[FESTIVAL RECAP] Beacons Festival 2014: 5 of the Best Bands We Saw
With the tail of Hurricane Bertha lashing upon North Yorkshire on the Sunday of Beacons Festival 2014, there were times where even the greatest optimists were nearly resigned to defeat. But Beacons stood tall, and with 95% of the Sunday programme-taking place, Beacons 2014 provided us with four days of entertainment like no-other small festival. In the beautiful Yorkshire Dales, art, music and culture collided in a way unfathomable to the human mind unless you experience this marvelous small festival first-hand. And although we experienced a number of the sights (e.g. Andrew Weatherall Q+A, early morning Yoga, the street food, late-night acetate tapes), here are five of the best sounds The Sights and Sounds saw at Beacons (with some honorable mentions):
It is sometimes difficult to conjure up the words to describe an experience. Words may be lost for a plethora of reasons – for one that experience may have been had in the height of intoxication, and therefore one is only left with fleeting moments, flashbacks, of said experience. However, there are times where words are lost due to the sheer majesty of an experience, even when completely sober and lucid. That was Jon Hopkins’ headline set on the Loud and Quiet/Last Fm. Stage (Saturday 9th August) – stupefying.
Opening with cuts from the Mercury Music Prize-nominated Immunity, Hopkins’ headline set was an audio-visual feast, which interestingly contradicted the flow of Immunity. While Immunity, begins with morphing techno beats and moves towards ambient introspection, his headline set at Beacons proved to be the polar opposite. While never moving towards his more ambient work, ‘Breathe This Air’, ‘I Disappear’ and ‘Open Eye Signal’ all proved to be a marker of intent for a headline set that became more intense as the night moved towards the early hours of Sunday morning. Writhing and twitching as if possessed by the beats and rhythms he creates, Hopkins tempered and moulded sounds using a series of Kaoss pads that by the end of the set became punishing and veered somewhere towards the jungle end of the dance music spectrum, driving the packed crowd into an absolute frenzy.
The visuals throughout the set were stunning – opening with video footage that invoked memories of scenes from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the tone was immediately set with how the visuals would compliment the music over the night. The beautiful ‘Open Eye Signal’ video was played in its entirety before a range of lo-fi, kaleidoscopic colours pulsated to the beats. There was as much eye-candy during Hopkins’ set as there was ear candy. And from a distance, the sight of touch sensitive, colour-changing balloons being released during ‘Open Eye Signal’ made for arguably the moment of Beacons 2014.
Jon Hopkins, we salute you.
Dave Harrington, one-half of Darkside (with Nicolas Jaar), described Psychic, their astonishing 2013 début record as “raw material to be played live”. In the same interview he professed how he loves “seeing a band that is nothing like [he] expected” and that each night Darkside would take the raw material and “rip [the material] apart at will and piece it together”. And true to Harrington’s word, the Darkside we find closing Beacons Festival (Sunday 10th August) on the Loud and Quiet/Last Fm. stage, is one different from the Darkside we find on record.
If Psychic represented the introvert in Darkside, then the live show is more forthcoming and immediate musically, while retaining an air of mystique with the wonderful light show they employed. The songs, as Harrington suggested, were re-structured and many redesigned for the live setting. Obvious thought has been placed in how the tracks performed will connect with the audience. And on the most obvious level, they aim for the hips. The live re-workings of tracks such as ‘Freak, Go Home’ and ‘The Only Shrine I’ve seen’ are more muscular beings, possessing pounding kicks and carefully employed drops that provided many of the “hands in the air” moments throughout the set. Closer, ‘Golden Arrow’ started with a reserved kick/snare combo, before becoming chaotic with Jaar thrashing at his electronics and Harrington providing walls of feedback. Much emphasis is placed on Harrington’s guitar-work live. The combination of blues and techno was much discussed when Psychic dropped, but Harrington’s playing had an otherworldly quality live with psychedelic guitar howls. And throughout their headline set at Beacons, the symbiotic relationship between Harrington’s work and Jaar’s electronics and soulful vocals was evident for all to see.
Although slightly disappointing not to see the prism/mirrored disc provide the backdrop to the band (presumably due to the weather – The Fall had their backdrop tied up), the show was beautifully lit, with appropriate strobing and lighting that silhouetted the two on stage. And with the quality of Darkside’s live show being so high, it did not matter in the end. What mattered was that Darkside provided a beautiful and ethereal end to Beacons 2014.
Beacons Festival, with The Noisey Stage especially, provided some excellent lo-fi/no wave talent over the weekend. But in the sea of bands that is always found at a music festival, you have to be special to stand out. And that is exactly what Girl Band are – special. And while we were effusive here at The Sights and Sounds with a recent live show at London’s Shacklewell Arms, Girl Band’s busy early afternoon set on the Noisey Stage (Sunday 10th August) was characteristically loud and aggressive but also packed with new surprises that has us writing about them again.
The first of those surprises was ‘I Told The Witch Doctor’, which got its first ever-live outing at Beacons Festival. With its break neck vocal delivery from lead singer Dara Kiely, it served as a welcome introduction to not only those new to the band but also to those who have had an avid eye on this Irish four-piece. There were periods of manic vocal delivery, interrupted by stammers and screams of what sounded like “chew off my tongue”. It was an arresting, non-conformist piece of music, by a band that has already proven to be able to bulldoze sonic boundaries. The second surprise was a moment of tenderness during another new track named ‘Um Bongo’. After distinctive Girl Band wailing guitars, and marching drums, the track stopped to allow for a feeble, soft vocal to take centre stage. And in that moment it crystallizes the idea that Girl Band are here to toy with the audience and most importantly have fun.
The old cliché: “you have to experience this band live”. And with Glaswegian six-piece, Golden Teacher, that old cliché is entirely true. There is a cult-like quality to the band’s rare live performance that cannot be replicated listening to their releases on the Optimo Music Label. But this is no cult that you feel repulsion to or want to fear, but one where you lay down all reservations and join in joyous expression and dance.
With an array of synthesizers, percussion and dueling male/female vocalists, Golden Teacher performed a fervent set of dance music inspired by all realms of sounds and ideas – be it afrobeat, disco and techno. There were times where the band sounded a tad like Factory Floor, with the arpeggiated synth lines and live drums, and possessed the same sonic force as the aforementioned band do live. And with lead vocalists spending as much time dancing as they do signing/repeating the odd word into a microphone, the band are unafraid to bring the party to the crowd.
Fat White Family
Humble pie is a wonderful thing. For so long I have written off Fat White Family, as another one of those post-The Strokes fad bands, which come along with the aspirations of “saving guitar music”. But then on Sunday, with some spare time before Darkside, I tried the Kool-Aid. And it tasted amazing – Fat White Family are the real deal, and they make riotous rock and roll, which left the packed Noisey tent (Sunday 10th August) in rapture.
First and foremost, in Lias Saudi, they have an erratic, grotesque and compelling frontman. Gyrating with devilish intent, Saudi by the end of this extremely well received set was drenched in sweat and topless, screaming with all the gusto he could muster. He is the poster-boy for Fat White Family’s raw intensity live. And this raw intensity translates to songs being heavier, darker and more lo-fi than found on début record Champagne Holocaust.
Coincidentally, just as The Fall finished their set on the Loud and Quiet Stage/Last Fm. stage, Fat White Family began playing ‘I am Mark E. Smith’. With fans from that stage rushing over to the Fat White Family set, it feels as if there is a movement in motion, and at the helm is a band that cut the brakes.
Resident Advisor Tent
Although not a band per se, this demonic structure provided many highlights over the weekend. A threatening structure to approach, with its dull thump of a four to the floor from its behemoth soundsystem and strobe lighting flashing through the exits, the Resident Advisor stage hosted some of the great names of electronic music over the Friday, Saturday and Sunday of Beacons Festival. Be it the expertly curated Friday night of Daphni, Daniel Avery and Roman Flügel, or sets from the likes of Jackmaster, Dixon and Erol Alkan, there were many hours lost to the rave.
A Love From Outer Space
With their manifesto of “never knowingly exceeding 122bpm”, Andrew Weatherall and Sean Johnston’s A Love from Outer Space brought the cosmos to North Yorkshire. With their warm basslines (that felt like the loving, warm hug necessary just as the apocalyptic weather dawned upon us), futuristic synths and machine rhythms, they had many dancing for the entire length of their DJ set at the Red Bull Studios Live stage, which in the end was sadly cut short due to the weather.
It was a shame that Adult Jazz’s set at Beacons was painfully short and limited by the fact their Roland SPD drum pad cut out midway through their set. Regardless, the quartet from Leeds was able to bring the complex elements of début record Gist Is to life in a much appreciated set. The likes of ‘Be a Girl’ and ‘Idiot Mantra’ came alive, with their jagged, angular guitar riffs and massive drums respectively. Kudos on their witty and amusing on-stage banter too!
If there was a band to match Saturday’s sun beating down on Beacons Festival then it was Fickle Friends. Taking to the DIY/Argyll stage to play five tracks of saccharine pop, including excellent new track ‘Lovers’, this Brighton five-piece’s potential was there for all to see. Packed with hooks, and clever song writing, this may well be a band to break into the mainstream in the next year or so.
East India Youth
With Total Strife Forever garnering much-deserved applause this year, William Doyle’s (a.k.a. East India Youth) show at Beacons had a triumphant feel as he raced through the likes of ‘Heaven How Long’ (with Doyle also playing bass), ‘Looking for Someone’, opener ‘Glitter Recession’ and ‘Dripping Down’. ‘Hinterland’ closed the set with bombast and all-out aural assault, with Doyle rabidly attacking his Edirol MIDI keyboard, bobbing his head with such velocity that you fear it’s close to catapulting into the crowd.
Beacons Festival will return in 2015. Early Bird tickets are on sale now priced £59.50 plus usual booking fees. https://beaconsfestival.seetickets.com
For my brothers and sisters in the United States, plan a holiday to this picturesque part of England next August, and gorge yourself on four days of expertly curated culture.
N.B. All photos taken by Matthew Colquhoun. Check out his other Beacons photos/other work at: http://matthewcolquhoun.blogspot.co.uk