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When: August 08, 2014

I briefly considered writing this entire review in the style of Coolio’s ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ (“As I walked through the shadow of the valley of Skipton…”). I’m not entirely sure why, beyond the fact that the track played, somewhat incongruously, directly after Nope’s set on Sunday afternoon, and I proceeded to enthusiastically recite the first verse while exiting the tent (much to Nicholas Burman’s profound embarrassment). Either I take way too much pleasure in making Nick cringe, or Beacons Festival has warped my mind so much that the line between good and woeful editorial decisions has become impossibly blurred. I suspect it’s a bit of both.

In case you missed our preview (or last year’s review), Beacons has been providing Yorkshire’s best festival experience since 2012, a welcome alternative to events like Tribfest (“The World’s Biggest Tribute Band Moosic Festival”) and Leeds Festival, which is something of a beacon itself for pubescent pyromaniacs. Of course, music isn’t all that’s on offer at Beacons – attractions run from the commendable (an almost unhealthy selection of real ales) to the bizarre (a Peugeot tent. I’m not even kidding. In over a decade of attending festivals, discovering a car showroom in the middle of a muddy field may be the most surreal thing I’ve ever encountered at one).

However, it’s the music that we’re here for, so it’s the music where we’ll begin…

Arriving at Beacons...

Arriving at Beacons…

After a brief stop-off in Leeds, where Nick manages to repulse a friendly local crackhead with tales of how he lost his virginity (“Fook off mate, you’ve gone too far there!”), we manage to reach the site before the predicted heavy rainfall. Unfortunately, any optimism that Indra may have spared us his thunderous fury doesn’t last.

Manchester’s Kult Country have barely begun their set before a fork of lightning streaks across the sky. Several viewers scatter in search of more suitable clothing, but most of us simply shuffle forward into the mildly sheltered area in front of the stage. This turns out to be a smart move, as it gives us a ringside seat for what turns out to be one of the most surprisingly powerful performances of the weekend. Despite frequent apologies from the stage concerning technical difficulties, Kult Country manage to conjure a huge, tumultuous sound that takes on the weather and wins. A stirring run through last year’s ‘Slowburn’ single is a highlight, but the whole set (bar a messy penultimate number) is moodily magnificent. They’re a band I’d love to see get huge, just so I can see them play through a massive soundsystem with as few technical difficulties as possible.

After a period hiding from the rain in the warm electronic embrace of Daphni (whose set seems a little timid to me but apparently turns into something of a banger towards the end) we hit the Noisey tent for East India Youth. Unfortunately, and somewhat ironically considering the stage’s name, the sound is far too quiet, making it difficult to fully immerse ourselves in William Doyle’s impressive compositions. While his set at Glastonbury (reviewed here) was utterly captivating, here the sound just doesn’t do him justice.

© Robbie Jay Barratt/I Like Press

© Robbie Jay Barratt/I Like Press

The stage sound does, fortunately, improve a little for Vessels. I’ve only really been aware of the band since they morphed into something like early James Holden if he were able to split himself into five different people, but a couple of people I speak to mention being gobsmacked by their change in style since they formed almost a decade ago. I’m just gobsmacked generally. Beginning with their swirling cover of Nathan Fake’s ‘The Sky Was Pink’, their set essentially consists of just three songs melded together, so smoothly you can barely see the seams. In fact, it’s about as close as a band can come to playing a DJ set without abandoning their instruments and setting up some decks. While the twin drum assault (a common sight this weekend for some reason) occasionally slips slightly out of sync, the euphoric atmosphere they conjure makes up for the lack of a Caribou performance alongside Daphni’s set. If there’s one disappointment (and it’s one of few criticisms I’d level at Beacons as a whole) it’s that the set ends just as you’re expecting it to approach its peak. Longer shows next year please.

One band who makes full use of their allotted slot is Melt Yourself Down. While live-wire frontman Kushal Gaya seems ever-so-slightly less full of whatever it is that generally makes him leap around stage like a dog that’s just sat on a scorpion (although obviously not that much – see below), any energy shortfall is filled by the most excitable crowd to date, including a bloke carrying a plastic skull strapped to a massive stick. Somehow, considering the virtually voodoo properties of the band’s music, this seems appropriate.

© Robbie Jay Barratt/I Like Press

© Robbie Jay Barratt/I Like Press

They proceed to whip up a sense of carnival and chaos that is almost at odds with just how bloody tight they are, shooting off one Nubian-flavoured firecracker after another into the crowd. Their predictable brilliance would almost be on the verge of getting boring, were it not for the addition of a couple of new tracks into the set, one of which has a strangely Led Zeppelin feel (only with added horns and syncopation, naturally). They leave the tent a far sweatier place than they found it, while we wander over to watch Roman Flügel dish out a devastating set of deep techno grooves at the Resident Advisor stage, peppered with snare hits that sound like a kid throwing fun snaps on the floor. An enjoyable end to the night.

A surprising blast on sunshine greets us on Saturday, and the Nuggetsy garage-pop of Temple Songs ensures we enjoy a nutritious and delicious start to the day. Frantic one minute, tuneful the next, the spiralling guitars of ‘Passed Caring’ have lost none of their appeal since we first laid ears on them last year. Their final track comes equipped with a guitar solo so atonal and arrhythmic it’s like they’ve brought an angry child onstage to help finish things off, which goes down better with some than it does with Nick, whose response is a scowling, “Is this a rehearsal?” (at the end he sums up with an even pithier “That’ll be quite good when they turn it into a song.” No pleasing some people, eh?).

We then move to the In The Woods tent where circumstances have conspired to create an unexpected situation, namely that I’ve been entrusted at the last minute to moderate a panel on film soundtracks. Having to follow a whisky tasting isn’t ideal, but I think it’s fair to say that for the 30-odd people who remain (or are too drunk to leave) the event constitutes the absolute highlight of their weekend, perhaps their lives (in all seriousness, many thanks to our panellists: Her Name Is Calla’s Tom Morris, The Leaf Label’s Tony Morley, Lime Pictures’ Kate Blakemore and Salford University lecturer/composer Simon Connor – you’re the best).

Photo by Giles Smith (if they'd changed the word 'love' for 'rain' this would've been perfect)

Photo by Giles Smith (if they’d changed the word ‘love’ for ‘rain’ this would’ve been perfect)

For the benefit of those involved, the events that made up the rest of my Saturday will remain a secret until the publication of my autobiography or my first appearance on Jeremy Kyle, whichever comes soonest (probably the latter). Suffice to say there was a moment when I mistook Saturday’s dusk for Sunday’s dawn. For that reason, I now put you in the more reliable hands of Nicholas Burman for the rest of Saturday’s musical highlights…

To the #sadfaces of many a pop fan, Charli XCX didn’t make it on Saturday. Either because she’s far too famous now to go to Yorkshire or because something went wrong with the contract, depending on who you talked to. No matter though, because Joanna Gruesome were ready to fill the synth-pop void – oh wait, no they weren’t. They did deliver an ace blast of vitriolic punk though. Last time I saw them was in a black box in a warehouse space in Blackheath, and it was actually pretty impressive how their live show translated to an entertaining performance on a festival stage.

Later on in the Noisey tent, TRAAMS brought their brand of trendy-yet-laddy indie vibes to a more-than-up-for-it audience. The likes of ‘Flowers’ have an instantaneous, immature appeal which in this sort of environment was hard to respond to in any other way than getting involved and getting sweaty. Galaxians were up next, but didn’t manage to inspire quite the same excitement, and after the electro fun of Friday night seemed a little flat (although everyone who’s seen them this summer has had nothing but kind words, so maybe it just wasn’t the night for us to make a first acquaintance).

Saturday was all about Jon Hopkins though. The ket-tech producer/DJ has a reputation so grand that he was bordering on musical royalty for a lot of the punters here. The slow, winding, pulsating beats of his material worked themselves into almost romantic visions, as glo-light balls bounced across the heads of the audience and a few hundred wired eyes peered at each other through flashes of light. If I’m being honest I can’t remember many of the details, but as with all the best music it delivered a feeling, and a feeling I could happily repeat every Saturday night.


Thanks Nick. Sunday’s memories are fortunately far sharper, thanks not least to the invigorating sound of Girl Band providing not so much a rejuvenating cup of aural java but a much-needed session of primal scream therapy. While the set doesn’t quite reach the heights of their incendiary show at the Shacklewell Arms recently, it’s still light-years beyond what virtually any other guitar bands are doing at the moment. Forcing a thrillingly repulsive sound out of their instruments, they create a noise that is simultaneously aggressive and laconic, unpredictable yet regimented, energising you and pulverising you all at once.

Best of all, there’s no posturing, no shapes, no unnecessary affectations and no fashionable clothes (beyond frontman Dara Kiely’s rather natty shirt ‘n’ sweater combo, they sport the sort of stuff you’d wear when off school with fake flu). They simply seem 100% focused on playing their instruments as well as possible, which is how it fucking should be. And guess what? It works. From Daniel Fox’s bottle-wielding bass lurches and Alan Duggan’s fearsome bolts of distortion to Adam Faulkner’s pounding drum kit destruction and Kiely’s dry wit and screaming fits, they hold the audience rapt while barely looking at them. New track ‘Um Bongo’ adds an effective touch of tender fragility, while ending the set with 30-second punk blowout ‘The Cha Cha Cha’ is a master-stroke.

From the shortest track of the festival to the longest, as Nope embark on the half-hour odyssey that is ‘Walker’, a monolithic statement of intent. Revolving around a single riff via a series of breakdowns, freakouts and noisy washes, it somehow manages to hold your attention throughout. Imagine if 30 minutes was the standard length for a track? That’d filter out the non-committed musicians pretty quickly. It would also be an absolute nightmare, as very few bands possess riffs as mighty as Nope’s, nor have musicians capable of playing them with such exuberance. They somehow have time for a wavier number afterwards, just to help bring us all back down to earth.

Nope by Ben Bentley

Ben Bentley

When it comes to being down to earth, Sleaford Mods have a reputation as the most no-nonsense act in town. It’s clearly a refreshing attitude as they lure one of the Noisey tent’s biggest crowds of the weekend. Unfortunately we end up stuck on the outskirts, meaning that we can only hear snatches of Jason Williamson’s biting, snarling lyrics which, let’s face it, constitutes much of the duo’s appeal. The more stream-of-dialogue tracks like ‘Tied Up in Notts’ seems to work better based on flow, while Williamson’s stage presence is undeniable, a mixture of confrontation and sneering satisfaction. Ultimately though, it’s hard to judge given the circumstances. One thought, however: is the fact Andrew Fearn does basically nothing onstage a satire of the media’s depiction of the working classes as lazy and work-shy? Scrounger!

Ben Bentley

Ben Bentley

Another sudden shower means we’re forced to duck under cover in a tea tent, where we’re unfortunate enough to be within earshot of a band called Little Mammoth. They appear to have based their sound entirely on rock bands in eighties Hollywood films, without a trace of irony. We briefly consider bottling them off the stage, but the only bottle to hand contains the last of our smuggled-in booze, so they live to shit in someone’s ears another day. Next time, Mammoth.

Someone I’d never consider bottling, partly ‘cos I’d never fucking dare to, is Mark E. Smith. He may be getting on a bit but I bet he’s still got a lethal left hook. Unfortunately, even his diminutive but intimidating stature isn’t enough to frighten off Hurricane Bertha (the tail end of which is rampaging through the site), and during The Fall’s third track water starts leaking from the top of the Main Stage tent. The sound is cut shortly afterwards, and while Smith seems determined to remain onstage (while the two drummers carry on with the song regardless), it’s to no avail. Curse you Bertha.

Apparently the band do eventually return for a rousing version of ‘Mr. Pharmacist’, but by then we’ve mournfully departed to see the next best thing to Mark E. Smith – a man shouting about being Mark E. Smith. Yes, it’s the Fat White Family playing live favourite ‘I Am Mark E. Smith’, and while they may not actually be Mark E. Smith (in fact, they sound particularly Bad Seeds-y on this occasion), they’re better than watching someone attempt to fix a leak in a big top. They’re better, too, than they were at Glastonbury, and in increasingly grim weather they warm the cockles of those in attendance with filthy renditions of ‘Touch the Leather’ and ‘Is it Raining in Your Mouth’. Special mention to keyboardist Nathan Saoudi, who’s wearing a coat that looks bigger and warmer than most people’s duvets. We could’ve done with some similar apparel later on…

Ben Bentley

Ben Bentley

When we included Neneh Cherry in our 40 for ’14 albums list, I remarked how amazing it is that someone my mum used to play in the ’80s is still releasing such brilliant, forward-thinking albums. After her Main Stage performance at Beacons, I’m also amazed that someone the same age as my mum can put on such a complete pop performance with no props, little fanfare, and only two accompanying musicians. To be fair, it helps that those musicians are London duo RocketNumberNine, who helped add a touch of electronic wizardry to Cherry’s recent Blank Project album, and do the same here. The sound is as crisp as a Pringle, while drummer Tom Page is so good it makes me want to bite off my own fist in jealousy.

It’s Neneh, of course, who makes it truly special though. Her tangible enthusiasm rubs off on the crowd straight away, and the energy levels and musical quality remain stratospheric for the rest of the set. At one point a guy we’ve been camping with crowd-surfs to the front; Cherry is so delighted when she spots him that she invites him up onto the stage for a dance (he actually acquits himself admirably considering the many eyes upon him (see blurry photo below)). She ends with an updated version of ‘Buffalo Stance’ which manages to lose little of the original’s appeal while adding some pepped-up keyboards for a sparkling finish.

neneh cherry beacons
Sadly, our evening’s close is far from sparkling. After embarking on a mission to retrieve a laptop, we end up stranded in our tent as the tail end of Bertha lets rip, causing us to miss Darkside’s headline set. This is especially galling after Emma Hall described their Melt! performance as “the most masterfully paced live show happening this year” last week. D’oh.

Taking down the aforementioned tent in gale force winds the next morning is also a whole lot of fun (if I ever meet the person who invented pop-up tents I’ll endeavour to show them, in as visceral a way as possible, how something being easy to take out doesn’t necessarily count for much when it’s ridiculously difficult to put back in). Still, even a hurricane can’t blow away the amazing memories (or, occasionally, lack thereof) that Beacons left us with last weekend. For as long as they keep putting it on, we’ll be spending most our lives living in a Beacons paradise…

Kier Wiater Carnihan & Nicholas Burman

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