Friday, 27 August 2010

The Flaming Lips, Green Man Festival: Review

Those who had filled the Green Man’s lush main stage field in anticipation of The Flaming Lips’ Saturday headline concert had done so under duress of some significant rainfall. Not the kind to relent after a mere day either, since festival goers had been allowed on site to pitch tents on Thursday, the rain had bucketed down. But by Saturday evening, the drenched attendees of this charming little festival were afforded some respite, as the downpour eased to a soft, lulling drizzle. It is worth noting the staggering beauty of Green Man’s main stage- set against the towering, endlessly rolling hills of the Brecon Beacons in the middle of a valley. The stage, placed at the foot of an ancient outdoor ampitheatre, lined ridges carved into a hill- providing a breathtaking view of the stage and surroundings.

What better setting for The Flaming Lips majestic live show? Surrealism doesn’t begin to describe it. Over the last ten years or so, or since Yoshimi Battled The Pink Robots brought them to proper European attention, the Lips have gained a reputation for staggering, bizarre, carnivalesque gigs- but of recent years many have argued that the necessity to fire a confetti cannon has superceded the need to play songs. 2006’s At War With Mystics suffered from that

The Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips

outside perception, but 2009’s Embryonic was something of a rebirth- the band were raw, impassioned, and rediscovered the basic tenets of psychadelic rock with authenticity. It’s at this point in their career that The Flaming Lips are more than worthy of headlining a festival- and they don’t disappoint.

The gig began with a vision of a naked woman, radiating solar energy all around her. As she lay down, a bright ball of cosmic light pulsed from between her legs- and from this, the band emerged, all smiles and friendly waves to the crowd, who at this point had just lost it completely. Whilst lights and smoke enveloped the stage, the band rocked out to an instrumental jam as enigmatic singer Wayne Coyne stepped inside his inflatable ‘space-ball’ (think: hamsters) and rolled it toward the crowd. He made it from the stage to the sound desk, the crowd rolling him as he went, and back again to jump on stage for the opening number proper, ‘Silver Trembling Hands’, a bass led Embryonic number that riffed like a heavy duty machine as guitarist Steven Drozd scaled the heavens with shrieking stabs at his guitar.

Back in the day hit She Don’t Use Jelly went down spectacularly, spurring a huge singalong- but it was the double header of See The Leaves, a tragic paean to futility and strife, and it’s following number I Can Be A Frog, that encapsulated the gig’s inclusive, celebratory mood. At each respective call the entire audience responded in turn, “She said I can be a bear!/helicopter!/tornado!/monkey!” each line letting us act out those sounds- a memorable, transcendental moment that had us all acting like children. It was truly beautiful, especially having followed such a (wonderful) thrashy, minor key rock song.

"More confetti?"

"More confetti?"

Playing Do You Realize? as an encore was a masterstroke- it’s such a perfect pop song, at once uplifting, sad, both specific and open-ended. It’s euphoric chorus perpetually rising til a climactic, joyous crescendo as Coyne sang of a philosophy of kindness, love- with a crucial knowledge that ultimately, all of these precious moments are transient. And as the crowds departed the field, the rain began to fall.

None of really describes just how spectacular an experience a Flaming Lips concert is, let alone one in such an idyllic location. A stage full of dancers in gorilla costumes and orange jump-suits dancing blissfully throughout. Coyne’s giant hands, which eminated the most breathtaking laser-light show. The cerebral, friendly nature of the between-song banter, which had us all at one point coo-ing to the moon to beckon it from behind some ominous rain clouds. The blinding array of lights, smoke, confetti, cannons. The continual insistence on beauty, hanging out, freaking out. The Flaming Lips seem intent on assaulting every one of your senses and it’s a mindblowing experience- one that leaves you feeling invigorated, never more alive than in that moment. They offer a performance that elevates their records to near-religiosity; these are songs that scrape the sky and scream at the heavens, played in a way that celebrates humanity and togetherness. I can’t think of a finer way to conduct a festival headline set, and as the crowds dispersed late into the night, that feeling seemed universal.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Standon Calling, Sunday: Review

Standon Calling’s final day was uplifting; a day of glorious sunshine and inspired bands gracing the festival’s stages. We began with a morning swim in the on-site swimming pool, backed by a breezy hip-hop DJ set. This was clearly a popular idea, as by 11am a large contingent of the festival population had amassed with their swimmers and towels. It made for a relaxing start, the day’s music was scheduled to start until just after lunch so we made the most of the opportunity and soaked up some rays next to the pool.

When time did draw for bands and artists’ performances, we set off to the Main Stage, where Sound Of Rum were about to engage the audience with a set of politically astute hip-hop jams. Their music was broadly influenced and humble: whilst their drummer Ferry Lawrenson played inventive beats, guitarist Archie March spun a collection of ragged folk numbers and electronically influenced riffs. He was lost in his instrument at times, eyes shut and head bobbing as he looped hooks for vocalist Kate Tempest to rap over. And how remarkable she was. An incessant flow of wry social observations and personal epiphanies came forth in waves, belying her slender 20 years of age. The band were visually less spectacular than previous main stage offerings, a young three piece- but as soon as they played it became clear they more than merited their billing. Tempest’s rap skills are staggering, her mind quick and dextrous in a way you wouldn’t think possible. Scroobius Pip has referred to her as ‘annoyingly good’, and you can see what he means- this group are attracting attention from all the right people in the London hip-hop scene. Between songs, she joked with the audience with self-depreciating Britishness and displayed a maturity that serves both her and band well. The main stage field may have been sleepy and rather horizontal, but Tempest coaxed the crowd into dancing and it certainly wasn’t regretted.

We camped in front of the Main Stage and awaited the afternoon’s next act. Gabby Young and Other Animals are an 8 piece vintage swing band that have been touring relentlessly and building up quite a head of steam along the way. There’s a lot of vintage revival going on in East London at the moment, and with all popularised scenes you get the impression that a few are merely along for the ride, bearing false pretenses. But Gabby Young is the real deal; her involvement with = fashion, young designers and similar creatives enabling her band to perform with a joyful air of authenticity. Indeed, so enamoured are the festival organisers with her, they allowed Gabby her very own shop in the festival’s faux high street. The Gabberdashery was an emporium of beautifully crafted vintage mash-ups, garments beholden to a post-apocalyptic past. It all reminded me of steampunk; a fascinating aesthetic which draws from Victorian histories re-perceived through postmodern, technological eyes. And so as her band took to the stage, clad in matching waistcoats, they were joined by the effervescent Gabby Young- boasting an elaborate multi-layered beige dress that tousled endlessly and would move in ripples with every dance she made.

Gabby Young

Gabby Young And Other Animals

Their music is a lovingly crafted combination of swing, jazz and ballad. The instrumentation lent a fantastic presence, double bass, horns, accordion and violin combining to evocative effect. Over this, Gabby’s voice was a thing of ethereal beauty. She glided from the upper register to bassier notes with ease, offering delicate vibrato one moment before crying out boldly the next. Having cut her teeth singing jazz standards in professional outfits, she boasts a powerful voice that is capable of staggering things and is used intelligently, modestly even, throughout- as if it were another instrument to dampen at moments, building crescendos where appropriate. The set was a real joy.

Up next was a band from that revelled in party atmospheres. New York’s Phenomenal Handclap Band have toured pretty consistently since their eponymous debut record’s release last year- taking their nostalgic indulgence of 60s psychedelia and classic rock motifs to audiences across the world and building a reputation for incendiary live shows. Their set at Standon Calling was to prove no different, as the lulled, sun-kissed intro of ‘The Journey to Sella Estrada’ erupted into a funk. Numbers like ‘Disappear’ and ‘15-20’ showcased similarly minded

The Phenomenal Handclap Band

The Phenomenal Handclap Band

perspectives and allowed good opportunity for the audience to shake dat tang, but it was the tender motown ballad ‘Baby’ that stood out. A crooning ode to a girl’s beauty sung over uncomplicated descending chords, you could argue the tune borders on cheese, a throwback too far- but it doesn’t come across as insincere, or parodic. Throughout their set, Phenomenal Handclap Band demonstrate a profound love for that era of popular American song, reperforming in style with invention. As such, it’s hard to fault them. A couple of new songs trialled at the gig were slower numbers, and it’ll be an interesting 2nd record for them when it does come out.

After running off in search of sustenance, we returned for the evening set on the Main Stage, a lovely blend of archaic instrumentation set against digital micro-pops and a revelatory sense of the grandiose. Efterklang are not a band inclined for modest statements, although their epic songwriting structures are performed with real modesty at times as climaxes build from austere roots and are never dragged out ad infinitum. Their 10 onstage performers craft an indie-pop that is broadly influenced, yet whose sound will be quintessentially familiar to anyone well-versed in Scandinavian pop; cooing harmonies glide in the background, strings reverberate as processed beats carve precise, uptempo drum patterns. Efterklang’s performance got stronger and stronger with each song, cuts from debut album Tripper appeasing a cult of fans at the crowd’s front, later numbers from major label debut Magic Chairs offering more accessible material for newcomers. They performed with a collective joy and enjoyed smiling interplay on stage that was as infectious as it was pleasurable to watch. Simultaneously though, a seriousness about their craft came across- an utmost professionalism with regard to songwriting and performance that was admirable, and something lost on so many performers. Efterklang seem taken with the ethereal, yet able to capture it’s majesty through tight orchestration. They give a wonderful performance, as epic as it is modest, and leave the stage to rapturous applause.

And so Standon Calling sadly came to an end. Sound Screen had seen an array of fantastic bands this weekend and spent the time with wonderful friends, new and old. The overall impression of the festival is that it is a remarkable thing, and quite unique in this regard. Both the size of the festival and the number of participants entail a close-knit feel, a community spirit of likeminded folk. Similarly, where other festivals attempt the spectacular with their line-up, Standon Calling boasts a number of bands that you just can’t see anywhere else- there is a real sense here that every band or musician on show will be someone’s favourite- merely ‘liking’ the band deemed not enough. And long may all this continue; festival organiser Alex Trenchard is onto something very special here and it’ll be interesting to see how long they can keep it up without bowing to commercial pressure or licensing folly. At the moment, they’re punching well above their weight- and that’s largely down to the kind of bands the festival attracts, and the kind of person inclined to attend.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Standon Calling, Saturday: Review

Standon Calling’s 2nd day was an overcast affair; thunderclouds menaced and we woke in a tent which was considerably damper than when we retired the previous eve. But Sound Screen wasn’t about to let a little rain get in the way of a good time, and Saturday’s line up promised fine things.

After witnessing a kidnapping carried out by the theatrics of the Heritage Arts Company, we lost some of our troupe to involvement in the festival’s ongoing murder narrative. Our friends would soon return, having been recruited for the Standon Calling Constabulary, waxing on about finding the kidnapped Bingham and getting to the bottom of this nefarious mystery.

We caught an afternoon set from Steve Mason, formerly of Beta Band fame. He played through new solo album ‘Boys Outside’, backed by three session musicians. Opener ‘Lost and Found’ was a highlight, but the crowd’s appreciation was tested by an almighty downpour during the set’s midpoint. Using a backing track for synth, drum pattern and piano overlays, Mason gave studio-perfect renditions of the album tracks. Mason swayed with the music, but in truth it was a performance of little emotion. Spotting an old school friend in the crowd, Mason struck up conversation that ended when said friend humourously requested “Dry the rain” (a reference to the Beta Band’s breakthrough hit). Mason dismissed the opportunity. The band soon departed and Mason did stick around to play a Beta Band song, an acoustic rendition of fan-favourite Dr Baker, which was sung in calls to the sky whilst the guitar strummed a repeated chord. The band returned for the finale of ‘Walk the Earth’, a track gleaned from Mason’s immediate post-Beta Band EP ‘King Biscuit Time’. Slow burning electro, the song bears a catchy chorus but was dragged out and out with repeated bridges. There was an awfully choreographed moment where the music cut outs, leaving a solitary drum track- and the band fell to the ground like puppets whose strings had been cut.

We headed inside the Crooked House tent and hung around whilst The Sparks indulged the crowd’s desires with some live karaoke. This was a neat idea, pick a song and then yell it while a 3-piece band rock out behind you. A tuneful-enough ‘Ride Sally Ride’ had the room in fine voice, a faux-theatrical singalong of the hook becoming funnier with each repetition.

Hotly tipped London based duo Joe Gideon and the Shark were up next, and a sizeable crowd was drawn in from the rain by their jangly blues-inspired garage rock. Joe Gideon slashed at guitars and basses whilst younger sister Viva (aka The Shark) assaulted her drum kit in acrobatic fashion, together carving out a messianic racket.

Joe Gideon and the Shark

Joe Gideon and the Shark

But that wasn’t it, as she would later play a drum-mounted piano and employ a wonderfully vintage 8-track recorder, hooked to an array of pedals- providing atmosphere and resonance for Joe’s whiskey-drawl. It was otherworldly, a perfect symbiosis between the two players, and the crowd duly noted. They’ve cut their teeth in bands previous and had albums recorded by Steve Albini, but it’s in this current incarnation that things are really beginning to pick up for them, and justifiably so.

As the evening drew in, we headed to the main stage for the promising double-bill of Casiokids and Etienne De Crecy, our best dancing shoes most definitely on. Casiokids came out to a rapturous response. Their eternally bouncy music struck a chord with the audience, who after a day of being rained on, were in dire need of cheering up. Casiokids didn’t disappoint, their euphoric indie-pop lifting the spirits of all as the sun set behind the stage and the rain began to relent. Glorious 8-bit chords resonated across the Main Stage valley as glitchy drum patterns cut with precision: the set comprised mostly tracks from breakthrough LP ‘Topp stemning på lokal bar’, a wonderful collection of rousing pop numbers performed with kitsch instrumentation.

Saturday’s headliner was something of an enigma. After years spent making music under one pseudonym or another, Etienne De Crecy is going by his own name, and had brought a 20 foot high light box with him. Comprising nine individual cubes stacked 3×3, the apparatus was reportedly so big that festival organisers had to hire a larger stage simply to accommodate him. This was to be money well spent though, as De Crecy offered up a scintillating light and laser show as backdrop for his electro-house hits.

Etienne De Crecy, photo by Alexander McNamara

Etienne De Crecy, photo by Alexander McNamara

Now releasing tracks via the Pixadelic label, De Crecy’s music draws influence from Daft Punk, Ratatat et al- but the sheer spectacle of his performance made it an unmissable draw. The audience danced, but with eyes transfixed on the enormity of the light show as 3d cubes spiralled over our heads and patterns danced in impossible fashion. It was a wonderful headline gig from an artist that not too many of the festival goers had heard of but with his lights and magic, he will surely have enthused a few. When the lights went up and he was revealed in the central cube, laptops and mixing desk, looking a little sheepish- it was to an almighty cheer, from an audience that had been blown away. And then De Crecy too, elicited a smile.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Standon Calling, Friday: Review

A charming weekend in the hills, Standon Calling provided the perfect small party; it’s fine display of progressive music sitting with ease alongside an immersive murder mystery theme. Sound Screen arrived on Friday lunchtime: We noted the enticing outdoor swimming pool adjacent to the Crooked House stage (with mocked-up vintage library, study, bedroom..), the secret cinema, the wonderful ‘Gabberdashery’, and the faux-high street set along one of the festival’s walkways- complete with art gallery, police station, town hall- all these locations would gain in import as the weekend’s murder narrative unfurled around us. After a tour of the small but perfectly formed site, we were ready for an excellent opening day’s line up.

We first caught a mid-afternoon set from Bo Ningen, whose almighty racket from inside the Twisted Licks tent was drawing quite a crowd. Hailing from Japan, although now based in London and signed to Stolen Recordings- their four members elicit a triumphant cacophony from their guitars and drums, a masterclass in math-rock.
Bo Ningen

As vocalist Taigen shrieked, guitarists Yuki and Kohhei traded power-riffing with sky-scraping wails- they made for an engrossing sound. The band unassumingly demanded your attention throughout their short set, their awkward movements giving way to a rapturous implosion at their eventual end: a 15 minute long jam imploding under oceans of feedback, and thunderous crashes as the guitars were thrown around and the drummer exhausted himself. But this wasn’t some rock-parody, it was an exorcism that worked on every level and made for a fantastic opening concert.

After catching a Thai dinner from one of the festival’s hand-picked foot outlets (discreet, reasonable and delicious)- we journeyed over to the main stage, where Spanish DJ El Guincho was performing with band. Fans will understand that theirs is the kind of music which would benefit from sunlight, an aural smattering of carnival beats and tropicalia- but some could have told the Hertfordshire weather. As skies greyed and the first raindrops fell, a small crowd fought the immediate conditions to enjoy an alternate reality where sun was plentiful and the mojito’s kept coming. It was an interesting set of jangly-looped numbers, eventually coming around to the songs they’re most known for- and the crowd were largely appreciative of the effort and sympathetic for the weather.

At the gig’s end, the rain was pouring but fortunately our next appointment was to back inside the Twisted Licks tent. One of the subtle beauties of Standon Calling is the scheduling; when one band finishes, another starts, and so you can move between stages without missing a great deal. Unsuspecting festival goers strolled in to escape the rain. An excited throng packed the immediate front of stage, whilst Fucked Up sound-checked their own instruments. And then it happened, the band tearing through the opening numbers as the crowd immediately went ballistic.

Classics from recent LP The Chemistry of Common Life were belted out with an utter passion, and vocalist Damian Abraham (Pink Eyes) soon found himself shirtless, amongst the crowd, jumping with us. As the band performed immaculately on stage, the audience began to resemble a riot-scene, security guards hoisting the microphone cable over people’s heads. There was a feeling of sheer euphoria amongst the crowd, and it made for a joyous occasion- an outpouring of jumping and headbanging married to a collective spirit of good-will. When someone fell down, they were picked up with immediacy. Fucked Up were electric, spurred on by the crowd’s enthusiasm- it truly seems that wherever this band go, whichever corner of the Earth they play in- the results are the same; a staggeringly good performance and blissfully riotous crowd reaction.

By this point, the sun had set and the crowds were making their way to the Main Stage for the Friday headliner. Sound Screen was particularly curious as to how Liars would go down in a headline slot- for all their critical acclaim, they (sadly) remain a fairly niche outfit. These fears were to be proved groundless though, as the New York by Berlin alt-rock band tore through a set which took in their entire back catalogue. Opener ‘I can still see an outside world’ was a slow burning prophecy of what was about to happen, soon after this quiet paranoia had been replaced with the outright schizophrenic shredding of ‘Scarecrows on a killer slant’ and it was becoming clear that Liars had come here to be uncompromising. After five albums honing their unique craft, the band have accumulated an enviably strong repertoire and they performed with a passion, reinventing ‘The garden was crowded and outside’ as a fiery confessional, devoid of all pretense. Vocalist Angus Andrew was in fine mood, heckling the crowd and stalking the stage doing his best bird-dance.

Cuts from seminal LP ‘Drums not Dead’ were a percussive interlude from the manic rock indulgences of their eponymous record, but where ‘Freak Out’ and ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ offered stadium-rock sized behemoths (in an alternate reality, where stadium rock is good), it was the austere ‘The other side of Mt Heart Attack’ that really captured the moment, arriving at the set’s midpoint. It’s gentle refrain of ‘I can always be found’ resonating around Standon’s hills and trees, drenching the audience in a warm reassurance. Their encore was less comforting, a triad of percussive jams that took in two numbers from their ‘difficult’ 2nd album. Liars fans in the audience were unabashed- as the set finale ‘Broken Witch’ enticed an eerie chant amongst the front few rows of ‘We are the army you see through the red haze of blood, blood, blood, blood…”- it was fantastically chilling, and made for a fitting end to a set which was as uncompromising as it was inspired. Any doubts about Liars suitability for a headline slot cast aside, they had come to Standon Calling, had been unequivocally themselves- had utterly triumphed for it.

The night was seen in with a 1am DJ set from German electronic music producer Pantha Du Prince (real name, Hendrik Weber). Granted it was late and on the first night, but a small crowd had massed to witness his otherworldly beat work; a blend of gliding strings and textures over precise drum patterns, clicks and pops.

Weber seemed on fine form, mixing cuts from his last two records with ease, providing a lulled dreamscape of perpetual motion. For whatever reason though, the Twisted Licks PA didn’t seem loud enough, and a low warble of people’s conversation was audible over what could have been an engrossing gig. Perhaps the crowd didn’t take to it- but they hung around and were dancing.

At the set’s end, Weber nodded to a few in the crowd who had paid him their complete attention- it was clear that he’d enjoyed the set but felt it could have gone better- quite why he was so quiet was inexplicable especially considering the sheer volume of the drum and bass that was emanating from the Alcatraz dance stage not 40 feet away. All this considered though, Pantha Du Prince put in an enjoyable shift that highlighted his many strengths as a DJ and producer. Musically faultless but sullied by an at times indifferent crowd.

Wu Tang Clan, Brixton Academy: Review

There was a palpable sense of excitement outside the Brixton Academy last night, as fans with baited breath queued in line for the last night of the Wu Tang Clan’s European tour. The legendary Staten Island crew are notably famed for how rare it is to accumulate their full roster in the same venue at the same time, and despite the assurances on the billing (“Full reunion!”) this show was to prove no different. Although Method Man was sadly still in the states filming his CSI episode, the crowd was in no mood to feel downbeat: some of hip-hop’s finest were about to bless the stage, and that fact alone was enough to swell the audience into near hysterics.

Opening the bill were Chicago’s Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, a 9-piece horn section of brothers that riffed through a 30 minute set of funk-inspired numbers that took lines from New Orleans swing. It was a fantastic spectacle, the band lined up and bouncing in unison as souxaphone riffs set the bass, and a lively effort on the drums cemented the sound in hip-hop tradition. The horn players took turns MCing, gleefully ratcheting up the vibe over brass crescendos. Highlight of the gig was by far the rousing ‘Kryptonite’, a jangly bass riff underpinning the Motown trumpet calls as two of the group’s MCs offered tight verses and a memorable chorus (“That’s that kryptonite, baby that’s that kryptonite”) that took in the audience’s full attention. Elsewhere in the set, the dual burdens of the opening slot and the famed (for all the wrong reasons) Brixton sound system conspiring to dim the carnival atmosphere: these were party songs, but this was lost to a 8pm audience here only to see one thing- their music in all likelihood far better suited to an after-party environment.
The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble

The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble

Next up was Mista Jam- a London DJ known for his late-night Radio 1 slots. Hard to pin down the quality of his performance; he gave a run through for 90s New York hip-hop that referenced Biggie, Nas and Jay Z’s seminal records, and it’s hard to fault those LPs. Frequent calls from the mic that “if you don’t know this record, you aren’t a real hip-hop fan” did little to assuage the notion that Jam was merely going through the motions, playing a selection of records that picked themselves, to an audience (again) that was only after one thing.

After what seemed an interminably long set and prolonged periods of Wu chanting, Mista Jam relented the stage to ironic applause- fair enough, he came what he did to do and did exactly as he said he would, but this audience hadn’t come here to be schooled in rap authenticity.

As the stage lights dimmed, so the LED backdrop revealed the Wu icon, to a mass of cheers. And then they took to the stage, one by one, introducing each other to a rapturous response. Ghostface Killah is in the house. Oh look, Raekwon is in the house. We got the GZA Genius in the house. Where’s my man the RZA? Oh shit, the RZA is in the house. One of the most alluring things about the Wu Tang is their breadth of individual stars and styles; over their 18 year career accomodating numerous fine solo efforts. When these distinctive characters come together, their styles become greater than the sum of their parts, a collective flow that is engaging and hard to pin down.

Their set focused mainly on debut LP ‘36 Chambers’, and soon in the set they had the crowd pumping to early hits like ‘Wu Tang Clan Ain’t Nothin To Fuck With’ and the anthemic ‘Bring Da Ruckus’. From there, the GZA took centre stage as the set took in four jams from his classic LP ‘Liquid Swords’. Duel of the Iron Mic displaying the kind of sound that has become synomymous with the Wu Tang Clan’s output: a heady concoction of a looped soul riff, marshal-arts film samples and fearless microphone work.

If the crowd were missing Method Man, they weren’t showing it- the spectacle of the touring Clan proving more than enough: Raekwon huddled at the back of the stage, overseeing the performance like a kingpin, Ghostface and U-God trading verses and high-fiving with an enjoyable interplay, whilst master of ceremonies GZA marauded the stage, ramping up the crowd. It was an energetic set that sadly only lasted an hour, without encore- a fact which seems staggering considering the sheer volume of the band’s recorded output, and that DJ Mista Jam’s had been afforded a trying hour and a half on the stage.
Wu Tang Clan

Similarly, (and this applies to all the performers on the bill)- the sound system at Brixton did noone any favours- and rendered sonically rich numbers like ‘One Blood’ to little more than a thumping bass hit and a shrieking top- there was just no subtlety nor middle in the EQ- reducing good pieces of music to just their drum beat and vocal lines. As an aside, this is something that the Brixton Academy needs to sort out as a matter of priority- this reviewer has witnessed far too many great bands and paying audiences suffering under the weight of that sound system, and this gig was no different.

All these things considered though, and it’s hard to pick too many faults with the gig- merely witnessing the spectacle was perhaps enough.

Secret Garden Party Saturday/Sunday: Review

As the weekend unfurled, so too did the sunshine- Secret Garden Party’s Saturday morning was an incredibly warm affair. We woke in our tents, which by 10 am bore closer resemblance to a greenhouse than a rudimentary shelter. Dragging ourselves up and out, we started the day the only way we knew how: a quick sojourn down lakeside for a nip in the alluring Secret Garden Lake. And we weren’t the only ones who’d had this bright idea, an eager queue of bleary eyed Gardeners had formed. Swims aside, and our day was already looking promising.

Photography by Amelia Gregory -

Walking back from the lake, we passed the Jungle Fever tent and were caught up in an impromptu ball-fight started notably by those already inside the ball pool (no gardener was hurt in the production of this article- Ed). Chaos ensued, kids joined in and rest assured, Sound Screen gave as good as it got.

Exhausted, and in need of some more cerebral stimuli, we set off towards the Guerrilla Science tent- not entirely prepared for what we were about to witness: An eye-popping lecture on post-humanism and body-modification that at times proved hard to watch; surface piercings and self-harming only paving the way for the main event- a display of ‘body hooking’, where ringlets were cast into the skin and a person then suspended using giant ‘meat industry-esq’ metal hooks. Each to their own, we noted, (and how!)- but perhaps it was a good thing that we hadn’t had our breakfast yet.

Returning to the relative normalcy of the festival line up, we took in a jovial gig from Afrik Bananta, who djembe’d through a set of lively funk numbers backed by an impressive brass band. Moving out of the tents and ‘into the light’, we caught the surprising I Blame Coco on the festival’s main stage. Coco Sumner impressed as a natural frontwoman, displaying a kind of endearing awkwardness whilst simultaneously appearing very natural. She gave a rousing performance, backed by a solid and energetic band that looked like it had been found wandering the streets of Hoxton in need of gigs. Essentially, this half hour was probably the height of trendmonger indie-cool at the weekend- Sumner donning a vintage gentleman’s smoking jacket as her band blasted their way through songs which were immediate and enjoyable, if sounding a little similar to The Police at times (come on- sparse bass riffs, cascading vocal harmonies, ska-punk?!). But still, the kids seemed to love it and it was nice to see Coco and band stick around to experience the festival after their gig had ended.

As the evening drew in, we happened across rapper Dizraeli and the Small Gods, a backing band of folk musicians, horn players, and The Boxettes’ own Bellatrix on double bass and beatbox. There is an ingrained skepticism whenever a white boy takes to the mic to spit, but Dizraeli silenced these latent doubts within moments. His was a fast but precise flow, each syllable delivered clearly as he lamented the state of England and implored at his audience to bomb Tesco. Yeah he had beats and a plan, but Dizraeli is not the sort of politically-motivated artist that would allow ideology to usurp the communal experience of a gig- he smiled broadly, spoke fondly when introducing his band, and came across as modest and funny- despite his obvious talents. And a talent is what he is; both lyrically and in deliverance, this is a rapper to pay attention to- his flow cascading over itself in a style reminiscent of Eminem; running down a particular flow before doubling back on itself and arguing back against the beat. It’s an engaging style that rewards those who pay attention, highlighted during the a-capello recital mid-set that recounted an impromptu rap jam amidst the myriad aisles of a supermarket.

It was then that we heard the fireworks, and hurredly made our way back lakeside for the annual burning of the Garden centerpiece. The Secret Garden Party organisers are openly influenced by American festival/temporary-community Burning Man, where similarly, a burning pyre is used as a communal ritual in bringing people together. Here, it was a spectacular event, fireworks scraping the sky as the blimp-ship that many of us had swam to and partied on not 24 hours previous was set ablaze, lighting up the night sky.

All of which gave us ample time to make it back to the Chai Wallah tent for what would prove our festival highlight, Hackney’s own The Correspondents. The electro swing two-piece had clearly built up a degree of expectation following last year’s extended set on the Secret Garden main stage, and the tent was filled to the rafters in anticipation. And then they appeared: effervescent vocalist Mr Bruce in trademark two-tone brogues, lyotard tights, shirt and waistcoat, hair slicked back with an immaculate swagger. The lights were dimmed but you could see a beaming Mr Chuckles tucked behind a desk of laptops and turntables. And for an hour, that room bounced and danced like it had never before.

The Correspondents

The Correspondents

They performed in the best traditions of British cabaret, their vintage caricatures full and fleshed out. Coming across like a 1930s high-society lothario, Mr Bruce was master of the stage as the band tore through renditions of older material like ‘Washington Square’ alongside the overtly more club-ready songs that will comprise their debut LP proper. Mr Chuckles span track after track of swing-sampling, drum n bass influenced grime- Mr Bruce shimmed and hopped across the stage, his relentless onslaught of hip-hop verses and skat-influenced MCing that sent the audience into a frenzy.Rarely have I witnessed a room quite so taken with a band’s performance: they could have played all night and we would have followed them anywhere. Sheer euphoria as the set closed, and those present departed knowing that they’d witnessed something truly extraordinary.

You will excuse us if we admitted to waking on Sunday morning feeling slightly more feeble than we’d prefer to admit- but a game of ‘keepey ups’ sucked us, and a few passing strangers, in. A shared goal bound us together as we tried to keep 10 keepey ups, up. Then 25. And then 50. After no small celebration, we resolved that ‘starting the day’ properly might be an idea.

And so we made our way towards the main stage, although not to it. By this point in the festival proceedings, we’d become quite accustomed to mere meandering.

The inspired Lewis Floyd Henry

The inspired Lewis Floyd Henry

Through a wooded glade, and after bumping into friends not seen in years (how does that always happen at festivals?), we’d stumbled across a small crowd, huddled on the side of a path which itself hugged a stream. At it’s centre, afro’d and donning a sharp grey Armani suit, Lewis Floyd Henry sat with a 30 watt amplifier, custom drum kit (operated by his feet) and a mean electric guitar- screaming through a vintage microphone over the thrashiest punk jams. It was inspired. Henry was on fire, a captive audience of no more than twenty of us huddled round- someone started head banging, Henry responded in turn.

Onwards, and we’re overtaken by a rabble of folk carrying a long tarpaulin. Someone runs past with soapy water- we see where this is going. A Secret Garden Sunday is famed for it’s indulgence of whimsy, it’s sheer ludicrousness, it’s inviting silliness- we were beginning to understand. From the centre of the Colisillyum (a 10 foot high coliseum made from hay bales- DJs just didn’t stop in that place, ever)- hawks and shrieks rang out, so we investigated. Where once a dancefloor had been, now was a hollowed mess, dug into the earth: mud wrestling was afoot. Further on, in the ‘dance-off’ ring- a 9 year old boy was body popping and breakdancing to rapturous applause. The poor chap he was up against didn’t stand a chance- we’d never seen anything like it, this kid flowed like liquid- he moved in ways we didn’t think possible. Then we met his mother, sat watching her son from the hillside- “He’s been practicing for months.”- we couldn’t think of enough compliments.

On the main stage and by this point the evening was drawing in: Horace Andy entertaining a full field of gardeners getting their dance on. Reggae classic after reggae classic as the sun set behind the stage, Andy showing no sign of tiring with age and proving his oft-unsung credentials. His band were tight, the vibe was easy and I don’t think any other performer could have imbued that field with such good feelings.

As the night faded away we found ourselves stumbling neither to nor fro, in search of chai, or coffee- our legs did take us to the Never Ever Land Theatre where the Tax Deductable Theatre Company had taken residence. Upon entry a bearded man took the stage to solemnly announce: “It is ten minutes until Ruckus O’ Clock”. Confused, enticed- we waited. And then the lights dimmed, a classical score blared from the PA- an arcane voice orated the history of Ruckus, as zombiefied folk appeared as if from nowhere in the crowd and made their way to the stage, arching their backs, walking stunted. And then they erupted- the place a blur of movement, hard to make out people- flour being thrown everywhere, party poppers. Until the compere announced that today was no ordinary day, for it was someone’s birthday. Cue the entire room, of near 200 people, singing happy birthday, at a rather bemused actress. A cake appeared, enormous and creamy- and was thrown over her. Ruckus continued, before the birthday games- a carnivalesque round of ‘pass the parcel’, with a good 15 odd layers, each holding different prizes- ranging from the sublime (novels) to the grotesque (a box of dead fishing maggots)- Sound Screen got lucky and won a luminous yellow jacket. Before long ruckus ensued once more, and in the blink of an eye the room had turned red, Santa Claus was right there, right there in the room, snow began to fall, and for 20 minutes we celebrated Christmas. We hugged and danced, kissed under the mistletoe, had snowball fights and sung along to all those cheesy, but wonderful Christmas anthems.