Music festivals are strange beasts. Don't listen to what anyone tells you, they are the worse place for listening to new music. Stuck inside a diaphanous tent, sides flapping, surrounded by people who have made their own clothes in an attempt to look like Oberon and Titania that are lost in an eddying swirl of hallucinogenics. All this while attempting to listen to a group of people desperately trying to convey their 'sound' to a disparate bunch of half-interested spectators. It isn't the most conducive atmosphere to discover or actually hear new music.
Spread around Merton Farm high above the cathedral city of Canterbury, Lounge on the Farm (LOTF) has grown into a bustling family-orientated festival. Children's wristbands have a space to write their name and their parent's mobile number on. What a lovely idea. And it is actually on a farm. You peer through rusted fences to see men in luminous jackets shovel dung and feed cows. The main stage is in a cowshed. Albeit one that has a bar and vintage chandeliers hanging from the rafters. But still smells of excrement. A strange choice, as you can't just grab a drink and sit and idle away the day watching the main stage acts in the sunshine all day. Hohum.
Things get off to a slow start on Friday. After orientating myself around the small site I settle upon the Sheep Dip tent, the lineup of which promises a whole host of alternative goodies. After the post-rock stylings of Up C Down C fellow Men of Kent Kid Pang's mini-narratives of degenerates, dead rappers, pikies, revolutionaries and varied other pariahs and factotums are welded to a sound that takes its cue from a clutch of great American hardcore bands then fetters it to something much more British. But not in a prosaic or parochial Union flag waving sort of way. It's British in that it looks at the giant morass of shit and flaccidity that we find all around us and laughs in its face. Like Peter Cook fronting Shellac, but not quite.
Casiokids' blend of perfectly honed Scandinavian pop gives way to a euphoric and heady rush that provokes a wellspring of devotion from the crowd. They are the first band to make this feel like a festival, packing out their tent and getting a great reaction from the crowd with their groove-laden-elastic-analogue-bliss. Their live vocals are staggeringly good, particularly on 'Fot I hose' and 'Togens hule'. Over on the main stage Wild Beasts ply their portentous, swollen and frankly risible indie-soul. While the lead singer's efforts to mimic Antony Hegarty are laudable, I have a sneaky suspicion that his vocal affectations cover up a significant lack of talent.
Canterbury is a pretty liberal city, with two large universities and a strong history in progressive academia but because of it's small size and ecclesiastical tradition it has always been seen as a cultural backwater. BBC South East seem to be keen to redress this imbalance with many features appearing of late on the counter-culture scene of the late 60s/early 70s that spawned Soft Machine, Caravan and Gong amongst others. LOTF is the perfect launching point for this campaign of revisionism as Gong headline the Further Field. Formed by Aussie Daevid Allen, they peddle through a back catalogue of vaguely psychedelic soft rock. I was going to stay for the first hour of their set but after a couple of songs decided to grab a drink before watching the headliners in the Cowshed.
The Horrors' second album caught a lot of people off guard. We are so used to bands arriving almost perfectly formed (shaped by PR/marketing firms), drowning in hyperbole, that it is a genuine shock for a band to re-cast themselves. Their gradual evolution from Farfisa organ led Victorian horror schtick to one of the most genuinely exciting British bands was a surprise, but in unshackling themselves from the staccato Gothic shocks of their debut they have become a genuinely exciting band. Don't be fooled by claims that their songs are mere composites.
Tonight's set draws largely from that sophomore album and the band are on it from the start. A drone of oscillating feedback announces 'Mirror's Image' while the squall of guitar and Faris Badwan's commanding yet languid vocals are captured perfectly live. And heck do they look the part. Striding around the stage, black clad and brooding. The dark romanticism of 'Who Can Say' and 'I Only Think Of You' are aired, while the pulsing 'Three Decades' encapsulates the nightmarish vision of their first album but updates the sound. The motorik bass and clipped drums of 'Sea Within A Sea' close the set, with the wash of immersive synthesis accompanying the band as they exit the stage.
There is a desire for acceptance and camaraderie, with frontman Badwan revealing he was born in Sidcup and therefore has Kentish roots. Little does he know that the majority of Kentish folk see Sidcup as nothing but an appropriation, a grey hinterland of tower blocks, grotty newsagents and second hand car dealers before you get into London proper. They also acknowledge that the distance between the crowd and the band contributes to a poor audience reaction, mainly due to the biggest photographer's pit I've ever seen. The only misstep in terms of songs played however is 'I Can Only Think Of You'. On record its dark melancholia is delivered through droning waves of saw-filter synths, but live it becomes dirge like and leads an exodus for the bars and other tents. Shame, because a lot of people missed their now usual encore of songs from Strange House. The energy of 'Count In Fives' and 'Sheena Is A Parasite' eventually transmits itself to the crowd, but despite a strong showing most wander listlessly to the camp site.
Saturday is also off to a slow start as the site wakes up from the excesses of the night before. Jeremy Warmsley and The Wave Pictures both feature in the Sheep Dip tent and their aching, tender, heartfelt take on indie is both endearing and beautiful. The Temper Trap hail from Melbourne and are fresh from a potentially career-breaking performance at Glastonbury. Expect a big push from their label, but they are a cut above the usual NME/Radio 1/TopShop endorsed indie tripe doled out to the masses. 'Sweet Disposition' may sound like U2 on helium but it has a wonderful vocal performance from frontman Dougy Mandagi and the rest of their set is equally accomplished and hook-laden.
The Aliens are a curious band, capable of producing luxurious and spatial psychedelic sounds while also being incredibly frustrating due to their singular lack of restraint. But tonight they are on form. Early singles such as 'The Happy Song' and 'Magic Man' are performed with aplomb alongside songs from their latest album Luna, a less accessible but by no means less enjoyable collection. Snatches of sets by DJ Format, Tom Middleton and DJ Food in the Hoedown tent are also all enjoyed before heading on to the main event.
Do you remember UK hip hop? Besides Big Dada's excellent stable of artists, there really isn't much out there to recommend now that the scene has fractured and distended and everyone is pretending they knew all about dubstep and grime ages ago. The truth is that hip hop in the UK is the victim of it's own success, conflating to the point of mediocrity. But there is some alabaster in amongst the shit, shining through. Rodney Smith takes the stage, outsized sunglasses, outsized couture tracksuit jacket, outsized....you get the picture. “I've seen the future and the culture seems corroded” is the refrain from opener 'Again & Again' and its loping dub melody finds the crowd unsure. The majority are, slightly sadly, here because of Run Come Save Me and its singles 'Witness' and 'Dreamy Days'. Such is the lot of headlining a festival, and Manuva takes it in his stride, knowing full well what folk have come to hear. After a brief dalliance with that bass intro, 'Witness' is unleashed and the crowd goes predictably mental. Hopefully more of those will investigate Slime And Reason because it is a great record.
Manuva's work is suffused with dread and a sense of dub heaviness. This ensures that those ebullient dancehall singles stand out, but he still manages to sneak in the sonically darker and more developed 'Movements' from his debut. Didactic, playful, imaginative, allegorical – despite being beset with sound problems tonight the set proves Manuva remains one of Britain's brightest talents.
The crowd, much larger than for the previous night's headliners, stumble out to try and catch some of the remaining nightlife before the midnight curfew. My night also took a turn for the worse, but I'll save that for the autobiography. Lets just say it ended watching pig farmers who were high on a combination of amyl nitrate and metholone load massive hogs into giant furnaces. Feeling as though I was Dante teetering on the precipice of the Inferno I stumbled away to sleep in the boot of my car, dreams of porcine faces and knuckles pressed against glass haunting me.
Sunday can be described in one word: pain.
But beyond the physical and mental sensations I was experiencing there was a lot of music to cover, starting with Alessi's Ark on the Bandstand. Shorn of the fussy ornamentation that threatened to consume Notes From The Treehouse her songs are allowed space to gently weave their magic. Sitting on a haybale nursing a coffee, it is the perfect start to a Sunday.
But here lies the problem with the festival. I now have roughly 5-6 hours to fill before anything of note is on again. So after catching a little bit of Mr Scruff's marathon six hour DJ set I head home for sustenance and to sleep.
Billy Childish is a personal hero of mine; artist, poet, author, photographer, moustache wearer, critic, journalist, publisher and musician. Much like The Fall and Mark E. Smith, he's spent the last 30 years deconstructing rock and roll. Riffs and ideas are purloined from 'rock', then decentred and purified. His belief in amateurism and the elemental is fundamental to his work. So the ramshackle performance of staccato garage rock by Childish and his backing band The Members Of The British Empire is not surprising, but the tracks from their album Thatcher's Children are raucously greeted by a boozy (and noticeably more middle aged) crowd. Whether Childish would appreciate some thick-about-the-middle types pretending they know what constitutes punk is a moot point. Anyway, just to hear Childish's Medway twang over the primitive clatter is a genuine pleasure. He has become an irascible iconoclast railing against modernity (and postmodernity) across the years, and tonight proves he hasn't lost his bite.
Edwyn Collins is a brave man. A stoke in 2005 left him without the majority of his motor functions. He had to teach himself to perform all of the everyday tasks we take for granted, and then those extra ones which make him such a gifted songwriter and musician. That he was able to overcome such a gruelling period of rehabilitation, and then the MRSA which he subsequently contracted, is testament to a strength of spirit and conviction that we could all learn from. When his solo song 'Girl Like You' is performed, there is a genuine warmth from the audience towards this man. And what a glorious song! It still sounds great, like a Scottish Elvis impersonator covering a Northern Soul tune. 'Rip It Up', his first band Orange Juice's signature song, is played and I couldn't keep the smile from my face. The feet don't lie, it got me moving. The performance is wistful and tender, while the absurdist message remains the same.
You have to feel a little bit sorry for Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip. They seem to be the victim of a form of inverted racism from the mostly white, liberal, middle class music press. Every review essentially poses the question; what can two white boys from Essex know about hip hop? It is a pertinent question, and a lot of the opprobrium sent their way seeks to address this issue. Scroobius Pip is still enthralled of his heroes (KRS-ONE, Sage Francis, Mos Def, Eric B) but if he is allowed to develop the subject of his ire it may eventually become less obvious and better directed. Hip hop is a means of expression; who expresses it shouldn't be determined by the listener, only its merits and qualities.
Rant over. They start with 'Beat That My Heart Skipped', and the tone of righteous indignation continues throughout with 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' drawing the biggest cheers of the night. The call-and-response structure, the rampant listomania of the track, deconstruction of deities and the acute observations of modern social mores are all perfectly performed. New material is aired tonight and despite no-one having had a chance to hear it yet it provokes a great response. They always look like they're having the time of their lives on stage and play with passion and skill.
While it may never challenge the 'heritage' festivals, LOTF can continue to grow into its niche of a small, family-friendly festival that is mercifully free from advertising and the patronage of varied music/radio celebrities (Jo Whiley, take a bow...). The attempt to position the festival within a local musical and cultural tradition was commendable, but misguided and redolent of provincialism. Greater thought needs to go into the planning of the acts – the headliners themselves were all fine additions,and the Hoedown tent was full of excellent DJs and acts but the problem is in attracting a more consistent level of artist that will attract punters beyond the locals. But then what makes a festival – the acts on display or the 'experience', however hackneyed and commodified that notion may be? Or is it the £85 weekend price tag...
The review of Lounge On The Farm was orignally produced for http://www.godisinthetvzine.co.uk. To view the article on the site please click on the title.