It’s the Truck that nearly never was: the tenth in a series, an anniversary to be proud of, but one so nearly ruined irreparably by the summer’s inclement weather (to say the least). Rescheduled, the Oxfordshire two-dayer battled on, staged over September 22-23, and DiS was there to catch the action.
Oddly positioned as, essentially, the curtain-down on the UK festival season – save for a few held-indoor events (Nastyfest, Brainwash, ATP) – Truck had extra appeal this year as the last outdoor event worth dragging a tent and crate o’ cheap booze to. With the rain at bay but the night air chilling, Tom Milway and Rhyannon Rodriguez were on hand to see this year’s festival season rock to a relative close.
Seems that the July flooding did more than wash up Oxfordshire city streets and cause traffic to the max. As the postponed date of Truck 10 came 'round, a cloudy collective over it feeling permeated the place whilst everyone and their mother scrambled to sell their tickets off. And with weather forecasts predicting rain, morale was low.
What's immediately bewildering is the massive amount of families of buggies with bopping infants, toddlers and tykes, which keep making me want to watch my language.
First afternoon delight comes from Norwegian quartet Jim Protector, whose jaunty alterna-rock craftily delivers accessible tales of earnest pop pleasure. The best bit of the whole set is when one musician asks a tech how much time they have, nods to the tech's answer of five minutes, and then leads the rest of the band in their most indulgent, sky-rocketing shoegazey, guitar-heavy work, lasting twice as long.
When it comes to I Was A Cub Scout, the Trailer Park tent turns into the festival equivalent to that Superbad scene where the tubby kid tries to squeeze into a pair of jeans and spouts “it's like a load of people trying to cram into a van”, except it doesn't involve a frustrating attempt to squeeze into some jeans nor a van, but…you get the picture.
And about A Scholar & A Physician: the gush of awkward protests and undying love including the screaming repetition of “I booked a table for two because I love you!” amid some bleep-beep-crish-crash of nerdy synths and stop ‘n’ go percussion becomes much more enjoyable when I realise that it's really just a big joke.
That pesky Market Tent winging in my peripheral vision leads me to the The Quarter Finals, whose brisk and shuffling rock ‘n’ roll swagger sounds light and bright, power-trio style. It's just that the bassist's festival attire reeks of scene eagerness and effort. But that's typical of bassists, isn't it? Back on over to The Trailer Park Tent, the sweet chamber pop of Paris Motel sweeps Truckers off their feet. One of the larger ensembles to take the stage, including an oboist, flutist, cellist, guitarist, bassist, keyboardist, drummer, violinist, and vocalist Amy May (with violin also in hand), the small symphony deliver swaying ballads of romantic enchantment. As lovely as it is, the lyrical graciousness of their sound becomes too gracious, which makes the bare-bones rawness of Blood Red Shoes incredibly refreshing. To a restless crowd, they offer pretty-much perfect runs of their signature, larger-than-life-size sounding adrenalin shots and cyclic shout-out-louds to an equally energetic full house, who answer with roaring cheers and that spastic-limb movement indie kids are calling ‘dancing’ these days. I'm not entirely sure that it's the same crowd that ardently receive the crashing, communication-by transistor-radio-esque vocals interrupted by a sonically savage apocalypse via stylish suitcases and assorted toys, but someone behind me cheers “yeahhh new rave” as Fuck Buttons make the kids go all ape shit. No joke, they actually start a mosh pit.
Although it's convenient that most of the acts worth seeing sit in the intimate confides of the classy Trailer Park Tent, it's bloomin’ irritating when the entire festival wants to get on in some Trailer Park action. I decide to camp out in the same area the entire afternoon to save a suitable spot to set my eyes on Foals, only to hear that the monstrous demand to witness them has exceeded beyond the tent’s capacity. This leads to a location and schedule rearrangement, which turns out lovely because it leads me to discover daughter of festival organizers KTB. Whilst her sets tend to be a little bit of music in the midst of minutes full of rambling, it doesn’t take away from the wind-swept purity that comes across in her renditions of twinkling love gems like ‘Willow Tree’ and only adds to her on-stage charisma.
It’s no secret that Foals steal the stage from the entire festival, which makes it odder that they weren’t scheduled for the Main Stage in the first place. On my way to catch local prog-rock heroes Youthmovies I hear some twelve year old spout “Yannis from Skins is playing!!” Even in the middle of their set, Youthmovies announce: “If you want to go watch Foals play in ten minutes, we are completely okay with that”. From what I notice, very few take notice of the statement because they’re too involved in Youthmovies’ phantasmagorical, over-encompassing approach to rock ‘n’ roll. Their fluid, ever-changing patchwork quality makes listening to them seem like a sonic montage of all the best bits of your guitar-lit dreams, somehow, strangely familiar to everyone else in the room. The quartet reacts warmly to the crowd earnestly singing along to some of their new material. Even with the reschedule to The Barn, the significantly larger stage space, Foals draw an even larger crowd, and when I finally squeeze my way in to catch the last couple of tunes, I can’t help but become all maniac-maniac and dance like I have never danced before.
The Walk Off and their violent noise electroclash make for an appropriate festival-wide alarm clock, sounding like a toss-and-turn battle between a blood-curdling nightmare of horror film proportions and a pesky BBC playlist during the apocalypse, complete with the teddy bear. The brutally sharp, consistent guitar and fuming vocals make the snippets of what sounds like Britney Spears and Prince samples simply delicious.
Less threatening come Keyboard Choir, who lead almost nothing to the imagination. They arrange themselves like a proper choir (complete with one musician with his back to the audience, directing the rest of the band) and produce electronic bubbles and neon-coloured highs and lows fit to entertain their own army of robots, who appear with them gleefully on stage.
While the reel-to-reel looks very pretty on stage, the darned contraption buggers up Napoleon IIIrd’s set with extended periods of awkward silliness, interrupting some endearing, multi-instrumental fuzziness frosted with vocal tangents of howling scopes. The best seat in the house is right next to the back entrance, where the swelling, blossoming sonic climaxes can be properly chewed and swallowed.
Never having the need to electrify his banjo before, Adam Gnade struggles to be satisfied with the overall mix of this being on stage bit of performing, and leaps into the audience which swarms around him instantly as he lands. He continues his set of stripped chords and sing-speak-yowling mix of folk narrative deliveries, leaving the crowd speechless.
Off in the Theatre Tent is JugglingSpinster, a.k.a. Ceri Ashcroft, a.k.a. Truck’s best kept secret; only a secret because the entire festival does not attend her act, but if they knew any better they would. Helpers carry in a tent and pick out volunteers to enjoy a rather more friendly performance with Ms Blanche JugglingSpinster which includes complimentary afternoon champagne and sweets; it doesn’t get any better than this. Modern dance group Neon Productions collaborates with Fuck Buttons to produce one of the festival’s most poignant performances. A duet of dancers gracefully establish their individual differences from one another and move in step together in beautiful time with the primitive and epic ambience of Fuck Buttons. This time, there’s no mosh pit.
Local boys Hreda dish out some cinematic sonic landscapes, this time featuring a cellist that thickens up the mix, but at the same time lightens the weight of the zigzagging dueling guitars. Their songs tend to whirl about like speedy snails trails with swelling flights of release. Less local is Bristol’s Nick Talbot of Gravenhurst, who, due to the festival rescheduling, appears without his band. As much as his atmospheric and vaporous songs are beautifully haunting, his timeslot could not be any worse. While he strums, Truckers fight the weight of heavy eyelids. At this point I question the action-packed consistency of music festivals and why there is never a scheduled nap time, where everyone settles down for an afternoon kip after some warm milk.
Oxford’s own Jonquil deliver a stunning set of the magnificent country-coloured folk that they’re known for. It’s truly a community affair as Andrew Mears of Youthmovies makes a guest appearance to take a turn at lead vocals, and the entire tent sing at the top of their lungs during ‘Lions’, creating mile-wide smiles all around.
Just as it starts to rain, the brothers White of Electric Soft Parade take the Main Stage with spirits high only to sound watered down and blindingly stale. The accessibility of their sound makes them vulnerable, and amid cheap jokes and bad weather, the festival secretary that is getting his head shaved for charity in the middle of the stage is the only source of entertainment that makes the set bearable.
After what feels like forever goes by while they set the stage, Italian trio Disco Drive sweetly addresses the audience by asking, “Please no fall asleep. Thank you.” It wouldn’t be so funny if they didn’t attack the crowd with their never-ending disco house raucous shortly thereafter. Between their dueling drum sets, jam-focused celebratory sounds, and hot shorts, Disco Drive is definitely a hit.
I receive an anonymous tip that Sheffield’s Rolo Tomassi are simply “intense”, but nothing could prepare me for their ferociously Dr Jekyll / Mr Hyde approach to hardcore. One minute, lead vocalist Eva Spence roars within a collective wall of vicious but tightly executed, musical storm, and the next minute she ghostly flutters above intricate and virtuosic, free form jazz. The level of musicianship is astonishing.
My excitement for Metronomy completely deflates at the sight of their probably ironic, loosely choreographed dance moves that are too flabby for effectiveness. Their offering of electronic kazoo-calls are more fit for old school Atari game soundtracks, but unfortunately, the most stimulating aspect of the show are the matching touch-lights attached to their chests.
The big name scheduled in attempt to pull big crowds, Idlewild, take the stage to wind down the night. Whatever wrinkles were there iron out, and whatever edge was there softens, as the dirty-rock Idlewild once celebrated suddenly sounds like sappy radio filler. I am positive that a spin on one of their albums would have been just as effective.
The news headlines:
Flood-hit areas prepare for rain
More rain prompts new flood alert
Emergency crews prepare for rain
Homes flooded, villages swamped
Prepare for Rain!
Don't Forget Your Umbrella
This so-called summer ended in downpour. Across the country the onslaught pissed on the fires of many. But to one of the most undeserved recipients; Truck festival, it meant cancellation, and potentially financial ruin. Why oh why was it not one of those shocking corporate, cut-throat, overpriced sorry excuses for a ‘festival’? You know, like the ones sponsored by certain mobile phone providers? However, the message was clear: whilst you can flood our carparks, this is not a community who’ll be defeated! So Truck Ten is rescheduled. However, travelling through the country lanes to Hill Farm, Steveton, Oxfordshire we have to admit we are feeling a little deflated. The third weekend in September is not known for the most pleasant weather of the year, and the burn-out caused by the ever expanding plethora of festivals still lingers in our creaking bones.
However, we needn’t have worried! What Truck is not is just another imitator. Arriving just in time for I Was A Cub Scout playing to a packed Trailer Park tent (which turns out to be ‘the place to be’ throughout the weekend), the first of 28 cans of Kronenburg is cracked and the emo-tronic dastardly duo, tight and buffed, don’t disappoint. With all the technical jiggery-pokery Todd has going on up there they sound like a five-piece. As they leave to head north for another show, Fanfarlo take the stage with a pleasant, understated air of acoustic melancholy. As we wonder into the Barn Stage (a PA replacing the bails of hay for the weekend) Chemikal Underground boss and now solo-force Emma Pollock is thrashing out her brand of angst-ridden indie-pop/rock. Whilst pleasant and melodic, it’s just too derivative for this eclectic line-up on offer.
Stepping back into the Trailer Park tent and maybe our eyes deceive us… or maybe it’s the booze taking effect? All dressed in black, nine-piece Paris Motel have somehow shoehorned themselves onto the stage, and together all add their own subtle arrangements to create a harmonic, floating air of beauty. The late afternoon sun is out and momentarily peaks through the entrance as if in exploration of this heavenly sound. However, back over in the barn, the seething wall of distorted noise and feedback wail. From complete darkness appears the effigy of a cowboy. It’s Josh T Pearson. Like a nightmare in Nevada he strums franticly, alone, as if out of desperation, jilted, warped, fucked-up. It’s too much to take in at this point of the day and we leave in pursuit of something a bit lighter, upbeat and energetic. Just as Blood Red Shoes take to the Trailer Park tent, Kronenburg number six begins to take effect. And all of a sudden it goes off! Blasting through their 30-minute set with marksmen like precision, we are genuinely surprised at how captivating this pair can be. Between Laura-Mary’s understated swagger and Steve’s craftsman-like rhythms, they bash out unknown forthcoming debut album tracks in the same manner as old favourites. However, what comes next is stifling.
Fuck Buttons make quick casualties out of the loitering teens and their 3L bottles of White Lightning. The wall of ear-piercing sound means we stand outside the tent, the noise like a barrier guarding a new galaxy. So confrontational it is that throughout the barrage victims stumble, looking pale and peaky, seeking solace in the daylight. Musically, it picks up as the duo occasionally drops some breakbeats over the top, segmenting the screaming high-pitched onslaught with fucked-up affected vocals (via CPR microphone). But as they bid the tent farewell, the teenage throng clamber for pole position in anticipation of their beloved Foals. With a look of determination in their eyes a little pushing and shoving erupts into a small-scale fracas, and as Yannis, Jimmy, Jack and the boys look on with a sense of disbelief we are informed that the tent shall be evacuated due to overcrowding. It begs the question: why on earth Foals have been slotted into this small tent in the first place? Unsurprisingly, the decision to inform this crowd, who are brimming with anticipation and ripped on cheap liquor, that the show is cancelled doesn’t go down well. A seated protest ensues, along with a barrage of verbal abuse, remedied only when a shaken Yannis informs us that the show will go ahead but now in the Barn at 9pm. Within seconds the tent is empty and the queues for the Barn turn violent.
Seeking solace from the madness we continue to plough through our top-shelf French ales on the main stage pasture as the sun slowly disappears. In contrast to what we’ve experienced this afternoon much of Brakes sounds tame and uninspiring, so we soon ready ourselves for ¡Forward, Russia! in the Barn. Explosive as ever, if not slightly predictable nowadays, frontman Tom Woodhead tangles himself into his own mic lead-made web, convulsing as they fire through crowd favourite and set standout ‘Twelve’. Their energetic barrage of rock ends to jubilant scenes, which warms the cockles nicely for the unscheduled main event. By the time Foals take to the stage the Barn looks like a scene out of (ahem, sorry) Skins. The entire side of the stage is brimming with mates, hangers-on and Oxford scenesters (along with one band member’s bewildered looking parents) and the largely adolescent crowd out front: off their tits and dancing with intent. Microphones get lost, stolen and stripped for parts. Songs descend into instrumentals, and it’s all in the middle of a farmyard barn. Fucking ace! Lodging ourselves firmly in the middle of the action, we give as good as we get during raucous finale of ‘Hummer’, and eventually stumble out with torn clothes, scratched flesh and aching bones – if we didn’t tread on your foot this time round, we’ll be sure to get you next time. Limping back to our tents for more alcohol to sooth the aches, we get sucked into Market Stage tent and lay our heads as The Early Years both sooth and scare with their reverberated experimental post-rock shtick, fleeting into electronic drum loops and walls of noise. It’s a captivating end to an eventful day.
What we knew was that at Truck there is no cut-throat capitalism, no huge entry fees and none of those ‘orrid mobile phone advertising boards. But, unlike other festivals, the food is cheap (and served up with a friendly smile courtesy of Dennis and Dot from the local Rotary Club), booze is also not only cheap but largely free as festival goers are permitted to carry their own unlimited supply of alcohol throughout the site at all times. And if that wasn’t good enough, the toilets, they are actually emptied over the course of the weekend!
So, stumbling bleary eyed and hungover into the Market Stage where we left Saturday warmly behind, we are greeted by the gyrating indie-pop of Leeds’ Skylarkin. Whilst their songs are promising, young and energetic, what they lack at the moment are the strong melodies they require to really shine.
So it's back to the Trailer Park stage for another stint and its here we discover winner of the ‘surprise highlight of the weekend’ prize. It comes in the form of local band Hreda. Their instrumental post-rock sound, grandiose like a heavier and more intricate Explosions In The Sky augmented by the band’s very own cellist is absolutely captivating. Their distorted peaks, battling guitars and swift undulating changes of pace mean the 30-minute set flies by far too quickly. We have discovered something special in this one.
The rescheduling has meant that three out of the four members in Gravenhurst can’t make it to Truck, but rather than run off with a big fat cancellation fee frontman Nick Talbot embodies what the true spirit of this festival is all about and battles on regardless. Playing solo to a packed tent, his effective use of effects pedals and loop station mean he builds an extremely effective and interesting sound for one man. The highlight of his set comes in the form of the beautiful new album opener ‘Saints’ which works perfectly solo.
George Pringle, back on Oxford turf, arrives to a sea of clicks and bleeps courtesy of her backing band: an iPod. Whatever your opinion of Pringle’s abstract poetry - “The cat looked at me incredulously; she hates me, I thought” - her confidence as a performer is growing rapidly.
Just as it’s begun to spit and drizzle (for the first time this weekend) Oxford’s Jonquil follow with their brand of soothing experimental folk. The atmosphere lifts as Andrew of Youthmovies arrives on stage, sporting what appears to be a brown sweater with white deer knitted into the body(!), to assist his tour buddies on vocals for one song.
And so Truck ebbs to an end: slightly surreal but full of spirit. May it continue for another ten years, weather permitting…
Photography: Simon Fernandez