Friday

It’s always the same at these kinds of festivals: the inevitable stress accompanied with lugging cumbersome equipment and sorting out a place to park your tent leads to anguished missing of sets by those unfortunate bands who occupy that tricky early Friday slot. So it is with the the Fiery Furnaces and Sunderland’s the Futureheads (though sadly the direction of the wind means that it’s impossible to escape the gruesome tones of yhe Rasmus distantly playing on the main stage).

From Sunderland also are the Golden Virgins, who deliver an early unexpected stunning set on the Carling stage that’s equal parts Velvet Underground, Clinic and Lambchop. Their last song soars with the kind of hypnotic organ sound that Stereolab last perfected in ‘93, reaching some ecstatic heights with the audience.

Meanwhile, Glasgow’s Sons and Daughters pull off a decent enough set with their original take on folk-inflected indie, their guitarist driving on the mandolin-embellished riffs.

On the Radio 1 stage there’s the 22-20’s, ‘NME-tipped’ (something of a double-edge sword in reality) and commanding a sizable amount of fans, judging from the t-shirts; sadly, the great new hopes of the North (well, Lincoln) in reality come across as mostly a tedious blues pub band. There’s nothing here that recognises anything from beyond 1972.

Thank God, then, for Buck 65, who professes more talent in one finger than most bands can manage in their entire career. Although billed as a Anticon-affiliated rapper, his virtuoso performance comes across less as hip-hop and more as a kind of stream-of-consciousness preacher’s sermon, replete with scratching over an except from Queens of The Stone Age’s ‘No One Knows’. At one point he berates the vacuous nature of the NME and its signing-in-tent that’s just next to the dance stage in which he’s playing. For the rest of his set, there’s simply some brilliant lyrics and inventive musical ideas, all delivered with a spellbinding presence.

It’s a hard act to follow, but Secret Machines manage to go even one better on the Carling stage, with a performance oozing class and confidence. Treading a line somewhere between Spiritualized and The Flaming Lips, their organ driven space-rock sound builds over the set before reaching an encore brilliantly with an ecstatic version of ‘The Roads Leads Where It’s Led’.

After that, Radio 4 back on the dance tent can only seem a let-down, their stuttering punk-funk initially slightly leaden and predictable. Although the set improves, and with it a tent dancing – especially with the inevitably rapturously received ‘Dance To The Underground’ – there’s just too much of the kind of predictable scratchy guitar sounds that many other dance-punk sounds seem to be coming out with.

British Sea Power aren’t much better on the Radio 1 stage and the dirgy sub-metal of Amplifier on the Carling stage doesn’t hit the mark either, after which the blessing of the NME must account for the capacity turnout for the Others, who churn out the kind of leaden set that brings to mind Sham 69 more than any revolutionary musical potemkin the NME has decided to deify them as. There’s some truly embarrassing lyrics on offer here, but at least ‘This Is The Poor’ ends on a high note, with the singer emphatically yelping repeatedly “this for all the disappointments” while offering to take out some unpleasant security while some fans invade the stage. They later turn up at midnight to do an impromptu gig on dodgems.

Friday evening’s interesting fare looks to be in the comedy/cabaret tent where the Artrocker crew present some scuzzy London sleaze-rock with The Gin Palace and The Rocks, while Norwich’s Kaito deliver a superbly spiky set of inventive, off-kilter guitar noise. An unexpected highlight is a magnificent performance by the Soundtrack of Our Lives, six Viking-look Swedes led by a chubby, robes-clad singer who deliver a set of thrilling rock noise that the 22-20’s would do well to watch. While the Kills are doing their take on combining Royal Trux with the Velvet Underground and Pussy Galore, the Artrocker crew round up the night with a documentary of their club night and label that runs to the wee early hours.

Saturday

Backed up with a live drummer, the lo-fi laptop electronica of Brave Captain, aka former Boo Radley Martin Carr, is an early highlight. Sadly playing to an almost empty tent, with most of the festival no doubt jumping up and down to Welsh hip-hop clowns Goldie Lookin’ Chain on the main stage, Brave Captain's s set mostly dispenses with song structure altogether, the result being a strange hybrid that’s equal parts Squarepusher (who headlined last night) and Flying Saucer Attack.

It certainly makes a change to the hammy glam-rock of Darkness label mates Do Me Bad Things on the Carling stage, who must be the only band of the festival with three backing singers. And they are rubbish.

Sheffield’s Pink Grease fair better with their warped take on electro glam-synth pop noise, and are suitably scuzzy looking, particularly a superbly afroed bassist who spitting image likeness to The Mars’ Volta’s guitarist is uncanny.

Pretty Girls Make Girls’ brooding post-hardcore has some interesting moments that never quite scale the peaks that they should do, but it’s Ikara Colt who pull off a brilliant set on the Radio 1 stage: like Kaito, they’re full of taut, spiky guitar lines that wrap around singer Paul Resende’s Mark E. Smithisms. Criminally overlooked for a long while the likes of Franz Ferdinand have taken over their mantle, this could just be their year.

The day’s highlight, though, really comes with two stunning sets in the dance tent by LCD Soundsystem and !!!(Chk Chk Chk), both New York dance-punk-electro-funkers with an electro bent who share the same guitarist.

The former deliver some superb stuttering lazy monologues by frontman James Murphy – producer of Radio 4 and the Rapture - over some stunning beats which run the gamut from stuttering electro-funk (‘Give It Up’) to a chanted lazy funk groove that builds slowly to an all out aggressive 808 squelchy acid techno attack over ten minutes (‘Yeah’). ‘Losing My Edge’, meanwhile, builds to a stunning crescendo that has the audience in ecstatic heights, Murphy blurting out his now familiar in-joke monologue about “losing my edge to kids from France and London”, the music obsessive horrified to see his hipster kudos mantle being taken over by others.

!!!, meanwhile, have in their midst one of the best frontman of the festival, whose loose limbs and frenetic motion provide a brilliant back drop to this seven piece. It’s the single ‘Me And Giuliani Down By The Schoolyard’ that gets the biggest reception, of course, it’s long, motorik winding grooves constantly mutating; the song’s ten minute incorporates the kind of echoing reverb drenched guitar line that Martin Hannett pioneered with the Happy Mondays, a band that seem to very much be an influence (fashionable or not), before the whole thing collapses in a minimal breakdown and then returns with a circular guitar motif and some more of that hypnotic drum beat. As a spectacle, it’s one of the performances of the festival.

Meanwhile, Peaches, on the Radio 1 stage, has to contend with technical problems that cloud ‘Kick It’, her collaboration with Iggy Pop, beset by a monstrous heavy guitar riff that obscures the song as she is joined by two dancers wearing spiky black S&M gear. Ho hum.

Welsh noise types Mclusky ply their noisy Big Black-influenced indie-punk noise on the Carling stage, allied to some savagely black humoured lyrics which are spat out wonderfully on ‘Alan Is A Cowboy Killer’ and ‘To Hell With Good Intentions’, the latter of which has the audience singing along to its attack on bragging musicians: “My band is bigger than your band / We take more love than a touring funk band”.

Meanwhile New Mexico’s the Shins provide a set of slightly twisted, innocent summery pop that gets going particularly with tracks from their first album, the excellent 'Oh, Inverted World', and some weird echo laden keyboard effects that lift the songs out of the ordinary.

That leaves The Darkness on the main stage, who play against a backdrop of constant swearwords. I catch a few songs of their set before leaving to watch female cabaret duo Ten Minutes With My Dad, due to play in the comedy/cabaret tent; but they fail to materialise, and instead appear to be replaced with two fat blokes onstage running around shouting at each other.

Tomorrow sees the return of the old guard, with the New York Dolls (replacing their recently deceased bassist in true rock n roll style with Motley Crue’s), Morrissey, the now 15 year old Stereolab, and a storming set by the MC5.















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