A continuous cavernous booming sound wafted up the slope to us as we got out of the car. We had timed our arrival in order to see Vladimir, and they seemed likely to be the source. Cutting across a field in a hurry, avoiding cowpats, we followed the sound and found them, in a box with the sides punched out, in front of an also side-less marquee. They worked really well in the context – surprisingly well, for lunchtime, outside. Their thing isn’t my thing, though. The one- and two-note melody lines (you know the notes, from Johnny Rotten), the maelstrom of sound, of squalling guitars, pinned by heavy, heavy drums. There’s no lightness, but there is power, they certainly carry off the posturing. And their cover of ‘Born Slippy’ is great – the one-note melody fits right in.
Foxgang were pretty cheesy, the best moment was a mock-impassioned chorus of ‘Nicola! Nicola! Nicola! Nicola!’, but mainly because that’s Andy’s wife’s name, and I was imagining her embarrassment if she’d been there.
Helicon made us both wish we were watching The Cosmic Dead instead – their freak-outs were too tame, the best of them nicked the bass line from Massive Attack’s ‘Safe From Harm’, but that was the only lithe thing about them.
Date Radley and Friends were the first nice surprise of the day: a folky voice that sounded a mite strident from a distance made more sense closer to, and it was good to find a band not intent on booming. One of the Friends was great on harmonica and clarinet, and there was some serious dressing up going on, too (Alice in Wonderland, thought Andy).
Washington Irvine seemed OK at first – again, not too boomy, and quite pop. I could only hear them with my left ear at first, the right being engaged by the band at the Low End stage, which was directly to the right of the main stage (AKA the Jabberwocky stage), about fifty yards back. Here’s the bizarre thing: the band playing there did the same clattering set three times a day, with almost no-one watching, and their only discernable effect was to disrupt the sound from the Jabberwocky stage. We were told they’d done this on Friday, and they were certainly bugging the hell out of everyone yesterday too, for most of the afternoon. I think someone said they were something to do with a cider promotion, but they carried on well past the point that it obviously wasn’t working. Another bizarre thing, though: moving further towards the centre of the area in front of the stage, cutting out a good deal of the interference, Washington Irvine became awfully dull.
The second nice surprise of the day were Machines in Heaven, a synth / guitar quartet who reminded me a bit of Moscow Olympics for their blissed out sound, which was all about the synths. There must have been drums under there somewhere, but it was the washes and the hooks which dominated. That, and the energy of the performance, which was at odds with the medium (or is that just a cliché?) Their songs seemed fluid, but controlled; the singer threw himself about, in fact, controlling things via his own equipment, and by signals and instructions to his band mates. It was very un-passive electronic music. Vocals were occasional, and he stood mostly behind a Technics keyboard with a Korg sticker over the last four letters. He picked up a bass for the last song, a full on assault of digital noise which drove away the little girl who had been happily dancing to the rest of the set (kids dancing was a feature of the day), and discarded it violently at the song’s end.
Panda Su was particularly badly hit by the inexplicable effusions of the Low End stage, because her songs are so quiet – a line or two or guitar and synth intertwined, with a spare drum pattern maybe. I like the songs, but not unreservedly. As with Vlamimir, there’s a lack of lightness, sometimes they are glum and little else besides. For instance, ‘Bee Song’ as it is on the I Begin EP is lit up by the simplest descending keyboard line, but that line never makes it to live performance, so it just sounds like she’s complaining about getting stung by a bee, rather than… I don’t know what. But the EP version suggests something the live version misses. Having said that, I’ve seen Su performances where she does manage to expand the songs live in the most minimal way – but any chance of that was lost in the background noise yesterday.
Jesus, Baby! was a four-minute performance by Davy Henderson and some other Neu Reekie folk, altogether gentler than the Sexual Objects, and rather lovely, with a bit of stop / start and some vocal harmonies and crooning. But mainly, it was a hilarious gesture, to summon a crowd for a single song. Jesus, Davy!
The John Knox Sex Club were great: a bit like the Bad Seeds, a voracious, vicious take on folk tales that others spoil with veneration.
Teen Canteen amazed me by having a lead singer who sounds almost exactly like Ronnie Spector. Not quite as rich perhaps, but a brilliant pop voice, very specifically in that early ’60s Spector mould, even down to the vibrato. Who uses vibrato these days outside opera halls? They announced one song as a forthcoming single, and as well as The Ronnettes (enormous compliment), it made me think of Aqua (not so much, but there’s that line in ‘Barbie Girl’, ‘Kiss me here, touch me there, hanky panky’, with which it shares a tune). Looking forward to the single, anyway.
Clinic were headliners on the Jabberwocky stage. I think I last heard of them in 2001, when Walking With Thee came out, but actually they’ve done loads of records since then. I was never that attached to Clinic, for some reason. Internal Wrangler was a fun record, and one buzzing with a certain fast tempo. When they slowed their songs down for the second album, I couldn’t see the point. Their set yesterday was very good, and in fact the Walking With Thee tempo seems to be the one they stuck with, both for drum and drum machine songs. The drum songs had a motorik feel, the drum machine ones zipped along on even more relentless beats. There was plenty of energy, and the crowd loved it, getting closer to a moshpit than we’d seen all day. By the end, though, I still wasn’t that attached to Clinic, though I enjoyed the Internal Wrangler songs they encored with. I get the feeling there’s something I’m missing.