Animal Collective, Mercury Rev, Fischerspooner, Art Brut, Islands
Mike Mantin 13/07/2006
Despite tickets for this year's British festivals selling out almost instantly, more and more music fans are venturing into Europe in search of better line-ups, less corporate sponsorship and cheaper tickets and beer. This festival, set in a small, French-speaking village in Belgium, is the ultimate culmination of these: the bill is an indie-lover's dream, there's only a couple of Coke ads in the whole site and beer is about £1. With this normally sleepy town packed with Belgian hipsters as I arrive on Thursday afternoon in the sweltering heat, I immediately realise just how superior this festival is. The measly entry price (£50 for a weekend ticket) belies the awesome line-up. No huge headliners are present (The Dandy Warhols are the biggest band here) but that only leaves room for genuinely superb, moving, innovative and interesting bands all weekend.
After getting the tent up and the first of many cups of tea, we only manage to catch the last two songs of 65daysofstatic, but luckily this includes the intense 'Retreat! Retreat!', which is recreated perfectly live, filling the room with brutal post-rock noise. Art Brut are the first full band we see, and despite being British provide a great introduction to a weekend of great music. They are on top form, with Eddie Argos making a number of amusing quips ("this song was written before I had sex... and this song was written after I had sex"). Art Brut were born for the Main Stage, and 'Formed A Band', 'Modern Art' and 'Good Weekend' are transformed from likeable indie ditties into full-blown anthems.
A slightly different experience are Birdy Nam Nam, whose live show consists of four guys with turntables. It's fascinating to watch but pretty disposble. Next, several beers are required to watch drum 'n' bass act Pendulum, so we down them and head to the tent where they have a DJ set (in reality, though, it is just one person playing loud, fast records and the other shouting "here we gooooooo!!!"). We rave like no one's watching (they're not, they're all too drunk or drugged) and enjoy the familiar riffs of 'Slam' and 'Tarantula'. Relief is provided by Maximo Park on the main stage, but their live show is exactly the same as last year and is becoming slightly tiresome. The night ends with a healthy dose of dance music well into the early hours (no V Festival early nights here): Kings Of Convenience man Erlend Oye spins indie classics like The Knife's 'Heartbeats' and Talking Heads' 'Once In A Lifetime', occasionally providing some loveably goofy commentary and MCing. The night ends with pounding beats from Ellen Allien and Miss Kittin's DJ sets.
The robotic beats of Pendulum still whirring through our brains, Friday predictably begins with an attempt at a lie-in. Of course, the intense heat counts that out. For some reason, Norwegian pop girl Annie is a no-show, so we wait to see New York's Battles, who we proclaim the discovery of the weekend. Powered both by lightning-fast drumming and amazing beatboxing, they make tight, instrumental music with memorable riffs and a glorious layer of noise. Venturing outdoors, Mike Patton's Peeping Tom have more ambition than they have decent songs: rapper Del Tha Funky Homosapian (better known as the drummer from Gorillaz) provides rhymes, there's a DJ and multiple musicians and Patton is passionate (it's only his second show), but there is little substance to back up the pomp.
The two following bands get that right though: firstly, Mercury Rev's frontman Jonathan Donahue spends the set casting spells on his fellow bandmates and doing some bizarre form of belly dancing. The songs are more guitar-based which works for the rockier moments from the albums ('Little Rhymes' is turned into an overblown epic) but makes 10-minute opener 'You're My Queen' tiresome. The set is well-chosen: 'Opus 40', 'The Dark Is Rising' and 'Holes' are all present and truly sublime, the work of a band with years of fine-tuning but plenty of remaining passion. The sweeping, orchestral nature of their music, though, cries out for a string section, and at times it feels slightly too stripped-down. Fischerspooner, meanwhile, take unsubtlety to the next level. Casey Spooner goes through about one costume change per song, each more ridiculous than the last, prances about with two terrifying backing dancers, battles a fan and causes a number of halts (possibly deliberately). The music is good fun but, when placed in such a stupidly entertaining backdrop, it really takes second place.
Perhaps the most inappropriate band to start the tired mid-festval day with is Les Georges Leningrad, but there's no time for common sense. Loud, shouty and flamboyant, they fill the gap the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have left now they've gone all boring. Clad in gimp masks, leather straps and flourescent dresses, their seemingly unfocused barrage of noise is somehow coherent and enjoyable. But the following band is the big one, the highlight, the one we were most excited about both before and after: Islands. Diverse and multicultural, Islands recreate their album 'Return To The Sea''s melting pot of styles, just brought to life even more. Former Unicorns man Nick Diamonds bounces around the stage, soaking up the glorious atmosphere and perfect noise. 'Rough Gem', 'Don't Call Me Whitney, Bobby' and 'Swans' are cute sketches no more: live, they are epic and huge. It's the best band of a weekend with more highlights than an emo kid's hair.
What can stand up to that? Well, to be honest, nothing, so after scrounging for empty beer cups to trade for beer tickets, we check out the dance tent for the interesting trio of I Am X, Fingathing and Hexstatic, a varied selection of music suitable both for dancing and chin-stroking. I finish the night reverting back to indie with Scotland's Arab Stap. I only catch half the set but it's full of nice moody guitar lines, though I can't quite decide whether I like seeing the chunky Scots talk about sex so much on stage.
Look at all that bold text up there. That's a lot of good bands. But nothing stands up to the Sunday, in which I am bombarded with superb music so much I almost start to feel sorry for myself. First up on this marathon is Canada's The Constantines, all growly vocals and grungey guitar riffs, but it's incredibly tight. 'Nighttime/Anytime' and 'Draw Us Lines' are both stunning, and it's refreshing to have a tuneful band on the indie scene unafraid to rock out. Similarly, Mono, from Japan, climax their beautiful songs with deafening walls of noise. There are only four of them but the sound is immense. Starting off with haunting guitar lines and building into epics, they achieve the impressive feat of turning a small festival tent with people audibly talking outside into an intimate setting for their astonishing music.
We represent our home town of Brighton by checking out our supergroup Brakes, who unfortunately only get a half-full tent. Still, they are delightfully angry, playing about 30 bile-filled songs in an hour. Singer Eamon is soaked but adds his distinctive growl to 'Heard About Your Band' and the 10-second 'Cheney'. The country-tinged new songs (which, they hint, were recorded in Nashville) which may appear on their new album sound impressive too. The non-stop run of great bands continues with Final Fantasy, a.k.a. Arcade Fire collaborator Owen Pallett. He is a unique live act, playing violin beautifully then looping himself to create a full string section, topped off by his delicate voice. 'The Dream Of Win And Regine' (referring, of course, to the central couple of the Arcade Fire) is a highlight, but every song has a new and fascinating violin technique.
The Arcade Fire theme continues with the almost classical post-rock band Bell Orchestre who feature Richard Reed Parry and Sarah Neufeld on a break to play in this intriguing outfit. The speakers deafeningly loud, their sound is nevertheless unique, like a more playful, concise Godspeed You! Black Emperor. We get raging french horn solos but also some uplifting melodies with the members playing their hearts out. But this adventure still can't quite compare to the majestic weirdness of Animal Collective. Their set-up is fascinating: tribal drums and two guitars are manipulated by Geologist's huge musical brain: with wires everywhere, his desk is the reason why their sound is so skewed. But the genius of Animal Collective is not just in the inventive noise, it's in the strange warmth of the songs. It's a shame more classics from 'Sung Tongs' and latest masterpiece 'Feels' aren't included, but with a set this adventurous, nobody is complaining as they finish, they are instead clapping. Intensely. For fifteen minutes. It's a moving sight: the band literally don't know what to do with the group of fans refusing to stop clapping.
After this amazing display, The Dandy Warhols seem quite dull and uninterested, with only sing-a-long 'Bohemian Like You' providing any real fun. Instead we enjoy ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead who, despite having lost some equipment on the plane, are intense and melodic. There's none of the trademark violence this time, but the music's brutally immediate enough to make this a great experience. WhoMadeWho are the last band of the weekend (sob), the highlight of their funky set being a guitar cover of Benny Benassi's 'Satisfaction', which is as dirty and delicous as that sounds. And then we head back to the campsite, unable to sleep because of the sheer awesomeness ringing through our ears. Oh hang on, that's just tinnitus. Either way, Dour was by far the best festival in Europe line-up wise this year and the overwhelming success of this year's festival hopefully means I'll be cramming even more amazing bands into one weekend next year. July 12th-15th 2007: it's already scheduled.