Beacons Festival 2013
August 16-18, 2013
Beacons Festival is a pretty novel addition to the British concert scene. Taking place in Skipton (Lancs > Yorks) away from the bright lights of Reading or Glastonbury, it boasts a lineup ranging from the well known – Wire, David Rodigan – to the sort of fresh faces more expected to be visitors than acts. There's a certain individualistic charm covering the DIY foundations of Beacons, whether it's the small scale, inclusion of independent businesses and scope of events beyond music, from film showings to arts classes. I headed down to see what the fuss was about.
My trip was reassuringly drawn out, trudging on train from London to York, then onto Leeds and finally Skipton. It was the bemused faces of locals en route, not the flowing greenery or diminishing traffic, that carted you into smallest of small town England. The short bus ride away led to the field where I'd spend the next three days. After sorting out my pop-up tent (easy to take out, a pain to pop back in) I made my way into the arena to check out the bands and get a sense of the atmosphere.
What first struck me, and never left, was surprise at how sparse the crowd seemed. The area was fairly well laid out, with more than enough room between stages and a pleasant intimacy to the venues, but it seemed like there should've been more people milling/staggering/passed out around. After catching up with a couple of friends and getting nicely libated, I headed off to see the first band of the day, Egyptian Hip-Hop.
I'd heard a few of their songs, not enough to form a judgement but suffice to be interested in what they'd be like. Arriving on stage looking like acid casualties thrown out of Waynestock, they proceeded to play a set which provoked, interested but ultimately frustrated me. Frontman Alex Hewett varied between adding to the noise onstage to mingling with the crowd, his demeanour much more jovial than the occasionally indecipherable music. This was added to by the lack of vocal definition Hewett has, too often fading into the instrumentation. Compounded by an overly loud bass, the muddy mix sacrificed the nuances of Egyptian Hip-Hops sound. Nonetheless, a welcome start to the weekend's festivities. Up next was Matador up and comers Esben And The Witch.
Despite being a trio, the group were more than the sum of their parts. Playing on the quiet-loud dynamics beloved of, say, the XX, the Brightonians showed a lot of promise with their dance influenced post-punk. Veering between sparseness and furious activity, it was a real diversity on show; however, it didn't make for a staggering live performance as the three seemed rooted in place to their pedals. At over five years of activity, perhaps they'd passed their moment to crossover into something bigger, but are surely the sort of gem to find on the off-chance. They played Noisey's You've Got To Hear This stage, which acted as host to a variety of great bands, one of which was next act Only Real.
To say that the West London troubadour is divisive is to say that he's strawberry blonde. His Jamie T. referencing blend of hip-hop, classic rock 'n' roll and stoner delivery comes at a time when King Krule is slaying any and all imitators. At Beacons, he packed the stage with kids who wanted to rep Real. Accompanied by a band, Real filled out the gaps which appear in songs like 'Cinnamon Toast' or 'Cadillac Girl', sounding more substantial than the one-man-and-a-Macbook approach he's taken so far. Despite complaining of illness, Real manages to execute his surprisingly well thought out raps and youthful crooning, to the delight of people who're dressed as ridiculously as he is. If he built on the success shown, he'd soon escape the shadows of others.
I was soon presented with a dilemma, a rare clash between two hotly tipped but very different acts who both appealed- Ghostpoet and Eagulls. The former is a songsmith who spans hip hop and electro music, as reminiscent of Jeremiah Jae as Portishead. The latter is a clan of Leeds miscreants who're getting ahead by their surly performances and music along the lines of Dinosaur Jr being cottaged by Electro Hippies. I initially plumped for Eagulls and readied myself for their set. The sweat-mist of cramped bodies was enough to prove what a draw the band were; within minutes of Eagulls kicking off, it was pretty much security's version of Apocalypse Now. Unsightly moshing, surges forward, frontman George working up enough people to the point of where they were heavy-handedly getting thrown out be security. At this point I bailed as I realised the value of having teeth, so off to Ghostpoet it was.
Whereas Eagulls was stripped-back aggression, Ghostpoet easily provides the experience closest to a 'show'. Dressed in all black, the singer and producer spends the lion's share of his time tied to a keyboard. His strut is self-assured, the moments when he take to the mic feel like high drama, accentuated with the atmospheric lighting and drawn out string instrumentals. This isn't to say he's somehow disengaged from the crowd; to the contrary, his performance is equally marked by tense rapping over catchy beats and cacophonous drums, setting the revellers off. Again, in terms of sound, so much is going on that while the sound dips into muddiness, plus the occasional technical fault, Ghostpoet continues as the consummate professional.
My first night was capped off by a band who need no introduction: Fucked Up. While it's hardly a rare treat seeing the band - considering their prolific touring schedule - it's always enlivening to see a group who've stuck at it for over a decade, doing their own thing in spite of peers and trends. Despite the numerous pairs of jogging bottoms and jetlag symptons on show, Fucked Up waste no time ripping into their crowd as Eagulls did on the same stage hours earlier. It's harder to tell who's losing their shit more, fans, the band, or security, as Damian Abraham embraces the audience, bodies fly and the boys with the walkie talkies don't seem to know what to do. A lengthy, energetic set, the perfect nightcap for the weekend.
I emerged from my peg-secured abode and ambled around the arena. I caught glimpse of a few acts, such as Wolf Alice and Amateur Best, but neither struck me worth watching. In fact, the second made me think Michael Bolton was playing a secret set with a Microkorg. The less said about his rap song the better. The first act that impressed me on Saturday was Bournemouth boy East India Youth. His sound is as varied as you'd expect from someone The Quietus releases music for. The keys vary from glitches to shimmering and the atmosphere drifts from the darkness of witch house to the flight of deep house. His inclusion of live bass feels somewhat like tokenism whilst his vocals need a dose more character, but overall, a promising performance.
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