Mew, Mercury Rev, 65daysofstatic, Active Child, Visions Of Trees
Simon Jay Catling 24/07/2010
"Bloody love truck me," that's my gruff Northern assessment of newly adolescent DIY festival Truck 13 before I've even set foot on the Steventon grass. Many appreciate the free can of beer handed to them by the Truck Bus drivers (they're not drinking themselves I hasten to add,) but for me and my compadre for the weekend, this genial offering comes at the end of a cost efficient, time haemorrhaging trip that's taken in some eleven hours, three different coaches and Stoke. This is the best welcome you could have after such a journey, and it's the first of many examples of the organisers' commitment to putting on a personal, intimate event that leaves no stone unturned in its efforts to cater for each and every one of the 5,000 or so punters on site during the weekend.
So, it's mid-evening on a Friday when we pitch up in the solitary campsite that lies right next to the stages on the bottom field and about two hundred metres from the farm house of Steventon Farm. It's currently playing host to revellers of whom are all struggling to convincingly look like legal drinkers. Aye, it's a young crowd here alright, which surprises me for some reason - a line-up that would indicate a more mature crowd maybe? But in truth you get little bother from them all weekend, they sozzle and sway for most of the weekend, sure, but it's done with an innocence missing from the thousands that rumble around the perimeters of Leeds & Reading Festival et al - on some level the effort made by the organisers to make this a truly independent festival has been noted, no matter how many bottles of cheap cider have been quaffed. It becomes clear over the weekend too that many in attendance are locals and so maybe ties run deeper.
It's certainly a local crowd that adores the selection of acts BBC Introducing Oxford have playing tonight, culminating in headliners Dial F For Frankenstein's indie-pop setting younger members' arms and legs in frenzied motion. The generally anticipative feel of the evening extends over into the brilliantly named (if, like me, you're a fan of shit puns,) Boxford Tune-iversity where we dance into the early hours and ensure that whoever I witness first tomorrow has the unenviable task of keeping the hangover monster at bay.
Bleurgh. That's how Saturday morning feels; hot tent + alcohol =, as we all know, grim times. Some stumbling about the site to find bearings results in me finding the best festival portaloos EVER - seriously I'd happily cart these into my garden and use them as my own WC - and the place which sold chilli con carne for the eye poppingly wonderfully price of Ł3 last night. Ruddy excellent. Revived at these discoveries I stroll up the hill that leads to the main arena, past the Barn and Village Pub stages on the left and to the top where the Truck Stage stands proudly - â€śthe same flat back truck we used all those years agoâ€ť the organisers often tell anyone who'll listen. First on are the getting-rather-hotly-tipped Meursault, whose initially gentle constructions of glitch and delayed guitar gradually quicken their pulse to push towards something quite anthemic - not so much that lead singer Neil Pennycock's requests for us to stand up and move closer are heeded mind. It's glorious weather here and the crowd that are dotted around the main stage are happy to let the Scottish group's full-throated choruses drift over them and down the hill.
There'll be more about Ace Bushy Striptease elsewhere but, needless to say, the first trip to the Barn is a gloriously stinky one, bringing back memories of this writer's past life as a shepherd during lambing season; truly nothing gets up the nostrils quite like that mixed aroma of dry grass, mammal excrement and silage musk. It's enough to make a man teary-eyed. However respite is needed which probably explains why, after a rather decent cheeseburger from the Rotary Club, I promptly fall asleep. Oops.
I awake to find that my face has take it upon itself to throw the doors of hospitality open to the beaming summer sun; I'm bright scarlet basically, something that's cheerfully pointed out on more than one occasion by a fellow scribe who I bump repeatedly into over the weekend. So it's time to head to the shade of the Beat Hive, which possesses one of the most alluring line ups of the weekend, and Visions of Trees. The duo are disarmingly excellent; shy in appearance, they seem to forget themselves when performing. Vocalist Sara Atalar sounds like she could front one of those soulless trance-by-numbers Ibiza club hits but when her vocals talents are instead wrapped up by the swirling conglomerate of sound being whipped up by male partner Joni Juden they take on an extra dimension. This isn't really chillwave because when things threaten to get too shapeless the pair throw themselves into live drumming to give songs an onrushing kick; I guess you'd call it dream-pop though again there's more to it than that. What is for certain is that they blow me and most of the assembled crowd away in their half hour performance, without really seeming to realise it.
Anyone who might've read any of my festival rambles for other unmentionable sites are probably aware of my propensity to whinge about how hot it can get in the summer. Well it can, ok? I struggle in the sun, me, and here's the same. The Village Pub tent is at boiling point, though that's also due to local favourites This Town Needs Guns jabbing their way through a set still heavily made up of material from 2008's Animals. This means, as usual, they take that material onto a far higher plain live, their technical ability nonchalantly turning off-kilter, awkward segments into fluidly overlapping patterns. Their set also results in the first, and most amiable, crowd surfing of the day as those at the front take turns to be gently lifted in the air and held there for up to minutes at a time. There's a tallish chap with big curly blonde hair here by the way, he's been to pretty much every set I have so far and this is a trend that continues for the rest of the day and into tomorrow - I'm told later on that he's known as 'Big Jeff' in Bristol, and is a staple of the live scene there - he goes absolutely mental for almost everyone he sees, not in an attention-grabbing way though, he's just a dude who evidently really really loves live music and isn't afraid to show it. To be fair that could be said of many this weekend, there's a great feeling that those watching the acts are because they want to, y'know, watch them. Sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised at how often this isn't the caseâ€¦
Back at the Beat Hive, already becoming my favourite stage of the festival, it's Active Child to take a turn behind a table covered in samplers, wires and pedals. What isn't surprising is the scuttling rhythms and swooping electronic shifts of sound, what is is the voice that emits from this wiry solo artist; a graceful, powerful falsetto that threatens to pull our hearts with it on its way up into the sky. It's getting a bit ridiculous down here at the Beat Hive: walk in. Get mind blown. Stumble out (and, yes, note the much emptier bottle of cider.) The revivalist pop on display in this instance is quite far removed from Visions of Trees, but it leaves a similarly admirable impression.
All of this lightness and general feeling-good-about-ourselves vibe that's come about as consequence mean that Esben & The Witch are always going to be up against it in the deliciously odorous climbs of The Barn. It doesn't seem to be their day in general, not entirely through fault of their own as they find themselves turned down far too low, yet not low enough for their sewn together gothic tumults to avoid coming at us like singular walls of sound. An apparently â€śfullâ€ť capacity meanwhile leaves the hemmel about half full as a bafflingly early decision is made to make it one-in-one-out.
A quick dodge outside to reconvene with my comrade back at base to get re-fuelled and re-fed is cannily worked into the schedule so as to miss Darwin Deez. Sadly for us, inebriation is reaching time-concept forgetting levels. The bugger's still on when we turn up for probably our most anticipated act of the weekend, 65 Days Of Static. This means about twenty minutes of substance lacking drivel, with Deez standing in the middle of his group possessing the sort of beatific grin normally reserved for the faces of NHS counsellors and Jehova's Witnesses. As anyone whose witnessed a Deez show knows though, the â€śhighlightâ€ť is he and his cohorts â€śchoreographedâ€ť dancing. Look, readers, I can have fun with music; I have a Dannii Minogue song on my iTunes and once I wooped in a club when 'Tricky' by Run DMC came on. I GET IT, the dancing's supposed to be a spot of fun. But it's shit, it really really is, it's such a cheap ploy for adulation that you think â€śha, the crowd aren't going to fall for this, no one's liked 'Dance Like An Egyptian' for yea- OH FOR FUCK'S SAKE,â€ť because of course, it's going down a storm, and thus everyone's forgotten about how tepid his cod-psychedelic pop is. How about I just film myself performing an interpretive dance for the rest of my Truck review readers? Will that make you think I'm an awesome writer? No, thought not.
THANK THE TRUCK GODS then that they've put on one of Britain's finest live groups straight afterwards. 65 Days Of Static aren't the best I've seen them by any means tonight, but they're good enough, and good enough for them means utterly outstanding for most others. This forty-five minute set was always going two ways, personally. I'd either close my eyes during songs, absorbing their energy (yeah, they make me write mushy shit like that, sorry all,) and writing gushing compliments about them inbetween. Or, I'd mosh the fuck out. The latter happens and my notepad remains blank, but what I can say is that the likes of 'Crash Tactics' and 'Dance Dance Dance' evolve into even more carnal beasts live than on record whilst 'Tiger Girl' is now fully established as the group's raison d'etre, the crescendo of what their whole set aims towards. It's mesmerising, my erstwhile chum is moved to tears (true story,) I'm made of sterner stuff. But yes, good. How is this going to be topped?
By Mercury Rev apparently; a group just as likely to produce moments of over egged guff as they are of genuine beauty. Tonight's experiment could've gone badly wrong for them - an hour of improvised soundtracking to a selection of videos that'd cause your friends to worry about you if they found them on your hard drive. Yet as the first murmurs of feedback lick around the Barn there's an instant change in atmosphere; the group - joined by Truck organisers Chris and Robin Bennett no less - are playing here to a crowd of Rev fans quickly realising they won't be getting the â€śhits,â€ť a load of drunken young 'uns waiting for Ms Dynamite, some hyped up leftovers from 65 Days Of Static, and more than a few people who've found themselves completely transported elsewhere by the at-turns compelling and excruciating images they're seeing in front of them. It's bedlam, the band gradually increase the droning ambience to uncomfortable levels and discordancy breaks out; there's confused-sounding heckles, people clapping along, more than a few leaving (though quickly replaced,) and the odd person dancing. Never before have I seen such discordance in crowd opinion of a performance, but none of the dividing groups seem quite sure of why they feel confronted by it. The performers thrive on this, leaping into a pulsating motorik as Kenneth Anger's 'Lucifer Rising' (one of only two videos I recognise during the hour - the other being Yoko Ono's 'Four') flickers onto the screen, and sure there's blood, and gratuitous intercourse but what comes across as most disturbing are those shots that focus in on the body in minute detail; the sudden movement of an eyeball, the chewing of a mouth. Why these images should be so disconcerting I'm unsure, but then I'm not sure what I feel at this point; certainly my stomach's in knots and my head seems to be about two foot to the left of me, yet I'm unable to stop watching and listening, my jaw attempts to move to make words but can only loll open. This was mind shatteringly sublime.
I'm still not quite recovered by the time Mew start doing their thing on the Truck Stage, and their performance drifts straight through me - not helped by the oh-so-quiet vocals mind you. They are what they are though, and that's a wonderfully anthemic group who build their skyscrapers on layering foundations of deft intricacy. There's no getting away from the comparative limpness of numbers from last year's No More Storiesâ€¦ but even these are bolstered by the ebullient strength that courses through the Danes' headlining set. 'The Zookeeper's Boy' sees us off, a rapturously received finale from a more than sizeable crowd. It seemed perfect sense on the bus down to view the first day of Truck as the weaker of the weekend, but reclining on the grass in the cool night, that seems far from the case. Good luck Sunday, you'll need it.