The Festivals of 2012
By Liam Martin
It’s undeniable that the world of festivals has reached an apex in the UK, it’s festival event horizon. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to suppose that there must be 2 or 3 each weekend from May to October these days, and it’s not uncommon for people to mention festivals that they’ve been to that you may have never heard of. Old ones have been closing down and new ones have been popping up for the past few years at a rate that would confuse the shit out of the hippie population of San Francisco circa 1969.
I’ve been attending music and arts festivals every year for the last 12 years or more and I’ve had my ups and downs. We’ve all had those moments of cowering in a sopping wet tent well past the witching hour, head in a mess feeling like “I can’t do it anymore”, only to find yourself the next night in a tent full of men, women, straight people, gay people, bi people, husbands, wives, pirates, sailors, animal masks, baboons and idiots dancing like you’re at the restaurant at the end of the universe and there’s nothing left to do but party until it explodes. It’s a strange fact that many people, including me, feel more themselves in these bizarre dystopian worlds, and there’s too much to read into here, enough for a book at least. Its all a bit Aldous Huxley. Needless to say though, the shackles of everyday life are thrown into the fire and you are permitted to act like a complete lunatic for a weekend, and that can be quite liberating. It’s a fact that many people who are allowed out of mental institutions end up at festivals, because it’s somewhere they can behave however they please rather than being fed, kept to a schedule and taught how to act in a civilised way.
This year I started by leaving our shores for Portugal in search of a holiday/festival combo, always a goodun. Optimus Primavera in Porto was my destination, with no less than 20-25 (I can’t be bothered to count) other friends and acquaintances. The main differences of course is that you are in a city, and stay in an apartment, hostel or similar. So there’s little chance of seeing grown men in tutu’s, children in little wagons asleep at 3am or the awful awful site of men on a stag do. No. This was purely about music, which again is not like most festivals we know here in the UK. Despite the slight lack of outrageousness it was quite refreshing. I’m a big Glastonbury fan and have had my fair share of conversations with crystal bearers and gong bath bathers so it was quite nice to just pack in a load of bands and be done with it. Not that I would always prefer this, but sometimes it’s just quite nice to hang around with a ton of music geeks for a weekend who are literally just there to see their favourite bands. They will usually play a full set rather than a cut down 30 minute festival set. So you’ll often get a band playing early on in the day that will play for an hour and a half, hence if you happen to be a fan of that particular artist then it’s great. Notable highlights were Beach House, I Break Horses, The XX, Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel and Dirty Three.
I left Dirty Three until last because it was they who stole the show, and totally blew me away. As an instrumental band having a huge stage presence isn’t something you’d normally expect but Warren Ellis is surely a force to be reckoned with. Sweating head to toe, playing the violin like a man possessed with unmatched tunes made it one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Even the track titles, such as ‘Sometimes I Forget You’ve Gone’ make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. So yes. If you love music go to Primavera in either Barcelona (went 2011) or Porto, it’s definitely worth the trip and you can get a bit of a holiday too. If you’re a vegetarian however, you’ll really struggle on site, and if you’re a meat eater, you might have an aneurysm by accident.
Next up was Latitude Festival in Suffolk. Seemingly one of the more middle class of the big UK festivals I wasn’t expecting there to be quite so many teenagers. It was a little like harking back to the days of cutting my teeth at Reading festival all those years ago, lots of boys and girls screaming and trying to get off with each other in front of your face which is a little irritating. It was still a stand up festival though, despite the rain. The night time side of it is a little weak when compared to something like Glastonbury, but then that’s not a fair comparison. Where latitude shines is the ease of having a spare hour, getting a drink and popping into a poetry or literature tent and crossing your legs on the floor to listen, I enjoyed that a lot. In the literature tent I saw a strongly accented geordie guy who’d had way too many beers. He stood on stage with a blonde wig and skeleton gloves on, first of all admitting his drunkenness and then proceeding to read a crushing tale of love, adultery and desperation for belonging that has stuck with me even though I was in a similar state to him. Also, next time you bump into a geordie get him/her to say “pocket” it sounds great.
Other highlights were Bon Iver who needs no introduction. Their stage show has become something totally different to last time I saw them, more like seeing one of those well seasoned oldies like Springsteen or Neil Young. Very very good indeed. I very much enjoyed Walls, a two piece electronic act, Metronomy, Wild Beasts who just keep getting better and better and Perfume Genius who did a wonderfully restrained show in the woods. The big macho bloke behind me after Perfume Genius finishes says: “If you don’t like that you don’t like fookin music, that were bloody brilliant” and a lump forms in my throat. I bet he keeps a little mouse in his pocket that he really really cares about.
Just last week I was also at Wilderness Festival in Oxfordshire. I was, ahem, actually there with my band Cat Matador as we opened the main stage on the Friday. That was super, and meant we had a rider of a load of beer and could swan about backstage like we were meant to be there. I’m not here to talk about that however, (remember the name is Cat Matador plug plug plug) but about the festival itself. Another of the more middle class looking festivals it certainly lives up to first impressions. You can pay an extra £25 to do ‘Banqueting’ where you get fancy food and wine, you can certainly have a gong bath or if you like you can carve a wooden plate for a tenner or so. That was my initial reservations with the place, that there is so much stuff that despite the entrance fee, you are to pay for. I’ll forgive though, thanks to the absolutely beautiful festival site. Swimming in the lake surrounded by lush greenland is not to be sniffed at, all very idyllic. The focus is far less on the music and more on the wearing tutu’s, face paint, massive eyelashes and steampunk gear. There was also the Secret Cinema section to the site, which was themed on the three different nights. On the Friday an entire area of the festival was dressed up as the set of Bugsy Malone and a huge tent had 1920′s dancing and a very convincing band playing swing hits to jive away to. It was all very very well done, difficult to believe it was possible to pull it off. So hats off to the folks at Secret Cinema, quite special stuff.
If I get convinced to go to All Tomorrow’s Parties in December I’ll add that to my list. Alas, the days are getting shorter, I’m getting poorer, my insides hate me and I’m tired and need some rest.
Until next year then festivals you brute! Tent is packed away safely so that I can forget I snapped a tent pole.