Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Stars of Truck and field: Truck Festival 2006 review

See some of the evidence

Saturday
Fair to say that Truck is not like other festivals, or at least what we've come to know as a British festival. While the field area given over to it is bigger than you might imagine it retains the atmosphere of a friendly specialist get-together which attracts bands from right across the alternative spectrum into this magnified village fete of music. With little advertising, a friendly and not too crowded clientele and easy access to everywhere and everything it's earned its place as the cognescenti's small festival of choice at a time when The Man wants us to invest instead in the ever growing number of heavily branded soulless park get-togethers. Hardly anybody seems to have covered Truck in the wider press, and that's what keeps it special in a way.

Not to mention that you'll get to find new things and be surprised throughout the two days. Case in point: Harry Angel, one of the many local bands dotted around the schedule waiting to be discovered in some way, shape or form. They describe themselves on their Myspace as "scrawny speed-freak goth-punk", the sort of description that would put weaker men off. In fact, think Seafood doing Mission Of Burma with Matt Tong on vocals, with elements of Ikara Colt and Girls Against Boys, barely resolved tension pushing at the edges with ever vaulting guitars bolstered by thick basslines by a tiny female bassist and rapidfire drums. An immense way to kick off the weekend. After catching the last minute of Xmas Lights' set, which transpired to be the only time we managed to properly get into The Barn all weekend (you should have seen the queues on Sunday), we saw two of The Madeleines' Editors-esque New Wave stabs before the rains came and we made off for the first look at the Rotary Club-run food tent. We mention this because it was while we were queuing that the monsoon started and every stall suddenly required its staff to hold on as hard as possible lest it get blown away. In the confusion, the food tent itself required all hands to the verandah and the till got taken away before we could pay. Should we feel guilty?

Not unreasonably, Goodbooks weren't hopeful of a great turnout once they saw the heavy direction the weather was taking - in fact the audience at the Truck Stage must have been three deep when they started, which given Max Cooke expected only to see their manager watching them is something of an achievement, although the crowd definitely thickens throughout. As indeed it should have, as it occurs to us halfway through the set that here is one of the few new British guitar bands worth bothering about. The reason? They want you to think, they want you to dance, you feel compelled to go with them. Post-punk danceable drums, disco bass, DFA sequencers, properly used keyboards, vocal interplay and a lyrical approach at once personal and sociological in its own way adds up to something special and they're giving it everything to an equally appreciative hardy group of people who recognise that there's something special happening. They've just signed to Columbia. Weekly Sweep resident Passchendaele will be their next proper single. Come on, gods of music, just make it up to the likes of us once.

The side effect of such is that we've managed to get soaked through our plastic mac, so spend the next 45 minutes under cover in the Barn entrance listening to The Half Rabbits reinterpret most of the Cure's back catalogue at once. This means we miss Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly but he's got a full band with him and when most of your set is set around a laptop it's not going to work as well. However, just as the rain eases and the sun appears on the horizon, we welcome Brakes, joined for two songs by Electric Soft Parade's Matt Twaites on sterling tambouring/smoking work, and they mean business. Not that Eamon Hamilton has ever been particularly easy on his targets, but they're on raging form today, where even a solo version of Jackson makes sense, semi-legendary B-side Porcupine Or Pineapple gets a singalong and the new songs sound superb. The crowd participation builds right throughout NY Pie and an impromptu Heard About Your Band until the traditional closer Comma Comma Comma Full Stop, and it's clear we've all had A Moment.

Less of a moment is the seemingly pointless wait until the much talked about :( get underway for not much of a payoff, their 8-bit emo losing out in the former stakes somewhat. Some time to wander around, get muddy and generally recover is required before a corking double bill in the Acoustic Tent. First up is Truck regular Chris T-T, still promoting last year's politicised 9 Red Songs EP. His voice has certainly got bigger as he commands stage and respect alike with just his acoustic guitar, and not even that for M1 Song. These are songs that draw attention to themselves as much by wit as by power, and they're hugely powerful modern folk songs. Following him is Darren Hayman, who we've always regarded as a future Great Lost English Songwriter candidate. He sounds anything but lost here, mind, judging the room requires 'the rock setlist', mostly new 'solo' material - 'solo' as he has a four-piece band - but with a few older Hefner tracks for the ever lovelorn. Great to hear The Sad Witch again, for one, and there are people dancing - only a handful of them, but dancing nonetheless - to closer Twisting Mary's Arm, an old Hefner semi-obscurity. Most of them, this being Truck, are The Research.

You think you can trust a band...and then it turns out their drummer not only crowdsurfed to The Automatic but received stitches in her bass drum-working foot in doing so. Such is the handicap granted to ¡Forward, Russia! ("if only we could blame everything on The Automatic" - Whiskas), a band not averse to a little shrieking and running about themselves, and it's a testament to their full-on attitude that despite a pre-warning you can't tell. We'd never seen them live before but felt like we already knew how it'd go, namely the band thrashing around the vestiges of a tune while Tom Woodhead, spotted earlier the same day in the company of three men wearing his own band's T-shirts, wraps the mike cord around his neck. In fact it's far, far more than that, and in fact we're going to say here and now that for live intensity, tightness at top speed and the belief in putting on a rock show - no, not in the US MTV sense of A Rock Show, a show involving rock music - ¡Forward, Russia! are the British At The Drive-In. Their thrash-punk-indie-hardcore-disco-groove thang is wired to the max, Woodhead being unable to stand still for a moment so much is he lost in Whiskas' lightning quick jagged riffs and the unforgiving juggernaut of a rhythm section. Somehow he always makes it back to the synth just in time, though. There's a blonde kid on his dad's shoulders who can't be older than three in front of us wildly air guitaring to Fifteen Pt II, which Whiskas spots and dedicates a song to. As Sixteen drives towards its close Youthmovies join in, three joining Katie on drums, one on extra guitar and one to play us out on trumpet. It's a fitting end to a set that will hardly be topped for energy all weekend. Or so we think at the time.

Like the rest of the festival, we immediately adjourn to the Theatre Tent and stand eight rows back outside the area to catch the occasional punchline of Simon Amstell's - seems like a strong set - before ennui sets in. Hundred Reasons are on, but alternatively Russell The Disaster from The Research is wrestling his mate's kid halfway down the field. We instead take one of the Rotary Club's famed banana smoothies - not our last of the weekend by any means - and observe from a safe distance Peepshow Paddy's Skylarkin' Shedshow. It's a DJ in a shed, festooned with fairy lights and emitting clouds of dry ice at irregular intervals. It's fascinating. Almost as fascinating as the night's closer from the Futureheads, if only because a) despite many years of trying we've never seen them live before and b) they've chosen this moment to remind us that they were brought up on Pavement and Shellac. A blistering set follows, although it's noticeable that tracks from News And Tributes aren't approached with the same vim and vigour utilised when tearing through the likes of A To B, Man Ray and of course Hounds Of Love. The boys themselves remain appreciative of their audience and banter fully but it won't have shifted anyone's thoughts if they were disappointed by the current album. In any case, an energetic an end to day one as you'd want.

Sunday
Straight on site on day 2 and into the Lounge for the Early Years, who sound a lot better live then they do on record, where their post-baggy Secret Machines Krautrock post-rock waves of chiming guitar, driving bass and robotic drumming help those not already chemically or alcoholically aided into a state of hypnotic reverie. They should be on a bigger stage, but the fact they're in a cramped marquee only helps. Very different reveries take place immediately afterwards over in the Trailer Park with 6 Nation State, a band from whom we suspect resistance will soon be futile. Coming across as a more ska and dub-crazed Zutons/Coral being transported illegally across the Mexican border, their relentless guitar jabs and melodica weaves are augmented by all-action antics, all flying hair, jolts across the stage and the odd synchronised guitar movement. Were they from somewhere more eagerly watched than Southampton they'd have the NME in paroxysms by now. Not that they need their help - judging by how much of the tent is jumping, if they get label support they're going to have their own national coachloads of fans very soon.

The compere of the Acoustic Tent seems genuinely surprised to find that the biggest attendance of the weekend to date has come this early on a Sunday, but, as, we suspect, with everyone here one listen to Emmy The Great and you're completely smitten. There's a backing band (Jeremy Warmsley on keyboard, Adam from Optimist Club and a woman from the front row to provide 'stomping' on the last song) but you barely notice. It's the whole world she draws you into, melancholic folk-pop melodies mixed with caustic, offbeat, sometimes tender storytelling, rarely less than intriguing lyricism reminiscent of a Martha Wainwright or a Bright Eyes when he's not being an arse but even then something more...we dunno, we were just taken by it, as were many others around us, and the banter between songs maintained the mood that, in quite a few senses, we needed to get to know and cherish this one. Technically unsigned, she is. How can they keep getting it so wrong?

If Emmy is the wolf pawing away at the wooden exterior of the preset female singer-songwriter door, back in the Lounge tent Shimura Curves are the electro black sheep of this apparent Girl Group Revival. Turning scrappiness into an artform in the way Girlfriendo used to do before they turned tail and became Love Is All, the four women something-akin-to-harmonise to Powerbook loops and the odd distorted guitar. It's probable they don't yet have a better song than the Mary Chain-reappropriating Just Like Friends that was much loved around here from their Myspace and the don't-say-twee charm of the live show perhaps doesn't translate in this atmosphere but there's something going on here that'll split opinion but very much be worth watching over time, for our money. It's also a much more agreeable use of female vocals over electronic methods than the touted Persil will deliver over on the Truck stage later, but we're getting ahead of ourselves.

We suspect The Rock Of Travolta have never played to an audience that is completely sat down apart from ten or so hardy souls at the front, such is the heat. Post-rock live is either mindblowing or dull as ditchwater, and despite the fact we're actually behind the soundboard for most of their set we're going with nearer the former on this one. What they do so well is pare down the reflective end of the noisy instrumental with guitars schtick so that every song blasts straight into the massive riffage, elasticated basslines, ironic poses and a cellist that actually adds something to the bottom end of the sound. On a less boiling day it would have blown more away, but their Glenn Branca does modern classical approach is back and in full working order. We wanted to see Thomas Truax and his much-vaunted bank of homemade machines after this but the acoustic tent was even more full now they'd opened the sides up, KTB's delicate folk moving many, and we just couldn't be arsed to stick around. You know how it goes at festivals sometimes.

Bloody hell, look at the size of the queue in the Barn for 65daysofstatic. We correctly adjudge that as they're tuning up we're never going to get in to see their glitch-Mogwai futurism, and in fact that turns out to be about the most accessible the Barn gets for the rest of Sunday, queuing out of the door for the apparently something special Regina Spektor. More lo-fi human-electronic thrills are luckily on offer in the Trailer Park as hardy perennials A Scholar & A Physician have ten people on stage behind laptops and cheap keyboards to replicate Hot Chip's nervous breakdown. Didn't catch this year's unlikely cover, but it seemed all were enjoying themselves, which is the least you can ask. Now, the last time we mentioned the Electric Soft Parade on STN - positively, too - we ended up seemingly upsetting Tom White. No great deal of treading carefully needed this time as it's not needed, as semi-bravely Holes In The Wall is ignored and their newest material gets the airing it on mostly first listen deserves, building on their developing harmonic subtleties and pop dynamics, never pinning itself down to one set of marked influences. With an album due on Truck itself next year, there's something afoot here.

Which is markedly not the case with The Sound Movement, very much supping at the dregs of assorted revivals of scenes from the last 25 years, and it's more than likely most are here because the stage is running horribly late and something special is about to occur. Jetplane Landing haven't played in Britain for quite some time, if you leave aside the warmup for this, and with Once Like A Spark having taken one of the British Isles' best kept secrets onto daytime MTV2 and the like the sense of anticipation is palpable. And it's rewarded in spades, as this is probably as passionately angry a performance as we've ever seen. Not that passionate anger is exactly unknown to Andrew Ferris and co, but it really was a set devoted to never letting up throughout the 'hits', probably the day's most active pit forming as Cahir threw himself across the stage and Ferris got every last word of every chorus of I Opt Out, When The Argument Has Changed, This Is Not Revolution Rock, Calculate The Risk and so on chanted back at him. Of the three new songs one involved bassist Jamie Burchell on cowbell and will probably take some getting used to, and the other two just upped the pressure gauge even more. For the full riotous special festival set atmosphere a large inflatable football appeared, eventually richocheting off every head, arm, bass drum and Jamie's forehead. You got the feeling that with tastes hardening again finally, finally, the country might be ready for something like this to catch on, even from JPL's admirably DIY stance. Then, right at the end, at what passes for a breakdown in a monumental version of Acrimony, Ferris stepped forward and thanked everyone for sticking by the band during their time off, declaring that it'd be at least eighteen months before they saw any of us again and as there were a declining number of seconds left for them we'd better make the most of it. He then commanded everyone present to step forward, letting those on the fringes of the tent come inside, before everyone absolutely ripped into the final burst (online here - we don't think you can see us). Ominous sounding, especially when everyone came forward to salute us back at the end and Jamie appeared to be welling up, but what an incredible memory to keep us going until that next time, should it arrive.

It was the Young Knives' job to follow that on the Truck stage. The odds, frankly, were stacked against them, especially with a largely oddly apathetic audience, but the celebrated camerarderie between Henry and House Of Lords was in full working order and their meeting point between post-punk - here's a word you don't get to use every day - boisterousness and tightly wound subtleties (Loughborough Suicide is really stamping its authority over the rest of the album that houses it by now) explains by itself how come it's them that's getting the attention. As we believe it'll actually be illegal next year not to come to Truck and see one set from a Schla La La we briefly dropped by Delia's Manic Cough, having been reminded of her when Emmy The Great spotted her and assorted Schlas/Coughers(?) linedancing in the middle of the field in full costume, to reggae as it turned out. Their cabaret-garage-X-Ray Spex probably needs a fuller examination then we could manage, but it's clearly more than diverting.

As, by sheer visual approach, are Truck stage headliners the Mystery Jets. You don't need reminding of their many USPs, but what impresses with their set here is how tight such a seemingly ramshackle outfit are, even if Blaine's percussion kit has been smartened up somewhat, and with bassist Kai Fish charging about the stage. It's also noticeable just how many moments are injected into their songs that are tailor made for festival-sized singalongs and harmonious air-punching, and they're a lot more forthcoming to get into than you might imagine. A brief diversion sees us joining the Trailer Park throngs for the last couple of songs in The Organ's set, looking like they're teetering on the brink between studied indifference and actual indifference. It's possible they've always been like this live, but scarily the guitarist spends the whole time staring semi-listlessly at the back of the tent. We're not sure she blinked once. Back just in time for the set closer - obviously, the closer before the encore, an all over the place On My Feet and a tumescent Zoo Time which makes up for our not being able to properly hear the chant sample by including many extra people playing percussion onstage, tiny children being given emergency maraca lessons, Kai sitting on the speakers, Will Rees having to change his guitar mid-song and an absolute flurry of synchronised drumming from Blaine and Kapil. Then, suddenly, it seems all over. Actually, this being Truck it's not all over at all, but Morrison Steam Fayre never get their indie-skank fully on in a Lounge that's horribly overrunning, so we cut our losses with the Schla La Las. We'll make sure we experience them next year, because we'll be back. We can hardly leave it be now.

10 comments:

David Singleton said...

Nice write up :)

I saw pretty much entirely different bands on the saturday though, looking forward to the sunday write up.

SixNationState said...

Thanks for teh kind review dude... we now have label backing by the wonderful Jeepster so lets hope your predictions are right :)

Anonymous said...

"Now, the last time we mentioned the Electric Soft Parade on STN - positively, too - we ended up seemingly upsetting Tom White"

This might be something to do with the Brakes forum being the wrong way round (and all the posts appearing in backwards order) In a thread on there Tom was slagging off the list of bands download.com compared them to. If you read the forum the right way round it does look like he's talking about your review (but he wasn't)

I thought I should let you know (I loved your review)

Min (electricsoftparade.org.uk)

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That is some write-up....you a journo?

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