Hydro Connect 2008 @ Inveraray Castle, 29-31 Aug

Article by Ally Brown | 08 Sep 2008

The Connect Festival – this year renamed Hydro Connect thanks to a sponsorship hook-up with Scottish Hydro Electric – has got everything going for it, in theory. The location – and the journey to get there – is absolutely gorgeous, being on the banks of Loch Fyne and in the grounds of Inveraray Castle, with steep hills rising behind both main stages. It’s small enough to get to know quickly, and so that traipsing from one end to the other should take no more than five minutes. And the ethos of quality food, and of supporting the environment, is something that everybody can get behind.

Unfortunately, in the two years it’s run so far, it’s been hampered by poor weather and the quagmire conditions that follow. At least this year the rain mostly held off until overnight Saturday, but waking up on Sunday with a hangover, wet clothes and a manky tent, and deep valleys and ponds of sticky mud outside, inevitably prompts the question: I paid how much for this?

But that’s all part of the British festival experience: it’s an endurance test which challenges you to overcome adverse conditions and enjoy yourself anyway because there’s no other choice. For The Skinny, the days after a festival are almost as enjoyable as the festival itself: firstly, getting home to a bath, a clean loo, and a warm, comfy bed; secondly, listening to music again with a fresh energy after seeing so many great performances over the preceding days. We certainly saw plenty of those at Hydro Connect 2008; now all they need to do is fix the weather.


Mancunian synth-rock quartet, The Whip tease out some early dance moves from Friday afternoon’s Oyster Stage crowd; Little Fi’s big drums and the propulsive basslines of Ron Weasley look-a-like Nathan Sudders making it easy for eager feet. Later, handclaps and acid pulses merge and build to an exquisite climax courtesy of Rayban-wearing singer, Bruce Carter and keyboardist, Danny Saville. [cc]

Plonked behind eight synthesizers, black-clad and distant, like a state-sanctioned pop group of the former Soviet Union, Ladytron are definitely no festival band. Rocking their Eastern Bloc, disco-in-a-tower-block style for all its worth, they are pretty unnemphatic in this open-air arena, but Seventeen and set-closer Everything You Touch remind us that they have produced some of the best electro-pop since the Human League. [nm]

An early evening stand out of the Optimo-curated Unknown Pleasures Tent are Canadian duo, Crystal Castles. Multi-instrumentalist Ethan Kath and vocalist Alice Glass are backed by a full band as they deliver a live show of pure energy, packed with phased synths, yelped n’distorted vocals and old-skool arcade FX. Pogoing wildly across the stage in front of the light sabre and glow-stick wielding crowd, Glass provides another of her characteristically in-yer-face performances. [cc]

There have been those, myself included, who wrote off the Manic Street Preachers as Britpop dinosaurs. How wrong we were, because Bradfield, Wire and Moore rollick triumphantly through their back catalogue, plucking out fan favourites such as Motorcycle Emptiness, Of Walking Abortion, Everything Must Go, You Love Us and tailor-made final song, A Design For Life. Covering Rihanna might smack of ageing desperation, but they're still a superior live band. [nm]

With divided loyalties between Kasabian and Mercury Rev, I can only attest to the first half of the former's Friday headlining set. They could have ended with a cover of the Postman Pat theme for all I know. But early on it's business as usual: big, swaggering indie hits like Processed Beats and L.S.F, an impressive lightshow, and the newly long-haired Meighan's hilarious rock-God complex. [nm]

Having enjoyed the Kasabian spectacle for 40 minutes, it is a sense of musical duty that makes me head over to catch the remainder of alt-rock veterans Mercury Rev. Swirling clouds of dry ice may conceal them, but the music is clear, direct, and loud. Their take on Talking Heads' Once In A Lifetime, with layers of intense guitar and crescendo, is immense, and they save Goddess On A Highway for a rousing encore. [nm]


A painfully thin crowd greets Broken Records on the second stage, first thing Saturday. Is everyone still in their sleeping bags? It’s their loss, because among the sparse attendance couples and groups get dancing, and one song sparks enthusiastic cossack yells: "Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!" It’s another superb set from the rising Edinburgh septet, who make it mighty tempting to miss Bloc Party to see them again this evening on the much smaller Your Sound tent. [ab]

Late of the Pier live up to their name, with their set delayed an hour as they're moved up to replace the cancelled Joan As Policewoman. An early afternoon in a muddy field is not the best context in which to enjoy their schizoid, experimental pop, but the musicianship and free-range clattering of this freshly-hatched quartet are still mightily impressive. They'd sound phenomenal in a claustrophobic wee club. [nm]

Friendly Fires arrive hot on the heels of their self-titled debut album, and they match the hype with a sprightly set of punk-funk. Singer Ed Macfarlane is the main source of entertainment: dancing crazily in skin-tight clothes, a maniacal glare in his eyes, firing off plumes of confetti in all directions. Their music is anything but original, but it still injects some firey fun into a damp Connect. [nm]

Spiritualized are one of the most highly anticipated acts of the weekend. We know Jason Pierce's death-cheating tale, and it's extra-special to have him, with full electric band, back on stage. They offer no connection to the audience though, facing each other like a studio band, and the set doesn't nearly delve deep enough into their back catalogue. Just as well the few classics we do hear, like Come Together, are awe-inspiring. [nm]

Glasgow-based trio Zoey Van Goey are so sweet, it’s almost impossible to be cynical. Birthday girl Kim Moore’s mellifluous vocals are what do it, but there’s no denying the careful craft of these songs too, disguised by gently weird beats. The versatile threesome swap instrumental duties a few times, drummer Matt gets distracted by “the giant frigging castle” behind the crowd, and we all help out with a freestyle handclapping solo at the end. Let’s leave the solos to the musicians next time, eh. [ab]

Just in time for the release of their self-titled debut album, Glasvegas go about winning over thousands of doubting Thomases in a crowd obviously more sceptical than the hysterical hoardes at T in the Park. Glasvegas sound brilliant, their feedback reverberating heavier than ever before, and it’s an unusually energetic show too – not from James Allan of course, who remains unmoved throughout – but from the guitarists, who wildly throw themselves across the stage as they squeeze everything they can from their instruments. Glasvegas aren’t just learning how to physically fill a big stage, but also how to use its amps and speaker stacks too. [ab]

If one band was made for the live setting, it's Grinderman. On record, Nick Cave's side-project comes across like cod-badass (you dare to compare Cave to a testosterone fuelled fish? - ed); it's only when confronted with his spitting, lanky, wildly gesticulating frame at close quarters, along with his destructive, bearded side-kick Warren Ellis, that you get it. They run riot, dragging us all along with them on the road to oblivion - and huge fun. [nm]

One outfit on the Your Sound Bandstand I am determined to see is Errors. The touted Glaswegians combine esoteric electro with crunchy post rock, and they play a blinding second-top billing set on Saturday night, to a sizeable segment of Scotland's music-loving fraternity. Salut France and Toes are great, but, as was the case at their Triptych gig, it's Mr Milk that stands out. [nm]

Andrew Weatherall can do so much better than this, which boils down to the surgical extraction and implantation of a kick drum every 8 bars. And again – on the mark – on the thirty-two – there it is – there it goes – and again – and away – and again… is this some kind of experiment? But I don’t expect most here to notice, being in their own wee internal worlds. [ab]

Unfortunately the sound where we’re standing in the Unknown Pleasures tent is terrible: Black Thought could be reading out the Yellow Pages for all we can hear him. It’s like listening to your neighbour play The Roots through a brick wall. Somewhere along the line there’s an extended You Got Me jam with a crazy, virtuosic climax from the guitarist and ?uestlove on drums; which makes it all the more disappointing that we’re unable to hear it properly. Apparently it sounded great at the front. [ab]

Bloc Party probably have the sales but not the back catalogue to headline an event like this. The mid-set one-two punch of So Here We Are and Like Eating Glass is near jaw-dropping, but at other times it’s less easy to remember why this band attracts such a following: specifically, Two More Years and the climactic Blue Light, which works far better in its album track context than as a live finale. [ab]


Young Knives are a head-scratching lot. One minute you're enthralled by the wacky Britpop revivalism of Terra Firma, the next you're tuning out, put off by the very same-ness of their guitar-bass-drums formula. They do their best to cheer the sodden Sunday early-comers with some witty asides, but it's impossible to really let yourself forget the conditions with such ironic fare. [nm]

If anyone can dispel the rain clouds - or help us forget them at least - it's Santi White, the effervescent urban diva behind Santogold. Although a delayed arrival means they only play half a dozen songs, White, in a shiny blue jumpsuit, gets the plastic ponchos in the crowd moving with Lights Out, You'll Find A Way and The Creator. [nm]

It’s like Scott and Grant Hutchison are playing to a nursery school in the Speakeasy Cafe, with Frightened Rabbit fans sitting cross-legged just inches away from them. The wee marquee is packed and all the lucky kids here see a special show, with Scott on great chatty form in-between a handful of stripped-back picks from Sing The Greys and brilliant latest album Midnight Organ Fight. Despite all the bells and whistles on the bigger stages, two men, two drums and a borrowed guitar provide one of the weekend’s biggest highlights. [ab]

When you need to take your mind off the brown puddles slurping around inside your wellies, Camera Obscura know how to help. A couple of breezy new songs set the scene for the very appropriate Let’s Get Out of this Country and Lloyd, I’m Read To Be Heartbroken, a duo which gets everyone singing and swinging and pogoing gently. Squelch squelch squelch. Utterly charming, but I'm not sure about that new squelch section. [ab]

On first appearances We Were Promised Jetpacks seem like earnest lads with a keen sense of rhythm, which mostly comprises a uniform kick drum with incessant motorik hi hits. Thankfully they make no attempt at funk whatsoever, which is a good thing because punk-funk is easy to learn but difficult to master, especially for young bucks. If WWPJ ever did try to sell you hair mousse, at least they’d do it with sincerity. [ab]

It is more a lack of options than any fanboy enthusiasm that draws me to the Oyster Stage for Elbow, and this flat set of sleepy indie only embeds my prejudice. The bluesy single Grounds For Divorce does redeem matters slightly, but their uninspiring attempts at emotive, lighters-in-the-air 'moments' fail utterly in this early evening slot. [nm]

Oxford-educated James Holden plays near the top of the Unknown Pleasures tent’s Sunday night bill, the talented producer segues and layers well built melody upon melody in his delicious set of dreamy techno. With a definite trance/progressive house edge it’s a club head’s musical highlight of not only the Sunday but the whole weekend, lifting the spirits at all the right moments. [cc]

In the general hubbub of Connect, it's easy to overlook two of modern American rock's true greats. With little fanfare, The Gutter Twins, fronted by Mark Lanegan and Greg Dulli, take to the stage before a sparse crowd. But instant respect is granted to the ever-morose Lanegan, who growls through the songs on autopilot, backed by the loudest, heaviest band of the weekend. [nm]

The dusk mist hanging in the pine forest on the hill behind the Oyster Stage provides the ideal backdrop in which to enjoy the mystical splendour of Sigur Rós. They open with the sublime Sven-G-Englar, and even reveal a sense of humour when a brass section marches on stage in See You Jimmy hats. The rest of their extensive set is rarely less than spellbinding, and they even trash their drum kit on exiting. [nm]

Accompanied by a Meatloaf-alike friend on voice box duty, Kraftwerk man Karl Bartos’ apathetic approach to mixing actually serves him well, because it allows he and his wingman more freedom to play with the pace. They never go for the easy option of a straight Kraftwerk song: only hints and flurries of recognisable hooks, interspersed with similarly influenced electro-retro deutsche-dance beats, is enough to keep everyone on their dancing toes. [ab]

It seems apt that Slam duo Stuart McMillan and Orde Meikle close proceedings in Sunday’s Unknown Pleasures tent and the pair bring out their big room techno sound exactly when it’s needed. Serving up a laptop n’ decks driven set of pounding rhythms, they successfully squeeze a final few dance manoeuvres from the gathered crowd; Capricorn’s drum-roll filled classic ’20 Hz’, a brilliantly climatic sign-off. [cc]

Five new songs are premiered by Franz Ferdinand as they close the festival, several of which feature kazoo-toned synths much like Delia Derbyshire’s Dr Who soundtrack. The first stands out thanks to two unexpected but brilliant left-turns it takes, making it sound like a random sample from an indie-dance mix tape. Franz Ferdinand have always done that kind of thing well: it’s what sets Take Me Out and Do You Wanna up for their shakedowns, though tonight the latter is a little heavy-set. They know how to find a groove, and as Alex Kapranos introduces each band member for solos during closer This Fire, they briefly look more like a funk group than a pop group. Average white band? Somewhat better than average, I’d say. [ab]