Saturday of Summer Sunday Weekender 2009 brings exactly what the logo and strap line of the festival promise, namely “a musical treat” and lots of ice cream. It’s even possible to buy an ice cream called the ‘Bon Iver’ and the stall selling them seems to be doing a brisk trade. Thankfully the weather forecast from two days before is horrendously wrong and the sun shines all day. This means that the main stage area is once again full of picnic blankets. Luckily folding chairs are banned from the site otherwise moving across this particular area could have become a highly challenging assault course. The emptiest area by the main stage is actually right at the front, which is zoned by shade, making it relatively easy to turn up five minutes before a band are due to play and stand right against the barrier without being crushed if you so wish, whilst picnic types fight for space behind.
Like vampires a small audience initially take shelter from the sun in the De Montfort Hall to enjoy the experimental acoustic looping of David Thomas Broughton. The man is either a warped genius or just warped. With a folkish vocal tone not dissimilar to a deeper Antony from Antony and The Johnsons, Broughton uses loops like many of his contemporaries to layer and build tracks, but unlike many of his peer group his approach is much rougher, erratic and unconventional. He seems to want to destroy songs with uneasy noise and distortion with little regard for the enjoyment of his audience. By the end members of the crowd are covering their ears to avoid the high pitch squealing pain Broughton has induced over subtle and delicate acoustic tones. There are no gaps between his songs, no communication, no concession. This oddball maverick approach also applies to his physical performance which includes standing at the microphone self-consciously singing with both hands in his pockets, throwing himself across the floor and head butting the microphone. His lyrics are also both comic and disturbing. “I’m going to charge through this china shop, I’m going to drink till I stink, such is the nature of a drunk,” he operatically growls. Utterly memorable and perversely enjoyable.
Next up, outside in the sun Minnaars bombard the crowd with spikey post punk guitars that scream Foals at us in large capital letters. We almost expect them to cover Cassius and rename themselves Horses. Three years back this stuff would have seemed intelligently exciting and fresh , but now it seems dated, faded and worn. The indie kids at the front love them (they are local so that helps) and I’m sure the director of Skins will soon be in touch, but frankly the bus left two years ago and Minnaars are still waiting at the stop.
The Joy Formidable are however on the bus. Or rather they are the bomb on the bus in the film Speed. Ticking with a powerful fizz ready to explode, the Welsh trio show that exciting indie Brit guitar pop can still be made that doesn’t have to pay references to Blur, The Libertines or the like. Lead singer Ritzy is dynamite, her scuzzily sonic guitar becoming a little too aggressive for the good townsfolk of Leicester, the band being instructed to turn it down a little. Their sound is brash, frantic and has hints of bands such as Belly, Throwing Muses and Echobelly as well as atmospheric hints of Mogwai. Having first written about the band last January it’s good to finally catch them live and find that they live up to expectations. Leicester is theirs, easy.
“I’m not sure if our music is suited to a warm sunny day in Leicester,” says the lead singer of Broken Records and unfortunately he’s right. Despite the quality of the sound that mixes traditional instrumentation of accordion, cello, acoustic guitars and trumpets something is missing. Many of the songs meander with lots going on but nothing really hitting home. Even the epic closing number Slow Parade lacks potency. Maybe their songs work better in a dark sweaty club, maybe it was just an off day, or maybe the songs lose impact from being singularly formulaic in their attempts to fill the space with grandiose bombast. “This is a village fete not a festival,” they moan berating much of the crowd for sitting down, and then later when they ask for help in pushing their broken van seem surprised when no one volunteers. They seem to have forgotten the golden rule of not insulting your audience.
“It’s so hot in here there’s actually sweat dripping off the ceiling. It’s lovely isn’t it?” James Yuill (pictured) questions. His music burns us up as well. With a full booming sound system that gives just the right balance between his punchy laptop synthtopia and acoustic guitar plucking Yuill shows us exactly why we put his album in our Top Ten of 2008. No Pins Allowed, This Sweet Love and Over The Hills are all gloriously pumping, beats diving in all directions. Yet despite the maxed up dance power of his songs the audience prefer to stand and stare. This is the dichotomy for Yuill. His electronic side suits the dance party but his singer songwriter approach, acoustic moments, tie, glasses and general nice lad demeanour are more suited to a folk club. Yuill finds himself in a gap, but he’s building bridges with some aplomb.
Our next performance is a so called ‘secret’ set by Frank Turner on a tiny BBC Leicester stage next to the signing tent, which is announced from the main stage just seconds before he plays. Frank rips his way through two songs Long Live The Queen and Dan’s Song, with his typical acoustic punk passion, one of which Breaking More Waves captured for your viewing pleasure below.
Breaking More Waves first saw St Etienne play live over fifteen years ago and their Summer Sundae set is one of the best we have seen them play in all of that time. The band have discarded the notion of trying to be a proper ‘live’ band, instead adopting an approach similar to the Pet Shop Boys. Much of the music is pre recorded, Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs standing at the back of the stage twiddling knobs and samplers leaving Sarah Cracknell and a single backing vocalist to carry the live weight. And whilst music snobs would criticise this as not being real it gives them a much more focussed and powerful dance sound, with a shimmying feather boa clad Cracknell providing heightened sophistication. Spring is gorgeous sixties pop combined with dub, This Is Tomorrow space age electro that isn’t a mile from the bands younger contemporaries such as Little Boots, and any band that can open with a song so perfect as the sublime Nothing Can Stop Us Now should at least be knighted. Even after all these years St Etienne show exactly how pop music can be uber cool, and they get the picnic blanket brigade dancing.
Its virtually full to capacity for The Airbourne Toxic Event in the De Montfort Hall and from the word go the band excel. The bands debut album did very little for Breaking More Waves, lacking imagination and being full of indie rock clichés. Yet it is exactly these qualities that work so well in the live arena. From the cavalcade of noise that marks their entry, to the soaring violins, chiming guitars, and pounding bass Airborne Toxic Event seem to take tiny elements of every acclaimed commercially successful indie rock band of the last ten years and manufacture their own stomping rock beast from it. As the band sing “Sorry I really lost my head,” on Happiness Is Overrated we almost feel ourselves doing the same. Airborne Toxic Event play with a brooding urgency that’s impossible not to be moved by.
Still with us ? It was a long day, but fear not we’re nearly there.
The Radio 1 / Kanye West effect of Supernova means that the audience for Mr Hudson is full of over enthusiastic teens at the front and he plays up to them coming to the edge of the stage to elicit sexually repressed squeals from the young girls hugging the barrier. Mr Hudson has become a proper pop star. With this of course will come accusations of selling out, but at least the man isn’t ignoring his first album which he announces he was incredibly proud of and recommends the audience buy on I Tunes “It’s probably only two quid the way things are going,” he jokes. There’s plenty of crowd surfing and girls on shoulders and yet with the exceptions of the skanking Too Late Too Late and the mass sing along to Supernova we find the whole thing slightly lacklustre, but then maybe we need a big shot of youthful adrenalin.
Youthful adrenalin is leaking out everywhere for Chipmunk. “Any under 18’s in the house?” he asks. The room erupts. If the Airborne Toxic Event use rock cliché after rock cliché then Chip Diddy Chip does the same for MCing. From his commands to “Put your hands in the air and bounce,” to his blatant self promotion, with numerous mentions of his forthcoming single Oopsy Daisy and “Who’s coming to see Tinchy Strider on tour,” before adding that he’ll be playing as well, Chipmunk is certainly self assured and confident. “Everybody say my name now,” he asks before throwing CD’s out to the audience. There’s lots of “Hey ho, hey ho,” arm waiving and “Who’s gonna buy my album?” requests, and we wonder if maybe a few indie rock bands should watch and learn from Chipmunk. They might actually sell some records then. Diamond Rings is of course the best moment whipping Leicester into a late night storm and then he’s gone. What’s his name ?