Actually, one of our highlight performers of the weekend was the Sonic Manipulator, who played in both the garden area at the front for the kids and on a couple of nights out in the village for gradually decynicalising youths. We'd caught sight of him in passing in the woods out at Latitude, but here was our first proper opportunity to stop and admire this man in a space suit using all manner of electronic effects (lit up at night too), pedals, samplers and gubbins to do... well... this.
There were actual musicians playing too:
Her Name is Calla
HNIC, now partly based in Leeds but longserving servants of Leicester's scene, always had their fill of post-rock dynamics but of late with an expanded line-up have become a dramatic beauty. Just four extended workouts in this set, opening the day as their tour started elsewhere that evening, but each pitched, built and erupted with a beauty and vigour rarely encountered, knowing when to hold back the tension, how to gradually shift it and when to really let loose with dynamic volume. An utter expansive triumph, making the hall size work for them rather than be reduced by it.
"That was just a suicide ballad, this is a proper disaster song". Something of a local cause celebre, Mr Plow does darkly gothic country of a Handsome Family bent. "Do you reckon he's heard some Johnny Cash?" whispers the girl next to us to her mate, which would be a fair point what with all the death, but that's to belie... well, the lack of the Johnny Cash rhythm for one thing, but there's a winning self-deprecation between songs and a plausibly downbeat storytelling bent during them. Probably didn't wake many up, but a unique way to coast into day two.
Not as B-52's as we'd hoped from the singer's visor and the flying Vs. Can't actually recall that much about them, apart from having noted down their continuing laptop problems causing alterations to the setlist.
The Fringe people rate these Nottingham teenagers very highly, but we can't quite see what they're bringing to the not exactly undermanned world of bands attempting to channel The Cure for the post-Libertines market. More raucous and loud than their Myspace suggests, but to little end.
David Thomas Broughton
Right, so he's a bloke with an acoustic guitar and a loop station. There are the facts. The actuality is something different, something that you suspect cannot be captured by word, second hand description or even on record. It'd be enough that, and we're surprised everyone else compares his voice to Antony Hegarty and Scott Walker when we thought this comparison was much more direct, his Yorkshire baritone, chanson structure and nimble fingerpicking is heavily reminscent of Jake Thackray, albeit a Jake Thackray less concerned with getting his end away than with drowning, disruption and disenchantment. But, on the barrier as we were with a grandstand view of his foot pedal work and messing around with assorted gadgetry, Broughton gives the sort of completely stone faced, absolutely inscrutable performance that while captivating and at times plainly hilarious is not a little disconcertingly worrying. Whether it's the studied tics and Tourettish sudden movements, or the way he'll build up a gorgeous folky guitar line before crossing it with one or two more and then just messing it all up before starting another song without a moment's hesitation, or the occasional dissolving into complete dissonance, or the deliberately controlled feedback solo, or the wandering off mike leaving vocal harmonies going for an age, all against these songs of heartbreak and madness... You see what we mean. And then at the end he starts beatboxing into a practice amp before literally running off stage, making time for a comedy pratfall. What the hell, frankly, was that? We still can't quite say, but we know it was one of the weekend's absolute high spots.
Now, we've been banging the Minnaars drum for a while, and would during the rest of the day be accosted by three seperate members in assorted states of inebration, so we may not be entirely impartial, and we know others would consequently be less flattering. What we can tell you is, as the city's big achievers in the last year and going on after this to play Reading & Leeds, their math-electro-post-punk seems to grow tighter and more sweatily exerted every time we see them. They face issues with commanding the big main stage and with a constantly skipping backing sample track, but it's clear this is a band still growing up in public with complete confidence in themselves.
The Joy Formidable
A band we just cannot get into, and we've tried and continue to try throughout this set. Probably too late to analyse why. No doubt they're an exhilerating live band, though, a wall of manicured guitar noise, and Ritzy Bryan does a smart thing at the end where she props her guitar up against the amp, goes back to her pedals and pulls it back to her with the cord.
No shortage of a different kind of energy with the Norwich tykes, all frenzied knee lift-based dancing, ping-ponging quick and clean guitar riffs and yelped vocal interchanges. They're the kind of band who never want to lose the fun of actually being in a band, full of crosstalking banter and the knowledge that fractured melodies at pace will never go out of fashion.
While on Line Of Best Fit Twitter duties we may have texted that their set at Latitude justified every last bit of hype and hope we had for them. Well, it really did feel like that, seeing those songs come to life in a way the production of the album didn't manage. Given a longer stage time here the set is slightly dragged down by a couple of slower additions and Jamie Sutherland's twin problems with seeing a vista of people sitting down "like a village fete" and their having to drive back to Edinburgh that night in a van with a broken clutch. Still, when they get going with the If Eilert Loevborg.../A Good Reason juxtaposition people really get going, and remain with them through the swooning of Slow Parade.
Emmy the Great
Kind of a knife edge with Emma-Lee for this summer - an under-par set at Latitude due to technical failings was followed by an under-par set at Indietracks due to their not arriving until forty minutes after stage time due to a motorway accident. When she breaks a string during the second song and refuses to do First Love on its temporary replacement as it's "shit" (possibly the same "shit guitar" she bemoaned at Latitude) it looks like this is going the same way, only with the extra indignity of her accidentally flashing her knickers at the first few rows while retuning the spare. Well, she will wear those short dresses. Somehow, though, it turns round - First Love, when finally played, is a triumph and the momentum carries so far that one girl attempts to get over the crowd barrier in her excitement, albeit at a very slow speed which means security have to help her over before they can throw her out. Canopies And Drapes is played solo off-setlist at someone's request, the Carpenters' End Of The World is covered and it feels like when in the right frame of mind Emmy is as charmingly precise as we'd always hoped.
Future of the Left
God knows what they're doing here, but we're massively glad they are. Not much banter this time around, Kelson mocking our MC and the Charlatans but refusing the opportunity to let all hell break loose during Cloak The Dagger as usually transpires. Instead, he and Falco settle for rocking the Rising tent to its very pegged foundations with a set about evenly spread between the two albums, proving once and for all that the ferocity levels are higher on Travels With Myself And Another. For every bemused smile at the back at another lyrical bon mot there's a kid down the front going mad, as it should be. What a band this is, and remains.
The signs are back! Those that haven't caught these on our Flickr, the band (label? Who knows) have got random women to wander around during their set, as at Latitude, with replicas of the sign from the cover of Foxbase Alpha. We want one. Hear that, Heavenly? We want one. Their chosen few here, rather pointlessly, seem to be congregating together. On stage Sarah Cracknell is how you'd imagine Sarah Cracknell might be now, dashingly allurring to thirtysomethings (hello) in a trouser suit every inch the consummate frontwoman of sophisto-pop greatness, although the feather boa she adopted later in the set seemed somehow unworthy. Plus for a greatest hits set there were quite a few intros of the "this is from our album Good Humour. Anyone got that one?" "*silence*" type. And, despite Tim Burgess being on site, they didn't do I Was Born On Christmas Day, sod it being a warm August evening.
We think the secret's got out. Doesn't sell a lot of records, Frank, but his gigs are increasingly like youth rallies just as his songs grow ever more AOR. Admitting defeat at the packed entrance, we go and watch the ATP film in the film tent. Which is marvellous, by the way, a little too in hock on occasion to Vincent Moon style but full of bonhomie-laced interviews and amazing live footage. It's showing across the country in October before a November DVD release. Go and see it.
Didn't see much. Watching a film. Didn't recognise any of the three songs we caught. Ah well. That's a somewhat downbeat ending to an enthralling day, and that's without the Sunday frolics ahead. One band in particular were responsible for those, and it wasn't the New Beautiful South.