). But I wouldn’t want to gloss over some of the negative aspects of the event, so lets get them out of the way first. Yes, there weren’t enough toilets – I definitely felt a bit sorry for all the female attendees and families with young kids, as the free-standing urinals in the arena mostly alleviated that issue for me. Yes, I couldn’t see any water points in the arena, and a lack of signage on the campsite made it appear that there was only one malfunctioning water tap to serve a few thousand people (this wasn’t actually the case, but I’d only realise this halfway through Sunday). Were these factors enough to ruin the weekend for me? Not really, no, though maybe I’d have been more pissed about it if I’d have paid for the privilege of being there. Anyway, if you want to read a load of moaning about that and other stuff, go have a look at Louder Than War’s review if you so desire – no, I’m not linking it – I’m here to talk about the music.

Friday

Friday was mostly spent wandering around, taking in bits of various bands and trying to find something that would really hold my interest – the brooding post-rock of Post War Glamour Girls gets things off to a reasonable start, but York locals Fawn Spots are the first big hit of the day for me. Their new lineup comes as a surprise to me – following the departure of original drummer Lee Bowden (an amicable split, I’ve been assured), Sean Joseph Hughes has stepped in behind the kit, with Oli Grabowski (aka Endangered Species) providing additional guitar and backing vocals. While the chemistry between Bowden and frontman Jon Meager will be missed, the three-piece sound remarkably tight considering they’ve been together less than a week. They also play two brand new songs (again, written less than a week ago), suggesting that Fawn Spots MK 2 have a bountiful future ahead of them.

Over on the main stage Theme Park play an almost inappropriately tropical-sounding set given the overcast weather, while Disclosure have a bit of a nightmare in the dance tent. They start out with ‘Control’, but the volume isn’t high enough for the crowd’s liking – and they’ve got a fair point. Things go from bad to worse when it appears that the speakers have blown – and when the performance gets started again, they duo only last a couple more songs before the sound dies again and they’re forced to abandon their set entirely. With Julio Bashmore cancelling due to illness on top of that, I can’t help but feel that there will have been a lot of disappointed Friday day-ticket holders…

More meandering ensues, and after Veronica Falls prove pretty dull, Runaround Kids do a pretty good job of livening things up again by at least vaguely reminding me of Johnny Foreigner in places. Hey Sholay win the prize at this point in the day though, their cheery, infectious indie-pop fully invigorating me again. Most of my time after that is spent impatiently waiting for Factory Floor, and happily they don’t disappoint – my only minor complaint is that they keep teasing me with things that sound a bit like their 2011 single ‘(R E A L L O V E)’ without actually playing it, their krautrock-inspired electronica is utterly mesmerising in its repetitiveness nevertheless.

After that, Peace keep me somewhat entertained by at least alluding to various bands I like (Wild Beasts, Friendly Fires, The Horrors, Foals) without necessarily being quite as good as any of them, while Roots Manuva provides a definite feel-good vibe with his main stage headline set. It’s Savages who provide me with one last surprise for the day though, their intense, visceral brand of post-punk coming across like an all-female version of early Joy Division – yes, that good; I was genuinely blown away.

Saturday

I didn’t actually realise this coming into the festival, but Saturday proved to be the strongest day overall in terms of the lineup for me. The Magnetic North and Stalking Horse both impress me early on, and Juffage demonstrates his multi-instrumental talents with a performance that I somehow feel would be even more impressive in a smaller venue – I make a mental note to try and get to his next show at The Basement in York.

2:54 have made one of my most-loved albums of this year, and they’re on fine form on the main stage, with ‘Creeping’ sounding particularly majestic. Future Of The Left follow up with an earsplittingly loud and vicious performance, while Japandroids demonstrate their frenetic energy with a set of lo-fi noise-pop. Later on, Ghostpoet gets the crowd suitably fired up with tracks from last year’s Mercury-nominated debut album Peanut Butter Blues And Melancholy Jam, and it feels like he’s really grown in confidence over the last year or so. His fans respond in kind, particularly to the upbeat optimism of ‘Liiines’, but it’s ‘Cash And Carry Me Home’ that takes on a new life as a live track and becomes a brilliantly unlikely festival smash hit.

Junior Boys prove pleasant if somewhat anonymous, but that doesn’t really matter because after that it’s time for Wild Beasts. It’s only been a month since I saw them headlining Latitude, and while the set is fairly similar, it’s no less exhilarating – and this time round they have time to play ‘Two Dancers (i)’, which is an absolute favourite of mine. The fact that it’s a homecoming show of sorts means that the atmosphere is pleasantly lively and the crowd are in “fine voice” as Hayden Thorpe puts it – the mass chorus of “boy, what you running from?” during ‘Lion’s Share’ is a spine-tingling moment. Oh, and the Pussy Riot masks during the encore were a nice touch. I come away from the band’s performance with the feeling that they really are one of the most important bands of the current generation. Yeah, I went there.

Sunday

There’s a grand piano on the main stage on Sunday, which I can only assume is there for Patrick Wolf – but that doesn’t stop both Goodnight Lenin and Admiral Fallow making good use of it early in the day. Unfortunately, I can’t quite buy into Frankie & The Heartstrings despite their energetic performance – they just seems a little bit Futureheads-lite to me. The Wave Pictures, on the other hand, prove to be a much more entertaining indie-pop proposition, and Hookworms also impress with their mix of motorik rhythms and blissful noise.

Both the rain and my own fatigue lead me to stay put on the main stage for the next few hours, where I almost start to feel I’ve spent as much time watching bands soundcheck as I have actually watching live music. Perhaps the organisers were erring on the side of caution, but 40 minute changeovers seem overly generous even for a festival main stage. Both Errors and Lanterns On The Lake are kept to strict half-hour time limits because of this – the inventive electro-rock of the former and the swooning post-rock of the latter are both deserving of longer sets.

The changeover for Patrick Wolf somehow manages to go on for 50 minutes despite the fact he’s playing an acoustic set with only two other musicians, but fortunately it’s worth the wait. It’s admittedly a bit of an odd fit for a festival main stage at half 7 in the evening – particularly with the throbbing bass echoing over from the dance tent – but fortunately the songs are strong enough to prevail even in this acoustic capacity. The set’s fairly heavy on material from Lupercalia, highlights of which include ‘Time Of My Life’ and ‘House’, but it’s the older songs that really work for me, with ‘Paris’ being my ultimate favourite. Patrick also sings ‘Happy Birthday’ to a guy in the crowd called Paul before playing ‘Hard Times’, which I guess is probably the closest I’ll get to being personally serenaded by the man himself. The crowd are receptive throughout, creating a quiet but nevertheless magical atmosphere – and it’s clear that Patrick is enjoying himself too.

To round things off, mad genius Thomas Truax plays to a packed-out Into The Woods tent, crafting bizarre, hypnotic tales with his home-made instruments, before Cloud Nothings bring the weekend to an invigorating close with their muscular indie-rock. The sound’s a little muddy at first, but it’s cleared up in time for the band’s intense extended run-through of ‘Wasted Days’, and the closing pair of ‘No Sentiment’ and ‘No Future/No Past’ are both vicious and victorious in equal measure. It’s a fine way to round off what’s ultimately been a very good weekend.

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