These New Puritans, Rolo Tomassi, We Have Band, Dum Dum Girls, Maria and the Mirrors
Mike Hughes 24/07/2010
Highlight of the day, possibly of my year, was Peter Hook performing Unknown Pleasures. I got into Joy Division too late, way after that fateful day when Ian Curtis did what he did. Today they played early evening, not in the headlining slot, but somehow this was alright. As Hooky strode onto stage it was like seeing an old friend. When that buzzy guitar and bass started up, the effect was just immense. Hope turned to reality, not just for me, but on the front of the audience, a fair number of whom were wearing Joy Div tee shirts of one sort or another. At the start he spotted a familiar face in the front row, and grinningly said "Alright sweetheart, how you? It's been a long time". It was never going to sound like an exact replica, and when they played 'She's Lost Control' I thought the sound was an approximation, but perhaps that's how it should be; after all this wasn't Stars In Their Eyes. When Hooky passed on the message that he just been given, that they only had four minutes left, I couldn't imagine anyone having the brass to tell him that. Whatever, they finished with perhaps the one song that matters above all else, 'Love Will Tear Us Apart'. As soon as this started, all doubts were forgotten. It was electric, both on stage and in the crowd. Early in the set Peter quipped "I'd just like to thank Sean for talking me into this because I'm really fucking enjoying it". You and me both Pete.
There was a lot more to this festival than one band though. A chance to see a couple of old favourites but mainly to experience some breadth of new music on a glorious, sunburning, Shoreditch day.
Trailer Trash Tracies were the first band I caught on the main stage. All three stages had problems at some point or other and the Tracies suffered with over-saturated harsh sound. Despite that I pretty much enjoyed their dream pop vocals over the top of a twirling jangle of 60s reverb bass and guitar lines. They weren't the greatest in the context of the day, particularly with the sound, but good enough that I will check them out again given half a chance.
I caught a few minutes of the merely competent Sharks, and then there was one of those ebb and tide crowd moments where it all emptied for a second, enabling us to get stage front for Maria and the Mirrors. Hell but I'm glad I saw these. They looked like refugees from an Egyptian dream. The band is three-piece, Charlie clad in lycra that Austin Powers would have been proud of behind the synth console, Keira and Chrystabel both set up to play drums. They also had two fruit carrying ladies just to stand and gyrate and add to the general artistic effect. Art Rock terrorism sums it up better. As soon as they started, I realised this was going to be loud, the two drummers facing each other, hammering out anxiety driven intricate rhythms with the occasional deafening shriek over the synths. Keira looked constantly worried about how things were going. I was half concerned with my hearing, but this was compelling and singular. Beforehand, I'd heard the stage manager talking to his mates, saying that this was "only a small stage" to manage. He spoke too soon because all of a sudden the power just went out. The band huddled on stage while the previously confident stage manager tried to fix things, but to no avail. Short and sweet, that was it. I caught up with a Keira later on for a quick chat and I was not mistaken about her looks of frustration on stage. They told me they are usually much louder and more complex than that. Whatever, it was totally one of the highlights of the day.
Dum Dum Girls were then on back over on the main stage. This was California fuzzy garage rock, and they pulled a crowd, the first time in the day I'd seen the main stage looking full out front. There was a great chasing feeling to their guitar riffs and some driving drumming as befits an outfit of this pedigree. Like a few bands of this ilk, it ultimately harks back to 60s vibes, in this case 3 girl close harmonies. Despite the draw for the crowd, it somehow never really took off, and I felt that ultimately they came and did their jobs. If I can say is without being unkind, a serious and reverb laden version of the Bangles or the Go-Go's. Or maybe it was just their glitz making me think that.
We Have Band were the next draw. They claimed to have been on a plane half an hour before. There was nothing half-assed, this lot were fabulous. It was feedback riven and percussive electro, complete with maracas. Their energy was infectious, they did lots of dancing and made the enclosed audience in the tent feel the need to jump up and down loads.
Last time I saw Rolo Tomassi it cost me a trip to the hospital for stitches to my head following a stage diving incident. The astounding thing is the noise that comes out of the slight and demure form of Eva Spence. When Eva came on stage, there was some kerfuffle about mics, and from my front row position I could hear her saying "I'll just scream into this one then" like she was preparing for some sixth form debating society. The enclosed environs of the ArtRocker tent worked brilliantly to heat up the emotional tension in the crowd, so that when James ran off the stage, one foot on the barrier, and then on to the heads and upstretched hands, it felt like it was the only possible thing to do. The audience were completely up for it and as much a part of the performance of the band themselves. Not content with bouncing like a ball across the heads of the audience, James then came back for more and climbed the tent rigging. If you get half a chance, go and see this lot. Do yourself a favour though and don't take anything fragile with you.
Having escaped intact, we hiked the short distance back to the Rough Trade tent to catch the Vivian Girls. They have some dedicated fans and were band I really wanted to see. They were competent American college indie rock, but today they didn't do anything to standout.
By now it was 9pm and decision time, as the 1234 had three different headliners all due to go on at the same time. We plumped for These New Puritans, a band I was itching to see. After a 15 minute delay, Jack Barnett came on and they launched into 'We Want War' but after a minute or two there was a sudden loss of power in the PA. There was an all too familiar panic of engineers, one of the guys anxiously mopping his head with a towel. Time was creeping on and I could see the band hanging around outside the back of the tent. An announcement was made and they trouped back on again, mics were re-affixed and it was time for round two. Sadly, much earlier into the same song, there was an audible bang. Off they all went again. There was another announcement that maybe the Puritans would play two songs. By now the crowd was starting to thin out, drawn by the acts still going on across the field. Suffering from hope over experience, I was still there when some poor management type was delegated to come on stage and announce that this particular set was now cancelled. There was some booing which you might expect, but sadly also a half-hearted barrage of bottles and glasses.
We legged it over to the main stage where Fucked Up were still doing their thing. Unfortunately we only got there in time to see one last crowd surf from a member of the audience, and Father Damian saying a big, sweaty goodnight leaning into the crowd, and thanking to the security for not " freaking out". You could just tell that they had had their hands full.