Sunday, 26 July 2009

Melt! Festival: Ferropolis, Germany

Astonishing discoveries are one of the things that makes life interesting: finding out what that button on the remote does, what colours food can turn if you leave it long enough and what that thing does you’ve been puzzled about for the earlier part of your life. Melt! is one such discovery. Now in its twelfth year, locals on the site tell me its profile has lifted considerably in the last couple of years with bigger brands, and bigger name acts, drawing the attention of a truly international audience.
Situated in Ferropolis, a complex created from an old quarry complete with a man-made lake and towering excavators, outside Dessau, an hour from Berlin, there’s plenty going for this cheap, large, three-day event.
Largely centred upon the more funky side of electronica - your Erol Alkan, Diplo, Digitalism type acts – there is a good diversity in terms of music, if not food where sausage dominates to a degree never before seen, even the usual dog burger is a rarity. Day one kicks off with some scepticism, Foals and Metronomy proving big name pull outs but ShadowPlay checks out the tenacious La Roux, full of spirit and, more crucially, tunes. Elsewhere, Aphex Twin (pictured below), making a rare live appearance, arrives onstage in the giant concrete bowl which mascerades as a main stage, to put in an hour of glitches, churning fun and a performance to set your teeth on edge – legend. Simian Mobile Disco and MSTRKRFT also prove popular before the torrential rain cut proceedings short at a mere 5am with a soggy Melt! going to bed cold but happy. The switch up in set times, compared to the more reserved, license-bound, UK festivals is notable. Here, the music doesn’t start until 7pm, meaning peak sets are 1-4am, and the freezing nights and wankers-shouting-fueled late night anger of festival camping are replaced by a serene knackeredness which both breaks and energises those in attendance.

The second day continues in a similar vein, Diplo and Boyz Noise put in masterful displays on the ones and twos, the artificial builders merchant sand of the man-made beach adding to the Brazilian DJs best-bits set while searchlights add to the effect, sat atop the humungous cranes. Digitalism also impress, proving more than just bleep-pop also-rans as they dominate main stage activities. The final day is an odd affair, opposite to the previous days, the music starts relatively early with many people descending for the day, doubtless drawn in by Oasis’ name at the top of the bill. Patrick Wolf delivers an impressive display, his stocks (which do in fact exist, he’s backed by Band Stocks) rise as he poses, pounces and prances around the stage in giant black wigs and backed by his increasingly glorious catalogue of pop songs. Various DJs continue to capture the weekend’s spirit, everyone still in seemingly good mood as the only sun of the festival appears. Oasis, for their part, put in an excellent, strangely professional and incongruous display. Along with the usual jibes about Manchester and laddish stuff, Gallagher junior shouts something about playing at Legoland and the band deliver a tight, wide-ranging and ultimately satisfying set. Devoid of the crap that has made going to see them in the UK an unappetising prospect – the piss throwing, chav presence, massive waits to get a spot – this was the best place to see an ace who are, realistically, still capable of putting on a great, enjoyable show. Even if it does involve lots of loud, shouty Swedish blokes.
A truly international festival, Melt! is a gem of an event, full of fun, intrigue and individuality, it’s well worth a flight out. Next year promises to be even better, with the event looking to expand even further size and acts-wise. Pack your muddy dancing shoes in anticipation.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Hop Farm Festival, Kent

The idea of this festival is right up our street – no branding, no sponsorship – a great idea perhaps surprisingly brought about by former Meanfiddler magnate Vince Power who has evidently tired of the corporate, fan-fucking events he used to arrange in favour of, well, peace and love. And, true to its word, this is no Reading & Leeds, thankfully, thus we get an weird and wonderful array of food, celebrity 5-a-side football and the illustriously named Main, Dance and Third stages. At a moderate size and with nice, booming soundsystems, there’s a lot to like about this fest, which takes place near Paddock Wood in the heart of commuter-belt, London accessible society. The line-up, as last year when Neil Young led the line, is led by an old geezer in the form of Paul Weller who draws in a laughably large amount of over-sideburned, sunglasses-wearing middle-aged men. Elsewhere, the line-up is a bit stodgy with the Fratellis, Pigeon Detectives and The View offering a pretty pathetic threesome on the Saturday.

But the Sunday bolsters things with a Ladyhawke putting in a stellar performance and getting the crowd dancing and bellowing in front of the main stage. In the dingy third stage tent, first Fight Like Apes, and then Danananakroyd, offer bolshy brilliance in abundance. Fight Like Apes snarl and shout at the adoring crowd (while giving them a cheeky smile) and bashing out the likes of Jake Summers from their incredible debut while Danananakroyd throw themselves around a lot, shout a lot, cover up a ten minute technical hitch by playing Grange Hill and Hollyoaks theme tunes, and shout their way off stage. Overall, the festival lacks a little strength in depth, there was little genuine choice and the few surprise delights offered by unknowns, such as Synth Eastwood who offered a parade of delights to a ‘super chilled’ zonked out dance tent mid-afternoon, were a little too rare. A good festival, well organised with great intentions, just a few more top-quality acts please.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Fists: Cockatoo/Skit (Hello Thor)

Fists have been blazing a trail across every dirty pub, middle class arts café and delirious DIY gig in Nottingham for some years now. But the (now) five-piece finally come to release the record the quirky, indie public of Nottingham has been waiting for.
Released on a label rumoured to be run by the charity shop vinyl-addicted spirits of Buddy Holly and various bearded sea monsters, the record bleeds passion, a sense of assurance and the ability to pull off wearing a flat cap in style.

Cockatoo kicks off with a fairground waltzer into before singer Angi Fletcher kicks into a vocal with flecks of Kim Deal and the ability to perfectly reflect the off-kilter, staccato rhythms of the song. Flipside Skit sees James Finlay take up the vocal reigns over a hypnotic, driving bassline. The band have received some excellent coverage from Steve Lamacq, our friends over at Stool Pigeon and the BBC’s Glastonbury coverage, and good luck to em.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Tru Thoughts Recordings – Shapes 09:01 and other offerings

This latest offering from the frankly pioneering jazzy funk label Tru Thoughts is almost too cool for school. Shapes featuring the likes of Quantic, Nostalgia 77 and Bonobo this collection is an earwatering array of aural delights taking a laid back approach to blowing the listener away. Starting off solidly with some soul diva type musings in the shape of The Bamboos, it’s really in the drifting offerings of the Unforescene (with the glorious Phil King, not the ginger ex-Wednesday player though), the shimmering Jint with Laura Vane offering beautiful vocals and Felvans whose tune, Mad Perks, that some serious talent is on show. A label this good shouldn’t rightfully exist, but we’re damn happy it does.

Elsewhere on the Tru Thoughts, Kylie Auldist offers an interesting proposition in old style funk on her new record Made of Stone but her vocal is a little staid and too strong to be enjoyable at times and some nice brassy backing is slightly marred by her dominance across every song. At the other end of the scale, displaying the label’s diversity, Lizzy Parks releases Phonica (one of London’s finest magical musical outlets) favourite This and That, a folksome effort full of faraway stares and breathless vocals. Sparse at times Parks has the personality to carry an album which could easily drift by and, despite lacking rhythm at times, it’s an accomplished and promising second album from Parks. 

And, to round it off, the label has released a summer special in the form of a covers album. Thus Alice Russell finally puts her Seven Nation Army cover to wax in astounding style, Quantic Soul Orchestra cover 4Hero and mix Mr Scruff classic Get a Move On; Jumbonics funk up the Strokes’ Last Nite hilariously and Nostalgia 77 forget about Dre in a cover of Eminem’s My Name Is… - it’s as funny as it is enjoyable, clever and a sign of label who can do no wrong it seems.