Beacons Festival 2014: Sunday 10 August
After a gloriously sunny Saturday, a little bit of hurricane wasn't gonna dampen the spirits of Sunday at Beacons – bringing us John Wizards' pop calypsos, a snarling Speedy Ortiz, and one showstopping finale from Darkside
With the neutron chug of A Love From Outer Space in front and buffeting sidewinds behind, the Red Bull Studios stage has become a sort of human sandwich – but no one even remotely cares. You'd be underestimating Beacons' stoicism to think a spot of horizontal rain could deter two hundred sweaty cagoules from a five-hour set of analogue crunch – it's testament, too, to the devotion that Andrew Weatherall and Sean Johnston in their ALFOS guise can summon. The two's signature is a mid-weight swagger, a pivot point between the spatial and the carnal; as befits their name, sure, the sonics aim for the galactic – but the beat is always a thoroughly human, fleshy churn. Being able to watch the likes of Weatherall at work at such close proximity, on such a tiny stage, is a running delight of the festival, with other names to make an appearance in this little lamplit box including Optimo and Joy Orbison. It's also the most luxurious performance environment you've ever seen – we are pretty jealous of the toasty-looking lighting and carpeting right now.
The Noisey tent has also provided a significant portion of the highlights this Beacons, and the booking of Planet Mu's John Wizards proves a doozy for woozy Sunday heads. The Cape Town sextet's aerated tropicalia turns a stage that's largely been dedicated to sawn-off punk and bloodlusty psych all weekend into an oasis of calm; from last year's debut album, a rippling Lusaka by Night – sweet as pineapple crush – and the citrus synths of Jamieo are particular winners, eliciting beatific sighs from a crowd punchdrunk with fatigue. It's not all chill, though: the agit-pop of Limpop stirs a small frenzy, hitching things up to Shangaan electro speed, while Iyongwe's relay race of guitar, keys and handclaps runs to a calypso finish. Though their LP turned up in a bunch of best of 2013 lists, it still feels like more should really know about them; judging by the number of revelatory little experiences going on in this small corner of Skipton, the word should start to spread further. [Lauren Strain]
We're trying to work out whether we dreamt stumbling into a tent full of naked people dancing to the sounds of The Jam late last night/early this morning, when Leeds/Bradford four-piece Nope abruptly cut through our thoughts on the Noisey stage. That their drummer Jon Nash (fully clothed) was in the same tent last night is the only thing making it feel more tangible – and if it was, then he's looking remarkably chipper here (especially given the thunderous set he also played with Hookworms 15 hours previously). The dynamic between Nash and second percussionist Steve Nuttall is eye-catching; they sit at opposites, eyes glinting with mischief as they push each other harder and heavier through each lap of elongated, cyclical rock. Nope are masters at finding one brilliantly brain-lodging guitar hook and pounding it into the ground, extracting every last nuance and leaving it in a squalling mush.
[65daysofstatic by Tom Connolly]
“Bye Beacons, we're going to head off through Stargate and head back to Egypt or wherever the fuck that film ends up,” says 65daysofstatic's Joe Shrewsbury, glancing at Darkside's glowing, circular light setup looming behind him. With their re-score for the Bruce Dern-starring Silent Running, 65 have already proven they're capable of soundtracking far more worthy sci-fi odysseys than Kurt Russell bothering a load of extra-terrestrials. Even without added visuals, their charismatic brand of prog-electronica pursues a markedly futurist bent; a set drawn almost entirely from last year's Wild Light pares down the group's more sense-scrambling techno elements and is an apt call for this late-afternoon slot, though their more physical material would certainly suit a late billing. Maybe next year.
Hurricane Bertha turns up to the party fashionably late at around 7pm – like many of the weekend's revellers, she's off her gourd and looking for one final blow-out. It's a hitherto relatively well-behaved Mark E Smith who's the first to feel her wrath when, midway through The Fall's set, they're pulled from the stage – literally, with Smith dragged off after ordering his band to continue playing despite the PA cutting out and the house lights coming up. They return, but by then we've been swept back to Noisey and Fat White Family who, with no little sense of knowing, launch into the drawling bar-room blues-rock dirge of I Am Mark E. Smith, singer Lias Saoudi adding “I've got the paperwork to prove it” to the song's punchline.
[The Fall by Sam Huddleston]
Conflicts arise when enjoying Fat White Family; there's wondering whether the title hook of the otherwise hyper-infectious shambles rock of Is It Raining In Your Mouth? is troubling in a music scene still dominated by everyday sexism and prejudice – or whether the song's brazen carnality could be in some way refreshing against a deep-seated British prudishness. On a purely here-and-now evaluation, though, the Fat Whites' set is a triumph, aided by an electric atmosphere. Combined with their scruffy, rough'n'tumble guitar guttural is the oddly disjointed way each band member moves on stage, gangly and loose; like so many great rock bands, the thrill ultimately lies in how it all feels like it could fall apart at any minute.
So it comes to Eagulls to finish proceedings on the Noisey stage, the local lads-done-good with their Partisan Records deal and Letterman performance. There's only a hardcore few left in the tent, but, if anything, the reaction to the five-piece's hardcore-tipped post-punk is even more intense than for the Fat Whites beforehand. One delirious punter clambers up the central pillar and divebombs back into the crowd below, others crowdsurf towards the stage, occasionally making it. Eagulls themselves aren't the animalistic live creatures of old; months of touring have woven the group tightly so that the bitter, bone-gnawing anxiety of Nerve Endings and Hollow Visions are slickly delivered, while newer numbers discard much of the detritus previously left to fester on their early singles. They retain a malevolence that chimes perfectly with the surrounding setting, though; this final battle of attrition amid nature's howl a suitable final party for the end of times. [Simon Jay Catling]
[Eagulls by Sam Huddleston]
The quality of Sleaford Mods’ set proves to be the divisive topic of Sunday evening. At the very least, Nottingham’s punk-hop pairing of Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn offers a distinctive stage presence, with Fearn’s only obvious function throughout seeming to be to turn on the beat for Williamson’s rants, then shake his head disapprovingly. Williamson has the swagger and vitriol of a street preacher as the Mods take us through their metropolis of discontent, barging through a hilarious half-hour of frequent profanity and irreverent scatting. “Who gives a fuck about yesterday’s heroes? It’s not a pyramid; you’re not a fucking pharaoh!” Williamson spits during Pubic Hair Ltd before repeating the title ad nauseum and ending by blowing a massive, defiant raspberry. Well then.
Speedy Ortiz specialise in the sort of knotty melodies and passive-aggressive quip rock that The OC’s Seth Cohen would've loved. In between cuts of their recent Real Hair EP, Sadie Dupuis and drummer Mike Falcone produce a few groans from the crowd as they wisecrack about the cold: “Feels like a chilled gazpacho out there,” Falcone laughs, before they rumble their way through Indoor Soccer. When they try out a new song, it’s a slower, more traditional waltz, suggesting that they're distancing themselves from the wilfully oblique discord of last year’s album Major Arcana – but Plough is an incendiary ending. As Dupuis shows off a stronger snarl than ever, it seems she's sharpening her claws – but also learning when to lower them.
The main stage finds itself packed for the last act of the festival, Darkside, the collaborative project between prodigious electronic musician Nicolas Jaar and guitarist Dave Harrington. With the two isolated under beams of white light, there is a hint of storied rock heroism as Harrington busts out the slinky Pink Floyd prog riff of Paper Trails – which Jaar mutates into an organ, then to a four-to-the-floor dance beat, showing off his surprisingly soulful voice in the process and dragging it all out to a whole ten minutes. It’s not an act of nostalgia, however, but of discovery. The outro shatters into laser zaps; the tent pulses above, and light pillars onstage flash like code to a spaceship. As the night ends in a surge, it's apparent the evening's conditions couldn't prevent Beacons from taking off. [Chris Ogden]