Monday 28 July 2008

Ben and Jerry's Sundae Festival @ London Clapham Common

Main Stage @ Ben And Jerrys Sundae

The Ben and Jerry’s Sundae Festival on Clapham Common, London may at first glance sound like my idea of festival hell. It is as heavily branded as you can possibly get. From the moment you walk through the gates and a man on stilts shouts “Lovely gorgeous free Ben and Jerry’s ice cream here,” you know that the motive for this festival is not just about the music. This is an exercise in advertising and marketing, that hopes to turn you into a satisfied Ben and Jerry’s customer, ready to make safe decisions on auto pilot about how you consume your ice cream in the future. Yes, these days even ice cream consumption is a lifestyle choice.

Luckily, and some may say arrogantly, I am happy to accept Ben and Jerry’s attempts to persuade me that the personal experiences they offer today for just £8.75 a ticket will affect my ice cream purchasing in the future. But I can assure you they won’t. Yes, my perceptions of the company may be altered by the raft of fair trade and charity stalls that occupy the site; but boo hiss, just by changing my perception of a companies ideology will not change my consumer habits. Yes, the quality of the product may be good, with a wide range of flavours that are available to eat in copious amounts today for free. But just because of this, please don’t expect my purchasing thoughts to change. Yes, the scorching weather and emphasis on fun exemplified by an area dedicated to Mystic Moo, the future predicting, yoga demonstrating cow will make me feel happy and potentially associate Ben and Jerry’s with good times. But still I will not be adding their ice cream to my shopping list. The reason ? Because quite simply, I don’t need ice cream in my life. At best I probably buy 3 tubs of the stuff a year. And no matter how nice it is, how ethical it is and how much zany fun it may be, I am afraid I’m a fairly useless candidate for ice cream marketing men. Just say no kids. Remember, as Neil Boorman wrote “There is but one message underlying all brands; materialism.”

So for my £8.75 ticket I will say thank you very much to Ben and Jerry. Yes, Jerry himself is here today, and gets a huge cheer when he arrives on stage to introduce a band. Then I will act in an ugly, disgusting and unhealthily nauseous way by stuffing free ice cream into my face until I’m almost sick, even though I don’t need or particularly want it, shovelling down the free pancakes, stuffing the free Frusli bars in my bag to take home afterwards ( I fill a whole bag ) and enjoy some top notch live bands. Corporate branded festivals may not be my idea of heaven, but I’ll enjoy the ride whilst it lasts. And so after failing at the free Coconut Shy, whizzing down the free helter skelter, having had my photo taken with a giant fluffy chicken, stroking a sheep in the animal zoo, watching toe wrestling and laughing at banana jousting its time for the real reason I am here. Live music.

Unfortunately it seems that a fair proportion of the crowd are less bothered about the music. At times the event resembles a massive picnic orgy, with vast numbers of the crowd sitting on their £10 a piece, cow hide pattern picnic blankets supplied by those lovely folks at Ben and Jerry’s. Yes, remember that message that underlies all brands folks; regardless of emotions and ethics they present to you, they want your money.

So, the music. Fight Like Apes are a late addition to the bill. Having incessantly listened to Lend Me Your Face in the last couple of weeks, and having blogged them just a few days ago, they are an exciting proposition to behold. MayKay is a strong and forceful front woman, a goth in silver hot pants, her hair whipping violently as she pulverises her keyboard before wrestling to the ground with fellow keyboardist, the bearded Pockets. It is often Pockets that is the real star of the band, head butting MayKay and walking to the front of the stage, straight armed and just staring at the audience like an escapee from a mental hospital.

Fight Like Apes

Slow Club are a more gentle proposition. Admitting to being very nervous, the gentle acoustic alt. country folk sound that this brother and sister duo produce sounds just right for a sunny Sunday afternoon, lounging on a picnic blanket in a park.

Next up on Clapham Common, Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. 22 year old Sam Duckworth has ditched the laptop and brought in a full band, which one may think would lead to a loss of originality and charm that his early solo sets brought. However his activist folk rock works well and the additional musicians bring an extra dimension to his sound, his set featuring a large number of songs from his first album. Duckworth jokes with the crowd about how good it is to get out and play again, after spending several days grouting. Phew, the rock and roll lifestyle, hey ? Here is Sam and the boys as shot by Breaking More Waves.

Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly as shot by Breaking More Waves

Just a few days ago The Lemonheads played Truck Festival and by all accounts were arrogant and appalling. Luckily today a different, happier blissed out Evan Dando takes to the stage and reminds everyone why he became a sex symbol for the slacker generation back in 1992. The band play every track from It’s A Shame About Ray in the order that they are on the album except for the cover version of Mrs Robinson, and the die heard Lemonheads fans in the audience physically swoon. Those too young to remember the band first time around look on in puzzlement.

Which leaves headliners Ash to wrap up events. With just one new song on show, this is hit heavy. Girl From Mars, A Life Less Ordinary, Burn Baby Burn and Oh Yeah are thunderous rock pop played straight and all the better for the lack of rabble rousing.

So thank you Ben and Jerry. Thank you for being close to your cows through your caring dairy sustainable diary programme that makes happy cows and happy farmers. Thank you for being the first ice cream company to buy fair trade certified ingredients. Thank you for using free range eggs in your ice cream mix. Thank you for being a company that cares about global warming. And as Abba once said, thank you for the music.

I’ll probably be back next year if the tickets are cheap and the music is good.

But I’m still not buying into your techniques of persuasion.

Saturday 26 July 2008

The Mummers - New Waves @ Breaking More Waves

Raissa Khan Panni of The Mummers

To call The Mummers a band is almost insulting. For The Mummers are no ordinary band. The Mummers are a huge, glorious, quirky, cinematic childlike fantasy adventure composed of cellos, flutes, french horns, violins and the enchanting saccharine voice of one Raissa Khan Panni. The observant amongst you may recognise Raissa’s voice and name from the late 90’s, when she released 3 albums as a solo artist and toured with Suede’s Brett Anderson. Now she has grouped together with Mark Horwood and Paul Sandrone, together with a vast array of classical musicians, to form the delectable Mummers.

The sound of The Mummers is a somewhere over the rainbow soundtrack to life, formed out of sessions in a ram shackle studio by sea, surrounded by pine trees, on the south coast of England. From these beginnings songs such as Wonderland have formed, the kind of lush orchestral pop that Saint Etienne always aspired too. Then there is The Secret which is perfectly left of centre, and will be met with welcoming smiles from fans of Play Dead and It’s Oh So Quiet era Bjork. The Mummers deal with swooping, bewitching orchestral pop in a way that is so beautifully executed that it is almost impossible not to fall in love.

These songs and many other lushly orchestrated compositions are likely to be found on their forthcoming mini album entitled Tales To Tell (Part One) which is released at the end of August. Gigs so far have been sparse; it can’t be easy fitting an orchestra in the back of a small van. However, if and when the band tour, make sure you grab yourself a ticket. Your ears will never forgive you otherwise.

Tuesday 22 July 2008

Fight Like Apes - New Waves @ Breaking More Waves

Fight Like Apes

Every now and then a song smashes itself so hard into your ears with an energetic spit, crackle and fire that it just demands to be noticed. Lend Me Your Face, the new single by Dublin four piece Fight Like Apes is exactly that. Its fractured blend of aggressive Karen O style screaming vocal, hammering bass and synth almost achieves what the band set out to do when they formed in 2006; to scare audiences with poppy songs played so obnoxiously that everyone leaves. Except in this case the exit doors will remain shut. This song is like a violent shag on broken glass, where the cuts are all part of the pleasure.

This is a band that are not afraid to be confrontational. They have covered McCluskys Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues, a raw and dirty song about nicotine stained crotches, aching from f*cking too much and which asks “Are you coming?” in its chorus. And I guess they don’t mean coming down the shops. This is a guilty pleasure far removed from the concept of Van Halen's Jump or Chesney Hawke's One And Only. This is like a pumped up fist f*ck against the wall of a pub, under CCTV cameras with your mum and dad watching from the other side of the street.

Fight Like Apes first release was in Ireland with an EP in 2007 on independent label Fifa Records. Entitled How Am I Supposed To Kill You If You Have All The Guns it featured the song Jake Summers which has the fantastic lyric “You’re like Kentucky Fried Chicken but without the taste,” and was picked up by Fierce Panda offshoot Cool For Cats for a UK 7 inch single release. This was followed by the David Carradine Is A Bounty Hunter Whose Robotic Arm Hates Your Crotch EP at the end of 2007.

The band, who consist of raven haired MayKay on vocals, Pockets on keyboards, Tom on bass and Adrian on drums have subsequently played SXSW this year and are recording an album with producer John Goodmason (Sleater Kinney and Los Campesinos). They are busy touring the UK right now and are playing a number of Festivals. Lend Me Your Face is released on 7 inch in the UK next week and is available on I Tunes now.

Quirky, exciting, powerful and aggressive Fight Like Apes demand your attention. If you don’t give it, I reckon they’ll come and cut your face for you.

Monday 21 July 2008

Camp Bestival @ Lulworth Castle

10,000 people descended on the Lulworth Estate in Dorset this weekend for the first ever Camp Bestival, the smaller 10,000 capacity sister festival to the now established Bestival. Set adjacent to an old castle with sea views, this new festival from Rob Da Bank and crew was pitching itself at a different demographic of audience than many larger festivals. It promised "A big old family campsite with what we reckon will be the best facilities of any festival.” Inspired by the halcyon days of summers past, Bestival looked to the 1950s British Holiday Camp as a starting point, and therefore campers were awoken with a bing bong chime and a cheery “Hi de hi campers” over a tannoy system each morning from the Bestival Bluecoats, who spent the weekend organising silly sports games and other such fun for adults and children alike.

All of this jollity was marred for many however by an organisational mess at the start of the event when the number of cars arriving on site far exceeded what was expected, and the car park quickly became full. Despite the fact that the festival was aimed largely at families, the number of persons per vehicle was counted at only 1.8, and with 3,500 children in attendance it seems that quite a few families brought two cars to site, one with people and one with camping kit. Luckily for my gang we were one of the first on site and experienced no such problems, but once the car park was full traffic queues built up whilst organisers tried to source more land to use as emergency car parking. The campsite also became very packed, with many people bringing massive tents and a new field had to be found as an emergency campsite. Unfortunately for those situated in this campsite it meant a very long walk to the toilet facilities, as organisers were unable to source any more at short notice, with it being a very busy weekend for festivals generally.

It was apparent on Friday that the main entertainment areas were spaciously empty as many people battle the traffic to get in. This meant that great performances by the likes of Florence And The Machine and Imperial Leisure were missed by many. Florence in particular was incredibly entertaining, bounding round the stage like a small drunk child, wrestling with her keyboard player and generally giving it her all with a massive vocal booming from such a frail body.

However, music played only a small part of Camp Bestival, with many of the family based attractions providing hours of entertainment. Fancy dress was a must on Saturday, with many dressing in the theme of Alice In Wonderland. We counted over 30 Alice’s on site, including several male versions of the apron fronted little girl.

The beautiful Kids Garden was set on perfectly manicured lawn by the castle, a colourful explosion of energy and tranquillity that delighted adults and children equally. Highlights included the magical insect circus and museum, dazzling us with juggling beetles, acrobatic flies and magical caterpillars and comedic performers such as Barnaby’s Razor Sharp Bananas who re-enacted a war using jelly babies as soldiers, Smarties as bombs and fizzed up Coke cans as nuclear warheads. Pant wettingly funny. This area also had the feel of a village fete, with maypole dancing, the women’s institute tea tent and farmers market serving up reasonably priced fare. But mixed with this there was also live music, including the fantastic Lucky Elephant whose sumptuous organ lead grooves and distinctive ’European’ vocal provided for the perfect sunny summer chill out that was one of my highlights of the festival.

But if dance lessons, cream tea and cakes, knitting (!), cockney knees ups, poetry, animal zoo, mad hatters tea parties, science lessons or medieval jousting with full on knights in chain mail weren’t your thing there was still a plethora of good music on the main stage. Chuck Berry is the 81 year old living legend who was there at the birth of rock n roll. His set at Camp Bestival may not have had the power or sex appeal that it had all those years ago, but he still managed to pull a gaggle of girls up on stage with him to writhe and cavort in worship. On Saturday the day belonged to The Flaming Lips who provided ticket tape explosions, green lasers and Wayne Coyne emerging from Lulworth Castle in a plastic balloon, rolling through the crowd in it to the main stage before launching into a turbo charged mountain peak version of Race For The Prize. Sunday saw Billy Bragg popping up on stage twice after his main set on the Saturday, first with folk super collective The Imagined Village and then for a match made in LDN heaven as a duet of New England with Kate Nash. Kate raged about how her song Skeleton Song had been used by pro anorexic groups without her consent, and that she believed that success and happiness should not be attained through body shape or size. Amongst all of this Beardyman converted many with his dumbfounding beat boxing and charm and Suzanne Vega provided a warm mellow set as the yolkish sun began to lay to rest for another day.

So after a shaky start, some glorious weather, a happy colourful and vibrant crowd and a barrage of entertainment, the first Camp Bestival was a success, that should it happen again next year and resolve its teething problems, could really be the festival that matches up to the term “Fun for all the family.”

And finally, here is a short video of Peggy Sue and the Pirates from the Festival, shot by Breaking More Waves. Notice how they got into the fancy dress spirit !

Wednesday 16 July 2008

2000 Trees Festival @ Cheltenham

In 2007 the Two Thousand Trees Festival was set up as a reaction against some of the corporate monster festivals, which its organisers thought were poor value for money and more about profit than having a great time in a field. The result is a back to basics festival, with no thrills or spills other than the music itself. The festival features an eclectic line up over two small stages, one of which is outside, the other being an acoustic affair entitled the Leaf Lounge in a small marquee. Throw in a small selection of well priced and reasonable quality food stalls plus a couple of bars that sell amongst other things a 7% cider called Badgers Bottom at 3 pounds a pint, and hey presto you have a festival.

Unfortunately for organisers, bands and punters the festival was hit by heavy showers, which lead to the main stage area and paths through the campsite becoming a bit of a quagmire, although still nothing as horrendous as the mud of Glastonbury. Walking around the site was still pretty easy providing you had a decent pair of wellies, taking only 5 minutes to reach any point on the site, although some others decided on more unusual means of getting around......

As the weekend went on it was also apparent that a few more toilet facilities were needed as queues began to develop. The area around them also became very muddy meaning that it was impossible for the cleaning vehicles to access them to carry out essential emptying. To the festival organisers credit they quickly realised this, and rather than ignoring the problem, hired in additional toilet facilities which were then positioned in an area where vehicle access for emptying would not be an issue.

As for value for money, a 39 pounds ticket gave 2 days of entertainment and in total I managed to catch 25 full sets by the acts performing.

Highlights on Friday included ex Million Dead frontman Frank Turner who played once on each stage during the rainswept weekend. His opening lunchtime acoustic slot was a perfect rousing romantic kiss with just an acoustic guitar and a voice of passion.

James Yuill brought studio boffin knob twiddling laptop technology to a half seated audience in an acoustic tent. It shouldn’t work, but luckily Yuill had an acoustic guitar and some songs as well. New single No Pins Allowed sounds like Radiohead and Hot Chips kid brother (Kid J ?). In a pumped up dance tent it would be a major triumph, but the ambience of the leaf lounge was not quite ready for anything more than gentle head swaying.

Clad in a sparkling gold dress, Leila Moss of the Duke Spirit showed that it is possible to look sexy in a pair of wellington boots and rock with abandonment; even in the mud. Spotting locals from her old school in the audience she strikes poses to the battle hardened wall of sound that her band make and gains quite a few fans in the process.

Eighties Matchbox B Line Disaster headline and although their horror pops rockabilly bass lines and drunken Bad Seeds jiggery pokery may not always make the most accessible of sounds, their sheer contortionist showmanship certainly provides entertainment.

Saturday ups the stakes in terms of musical quality and there are many highlights. Natalie Ross from Guildford may look like the younger sister of Jenny Eclair but her cheeky eccentric acoustic fifties flavoured songs of secret lemonade drinking make one thirst for more.

Chris T-T is a seasoned festival pro and despite being late on stage quickly settles into a set the drags you in with its wit and humour before thumping you with politics. Now that Billy Bragg is driving round Dorset in his four by four (allegedly) we need Chris T-T more than ever.

Hereford may not be known for a rich musical heritage but with their mix of break beat, indie and hip hop, cutting in samples from the Prodigy, Daft Punk and Fatboy Slim the words 'festival crowd pleasers’ have to be reserved for The Anomalies. With their twin powered vocal delivery this gang know how to rev the engines. Asking a crowd to throw things at you so that you can freestyle about what is thrown is always likely to be a risky business, but when a huge blob of mud hits you in the face and you manage to continue to rap about it, respect has to be given.

Imperial Leisure are a frenetic bundle of Cava spurting, scissor kicking, brass bursting charismatic rap rock ska lads who with Landlords Daughter, Man On The Street and Great British Summertime get the field bouncing. Another. Great. Live. Band. Full. Stop.

But bizarrely the champions of 2000 Trees are Art Brut. One could accuse them of being a joke that has gone on for too long, but tonight they leave you with the biggest smile of the weekend. After an awkward start where the bands monitors have to be replaced lead singer Eddie Argos is left to entertain the crowd with some rather dubious juggling skills. Whilst this sounds like an excruciating finale it is tempered by Argos’s charm which is not dissimilar to Jarvis Cocker. Once the music finally cranks up it is surprisingly sharp, clever, witty, aggressive and powerful. With no set list the band even take the unusual step of getting the audience to call out requests, which they actually play.

Art Brut end 2000 Trees with a high that shows that sometimes you don’t have to have lots of sun and big name headliners to enjoy a festival.

Tuesday 15 July 2008

The Future Of UK Festivals

With this summers festival season now well and truly underway, Breaking More Waves asks “What sort of health is the UK Festival market in, and what will the future hold for this market ?”

There is no doubt that smaller capacity, specialist festivals that offer a more relaxed vibe have grown significantly in their numbers over the last few years. Fed up with trawling miles through the squelching sticky mud of Glastonbury, the stifling corporate feel of V, or the chaos and anarchy of Reading, many punters have looked for alternatives. The growth in the live music industry has lead to the birth and development of the Boutique festival. Smaller and intimate, often with a specialist slant to either the music or other attractions, many commentators have said that these festivals are the festivals of the future.

Some of these festivals such as my own personal favourite, Bestival, have grown from strength to strength. Based on the desire to have as much fun as possible in one weekend, Bestival can be described as a cheeky upstart of a festival, with possibly the coolest line up besides the inside of your fridge. It has gone from a poorly attended windswept party which I was lucky enough to attend in the Isle Of Wight back in 2004 to a record sell out 30,000 event this year. It now even has its own 10,000 capacity little sister festival Camp Bestival in the grounds of Lulworth Castle. The interviews here with Bestival head honcho Rob Da Bank gives just a small feel of what Bestival is all about.

Rob Da Bank Interview

Other smaller Festivals are also excelling. Secret Garden Party sells out nearly every year, the 5,000 capacity End Of The Road Festival is winning many plaudits for its laid back vibe and quality of lesser known music, and this year 2,000 Trees Festival sold all 2,000 tickets with very little publicity and no big name headliners.

Yet for all these winners there have been quite a few losers. 2008 has not been kind to every Boutique Festival. Over 20 Festivals have been cancelled, including the well established Blissfields together with the newer Redfest and Wild In The Country. All have been cancelled due to poor ticket sales. There have also been several festivals that have failed to deliver what they promised, most notably a new festival in Kent called Zoo8, which was labelled shambolic by those who attended, with many bands pulling out, woefully inadequate toilet and camping facilities and massive queues even to get in to the festival. One suspects that this one will not return next year.

So the question is, what is the reason for all of these cancellations ? Has the UK festival market reached saturation point ? Are there simply too many festivals out there ? Is the economic slowdown affecting peoples spending power ? Are people being put off by the wet and muddy conditions that so many of last years festivals seemed to suffer from? The answer I guess is probably all of these, but for each festival it’s a different combination.

Whilst some Boutique festivals go from strength to strength, some will fall by the wayside. Over the next few years it is likely that we will see less new festivals enter the market and there will be a stabilisation of existing events. Punters will develop brand affiliation preferring to return to the same festival year after year once they have found one that suits them, until their demographic status changes, through getting older or having children for example.

However one thing that seems to guarantee ticket sales is the musical safety of big name headliners that the public are familiar with. The buying power of the big corporates such as Reading, V and T in the Park can bring in the big guns such as Muse, Metallica and The Killers, and through financial clout persuade these bands to sign exclusivity contracts, not allowing them to play any other festivals in the UK that year. Even Glastonbury this year found it difficult to sell out, and much of this was attributed to the booking of the 3 headliners Kings Of Leon, Jay-Z and The Verve which were not deemed in many circles to be big enough to headline.

It is highly unlikely that in the near future any of the big 4 of Glastonbury, Reading, V and T in the Park will go under. They are too well established and have significant power. But the future for many other smaller festivals remains uncertain. It is for this reason that The Association of Independent Music have announced the launch of the Association of Independent Festivals - a non-profit trade organisation created to represent UK music festivals including Womad, Creamfields, Summer Sundae Weekender, Bestival, Electric Picnic, and Big Chill. Also involved are the organisers of Beautiful Days, Bloom, Glade, The Secret Garden Party, and Field Day.

The festival organisers have joined forces to strengthen their position and to take on their bigger rivals. Their objective is to work together to help make events better for fans, greener and more cost-effective. The association launched with twelve festival organisers on the Board, with a second wave of festivals to be invited as members over the summer.

One of the biggest festivals in the association is Creamfields. Their owner James Barton said, "There is a real opportunity to combine our spending power to deliver exciting business ideas. The smaller festivals are also often overlooked, and it's important we now have a voice to influence decisions being made that impact on our business."

It is hoped that the new trade body will empower the indie festival community with a collective strength, and establish a forum for the exchange of knowledge and ideas. AIF will also enter into dialogue across the music business and government, and will consult on factors affecting the business, such as ticket touts, or organised crime. Plans are also in the works for collective marketing initiatives for its members.

It is my hope that through the work of the AIF and their initiatives that good, quality Boutique Festivals will be given a fairer chance of competing against the big boys, and that the UK Festival scene will continue to flourish.

Now, come with me on a journey as over the next few weeks I get my wellies and sunblock and journey out to report on some of these Festivals....