Experimental Music Love

September 4, 2008

Hydro Connect Festival 2008

Filed under: Features,Live Reviews — by Free Edinburgh Podcast @ 12:19 am
Tags: , , , , ,
What you cant see is the disappointment.

What you can't see is the disappointment.

I won a competition to cover it for their website. They never told me what or when or where or how to write. I got confused. I still went though, even if it did rain. Here are my thoughts.

Friday

That four hour journey from Edinburgh to the Duke of Argyll’s abode at Inverary Castle may be a pretty one, full of stunning views of the much heralded Scottish countryside, but by Vanessa Feltz’s beard is it a knackering. Stepping off one of City Link’s more questionable coaches, my legs weren’t quite feeling their finest, and the trek to the camp-site on the entire other side of the venue over grass that had just seen the very worst of August’s abysmal weather was not looking very manageable. Nevertheless, me and and my old Nikes (found in a cupboard only two weeks before) marched (well, stumbled) on through the worsening mud to pitch up tent as far away from the toilets as possible.

The inevitable exploration of the Duke’s grounds followed. The castle looked nice, complete with a drawbridge and everything (I’ve always wanted a house with a drawbridge, mainly to keep out the Nazis), but the army of fluorescent security surrounded it proved a suitable off-put to any want to find a way inside. I can only imagine it being full of Ikea’s finest, and far too many house-plants.

The grounds were suitably large for such a grand home. And by this early stage, there was still thankfully some grass to stand on. Of the stalls and vans offering various over-priced, over-fried items, the most appetising seemed to be a Caribbean barbecue – a practice I imagine must have happened thousands of times on the grounds of landed gentry over the years. A whisky tent proved a welcome distraction too, with the sort of relaxed atmosphere you only get from a mixture of old men, alcohol and canvas. A room behind a mysterious curtain proved fruitless though.

In keeping with the festival’s aim to be the most eco-friendly, carbon neutral, hippy happy in the country, various environmental gubbins was to be marvelled on every corner. Bicycle powered showers proved unfathomably popular for those with the foresight to bring a towel, and the more diligent (tight?) festival goers took full of advantage of the 10p plastic cup return by hoarding up all those tossed on the ground. Free ponchos were a fantastic idea too, and I shall cherish what remains of mine for the rest of my life.

As for the music of the day, it all started with Glasgow’s French Wives in the sofa-filled Speak Easy tent. They may look like your typical annoyingly contrived twee nonsense, but they turned out to be a refreshingly talented group of youngsters adept at a folk pop sounds that embrace violin and trombone. Big futures all over the place for that lot.

Talking of annoyingly contrived twee nonsense though, the next stop was the second stage on which Noah and the Whale were trying to create some sunshine in the mist. As artificially constructed as their entire look and sound is to appeal to your typical teenage Boosh loving fools, they do have one or two decent pop tunes in their set, even if the chorus of 15-year-old screams for Five Years Time is hideous to hear.

Next was a trip to the media tent to indulge in the privileges of free Red Bull and tea in relative warmth before running off to see Guillemots. I have seen Fyfe and co twice before, once at T in the Park where they were just fabulous in all their brasstastic, red suited glory. Oh, the disappointment of such a set at Connect though. Maybe the beginnings of rain were getting everyone down, but this was just so tedious. With no trumpet or sax to compliment the traditional band set-up, it left for a very plain, uninspired perfomance that relied too much on forced passion from Fyfe’s coda shoutings.

With only Amy MacDonald to compete with, it was no decision really to go see legendary 90s indie alternative hero, Stephen Malkmus, as he brought The Jicks to the second stage. And they were brilliant. Malkmus could entertain any music lover with a respect for intricate riffs and tortuously constructed songs so obvious in their brilliance in his sleep. No greater guitarist was heard all weekend.

The Manics were on the main stage next, and sounded quite good from the camp-site where I was indulging in disgusting wine and Strongbow. The realisation I was far too old for this was also sinking in.

After the liquid break, it was time to pick a headliner. Kasabian on the main stage were always a no-go, so it was between disco legends, Sparks, and high-voiced epic indie darlings, Mercury Rev. The latter were agreed upon, and what a good decision it turned out to be. For some reason, I haven’t listened to the incredible Deserter’s Songs in a good few years, but hearing Holes and Goddess on a Highway with such passionate playing and spectacular lighting effects only brought to mind just how fantastic and powerful an album it is. Easily the highlight of the weekend, and one of the greatest festival experience I’ve ever had.

A good way to end the night would have been there. Messy drunkenness was had in the Optimo tent however, as pounding dance filled my ears and mud filled my shoes. I found my tent though.

Saturday

Late of the Pier lived up to one third of their name and took their sweet time to get onto the main stage. Perturbed by this, with tardiness probably my greatest bug bear (apart from maybe bug bears themselves – horribly ugly things with wings and hair and Jeff Goldblum references), I ventured to see what I could find elsewhere. And I found something wonderful.

Hearing sweet violins on the breeze, I thought I recognised a tune. I followed the beautiful noise and came across seven men sharing a stage. It was Broken Records! Huzzah I though, for this was an unexpected surprise. Edinburgh’s most joyous orchestral folk punks were billed as headlining the tiny Your Sounds stage later that evening, but no mention was made of them appearing at such an early time though. Luck was on my side though, and they stormed through a brilliant set of songs unrivalled in modern music. Well done them.

Just as good form was to follow, with Conor Oberst forsaking the Bright Eyes moniker for a show with his Mystic Valley Band on the main stage. The calls for First Day of My Life were annoying, but there was no need for such classics when this group of hugely talented musicians had a collection of songs as good as any heard all day. Young Oberst did seem quite off on something though, with some rather worrying ramblings throughout, and something of a mullet about his hair-do.

The Speak Easy tent followed for more Red Bull freeness (seriously amazing), before watching the Grace Emilys who were very dull and I can’t be bothered writing about. If only they felt the same about every song they’ve ever created.

Similarly dull was Zoey Van Goey on the Your Sound stage, whose guitarist I have been informed is a ‘wally’. This seems reasonable.

Who next but the latest big news from Scotland? Well, you could have gone for Spiritualised, but most seemed interested in Glasvegas on the second stage. Worryingly, the backlash has already began, and there are numerous fuckwits bemoaning the quality of their work and their media hype, but the truth is, they are just a great band with some great songs. Geraldine and Daddy’s Gone are particularly emphatic in getting that message across, with rousing sing-alongs that perk up everyone listening. They may have lost their early rock ‘n’ roll touch, but the epic dissonance they’ve brought to their sound is a worthy replacement that will see them play bigger stages and bigger crowds. I did have my poncho ripped in half though, so it wasn’t all good.

Nick Cave’s Grinderman on the main stage appeared promising enough, but this was a deathly dull set with no momentum with broken mandolins and unconvincing stage performances.

The problem of momentum wasn’t a question when it came to Gomez though. Celebrating ten years since the release of their début album, the Mercury winning Bring It On, the boys played it in full from start to finish showing just what a well-thought out running order can do to a set. From the havoc of Whippin’ Picadilly to the gorgeous Tijuana Lady this was amazingly orchestrated experiment that worked perfectly. What a good album that really is.

And to headline? The Gossip are long gone, so it was a reluctant trip to Bloc Party for me. Having never rated their music particularly highly, and been bored stiff at the brief glimpse I caught of their set at one T in the Park, I was not expecting much. I’m glad when I’m wrong sometimes though. This was an awesome spectacle, and a true show that incorporated a supremely tight rhythm section with fiery guitars, an affection for a rain-soaked crowd and a decadent light and laser show that lit up the castle beautifully. A kilted Kele was on ecstatic form throughout, and their versatility astounded, with simple indie, pounding dance and powerful, building epics breaking up a set that kept your attention throughout. By far the best surprise of the weekend.

The Unknown Pleasures tent was putting on a Club Noir show from midnight. I went, I saw tassels, I enjoyed myself immensely.

Sunday

The last day, and by far the hardest to get through. The rain lashing on the tent woke me up early, and I had to dig out a baby wipe to wash away the tears. Baby wipes are the one essential I recommend for a camping experience. Wonderful things.

By now the mud was ridiculous and an actual river had formed across the middle of the arena, making any hasty crossings from one stage to another impossible, Certainly without wellies. Oh, how I should have brought wellies. It was going to be a long, long day.

Well, I thought it was going to be, until geek rockers, Young Knives, came onto the main stage. And fantastic they were too. Previously unimpressed with their live performances, they quickly broke all pre-conceptions with comments as sympathetic to the soaked crowd as they were witty. They weren’t good enough to brighten the skies, but at least they got the day off to a smiling start.

Iglu and Hartly continued the defiantly optimistic atmosphere, with bright tank-tops, pony-tails and mullets making them as visually distinctive as their wonderful mixture of intense rapping and boyband power pop choruses. In the City is the Keep on Moving of our time, and these Hollywood heroes were a master-class in how to keep spirits up no matter how dampened they may be.

A master-class in contrived acoustic singer-songwriter tedium was up next with Alan McKim in the Speak Easy tent. With such inspired song titles as I Miss You and Living in the City and various other laments of love and its troubles, it’s not hard to imagine McKim’s failings. It’s all the more horrible when the songs just get too much for him, and he reverts to a shout that sees spittle flying everywhere. This wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t happen in EVERY SINGLE SONG COMPLETELY DEMEAMING ANY EMOTION THAT COULD BE GAINED FROM SUCH AN ACT YOU POINTLESS SHIT YOU! Just look at him, he’s a twat.

I was surprised to see Frightened Rabbit enjoying the show though, presuming that they had taste considering the excellence of their own work. And their little acoustic set that followed was an exhibition in restrained emotion and intelligent song writing that McKim could learn a lot from. There was even a little homage to The Twilight Sad thrown in too.

Elbow came and went in a rather uninspiring fashion on the main stage. I expected much, but perhaps due to most of the crowd being there for One Day Like This only and talking the whole way though Newborn it wasn’t the rapturous entertainment I imagined.

Goldfrapp were rubbish. I would have seen The Gutter Twins but I couldn’t be bothered working my way over the river to their stage.

Sunset was approaching, and there was only one band with music exquisite enough to match such a picturesque image. Sigur Ros let no-one down either. With a touch of Flaming Lips imagination about their set, brass bands in uniforms, and very large drums all contributed to an overwhelming wall of sound that wiped all feelings of the pouring rain from audience minds. And what a great way to end the festival that would have been. Unfortunately, it was only to be sullied by the headliners.

Franz Ferdinand have been on a bit of a live break in Britain for a while, and this should have been a spectacular, no-holds barred comeback of epic proportions to delight a home crowd who hold their songs so dear. Instead, this was so by numbers children could have performed it, with the usually invigorating Do You Want To turned into a mournful dirge, and Michael and Matinee falling flat. They didn’t care they were here, and they didn’t care just what the crowd had gone through all weekend leading up to them. This was a nothing show not even worthy of a pub gig, and burst that beautiful bubble of wonder so dramatically blown up by Sigur Ros before them. Balls to you Alex Kapranos. Balls to you.

I then went back to my tent and mourned a band that has a lot to make up for.

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