Tuesday, 15 May 2012

noise of summer: uk festivals 2012

Recent tourist board adverts have set out a persuasive argument for holidaying at home this year. “Where are the passports?” blusters a harried family man, rummaging wildly while Stephen Fry sips tea and scoffs from the side-lines. “It’s just not worth it you know?” sighs Melchett, with what seems a quite unreasonable level of disdain. In 2012, it seems, the very idea of travelling beyond our isles marks you out as a turncoat loon. “Green and pleasant land sums it up pretty well I think,” chips in Julie Walters from a country village so picturesque it might as well be a green-screened Pandora, while a ginger wizard jogs the chilly coasts of Anglesey with a rigor grin. Later, Rupert Grint proves himself a thespian of the highest calibre by delivering the line “and why go all the way to Bondi, when you can come here, to Bridlington!” without rolling his eyes even a little. National pride has never seemed so strained.

Yet there’s something missing from this rosy tableaux. When Fry crows of the “many events, all around the country” we have to look forward to, he’s referring to jubilee street parties and gargantuan sports days. But there are other reasons to take a stay-cation – to make pilgrimage to destinations where the miniature flag waving is optional and the sport more peripheral. We’re referring, or course, to the smorgasbord of music festivals stretching from now to… well, it’s not so much a summer-bound ‘season’ nowadays, more a never-ending succession of shindigs big and small: from city-set multi-pass events to middle-of-nowhere mud-baths; goliath bacchanalian weekends to more modest single day jamborees; tried and tested stalwarts, to the worth-a-punt newbies vying for your patronage. Our guide, it goes without saying, can’t accommodate them all – there’s a lot of ground to cover...


Even as recently as a decade ago, festival previews were a simpler affair, dominated by a handful of big names. In Scotland, the biggest was, and remains, T in the Park (6-8 July), which, in its 18th year, shows no signs of relinquishing top dog status. Saturday night headliners The Stone Roses have probably shifted more tickets than any other act this year, while reliable field-fillers Snow Patrol and Kasabian take top billing either side of the Manc resurrection. But while it’s business-as-usual in the upper echelons, the rest of the early announcements are a bewildering mix. Cher Lloyd, Mastodon and Simple Minds make unlikely bedfellows, but while cynics might cry ‘identity crisis’, others will throw themselves wholeheartedly into the eclectic array. With New Order, Florence & the Machine and, er, David Guetta also booked, organiser Geoff Ellis proves once again that few can match T for scale; our dance cards, meanwhile, have reservations pencilled in for Brian Jonestown Massacre, Orbital, and, assuming we’re drunk enough, The Darkness.

Since 2006, RockNess (8-10 June) has been T’s plucky pretender; though a fraction of the size, it frequently scores highly for both its atmosphere and stunning loch-side location. As in previous years, great swathes of the bill can be separated into two camps: broad-appeal dance and chart-friendly indie/rock, with Deadmau5, Justice and Mylo on one side, Biffy Clyro, Mumford & Sons and The Drums on the other. Our eyes are drawn to Hudson Mohawke, The Rapture and Chic – three somewhat different acts with a shared knack for persuading crowds to cut loose. A comedy selection topped by Tim Minchin, meanwhile, tenders mirthful alternatives to all that blooming loud music.

With Scotland’s two tent-pole fixtures addressed, we turn our attention to other home-grown offerings. For those priced out of T, charity-do  The Big Stooshie in Fife (4-6 May) features tributes to two of its headliners, with The Complete Stone Roses and Kazabian playing alongside James, Glasvegas and The Damned. On the same weekend, Aberdeen’s The Big Beach Ball (6 May) has put together a dance-heavy bill, with Derrick Carter, Mungo’s Hifi and Friendly Fires DJs amongst those dropping beats. There’s a midnight curfew, but if you’ve got the stamina, after-parties throughout the Granite City will keep things bouncing into the wee small hours.

Also this month is Brew at the Bog (5 May), hosted by beloved brewery Brewdog, who’ll be pitching tents and pouring pints on a farm just outside Inverness. The first half of their 'New Music, New Beer' promise is fulfilled by a line-up including Over the Wall, Washington Irving and Three Blind Wolves, while the latter half will be enforced by a ‘no alcohol unless it’s Brewdog’ decree.  A fortnight later in Glasgow, Stag and Dagger (19 May) takes over a bunch of the city’s venues to serve up a stellar platter including our frankly terrifying current cover stars Death Grips, flanked by The Phantom Band and Django Django. Moving into June, Kilmarnock hosts a Dirty Weekender (1-3 June) headlined by We Were Promised Jetpacks, Bombskare and The LaFontaines, with Carnivores, A Fight You Can’t Win, and former Inspiral Carpets member Tom Hingley also due to perform.

Less orthodox is The Insider Olympiad (15-17 June), which hosts an alt-Olympics in the forests of Aviemore. There’ll be fewer record-breaking displays of human endurance than the London boondoggle, but a better soundtrack: Remember Remember, Meursault, Dead Man’s Waltz, plus an Optimo stage take-over featuring Den Haan and Organs of Love. Sports-wise, they’ve scheduled a never-ending relay, tug-of-war contest, an egg and spoon race, and plenty more besides: champion. Should the ‘sport/music’ synthesis tickle your fancy, there’s also Downhill Downtown (9-10 June), which brings King Creosote, Admiral Fallow, Los Phantos and a whole lot of mountain bikes to the Nevis Centre in Fort William.

Less physically demanding is Solas (22-24 June), in Wiston by Biggar, which will stage debates and a late-night film club (in which they’ll flagrantly break the first two rules of Fight Club), alongside the expected musical attractions. Its theme this year is ‘Fields in Motion’ – a phrase adapted from a Bruce Cockburn lyric, and the basis of a specially-commissioned poem by Padraig O’Tuama. Does V festival have a specially-commissioned poem? No it does not. Music bookings include Admiral Fallow and Washington Irving – both of which are also slated for Heb Celt (11-14 July) a fortnight later: a four day folk-fest on Stornoway, with The Proclaimers, The Waterboys and Roddy Woomble earning the big font.

The island-hopping continues the following week, when Fence reacquaint themselves with Eigg for Away Game (20-22 July). After its 2010 debut sold out in minutes, this year’s tickets were doled out via a lottery, making it one of the most hotly anticipated events on the calendar. As per usual, the line-up is all very hush-hush, but we’d hazard a guess at a familiar face or two cropping up. Meanwhile, in East Kirkcarswell, Wickerman (20-21 July) has Scissor Sisters, Texas and The View pegged as headliners, with Human Don’t Be Angry, United Fruit and Martin John Henry putting meat to the bill’s bones; all that, and a ruddy great ceremonial fire. Over at Scone Palace, Rewind Scotland (21-22 July) offers the summer’s most boldly retro line-up, with Adam Ant, ABC, Altered Images – plus plenty of acts from elsewhere in the alphabet – generating a nostalgia extravaganza. Continuing in a stately home vein, Kelburn Garden Party (30 June-1 July) invites Them Phantoms, Miaoux Miaoux and Hidden Masters to the grounds of its colourful castle for another edition of a much-loved soiree.

Entering August, Belladrum Tartan Heart (3-4 August) offers Travis, Slow Club and Frightened Rabbit, with plenty more to be announced. The FRabbits were forced to cancel last year’s appearance due to US touring commitments, but are ready to make good on the promise-to-play this time around – what nice boys. Finally, Doune the Rabbit Hole (24-26 August) moves site this year, setting its moniker geographically askew, but promising something pretty unique. Upping sticks from its former home in Doune, they’ve secured Duncarron Fort – the replica medieval village under construction near Stirling – as replacement venue. The line-up is an expansive survey of predominantly Scottish talent, with the by now ubiquitous Phantom posse ensuring there's no way you'll miss them this summer, alongside Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat, Withered Hand, Sparrow and the Workshop and Holy Mountain. All worth storming the ramparts for.


So that’s Scotland in a nutshell, but there are plenty more festivals reachable without a passport (for the time being at least). Should Stag and Dagger whet your appetite for urban festivalling, Brighton’s The Great Escape (10-12 May) supplies opportunity to gorge. 300 bands in 30 venues is far too much to take in here, so we’ll just plug our own slice of the action, with The Skinny and the Scottish Music Industry Association putting on a showcase of PAWs, Admiral Fallow and Bwani Junction. Read about the other 99% over at escapegreat.com.

While it’s a shame Guided By Voices bailed, All Tomorrow’s Parties: I’ll Be Your Mirror (25-27 May) remains one of the year’s most interesting line-ups: Wells & Moffat, Wolves in the Throne Room, Death Grips, Dirty Three, Mudhoney… and that’s before we broach the headliners: Mogwai, The Afghan Whigs and Slayer, performing Reign in Blood in its entirety.

If that’s not heavy enough, Download (8-10 June) once again takes residency of rock mecca Donington Castle: Metallica (performing The Black Album), Black Sabbath and The Prodigy sit atop a bill of punk (NOFX), metal (Megadeth), and other genres guaranteed to startle your gran. Take her to Hop Farm (29 June-1 July) instead, which boasts exclusive appearances from Bob Dylan and Peter Gabriel, alongside fellow old-timers like Patti Smith, The Stranglers and Joan Armatrading. Later in the year, spin-off event A Day at the Hop (8 September) lands another UK exclusive in the distinguished form of Leonard Cohen; in fact, if you prefer headliners with a few miles on the clock, you’re spoilt for choice, with Green Man (17-19 August) topped by Van Morrison and Bestival (6-9 September) by Stevie Wonder (Feist, The Walkmen, and Of Montreal help fill out the former’s stages; The XX, Sigur Ros and Roots Manuva the latter’s).

Veteran double-header Reading and Leeds (24-26 August) proffer The Cure, Kasabian and Foo Fighters across three days and two sites, but it’s the de-mothballed At the Drive-In and The Shins that stand out most. Elsewhere in their respective arenas, the Lock-Up has assembled a solid selection of punk sorts, topped by Less Than Jake and Social Distortion. At the other end of the scale, both musically and size-wise, is Indietracks (6-8 July), which unites the complementary worlds of indie-pop and locomotives by setting up shop beside a railway station in Derbyshire, and bringing Veronica Falls, Allo Darlin and The Monochrome Set along for the journey.

And if you can’t find something that appeals amongst that lot, there’s always surfing in Bridlington – we hear the water’s lovely.

feature written for the skinny

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