We arrived pale and eager at Heathrow Airport only to find that our flight was delayed a miserable 4 hours. Somehow, we remained jolly, or at least far jollier than the troupe of young women who seemed to be weeping and tearing their hair out, trying to explain to the air stewards how much a live performance from The 1975 really meant to them. Luckily, we weren’t hysterical about missing the mop haired, yodelling foursome and were instead anxious not to miss Pixies, who were on much later.
When we arrived at our hotel (which we had managed to get a sweet festival package deal on), we were frankly not in the festival mood. Nevertheless, we downed some dubious vodka shots and made the journey to the festival grounds. How we got there I’m still not sure, as we were utterly clueless as to which way we were even supposed to be going. But, shockingly, we arrived in Alges just in time to catch the end of Pixies set.
What we saw of it was painfully underwhelming. Despite being a huge fan of the band, and being pretty familiar with their music, I felt no connection whatsoever with the people on stage. We likened them to punk rock robots, mechanically churning out song after song with no crowd interaction at all. Even “Where Is My Mind”, their most well-known and arguably best song, felt tired and lacklustre. The only saving grace of their set was the fact that the female bassist was the epitome of cool and embodied everything an 18 year old rock fan would dream to be.
Next were The Chemical Brothers, an act I was totally unfamiliar with. In one word: WOW. As far as electronic music goes, these guys have clearly nailed every aspect of their craft. Having started in 1989, they have certainly paid their dues, but unlike Pixies, they still seem to be bringing their all to every performance. We were entirely sober at this point and our minds were utterly blown. The visuals (a word I hate to utter), were unbelievable. Ranging from a glow-in-the-dark dancing man to what looked like Chinese monks tripping the fuck out, it kind of felt like a mix between torture and rapture. The music is intense, especially for an ear so trained in chilled out beats. Despite this, they electrified the crowd but in a way that didn’t take itself too seriously. It was totally accessible for a non-fan, and was the kind of set that made me want to download all their albums immediately. All in all, a big yes from us.
With that we called it a day, sad to have missed John Grant and Robert Plant, but satisfied nonetheless. The festival setup had revealed itself to be very Ibiza, with huge signs advertising everything from Volkswagen to contraceptives. However, we were encouraged by the way the crowd had reacted to a lively Chemical Brothers set and the warm yet breezy weather.
After a day of lazing by the pool and topping up our tans, we were excited for the second night of revelry. We were most looking forward to Father John Misty and Radiohead, two very different acts with very different backgrounds.
We arrived midway through Foals and were pleasantly surprised at their fiery set. In the past, I have been disappointed with their live presence despite being a fan of theirs. They rocked, however, and I was sad to have missed the full experience. They were the most connected yet, with Yannis dipping into the crowd to pump everyone up and they seemed humbled by the huge turnout.
Tame Impala followed and were painfully true to their name with a rather tame set. Despite their interesting sound, these guys are not cut out for a big stage at a big festival and would have been much more appreciated if I was reclining on a hill with a cold beer in the sun. They are undoubtedly undanceable and lack the kind of exhilaration required for the twilight setting. It didn’t turn me off their music but it definitely didn’t inspire.
Now for one of the crowning moments of the festival, mr Father John Misty. In our group, only two out of four of us were long time fans, with the other two not really knowing what to expect. He was on the Heineken stage (yet more evidence of the corporate feel of this festival), which was much cooler than it’s name suggests. It was a circus tent structure that had a much more intimate feel than the massive main stage. From start to finish Father John completely owned the crowd. He danced around the stage with vigour and took it down for the more intimate songs, completely drawing us all in. The sense of protest in his songs was evident, as were his unique portrayals of love and loss. “Holy Shit” stood out as one of the best performed songs of the festival.
Next was Radiohead. Now, I just want to make one thing clear: I have listened to Radiohead in the past. It seems ridiculous that I have to clarify that but with the subsequent shade I’m about to throw on them I would like you to know that I am not a complete outsider to their kind. Although not a diehard fan, I appreciated “OK Computer” as a huge expedition in the field of experimental alt rock and dabbled in “Kid A”, even though I found it slightly frazzling. Spirits were high as we headed back to the main stage after the sparkles that Father John had laid on us. We managed to nab a sweet spot near the front but little did we know that the positioning would actually be far more to our detriment than our enjoyment.
As soon as the band started making vague and incomprehensible synthy sounds, the people around us told us to “shush”. Yes, we were in the middle of the festival crowd and we were being told to be quiet. We were talking in low voices. And we were told to be quiet. It didn’t stop there either. Throughout the beige set, we were told that we were being disrespectful to “real” Radiohead fans whose hearts were hurting because of our conversation. I felt like a blasphemous harlot in a holy house of God. But I wasn’t. I was at a Radiohead concert that wasn’t even that good. In fact, it was entirely inaccessible to anyone that didn’t live and breathe Radiohead. It was angsty to a new degree, such that I felt more sad leaving it than I did going in.
We skipped Two Door Cinema Club, deciding they sounded a bit pedestrian from our perch on the outskirts of the tent. Despite being historic fans of the band, we decided that their latest music had been more pop than we’d originally signed up for. So we waited for Hot Chip, a band that I’ve never quite made up my mind on. Are they a band or a group of DJs? Why do they play at EVERY festival ever created? Why does the main guy look like a 15 year old nerd?
Turns out my mind was made up about them almost as soon as they walked out onto the stage. They are obviously veterans and they seem to have worked out a foolproof way to get jiggy. They are a hybrid of a group of DJs and a band. As a result, they take the best bits from both possibilities. Not only do they rock but they also groove so that you find yourself enjoying the skill whilst not being able to resist moving your body. It’s odd music on record that comes together perfectly in a live performance. I realised that I’ve never been to any Hot Chip set that I didn’t enjoy.
The next day was equally lazy, although we were feeling pretty pumped up for Arcade Fire later that night. We had all seen the band before and we knew how much frantic energy they brought to their live performances. It’s never just a concert with them, it’s more of an experience.
First was Jose Gonzalez, a swedish-born folklord with the maximum amount of chill it is possible for a man to have. Unfortunately we hadn’t anticipated that this guy had a huge Portuguese following, which meant that the crowd was very dense indeed. As a result, we only managed to get a spot right at the back, outside the tent. Sadly, Jose’s music is intimate by its very nature and therefore doesn’t travel quite as far as we would have liked.
What we heard of his performance was enchanting though, and it is clear that he has a lot of talent in various different genres. His voice is beautiful and has a kind of whispering quality that makes you listen to every detail. The production is often hypnotic, with repetitive guitar riffs and walking bass lines. What really made his set though was his obviously humble nature. He smiled ear to ear when the crowd screamed back at him and seemed to be genuinely surprised that anyone was there at all. His set definitely left me wanting more, and I’ll definitely be buying tickets next time he’s in London.
We managed to catch the end of Band of Horses, who I literally didn’t even know existed. I was expecting the kind of ‘hard’ rock that BBC Radio 1 has wet dreams about. Instead, it was the best kind of indie rock there is. Just epic enough to get your blood racing and your spine tingling but not so guitary that your ears start becoming confused. Dare I utter the words, but they reminded me a lot of the late, great Dry The River. They were clearly having a whale of a time and that made its impression on the audience. They are a very unlikely bunch in that they look like 3 generations of bikers/hillbillys. But it just shows that you should never judge a book by its cover, kiddies, cause the music that came out of their speakers was sweet and beautifully refined.
And now, for the winners of every competition of every festival ever, ARCADE FIRE. I’m not gonna lie, me and my pals are all super fans, so we can only really provide an extremely bias point of view for y’all. But there is a definite reason why we are super fans. It’s because Arcade Fire are one of the best bands of our time. With every album, they seem to evolve more and more into a complex and unique entity. They’ve covered everything from teenage angst to trans rights, bringing serious social commentary together with vast descriptions of post-apocalyptic worlds. Their fiercely individual sound dodges the cliches that can often befall the indie rock genre.
So there we were, pretty tired from a weekend of craziness but still ready to stand for 45 minutes so that we could get the maximum ROCK that it’s possible to get. Mirrors were installed above the stage and endless instruments were set up for the huge band. Finally, enter the band to massive cheers. They all look fabulous as per usual (Regine is wearing a bejewelled skater dress) and they all assume positions like a rock-and-roll infantry. What follows is one of the best sets I’ve seen at a festival.
Win Butler only need blink and he has the audience under a strange hypnotic trance. He sings with animalistic fever, as if he has conceived every word on the spot. Regine and Win, the ultimate musical partnership, glide through the repetoire they built so lovingly, making it impossible not to be moved. Regine is the optimistic energy and Win is the cynical depth. They are masters of their craft.
Now for some words from my teammates. Caitlin, my sassy sister and ever the ardent Arcade Fire fan: “Arcade Fire are the best live band I’m yet to see. Whether making me laugh or making me cry those folks just have live music DOWN.” And Will, my badass bro, who I will give the final word about the legendary Fire: “Don’t think anyone else does a stadium/festival set with the same degree of passion, energy, pure joy as those guys. The definition of professional puppeteers of your emotions.”
So there you have it! A weekend of questionable festival food (all chains seemed to be owned by the same super-franchise ‘Mister Pig’…), sunburnt backs and epic live performances. I would recommend this festival to anyone looking to combine a restful beach holiday with must-see live acts. The downside is that some acts didn’t seem to rate this festival as much as the adoring crowd did. You got the feeling that certain bands (*cough* PIXIES *cough*) were just going through the motions, ticking the European festival box and nothing more. Maybe it was the corporate feel to the festival or maybe it was the apparent lack of hardcore fans. Either way you won’t get the kind of full scale guitar smashing passion from this kind of festival, unless of course you’re watching Arcade Fire.
[Picture Source: NOS Alive]