Monday, 28 April 2014

Review: Are You Listening? Festival 2014

Not all music festivals operate on the same basis. There are the corporate, soul-sucking beasts that throw a bunch of big name acts in a field, treat you like sheep and then the organisers drive off in their fancy cars to tally up the takings. Then there are those run for very different reasons. The people who put on this second type of festival are in no danger of getting rich. It’s not why they do it. 

Are You Listening? is one of those festivals. Yes, it’s about making money, but all the proceeds after costs go to a local charity (Reading Mencap). We’re pretty sure that at the end of the night, when the last punter has left the building and the streets of Reading are deserted, the organisers of Are You Listening? are able to sit back with a real sense of satisfaction and pride; their personal bank accounts may not be any better off, but they’ve made a real difference and achieved something. For Are You Listening? is a festival that is faultless in its execution, demonstrates that the Reading music scene is in rude health, showcases the best of local talent and a number of national touring bands for the bargain price of just £10. 

And to the music; for our £10 ticket we saw 10 acts. Each venue was just a relatively short stroll from the next in the heart of Reading city centre, with the typical mix of pubs, clubs, bars and more orthodox concert rooms being used. Highlights included local indie boys Komodo Krimes who brought bad spelling, shoeless feet, perky guitar peppered with saxophone blasts and a buoyant energy to the stage at The Bowery, probably the only venue we can think of that in the middle of the dance floor has a wall with a shelf on it for putting your drinks on. The band typified the festival’s soul - pleased to be doing it for the sake of doing it and enjoying themselves in the process. 

The question for most punters at events like this is how long will the queues be, but Are You Listening? seemed to get things right. We encountered only a five minute wait at the full to capacity Milk Bar (a rum bar complete with drinks served in milk bottles and a DJ playing its anthem – Milk by Garbage) before artist changeover.  Once in we got the chance to witness the delightful Haze (streaming below) who played the festival solo last year, but returned with a small band, fleshing out her tranquil sound without ever overpowering it, allowing her unique voice and effortless melodies to shine through.

Elsewhere playing at South Street Arts Centre, The Night VI (pictured above) showed that they are a band that is both stylish and full of substance. Seemingly surprised to find a full hall waiting for them to play, they were easily the most impressive band of the day. A number of the audience at the front were spotted mouthing the words to songs like Thinking Of You and shouts for recent single Sienna indicated that the bands growing online adoration is slowly transforming into a real fanbase. Sophie Rose Harper’s smooth and velvety voice was particularly enchanting and songs like Strangers, a tune that Sophie advised is about sleeping with somebody other than your boyfriend and not something she would recommend, had a gentle sense of sadness within their yearning romanticism.

After the beauty of The Night VI anything else was going to be an anti-climax and whilst the Chicago rock ‘n’ roll of Ezra Furman didn’t fully translate geographically with all the audience, his deranged and slightly scary stage presence, together with his backing band The Boyfriends (which includes the second sax of the day) certainly added to the festival’s variety.  By the end of his set his shirt was wide open, his bare chest showing, the veins on his neck pumping;  Furman’s cartoon Springsteen meets Wheatus yelps and music had certainly raised the temperature in the room and left the front rows shouting for more before they disappeared home or headed off like us to enjoy a DJ set by XFM radio DJ John Kennedy at Oakford Social Club

Reading Festival? You’ve got a new baby brother, and it’s a belter. It’s called Are You Listening?

Haze - Together Or Apart

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