Our writer was down at Beacons Festival near Skipton enjoying an eclectic array of music and culture.
In today’s overly-saturated festival market, a handful of corporate giants gradually homogenize the festival experience by trying to be bigger and better than their competitors. The biggest decision facing concertgoers when choosing which festival to pitch up at is no longer “Which event has the best headliners?”, but is instead a case of “What kind of experience do I want this weekend?”.
Set a stone’s throw away from the Leeds Festival site and sharing a weekend with a Beyoncé-featuring V Fest, Beacons Festival was never going to out-gun its opponents; but a masterfully curated line-up and a wonderfully unique setting just goes to show that if you can’t out-do your competitors, it’s much better to outclass them instead.
Set on a remote farm in Skipton in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, the festival site and its surroundings look gorgeous in the mid-afternoon sun, which helps establish a laid-back, carefree atmosphere from the offset. This was helped in no small part by the awesomely chilled arts & crafts village ‘The Space Between’ which offered a dazzling array of performance artists, film screenings, creative workshops and open mics to drop in-and-out of while getting a buzz going.
With musical acts light on the ground until after lunchtime, the village ended up as a great way to familiarise oneself with the tone of the festival (quirky, offbeat) and its clientele (an interesting fusion of skinny-jeaned hipsters, families, and costumed oddballs resembling old Dr.Who villains).
After checking out a few enjoyably forgettable warm-up bands, the first real draw of the day is EGYPTIAN HIP-HOP, who pack out the main tent with their enjoyable blend of choppy, progressive guitar work, complex basslines and frontman Alex Hewitt’s oddly yodelly vocals. It’s not music for moving to, as the band readily concedes (“it’s 4pm, who can be arsed dancing at this time?” Hewitt remarks jokingly after an ill-fated attempt at crowd-surfing), but nevertheless, they never lose the crowd’s attention and provide a strong benchmark of talent for the rest of the bill to live up to.
The antidote to this mid-afternoon sluggishness comes from AARTEKT, who capitalizes on the steady stream of curious onlookers poking their heads into the dance tent by playing a floor-busting set of house and disco bangers, ensuring that anyone who got ensnared by the pulsing bass wasn’t leaving until he let them. The effect was similar to shaking up a bottle of coke, as several hundred benign festivalgoers were drawn in, shaken about and then unleashed back upon the general public, frothing at the mouth and ready to party.
With a hyped-up crowd and a solid evening of Punk Rock ahead of them, it’s no surprise to see the audience billowing out of the aptly named ‘You Need To Hear This’ tent in anticipation of seeing Leeds-based local heroes EAGULLS play. Unlike a lot of the hipper-than-thou bands on the bill, EAGULLS have steadily built a loyal fan base the old-fashioned way, through relentless touring and grinding out support slots at every toilet venue in the country. As the band triumphantly take to the stage for their homecoming gig and blast out their distinctively gritty street-punk it’s remarkable seeing: a) how much tighter they get as a unit each time they play; b) how well all of their hard work has paid off, as the crowd gleefully sings along to every word and starts mosh-pits at every available opportunity. For a band with only an EP and a couple of 7”s to their name it’s inspiring to see how far they’ve gotten with hard-work and road-tested tunes. An exciting prospect to watch out for.
After a brief but enjoyably frantic set from NOPE, who pound out an assault of feedback-heavy psychedelic jams spearheaded by a bone-crushing pair of drummers it’s time for Hardcore maestro’s FU*KED UP to take to the stage and politely but firmly show everyone why they’re considered the best in the business at what they do. With their hulking, shirtless behemoth of a frontman Damien Abraham (aka Pink Eye) doing what he does best- switching on a dime between screaming his guts out with bloodcurdling intensity and engaging the audience like they’re old friends, handing out sweaty hugs and high-fives with gusto- the band rips into a brutal set stuffed to the brim with modern punk classics like ‘Police’ and ‘Queen of Hearts’; each song creating more crowd surfers than the last. Finishing their set with a rendition of ‘Son the Father’ so heavy it turns the entire tent into one giant, flailing circle of doom it’s a good job they’re the last band to play tonight, nobody could hope to top that level of intensity.
Disaster strikes on Saturday morning, as a befuddled and hungover crowd is roused from their slumber by that most dreaded of camping noises, the sound of wind and rain battering against the side of a tent. Spirits generally remain high - people want to enjoy themselves too much to let the weather get to them - but there is an undeniably muted atmosphere onsite as people trudge around with balled-up hands desperately trying to appear chipper.
Still, after a few false starts early on, a concerted effort is made to reclaim the festival, with audiences crowding into the performance tents en masse until even the ‘Experimental Laptop’ acts like newcomer EAST INDIA YOUTH are playing to a full house in the middle of the day. If there’s one thing to be said about the weather it’s that it forces people to focus on the music, and gives each tent a little more character as different cliques stake their turf throughout the day.
Benefitting from the increased crowd presence, local up-and-comers SPECTRALS take to the stage to deliver an entertaining set of jangly guitar-pop firmly rooted in the Brit-Rock mold. Whilst a cursory listen brings to mind typical Indie touchstones such as The Smiths and Stone Roses, closer inspection reveals that singer Louis Jones’ soulful croon and songwriting chops aren’t just imitating his heroes but matching them pound-for-pound at their own game. “It’s nice not to have to travel far to play a festival and have it on your doorstep like this” Jones grins between rapturous applause. He’s right - it’s sets like this that show the importance of nurturing and promoting local talent.
Hot on their heels, TEMPLES take to the stage, hoping to capitalize on the forward momentum. However, despite offering a technically solid set their alt-rock riffs and sun-drenched vocals fail to offer anything particularly new or exciting. Though well received by the audience, they are forgotten as soon as they leave the stage. Rounding off the afternoon at the main stage with an entertaining set are DUTCH UNCLES, who take to the stage with gusto and deliver a set tighter than frontman Duncan Wallis’ extremely Jarvis Cocker-esque dance moves. The band do a great job blending their lush, melodic new material with the older, more rocking sound of their old albums: guitars are constantly being swapped out for keyboards and at one stage a xylophone comes into play to great effect. Finishing with a choppy cover of Grace Jones’ ‘Slave to the Rhythm’ that seems to wink right at the audience; their set is easily the highlight of the day so far.
With the rain still pelting down and the afternoon’s music being of the more pleasant than pounding variety, it felt like a change of pace was needed as we headed into the evening. Unfortunately for GOLD PANDA, though watching him manipulate half a dozen loops, synths, and samplers was impressive on a technical level, his brand of ambient electronica is definitely ‘headphone’ music rather than something to be pumped out at a festival’s headlining spot. While the crowd were happy to applaud enthusiastically after each track, even the die-hard fans seemed unsure of whether they were supposed to be dancing or nodding their heads to his off-kilter beats.
So it fell upon WIRE to provide the night’s entertainment. While the Post-Punk godfathers have never had a reputation as a particularly crowd-pleasing band, the sheer depth and breadth of the material played tonight runs the gamut of not just the band’s 30 year career but the entire history of alternative rock (which it has to be said, they had a good hand in creating).
Starting with the icy minimalism of 1978’s ‘Marooned’, Colin Newman and co. have no problem blending old songs with the new, effortlessly weaving together disparate strands of Indie Rock, Hardcore and the avant-garde better than any of their contemporaries and usurpers. When the gloves come off at the end of the set during a mammoth 10-minute freakout jam to the title track from debut album ‘Pink Flag’, the band - drenched in feedback, sweat and an eerie blue light (“Change the lights” bassist Graham Lewis grumbles between songs, “I hate green”) prove that if you’ve truly got it, you never lose it.
A bizarre turn of events kicks off the day’s proceedings when the entire festival area has to be evacuated when a bomb threat, of all things, is called in. As the entire Skipton police force acts out the charade for a few hours (there’s no bomb, naturally), ‘The Space Between’ village keeps everyone occupied in the interim period with arts & crafts and film screenings. The ‘Into the Woods’ tent - a dimly lit chillout area with comfy seats and an expertly-stocked whisky bar - shines in particular here, hosting a series of intimate acoustic, jazz and classical performances to tide people over.
This includes a surprise performance from GIULIANO MODARELLI, a stunningly talented guitar virtuoso who plays a selection of Indian and Bengali inspired classical and jazz pieces accompanied by the similarly prodigious bongo player JASON SINGH, who wows the crowd into a standing ovation with his sheer mastery of percussion. Having made several appearances throughout the weekend in a variety of different groups, the two may prove to be the unsung heroes in a festival full of them.
Following the end of the bomb nonsense the sun starts to shine again, making all of yesterday’s cold and bitterness feel like a distant memory. As the onesies and face-paint start to creep out again a sense of normality is restored as people start to really have fun again. Resident Rastafarian PRINCE FATTY helps to get the party rolling again in the seldom used ‘Social’ tent, cranking out ragga-fied versions of hip-hop party classics (and bizarrely, Kraftwerk’s ‘The Model’), whilst the mobile DJs over at the Red Bull stage do the same thing but with disco/house remixes. Party’s back on.
Good local bands litter the place today, and the ‘You Need To Hear This’ tent is hands-down the place to be with not a single band on the bill offering anything less than a stellar set. Highlights from the afternoon include LONE WOLF, who with rich melodies, heartfelt vocals and a girl bassist has all the makings of a great Indie band. The group make excellent use of percussion, with the singer picking up a spare tom-tom and pounding along to the drum track creating a heavy, stomping tribal beat.
Other highpoints include sets from Leeds-based outfits HOOKWORMS and COWTOWN, who complement each other by playing two different sides of the same shoegazing coin; the former is messy and chaotic while the latter cool and reserved. Both sets are great in their own way and make up for the others shortcomings and it comes as no surprise that both bands feature members who play in the similarly styled NOPE (who in hindsight does sound like a synthesis of these two bands styles). Either way, with the dots joined or not this was a great chance to see an emerging scene grow and develop.
Similarly, listening to sets from DRENGE and WET NUNS one after the other was like peanut butter and chocolate, as the two bands rocked so hard and complemented each other’s styles so well it almost felt like a let-down not to have them both onstage at the same time, trading riffs off of each other battle-of-the-bands style. It’s hard to say who pipped who - DRENGE seemed to rock that little bit harder due to singer/guitarist Rory Loveless’ youthful exuberance and obvious love of playing onstage; though Wet Nuns’ whisky-soaked riffs and cool-as-hell drummer (who kept throwing plastic severed limbs into the crowd and then eventually tossed his entire kit into the mosh pit) make it an extremely tight contest. One thing’s for certain: they’d make one hell of a supergroup.
After such a gut-busting double-act, you’d be forgiven for thinking that no act could top the sheer force of the last two bands. But as SAVAGES take to the stage and immediately launch into ‘I Am Here’, the heaviest track off their landmark debut album ‘Silence Yourself’, the band know that the only way to match intensity is with greater intensity. Alongside their massive riffs and vocalist Jehn’s banshee-like wail (you know which one I mean), SAVAGES greatest strength is that they really do have some fantastically written tunes hiding underneath all that distortion, which puts them leagues ahead of most other Joy Division-wannabes and Post-Punk ‘revivalists’. Expect to see them popping up on the Mercury Prize shortlist any day now (and winning it shortly after - mark my words!).
The final acts of the night were split quite well with regards to the day’s overall vibe, those still hopped up and ready to head bang were catered to by UNCLE ACID & THE DEADBEATS; a fuzz-rock band that sounds exactly as their name suggests. Everyone else hopped on over to the main stage to listen to DJANGO DJANGO, whose kaleidoscopic melodies and gentle grooves were a great way to unwind after a long day, and the perfect band to close out the festival.
“Here’s to the end of a glorious weekend, whoever was here has seen some of the best bands on the planet” Rory Loveless declared towards the end of DRENGE’s set. He’s right - the superbly curated line-up this weekend could have gone so wrong and yet ended up so right, perfectly skewering the fine line between cutting-edge and accessibility- there’s no way anyone in attendance walked away without at least two new favourite bands. It’s rare to see a festival succeed on all fronts, but with such a captivating blend of art and music and a beautiful aesthetic, Beacons deserves to go on and on and become the institution it was always meant to be.