Retreat! @ Bristo Hall, 16 Aug

For their second annual mini-fest celebrating local talent, the promoters of Retreat! crammed as many of their favourite bands into a single day as possible. The Skinny turned to shift work to cover this year's event.

Article by Milo McLaughlin | 01 Sep 2009
  • Rob St John at Retreat!

Lauren Mayberry got there early doors for the tea and toast.

As soon as you arrive at Retreat, it’s clear just how gloriously twee much of the day is set to be: home-made multi-coloured bunting, tea and toast for sale, a good few woolly jumpers and an enviable amount of brightly coloured tights.

Kicking off only a tick after Noon is Wounded Knee. In a crisp white shirt, the experimental soloist aesthetically fits the church hall surroundings, but this is about the only time he meets convention this afternoon. Created entirely from vocal loops, recordings and triggers, this is rich and honest mouth music with a thick accent, an ear for dynamics and story-telling wit.

Tisso Lake inform everyone they are yet to have a full practice, something apparent during their half hour set. Yet, gentle, warm vocals and dampened tumbling drums compliment the Sufjan acoustic style. Early arrivals sit cross-legged and listen, proving these sounds could be quite enthralling once greater confidence and dynamic control has been instilled.

Hexicon are tighter than their predecessors, with light, Ben Gibbard-esque vocals and a kid’s glockenspiel adding appeal. The inclusion of stretched 80s synths and melodica fill out the songs, which begin to sound perhaps uncomfortably like Belle and Sebastian at points, a couple of crowd members commenting on how genuine it all seems, yet lacking that distinctive ‘kick’- something which would perhaps be rectified if they conveyed a keener sense of individuality.

Moustache of Insanity are confusing. They write comically about killing squirrels, cheese and/or freckles and having picnics in living rooms- the latter track accompanied by the singer’s lament about a bad review of his vocal style. Cruel as it is to see where that critic was coming from, the duo’s singing is at times face-stretchingly uncomfortable, like a supremely happy Over The Wall, without much of the grit. That said, there are some whimsical moments conjuring sniggers from previously perturbed-looking bystanders, and the guys do seem to be having a bloody good time.

Allo, Darlin’ is so, so twee. We were going to lay off that word, but in this case, there’s no avoiding it. Lyrically, the ukulele-touting singer-songwriter is clever and sweet, but some lines push pretentions too far and come across as bluntly ironic, name checking Ingmar Bergman, Stephen Hawking and Steve Albini. The slower songs, however, showcase her at times mesmerising voice, one gem in particular standing out toward the end of the set.

Due to an ill-advised sandwich run, I miss much of Jo Foster- something I come to kick myself for after hearing her delicate, honest folk and quietly unique voice. Apparently she played with children’s toys aswell, and all I got was tuna mayo.

Withered Hand’s main man may be one of the most awkward people ever to find themselves on a stage, but that certainly isn’t to say Dan Willson doesn’t belong there. Diminutive-voiced, his fragile style is an acquired taste but well complemented by stretched backing vocals, a healthy dose of banjo and the most solid drums of the day yet. The band are refreshingly unironic lyrically, lines like “I don’t want to remember too many regrets and no cigarettes” fitting with the heartfelt soundtrack.

With the early shift at an end, Milo McLaughlin picked up the baton of alt-folk and home-brewed ales.

Rob St John brings the first phase of the day to a sublime close with his rich, stately vocals and impressive guitar work, for what was, alas, his last gig in Edinburgh for a while. He's ably assisted by his usual band including Emily Scott on double bass. In fact there's no doubt that the Do It Together ethos laid out by Withered Hand in the suitably lo-fi Retreat programme is in full evidence today as everyone here is doing it for the love, with musicians helping each other out at every opportunity and friends providing assistance with sound desk duties and the merch stall.

After a break for grub, the families with young children dissipate and the boozier late-starters arrive to sample the Forest Cafe's unusual own brand brew. Rob St John is there again, playing harmonium on the sidelines, as My Tiny Robots demonstrate their ukelele-driven pop jangle. The sight of a few twitching thighs and hovering ankles suggests that if there had been room to dance, a few would have broke out some Ian Curtis style dance moves.

Enfant Bastard puts an end to any thoughts of the day settling into comfortable complacency though. Uncompromising as ever, he apparently decided on waking that day not to showcase his new gameboy/chip music direction and instead we're treated to a rare full-band run through of some of his classic anti-folk back catalogue, with a reformed and brilliantly under-rehearsed Love Gestures. The set finishes with the surreal Michael Jackson which crashes uncertainly to a halt with a viciously unhinged and overloud guitar solo.

The scene is set for a couple of noisy appearances by both Come in Tokyo and Pineapple Chunks, and despite both creating a powerful racket, they seem to be lacking the killer tunes needed to ensure they stood out in such a strong line-up.

Meursault, however, once again prove themselves worthy of the growing hype surrounding them. Incorporating new album tracks, some laptop mangling courtesy of their Artfag side band, a shortened version of their beast of a track from the Playing with the Past project and the banjo-tastic lead song from latest EP Nothing Broke, their willingness to constantly develop their sound in public ensures there is no apathy from the audience, many of whom have seen them a good many times.

Speaking of beasts, events close with a coruscating performance from Auld Reekie's answer to Slipknot, The Leg, with their freaky horrorshow masks. They're a refreshingly raucous bunch even without sometime collaborator Paul Vickers, and a now notorious vomiting-in-mask incident proves to be the reward for the diehards who stay right to the end of a long and satisfying day - further proof that Edinburgh's music scene is growing ever more potent.

http://www.myspace.com/edinburghretreat