Wild Beasts, The Xcerts, I Like Trains, Wintermute, Juno - Hinterland Festival, Glasgow.
Helen Newbery 11/05/2009
Hinterland Festival, Glasgow, 30th April - 1st May
Inspired by indoor, multi-venue events such as the Camden Crawl and Great Escape, Glasgow's Hinterland festival crashed onto the Scottish music scene for two days this Spring. Advertising over 100 bands playing in 15 venues scattered across the city, the line-up appeared eclectic, with an emphasis on local and Scottish bands, as well as plenty from further afield.
Opening at the School of Art are Glasgow's Fangs, whose pounding electropop is more suited to late night hedonism than a tea-time slot at this cavernous venue. They are keen not to let this stop them, however, blasting off with current single 'Sicko'. It's a good introduction to their modus operandi; all pounding beats, retro-sounding synths and occasional walls of noise. They are fronted by the self-styled (and well-named) Queen strutting around the stage. A sure star in the making, she's all rock posture and attitude. A barnstorming cover of 'I Am A DJ' is delivered with sass and verve, and as the last chords fade away we are left feeling faintly shell-shocked.
Down the terrifying gradient to Nice N Sleazy, Leeds' Wintermute are in full flow. Clearly influenced by post-rock, but with an unexpectedly funky twist, their songs display a savage intensity, shouting off-mic and crashing around the stage. Following on from them are Remember Remember, who have gathered a sizeable home crowd for their complex arrangements of samples and loops. Endlessly inventive, they utilise an array of instruments including saxophone, violin and, yes, bubble wrap, to create rich soundscapes of light and shade. They may only play only three songs, but each is a thing of shimmering beauty, gradually increasing in power and intensity, making their set one of the highlights of the festival.
Back up the undiminished incline, The Xcerts looked at home on the large School of Art stage, but deserved a larger audience, their thunderous bass and power chords allied to a keen sense of melody. The award for The Band Who Are Enjoying Themselves The Most, however, must surely go to The Plimptons at The Flying Duck, whose riotous cover of 'The Riverboat Song' is something to behold. And by this point in the evening it seems to make perfect sense that various band members are bashing each other over the head with what appears to be a tea tray.
Opening proceedings on Friday night at the aptly-named Classic Grand were Leeds' These Monsters. One of a seemingly growing number of bands eschewing vocals for a purely instrumental approach, their athletic riffs displayed a harder edge. They were followed onstage by the similarly epic Prego, whose brooding vocals were interspersed with powerful guitars and generated some impressive slabs of sound.
By complete contrast, downstairs in the same venue were Glaswegian indiepoppers Juno, whose numerous members, including, for a couple of songs, Bis' Manda Rin, would be worthy runners-up in the Band Enjoyment stakes. Like a manic Go! Team with an electro edge, their insane racket samples freely. It's infectious fun, and how many gigs do you come away from with a set of toy maracas these days?
Back in the larger hall, Leeds-based I Like Trains drew an impressive crowd for their sombre yet curiously uplifting post-rock songs, each of which tells a story, from Antarctic exploration in 'Terra Nova' to the last Prime Minister to be assassinated in 'Spencer Perceval'. The latter forms the perfect set closer, with its gradual build-up to a full-on sonic assault, the band members crashing into each other as the last chords roll away. In a short set, they also managed to squeeze in a couple of well-received new songs from their upcoming album. Over in Stereo, their city mates Wild Beasts are plying their distinctive trade. Set highpoints were singles 'Devil's Crayon' and 'Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants', all shimmering poppiness, but what really sets the band apart are the distinctive voices of Hayden Thorpe and his band mates, making them a joint Friday highlight with I Like Trains.
Overall impressions of Hinterland were of a well-run, if variably populated, festival. For the avid venue collector, it's an opportunity to visit haunts both old and new, and it's undeniably fun dashing around between sites. However, whilst it's an admirable goal to include most of Glasgow's major music venues, there's potentially an issue with the size of Glasgow's city centre: it's a good twenty- minute hike between the furthest-flung venues. Perhaps running the festival over a weekend, rather than a Thursday and Friday, would mean that bands could play during the day and allow people to get more band for their buck. It could possibly also give the art strand of the festival a higher profile if it was running concurrently with the bands, rather than being on when most people are at work. Another downside was that, with a few exceptions, most bands had the same stage times, even at different venues, which reduced the amount of overlap between bands, and led to potential downtime. Whist this is great for rushing between venues or grabbing a pint, it's less good if you are wanting to maximise the number of bands you're seeing for your forty-two quid. These criticisms aside, the organisers of Hinterland are to be applauded for their ambition in bringing something new to Scotland and willingness to take a risk.