The Garden Party 2015: The Review

Live Review by Chris Ogden | 08 Sep 2015

Let’s make it clear now: The Garden Party is a bit of a misnomer. Held on a gravelly patch of post-industrial wasteland in Leeds city centre, the party marks its tenth year by hosting a full-blown festival, attracting a curious hodgepodge of dance revellers and electronica pseuds.

Over the August Bank Holiday weekend we find the party an odd gap between two worlds, enjoying the view of reinvented art deco monolith The Tetley while the surrounding office spaces keep normality lingering in the background.

The first act we commit to taking in this year is up-and-coming Nottingham singer-songwriter Ady Suleiman on the Dummy stage, bolstered by his diverse backing band, who bring satisfyingly popping snare drums and a snapping classical guitar. Looking laidback in a Nike shirt and shorts, Suleiman blends his jazzy voice with some slinky reggae grooves and tripartite harmonies. His music is lounge light and easy; it makes us wish we were sipping cocktails in a swanky hotel bar rather than from plastic bottles in a car park.

A line-up switch gives Mr Scruff a mammoth three hour set in the middle of the day, offering some refuge from the sun. Over at The Skinny stage once the sun hides, Leeds-based producer Bambooman is a grubbier listen, showing off his playful approach by pairing a zigzagging clarinet with a Southern hip-hop vibe. Keen to keep the sparse crowd dancing in the drizzle, he raises our spirits with a squelchy dedication to those local terms of endearment, ducks, before following it up with pew-pewing laser sounds. Bambooman leaves us with a very gentle clip-clop beat; a slight tinge of melancholy suitable for what has become a gloomy Yorkshire afternoon.

We stick around at The Skinny stage for Stealing Sheep, the Liverpudlian psych-pop group who are promoting their recent second album Not Real. The trio arrive on stage looking as though they’re playing for a children’s party with each member boasting a Lycra leg in lime green, blue or orange and wearing light blue sunglasses in the gloom. With the stage covered in a colourful tangle of wires, even their electrical equipment lives up to their quirky reputation, and they coo to Dutch Uncles who they spot creeping stage-side. Their music has more mystery than this suggests: Not Real’s title track seems Lykke Li-influenced in its rhythms, before they run through the more mantric raga of Greed.

As the clouds clear and Mr Scruff finally finishes his three hour set, the sun starts setting at a brutal angle. Temporarily sapped, we revisit the Dummy tent for Fatima and the Eglo Band. Whether this is the sort of weather for her trench-coat is questionable, but Fatima’s vocal talent is not. Boasting a voice as tight as her top-knot, she is an inspiringly positive presence on stage. A jazzy staccato breakdown in one song is fevered and impressive, so when she dares the room to dance it’s hard not to comply: the keys go crazy and the room feels rejuvenated. She stays on for so long that the stage hands frantically tell her to cut it out: "Listen to the people!" she laughs, but she takes her enforced departure with humour and gratitude.

Back at The Skinny stage, London three-piece Haelos are ideally suited to this time of evening with a foreboding red sky behind them. Their minimalist and nocturnal electronica is reminiscent of The XX, with their male/female vocal pairing and two percussionists creating a sound that is faintly celestial. "Why did you leave me here?", Lotti Bernardout and Arthur Delaney sigh together but alone over regretful keys in Cloud Nine, before the group run out a trip-hop influenced cover of The Beloved’s The Sun Rising, which tests the meditative vibe with an air raid siren. Many people sit on hay bales far from the stage and look lost in thought.

The main event on Saturday is Irish electronica legend Roisin Murphy whose show is marked by her endless costume changes. Her showmanship is more outlandish than her music these days, but the skittish house of her third solo album Hairless Toys still makes her grinding with three-headed men and centurions seem appropriate. Murphy revels in playing with our expectations, the bleary tick of Exploitation becoming more frantic before she medleys Moloko’s Sing It Back. As she steps back out in a black and gold dress with what appears to be a rock on her head, Pure Pleasure Seeker’s demented burble starts up and Murphy thrashes the carnival to an end for the night.

Once the Now Wave DJs on The Skinny stage perk us up on Sunday we catch our first set on the Crack stage, Romare. Romare’s African beats shuffle along at their own leisure, peppered with incongruous air horns which we can only assume are ironic. Suddenly he stumbles upon a more dynamic beat with a tantalisingly unresolved guitar line, following up with a fizzing electro R&B jive which makes the crowd gently move on the dusty gravel and stone below. The set is a slowly refreshing one, akin to enjoying that first coffee of the day with the morning’s possibilities gradually revealing themselves to you. 

We cram our way into the Just A Little Stage on the corner of the site for some good old-fashioned filthy funk and soul with Craig Charles. Charles is as animated a host as expected, always grinning, moonwalking and tampering with the lighting equipment, generating relentless energy in the little tent. As some charity volunteers hand us some Love Specs, Bob Marley’s Is This Love? inspires the crowd to sing back the lyrics, demonstrating the simple but effective art of a well-curated playlist. With the crowd feeling appreciative, Charles decides to return the favour, diving in the crowd for kisses and selfies in the middle of Sexual Healing.

With Charles getting too hot for us we venture back out to The Skinny stage for Mancunian dark electro-pop duo Bernard + Edith. On the evidence of debut album Jem, Bernard + Edith have a predilection for fable; singer Greta Carroll flamboyantly sings of pine trees and shadows in opener Wurds while wrapped in a leafen shawl, while Nick Delap gets to show off his glacial synth arpeggios in Crocodile. For closer Girls Night Out, Delap pulls out the guitar and the pair inhabit a more urban realm. Sadly the song doesn’t have much substance and returns Bernard + Edith to the real world: they can’t sustain the fantasy yet.

Norwegian house master Todd Terje may look scruffy but musically he's as meticulous as they come, and this earns him the turnout of the weekend so far. Terje can make ten minutes seem like one, seamlessly blending tracks while never letting up the beat or changing pace. We can hear It’s Album Time favourite Delorean Dynamite lingering underneath, and when Terje finally lets its cascading synths and celestial harps go off, it evokes mania enough for everyone to raise their shoes in the air during the jaunty Inspector Norse.

LoneLady adds some more funk to proceedings, quickly attracting an intrigued crowd outside the Tetley with her snippy guitar playing. Julie Campbell’s most recent release Hinterland spoke much of isolation when it was released in March, but now she looks more relaxed about taking these songs outside. Groove It Out is an immaculate construction that’s developed muscles of its own, while Mortar Remembers You remains urgent and triumphant, Campbell racing through before letting the tension snap. "Let’s go back to wonder," she sings in thumping set-closer Hinterland, and we do every time we listen to her.

Last up this year is Little Dragon, the Gothenburg electronica four-piece who surround themselves with neon diamonds to show off their latest album Nabuma Rubberband. Yukimi Nagano is the band’s biggest source of energy, a shaman with a tambourine latched to her arm as she dances around the stage to the bassy romp Klapp Klapp and beefed-up older tracks Little Man and Ritual Union. When the diamonds bathe the band in red light, the set slows down and Little Dragon’s spell wears off, leading to a strangely muted ending where Nagano leaves her three bandmates to it. As we trudge back out past the nearby car park this seems all the more fitting: The Garden Party is an end-of-summer excursion, one wistful look back before the autumn arrives.