Sunday 11 June 2017

Review: Bushstock 2017

Multi-venue wristband access festivals are ten a penny these days, but West London’s Bushstock remains one of the best due to its consistently good curation and interesting venues which this year included a church, a library space that doubles as a bar, a second-hand clothes store, an outdoor space under a railway bridge, an early 1900’s chandelier lit and mirrored dance hall, as well as a small handful of regular pubs. The day was also blessed with a beautifully sunny sky, which whilst not as important at this type of event as outdoor festivals in grassy fields that turn to mud, still improved it further by putting everyone in a post-election upbeat mood.

Here are some thoughts about this year’s festival.

1. Women are equal to men. 

This is obvious, right? We’re all just humans. But as has been highlighted on the internet over the last couple of years, when it comes to festivals it seems that organisers have totally forgotten this, with many line-ups featuring predominantly male artists and very few having female musicians headlining. 

Bushstock bucked this trend with the main headliners being the three-piece sister group The Staves and one of the other main stages being headlined by indie rock four piece The Big Moon, who are all female. Of course, it shouldn’t be necessary to point out that there were ‘all female bands’ playing, bands should just be bands, but here’s the point - Bushstock was a complete sell-out. The message to other festival promoters here is clear. Don’t book bands on some misguided notion that people only want to see male musicians. People want to see good music; and either sex is capable of creating that. Interestingly as a side observation the mix of punters at Bushstock, measured in an unscientific overview, was approximately 50/50 male / female – maybe a reflection of the line-up and maybe one of the reasons why Bushstock always sells out – it’s not limiting its audience.

2. If you like sitting down, Bushstock is the festival for you. 

First there’s Stephen’s Church. Which means that the majority of the audience are seated in the pews. Those that aren’t sit on the aisles, although the hardcore stand at the back. But it’s not just at the Church. This year a new venue (The Library at Bush Theatre) was introduced and for the 1 set that I attended there (Joy Crookes, more of whom below) everyone sat down on the floor. Then there’s Bush Hall. A dance hall and more traditional standing venue. But in between every act on there, people sat down. Experienced attendees will tell you that at any music festival, it’s all about pacing yourself, but the amount of sitting down at Bushstock took things to a new level of relaxation.

3. There’s a complete absence of bad manners at Bushstock. And I don't mean the British 2 Tone and Ska band fronted by Buster Bloodvessel.

Maybe there’s a correlation with the sitting down. Maybe it’s because of the 50/50 split of sexes in the audience. Maybe it’s because of the nice venues. Most likely it’s because of the choices of the artists, which never veers too far into the mainstream, or where the acts have potential mainstream appeal, they haven’t reached that far yet. But whatever the reason, it’s noticeable that Bushstock is very well mannered. Acoustic acts are given the quiet reverence they deserve. There’s a noticeable lack of ‘lads out on the town’ treating the event as a pub crawl rather than a music festival. Even in crowded venues late arrivals don’t attempt to push their way to the front at the expense of those who got there in good time. It is very refreshing to see people behaving nicely.

4. Bushstock might be an urban festival, but it still has its own food options and it was very good.

Shepherd’s Bush might be full of fast food chicken joints, but Bushstock also provided its own festival catering. Down at the Courtyard stage I sampled a delicious falafel and haloumi wrap with high quality ingredients from Nazari and upstairs at Bush Hall there was a tasty looking roof top barbeque taking place.

5. There was some music as well. Most of it was excellent.

Some of my highlights included Joy Crookes (streaming below) who silenced The Library stage with stripped back songs that hinted at elements of Amy Winehouse, Lauren Hill and Billie Holiday with a 2017 lyrical twist and flashes of brilliance just waiting to be discovered by the masses. 

In Bush Hall The Big Moon brought a playful and cheery cockiness to the proceedings with their mix of raucous indie rock and girl-gang harmonies as well as a punky take on Madonna's Beautiful Stranger. If you haven’t heard their debut album Love In The 4th Dimension yet it’s a cracker - give it a play They were preceded by the composed musical beauty of Liv Dawson (pictured above) whose songs are full of yearning and subtle vocal intricacy. Whilst most of Dawson’s set was full of slow warming tenderness she finished with a surprise – a dance banger that wouldn’t be out of place on one of those Ibiza weekender compilations you used to get in the 90s; it brought out some spontaneous eye-popping rave moves from certain sections of the crowd. 

Another band that impressed and brought out more dancing was indie-dance-pop outfit Fours. With a sound that sits in the same camp as the likes of Fickle Friends, and an energetic bomb of a front woman (Edith Violet) they were one of the most invigorating acts of the day.

Once again Bushstock came up trumps. It can hold its head up as a model of how to put on a one day multi-venue music festival. It's a truly excellent day for any genuine music fan.

The acts I saw at Bushstock: Mirror Fury, Avante Black, Joy Crookes, Fours, Arlissa, Fyfe, Palace Winter, Liv Dawson, The Big Moon

Joy Crookes - Bad Feeling

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