To the music! So first encounter we have with live rawk action is Face Meets Grill, billed as a band under the influence of Dashboard Confessional, Interpol and Explosions In The Sky. Well, they’re like the latter two insofar as they also play guitars, but most of all they’re like the former in a high-school we-love-American-emo-it-is-my-strength kind of way. Which is admirable, but hardly uncommon.
From the Barn to the tent, Villareal’s horizons seem much more blurred, as they arrive to looped effects and play wide-eyed, slightly psychedelic guitar-pop like they’ve stuffed supernovas into their amps. Charming and not a little dazzling, there’s barely a duff song – not even ‘There’ll Always Be A Place In My Heart For You’, which compresses huge chord sequences and electronic fanfares into 90 seconds whilst sounding like The Ramones in jumpers. Nice work.
Having caught the tail end of Colour of Fire's set (perhaps their kinetic glam-punk works better on a sweaty toilet circuit than to a group of people sat down in a field), the next Main Stage offering is Days Of Grace. Who are - that’s right - emo. You can tell from the banter, where the singer remarks how “rock n’ roll” it is when his glasses fall off, but mostly from the pounding guitars and the occasionally gruff melody. Again, admirable, but not entirely remarkable.
Back in the Barn, Jetplane Landing have just begun another one of their infamous rants about their band and stuff, before the closing track of reasonable indie-punk ferocity. I wonder if they played ‘Revolution Rock’… Anyway, they’re followed by Electric Soft Parade, who apparently are “not as fucked-up as last year”, which judging by their general appearance must have meant Brotherhood Of Fish really were shambolic. The band play mostly songs from sophomore outing ‘An American Adventure’, which is good but seems to lack the spirit of rabble-rousing pop finesse that made ‘Holes In The Wall’ so Boo-Radleys-in-a-bath brilliant. Which is presumably why ‘Empty at the End’ gets the most rapturous reception, and why the rest of the set rattles along pleasantly but not as hummably dazzling as it could be. First recorded onstage reference to George Bush as a “c*nt”, though, which is, again, admirable.
Although the area he’s playing in belongs to Alan, California-born MC Lars seems to be in a field of his own. His songs involve, as far as we can tell, using the PJ & Duncan album ‘Psyche!’ as a basis of musical deftness, then splicing it with samples of actual emo music as a means of taking the piss, then rapping over the top about what it was like to study at Oxford in the word-barrage manner of an E-number-addled Marshal Mathers. In other words, ABSOLUTE FUCKING GENIUS. There’s ‘England Vice Versa’, which comes on like a hip-pop response to Ian Dury’s ‘Reason’s To Be Cheerful Pt. 3’; there’s a collaboration with the lead singer from Piebald; there’s Shakespeare recited over beats and bass; there’s a ‘signed’ photograph of Pat Sharp. Come on, what more do you want?
To continue the wry social/popular culture analysis set to music, Chris T-T arrives onstage for the first time this weekend, just him and his acoustic guitar. He gives renditions of some of the ‘wackier’ songs in his repertoire, almost an ‘alleviation of misery’ greatest hits, all delivered in an amiable, drole and undeniably British manner. The unsurprisingly controversial but still hilarious ditties ‘Eminem Is Gay’ and ‘Dreaming Of Injured Popstars’ sound more hilariously hard-hitting than ever (for instance, hearing “Bob Dylan’s got a fork stuck up his nose” sung to a growing/glowing crowd), ‘Moths and Bees’ sounds graceful even though barely anybody can work out what he’s going on about, and ‘You Can Be Flirty’ is altered to read “Look at Eighties Matchbox / I bet they got the piss ripped out of them at school”, which surely deserves some sort of silverware. Not Katie Melua, then.
Even wordier rappinghood follows with the arrival of Buck 65, a one-man splice-hop powerhouse who deals in serving deep-fried narratives over filthy beats and mono-decked scratch perversion. He provides probably the most celebrated of the weekend’s performances when looping the riff from Queens Of The Stone Age’s ‘No-One Knows’ and rhyming all over it like he ate the OED for breakfast and is dribbling the polysyllabic nouns. But as for stage presence, lyrical content and rhythmical nous throughout the set, it’s difficult to fault him anywhere at all.
Having spent the day walking around the field in their ruffled cod-costume drama garb and hair like a hedge being dragged backwards through a hedge, the weight of expectation on Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster to be ‘band of the weekend’ seems rather weighty. Despite initial sound problems (a few songs sound like they’re being played from inside a sleeping bag) and the lights completely packing in halfway through, the band pretty much deliver with tunes as heart-poundingly enthralling and intimidating as ‘Mister Mental’ 'Rise of the Eagle' and ‘I Could Be An Angle’ as well as the former finest three-minute neo-gothabilly explosions like ‘Morning Has Broken’ and ‘Psychosis Safari’. Guy McKnight’s stage presence is great but his offstage presence is much more raucous and indeed a more likely occurrence, whilst the rest of the band jangle and thrash like the last gang in town to own eyeliner and a penchant for the deranged. Not quite ‘band of the weekend’, but bloody close enough.
After a night of twitching enthralled to Christian Vogel’s slightly perplexing but highly danceable bleep-house and the swathe of top-drawer drum n’ bass merchants in the Barn (big up to Mampi Swift), we arrive the next morning bleary eyed and with banana smoothie in hand to see The E Band. And it’s worth it, as for five minutes they play what sounds like the ending of a particularly grandiose and intense Spiritualized record repeated over and over, with horns and everything, plus a bit of semi-operatic wailing thrown on top for good measure. Whilst dressed as part of the most lo-fi kung-fu dramatisation you’ve ever seen, and encouraging the assembled mass to position their arms in a capital E shape. Blimey, we’ve seen a brilliant band already today and it’s not even half past ten yet.
Redjetson, meanwhile, seem much more orderly, with the one drummer plus four guitarists plus one singer formation looking like the proverbial sonic dart interpreted by band-member distribution. Alas, their stance is a bit more encouraging than the music, as whilst the guitar work and vocals are both nigh-on spectacular they just don’t quite seem to fit together completely just yet, with the former being of the muscular post-rock persuasion and the latter seemingly taking its queue from Stateside-tinged post-shoegaze evangelism (does such a movement exist? Does now.) Which ain’t bad, but keep an eye out though: they could be grrrrreat.
The first few songs of the Chikinki set seem ambitious enough, particularly a spellbinding ‘Ether Radio’, but appears to lack the frenetic oomph that previous gigs have made us accustomed to. Well, it is early Sunday afternoon. Instead, your correspondent seeks fresh flesh in the form of Earth the Californian Love Dream, who by our reckoning cannot seem to make up their mind. For they start with a rush of beefy, enjoyable, Zep-influenced riffery and follow it with ‘In The Garden’, quite possibly one of the most infectiously perfect guitar-pop moments you’re likely to hear over the weekend (at least until Chris T-T comes back on). It’s a shame, then, that they then spend the rest of the set churning out Datsuns-a-like pub-metal numbers with unsavoury titles (and subjects) like ‘Porn Star’, ‘Women Fighting’ and ‘Fuck Ozzy, Fuck The Queen, Fuck Earth The Californian Love Dream’. Tremendous, in places.
Back in the Barn there’s another four-guitar assault (two basses this time, count them: one, two) from Sunnyvale Noise Sub-Element. Their art involves creating the sort of scuzzy, unrelenting six- and four-string structured noise that you could remove the enamel from Shellac’s teeth with, and then interspersing it with Warped industrial beats. Excuse me, I think I just came. The aural barrage gives the Barn’s metal and concrete acoustic abilities a good seeing to and leads to a large section of the audience leaving in fear of what may happen to every part of their body from the neck upwards. They're loud, they won't compromise, and they deserve our respect.
Also loud but not as devoid of a melody is the Chris T-T full-band bit, who’s allotted time period coincides with the first and only appearance of rain during the festival. It doesn’t dampen the collective spirit, ho ho, as despite a less ‘zany’ setlist as the previous day’s there are still the welcome tunes about giraffes, how watching Dawson’s Creek is not a favourable way to spend your Sunday and how the meaning of life is to ingest alcohol on a regular basis. That said, ‘Battersea Bridge Baptism’ is as highly unsettling as ever in both subject and electronic sprawling, while ‘Cull’ is the most biting of the weekend’s numerous anti-War songs, all delivered with the sort of punch that a quartet, effects pedals at their feet and several neo-folk-rock songs in their heart, can have the power to muster. And yes, the rain soon passes over.
Either Steventon Church have slipped something untoward into the sherbet, or there really is somebody dancing onstage whilst dressed in a red cloak with loads of blue gloves duct taped onto it, like a Bez designed intentionally to scare the pre-schoolers and/or encourage the punters under the belief that they are actually fully-fledged wizards. Although such things are to be expected of Misty’s Big Adventure, the multi-faceted ensemble who play with the sort of boy-girl, part-squeal, part-croon deadpan lunacy that isn’t unlike the sound of The B-52’s or Bearsuit creating the best psychedelic kids’ TV theme tune that isn’t ‘Banana Splits (Tra La La Song)’. Really, few other bands can fill us with such sheer joy. ‘Cool with a Capital C’ and a sprightly ‘Smothered in Love’ astound, as does such a magnificent use of musical toys and an egg whisk. Then they bring on Sixties Apple Records 'veteran' Brute Force to sing about sitting on sandwiches, politics (“swing to the left, sing to the right / Swing to the centre with all your might / Do the Extremist Polka!”) and, in his biggest hit, the “mighty Fa King”, which raises eyebrows to this day. Marvellous.
Sounds like KaitO have gone all funk-punk on our collective ass, seeing as the voice like Karen O on helium is now backed by what Elastica might have sounded like if they’d tried (or had been able) to rip off The Liars instead of Wire, a la ‘Julian III’. It’s fantastic, but I leave before I get a chance to see if they play ‘Thwip-Side’. Which may be some sort of travesty if I weren’t going to see The Punkles. It seems, though, that the Trailerpark Tent is running late, so I get to see the end of the Do Me Bad Things – a band evidently chosen by Truck due to sounding like AC/DC and looking like King Adora taking gospel choir lessons with The Bellrays. Calm down, it’s not as great as that suggests.
The Punkles are, quite simply, four guys from Hamburg playing Beatles standards in the style of The Ramones, The Damned et al, whilst going under monikers such as Sid McCartney and Markey Starkey. Yep that’s right, “eine zwei drei veer! Eeeeight daaayss a veeeeeeek…” Sure, written down it sounds like the most rum idea in the history of naffness, but don’t say that until you’ve been caught up in the rapid, undiluted, multiple-orgasm-whilst-water-skiing-naked-in-a-wind-tunnel exhilaration of it. Joey Lennon checks his jet-black mop-hair and ill-fitting school uniform get-up in the reflection of his guitar, Sid spends most of the set balancing his Rickenbacker on one finger, they’re counted in and away the greatest of greatest hits goes: ‘Hey Jude’, ‘Help!’, ‘Another Girl’, the German version of ‘She Loves You’, ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ (oh yes)…Think about it, the two most celebrated musical tour-de-forces of the past half-century spliced into one frantic, glorious gabba-gabba-woooo-yeah-yeah-yeah rush. And the audience’s hungover but excitable response to the chorus of ‘Yellow Submarine’ is one of the most piss-your-kecks hilarious things we’ve seen all weekend, if not all year. It’s a dumb idea, granted, but you didn’t think of it first. What’s more, it works. What’s going to follow that?
Having caught a bit of Holly Golightly’s pleasant yee-haaaa pluckiness on the main stage, next mission is to see Youthmovie Soundtrack Strategies rock further the foundations of the Barn. The most striking thing about YMSS is their immeasurable tightness as a band, a mean feat in itself for any other band but remarkable considering the jagged stop-start and largely instrumental passages that make up a lot of the songs, complicated time signatures and anti-hooks flailing but landing right into place. A saxophonist wonders onstage mid-song and breaks into deceptively conjunct howlings, the group do an a cappella off-mic before breaking into another expectation-trampling track, and then step it up even further with closer ‘Spook The Horse’. Post-rock, you say? Well, perhaps, seeing as the song lengths run into double-figure minutes and they can go from beguilingly pretty to unspeakably loud while barely breaking a sweat, and they do employ rumbling guitars as implements of stealth rather than aimless brutality. But there’s something much more uplifting in how it feels like a wondrous prologue to…well, something. We applaud you.
In the balmy summer evening Simple Kid plays, sat strumming with two buddies of whom one cradles a banjo, in a set of frazzled but sadly hit-and-miss C&W-esque songs. For whilst ‘Average Man’ seems, as the title would suggest, undecidedly average, songs like a subdued ‘The Kids Don’t Care’ and obvious highlight ‘Truck On’ are breezy yet barbed enough to let us forgive Dylan for going ‘electric’. Then, just as you’ve settled into a hazy state of comedown, out blast Electric Eel Shock to get you pumped right back up again. Surely to be lumped in as a ‘post-Darkness’ band, the Japanese trio still wield about twice as much bombast and are actually still funny after half an hour, so there. The guitarist/lead vocalist automatically gives away one of their biggest influences by wearing a Black Sabbath T-shirt, whilst playing part of ‘Iron Man’ which serves as an introduction, and initially plays his guitar by bashing himself on the head with it. The bassist’s job seems to be to get the audience saluting with a flick of the index-and-pinky finger in a ‘horns’ style, to which even the kids on their parents’ shoulders oblige. The drummer, meanwhile, wanders on in only a shirt and a well-positioned sock, of which the shirt soon gets removed, and spends every available opportunity (between bashing with four sticks) cackling and whipping cymbals with a towel. The play ‘songs’ in a loose sense of the word, as about half of the tracks in the set are basically one huge riff, the repeated phrase “rock and roll!” serving as a chorus and a widdly-widdly-weeeee! guitar solo to round things off. Of all of them, though, ‘Bastard’ is probably the most worthy, nay, demanding of attention, with it being of the structure mentioned above but replacing “rock and roll” as a chorus for the word “bastard!” screamed at the beginning of every bar – one band’s encasement of simple and untamed rebellion. Anyone know the Japanese for 'subtlety'? No? Good.
Cheers, fellows, Rotary Club, Church, Paul Truck, Alan...well, everyone. Keep on Truckin’.