Greetings from Beacons…
The most unconvincing part of Post War Glamour Girls’ set is when frontman James Smith proclaims that “We’re so happy to be at Beacons with so many people”, with all the enthusiasm of David Brent on an unfortunate blind date. After a crowd member shouts “Cheer up!”, Smith admits he doesn’t have the emotional capacity to express happiness, and he’s at best half-joking. He’s a whole lot more confident while the music’s playing, with his apathetic vocals sometimes tearing into Mark E. Smith territory, sometimes venturing into a throaty, agitated roar in songs like ‘Little Land’. Their brand of effect-heavy post-punk ripples through an impressed crowd, creating not a frenzy but stares of newfound admiration. Combining bursts of noise with a knack for an earworm, cuts such as ‘Light Bulb’ are unapologetically catchy, but they wisely bypass the sickly, saccharine nature of a thousand run-of-the-mill indie bands.
TOY Photo Credit: Giles Smith
TOY have definitely time-travelled here from the mid-1970s, but a motorik-driven psych-out is timeless as a live experience. Still, the inclusion of ‘Kopter’, ‘Conductor’, ‘Join The Dots’ and ‘Left Myself Behind’ in one relatively short festival set smacks of self-indulgence. All of them 8-minute-plus drawn-out drones, they could have been balanced out with equally-great post-punk pleasers ‘Endlessly’ and ‘Lose My Way’, both surefire routes to crowd approval. The usual Teutonic efficiency abounds, creating vivid, dark soundscapes which threaten any witness’s sanity. The major problem, though, is that TOY are utterly anonymous as a stage presence, and appear happy to stay that way.
There’s a sizeable crowd packed in for this year’s electronic sensation, East India Youth. A one-man band discovered by Quietus journalist John Doran – who set up a label just to release his music – the hype has clearly spread, and indeed his combination of decks, guitar and vocals has a moving effect. The streaming whooshes of ‘Dripping Down’ galvanise onlookers into stares of awe, with the best light show of the weekend – mesmerising flashes truly add to the crescendo. With the set immediately leading into ‘Looking For Someone’, it’s obvious why Doran would be so enamoured by the anthemic, beatless rally. Even in the wordless, ambient stages of the set, William Doyle communicates a flawless proficiency, with both his passionate playing and smart attire. Expect this guy to get even bigger.
Far more beat-heavy and danceable than his atmospheric work on Drone Logic, Daniel Avery relies more on some monotonous 4/4 fillers than the accomplished ambience he’s demonstrated so well on record. As Jon Hopkins demonstrates the next day, challenging the crowd with unconventional constructions doesn’t have to result in stasis. Avery plays it safe here, and subsequently loses what makes his albums special. Quickly back to the Noisey stage then, for enigmatic rapper-wrestler hybrid Action Bronson, who has no such issues with provoking a response. Unlike his now-infamous show in Baltimore, Bronson doesn’t take to literally throwing crowdsurfers back into the pit they came from. The attraction by no means stops at his imposing appearance; he’s got a clear, even polite flow, but the lyrics detail so confidently how Bronson rules (most convincingly on ‘Strictly 4 My Jeeps’, where dominating lines like “I’m a hero in my hometown’ are bookended by the in-your-face ‘baby!”). As the set finishes, chants of “Bronson” ring out, proving the rapper has succeeded in asserting a divine presence.
Electronic music steals the show…
Lead singer Craig Johnson appears to be the sole entry to the Autobahn fancy dress contest (his choice: camp Faris Badwan sailor) but the forceful thunder of the Eagulls-style guitars is what makes this band an awesome prospect. Like a slightly mellowed version of Neubaten’s Blixa Bargeld, Johnson shouts out command after command to an almost stunned crowd – with the motorik backing that is surely mandatory with a name like Autobahn. This year’s Joy Division-aping release ‘Ulcer’ is the undoubted highlight of the tunes on offer, but the best moment is when, before playing last year’s breakthrough single ‘Seizure’, Johnson declares “I hope none of you have a seizure”. Cheers.
Menace Beach are such a stereotypical college rock band that they’ve probably pulled a sickie today to extend their Philosophy coursework deadlines. Nerdy, over-excited guitarist? Check. Long-haired, whiny vocalist? Check. Sound a lot like Weezer? Check. Okay, it’s vacuous to judge by the cover, but this is a live show, so if you’re not blind it’s still important. Their sound loses the harsh psychedelic leanings of the records, but they end up passing off a decent enough alt-rock impression, even if the unique edge of ‘Fortune Teller’ is no more. The crowd remain largely unenthused.
After a day-and-a-half of relentless axe-grinding, reverb still ringing in my ears, the melodic twinges of Glass Animals are welcome respite. Usually a ‘summer-tinged’ sound is cause for potential embarrassment, but their RnB-inspired, bass-driven outpourings are more of a beneficial lesson in subtlety than a tiring cultural appropriation. Perhaps not the most engaging band on Earth, though this means the intricate beats are the major form of communication; they scream an invitation to dance, and the crowd oblige. Literate and fun, like Alt-J in the sun.
Former tourmates of local boys The Cribs, Cheatahs try to cover the ground that the Jarman brothers departed from; lo-fi is the key. On a stage where the vast majority of bands embrace feedback-heavy punk, it’s a case of survival of the strongest to stand out in front of knowledgeable punters. Despite their name, Cheatahs aren’t the precise predators they need to be to catch the imagination – with passionless vocals and a whole lot of pointless jamming, at points it feels like this four-piece are just taking up space. I can’t imagine anyone naming Cheatahs as their favourite band. I should have seen Moko instead.
(I did actually escape to catch the last ten minutes of Moko, and in two songs she became my favourite act so far. Why she’s not one of the biggest pop stars in the country is beyond me, especially with the sublime energy of latest single ‘Your Love’.)
Favourite act so far status is almost immediately passed on, as I witness the completely breathtaking set from Jon Hopkins. Building on the success of Mercury-nominated album Immunity, Hopkins has clearly splashed out a little on constructing an experience that compliments his intricate yet uplifting sounds. With huge images of natural wonders flashing behind the former Brian Eno collaborator, luminous, colour-changing balls bouncing across the crowd, and a light show concentrating on beauty over hedonism, the whole setup is a purely wonderful sight. Not to distract from the music, though, as nine-minute epic ‘Collider’ proves the high-inducing peak with its slowly-morphing build-ups. ‘Open Eye Signal’ should, as always, receive a mention for being so brilliant. He’s been around over a decade, but Hopkins is coming into his own now, and to witness him is a privilege.
WATCH | Jon Hopkins – ‘Open Eye Signal’
Here comes the wind…
It’s the final day, my tent is doing its best indoor swimming pool impression, and any possible hangover cure would be extremely welcome. Cue one of modern music’s greatest wake-up calls, Girl Band. Leaning heavily on new material and ignoring last year’s France 98 EP, the rabid four-piece deliver a crushing wall of sound; from the bass-drum smashing ‘Lawman’ to the eccentrically-structured new single ‘De Bom Bom’, they deliver the epitome of innovative noise-rock. Unfamiliar onlookers would have expected another 6-minute otherworldly jam when singer Dara Kiely announces that they will play one last song – but after embarking on the 25-second burst of aural mayhem ‘The Cha Cha Cha’, he leaves the stage with a sly smirk. They’re going to be big.
Straight across to the nearby main stage, then, for anthemic rock’s confident answer to British Sea Power, Tall Ships. Delving into more of their quieter moments that most bands would be audacious enough to attempt, their eclectic mix pays off with ‘Ode To Ancestors’, a sparse declaration of love for the evolutionary process. That received no less than rapturous applause, but the crowd aren’t exactly bored by soaring instrumental ‘T=0’, or the driving onslaught of ‘Gallop’. The Falmouth trio also reveal new track ‘Meditation On Loss’, a thunderous and emotionally-sung number which frontman Ric Phethean happily declares to be “about dying”.
The Wytches have proved specialists in haunting Halloween soundtracks with a series of astounding recent singles, including the utterly depraved ‘Robe For Juda’ – almost immediately alerting vast swathes of the music press. In the flesh, the three-piece often lose their frightening edge, venturing more into identikit noise-rock than the records suggest. The likes of ‘Wide At Midnight’ tend to saunter into aimless territory, but actually it’s their new, unreleased material that fares best. It seems a wave of more easily-digested, varied surf rock will feature heavily on their upcoming LP, Annabel Dream Reader. New cut ‘Wire Frame Mattress’ demonstrates this impeccably with its emo leanings and weirdly soothing vocal styles. Overall, though, for a band who sound so exhilarating in the studio, this performance is just average.
I suppose I should like Sleaford Mods because they’re ‘subversive’ and ‘edgy’, but really the entire thing feels like a massive in-joke that I’m not in on. They are unreviewable. Andrew Fearn’s job is literally to press play on his Apple Mac. Jason Williamson’s is to shout and swear and burp into an unfortunate microphone, while repetitive beats and basslines oppress the crowd into bewilderment. Reactions range from pure delight to bemused laughter. To their credit, no-one could turn away. Sheffield’s post-rock veterans 65daysofstatic show their age when guitarist announces “for those old enough to remember what albums are, that track was off our newest record!” The music, though, never hints at dreaded ‘maturity’. Their complex, varied and atmospheric instrumentals bring the hundreds watching to a near-nirvanic state, or at least as close as one can get on a wet Sunday afternoon in Yorkshire. Retirement remains a distant prospect yet.
If 65daysofstatic are veterans after thirteen years, though, what to say of The Fall? Considering Beacons prides itself on booking the most innovative modern acts, the fact that Mark E. Smith and his ever-changing cohorts are here says so much about their immeasurable impact on today’s scene. The programme details their set as “the highlight of your weekend, but you won’t know why until you get there”. Opening with last year’s relatively unfamiliar track ‘The Remainderer’, the double drum kit combination adds life to the incessant repetition, and Smith‘s trademark drawl remains the main attraction.
LISTEN | The Fall – ‘Mr. Pharmacist’
But why will it be the highlight of my weekend? The remnants of Hurricane Bertha fly across the Atlantic, meaning organisers attempt to close the stage for safety reasons – and Smith‘s having none of it. Halfway through ‘Bury‘, the legendary troublemaker instructs the band to carry on, despite the power having gone out. A steward, weirdly, attempts to drag Smith offstage, and he only gives in having completed the song. Many minutes later, the band return for a triumphant outing of ‘Mr. Pharmacist‘, but they’ve well and truly proved themselves already.
WATCH | Fat White Family – ‘Touch The Leather’
It’s a bit coincidental that Fat White Family play during The Fall‘s gale-enforced break, seeing as their provocative antics, outspokenness and challenging anti-rhythms owe a great deal to Smith‘s work. By their standards, it’s a comparatively bland gig, but Lias Saoudi‘s cartoonish voice and the Family‘s deranged take on country makes it a unique musical spectacle at least, especially during the call-response drive of ‘Touch The Leather’. Being from nearby Leeds, Eagulls steal the Noisey stage spoils however – partly by virtue of a manic audience encouraged by the thrill of the horrific weather. Frontman George Mitchell always looks like he’s not sure where he is, but his intoxicated cries fit Eagulls‘ oft-used repetitive chorus structures. (Beverage of choice tonight: Jack Daniels from the bottle.) Most of the assembled crowd is a mass of moshing bodies, though one valiantly escapes to climb the central tent pillar. Closing the set, and my festival, with the squealing, almost painful ‘Possessed’, the crowd beg for one more song. Actually, I’ll have one more festival.
Early-bird tickets for Beacons 2015 are now on sale, priced at just £59.50 from here.