This year’s Beacons Festival, set in the stunning hills of the Yorkshire dales, was a three-day experience that offered a cutting edge and diverse line-up, full to the brim with fresh-faced bands and highly revered artists. And what did we do? Well we spent all weekend taking in everything this brand new festival had to offer; the conflicting genres – rap, funk, math-rock, dance, pop, reggae, electro, folk, country, noise, fuzz, alternative rock, rock and more rock – being in the mud, the rain, having the food, the drink, the other drink, trying our hand at dancing, the camping, experiencing the hangovers, the toilets, Dirty Otter, King of the Bins and god, so much more. Were you there? Well if not, then you should have been.
Thursday brought us packed to the brim from train to car and finally to the camp site in one piece just in time to set up nice and quickly in the dark, ever rushing to get that first taste of festival beer. Even though we weren’t expecting to see much, that Thursday night gave us some time to trudge around the site, testing the festival’s security and investigating the parameters of Beacons itself. Needless to say we found ourselves somewhere in the VIP camping site (accidentally, I’ll have you know), half-tanked, trying to seek out the press accreditation. And although we didn’t find Roots Manuva back there doing beer bongs and playing flip cup, being the investigative journalists we are, we did manage to find our way to the dance tent in the end.
Friday broke nice and strong, with a healthy mile walk through cows and country roads towards press accreditation. And with our passes finally fitted all wet round our necks we found our way back to camp to officially kick start the weekend with G&T’s. Wot Gorilla broke in the weekend at the Vice/Noisy tent for us in style; with their jagged and systematic direction of alternative-pop/rock sending pulsing waves of melodic precision through the already beaming tent. Even onlookers and fellow math-rock artists NGOD couldn’t hold back the smiles as the Halifax based band forced open the mouth’s of the tent with expressions of misbelief with their non-linier structure and appreciation for frenetic time signatures.
From one extreme to another and from Wot Gorilla to Edd Colbert of Get Down or Die; an electronic DJ collective from the south, we readjusted our musical lens towards the consumption of Kopparberg and the extortion of energy via the medium of dance. In one hour we saw the inflatableKopparberg Cube grow from the humble beginnings of four members of MM into a one in one out type system in which Edd controlled the crowd with ample cuts of electro, house and apt ambiance, truly kick starting the party nice and early. Onto summer cider, rain and MM stamping, well and truly in the mood for the evening we found our way over to the Stool Pigeon tent for the start of Mount Kimbie. Minimal and ambient in its origins, the two-piece electronic group were a great surprise for us, bringing excitement and electricity to the main stage in the build up to the Friday headliner Roots Manuva.
After sticking towards the front of the tent in preparation for dub and hip-hop legend Roots Manuva, I wasn’t sure what made the London-raised rapper’s set drag. It might have been the decreasing volume of alcohol within my system or the drugged up crowd, but mostly I think it was because it seemed like Rodney Smith; Roots Manuva himself didn’t even want to be there. The un-impressed expressions, the lifeless dancing and the disassociation with his own music brought the seemingly good set crashing down open the shoulders of his much more energetic so-called ‘Hype Men’ and supporting band. Granted we all jumped around for ‘Witness (One Hope)’ and a few of the booze fuelled MM crew were screaming like 10 year olds at Disneyland, but overall, in my opinion, Roots Manuva should be sacked from his own band.
Saturday brought a better mood and the best weather of the weekend by far with the sun bringing life into the camp well into the afternoon. Berocca fizzed energy drink mixers brought us to our feet ready for an afternoon of Beacons fun, starting with the musical brilliance of Juffage; a solo artist and multi-instrumentalist from Leeds known for blending seamless production and unique musical direction. With a mass array of pedals, instruments and other examples of music technology, Jeff t. Smith, formerly from Chicago Illinois, brought an amazing and immersive performance to the early bird festival crowd.
On from the technical mastery of Juffage and over to the Stool Pigeon stage we followed for the fuzzed up energy of Japandroids. Punches of American alternative rock and noisy passion were a most welcome sight in the main tent as the two-piece sweat their body weight and played one home-grown rock anthem after another. Even aside from the light shining through and from the sour smell of the large tent, the Vancouver forged band managed to alter the atmosphere of the space into an animated and colourful home away from home. With a Kirkstall pale in hand and the sky beaming a sunset blue, it was that moment that brought out the best in Beacons; the odd ball screams of mud fights, the distant boom of bass and the charm of the whole event and it all came together right before the start of Ghostpoet’s eclectic and mesmerising set.
After the brilliant production values and transfixing vocal nature of the mercury prize nominated Ghostpoet came Eagulls, a must see on our itineraries. Their simplistic and 90’s approach to performance and song writing makes for some amazing music, and an even better live show with the packed tent swaying and jumping along to every note. Alongside fingers in post-hardcore, leanings toward grunge and with some post-punk tendencies, the five-piece Leeds band put on an unforgettable performance. And, yeah, I also learnt I should never mosh with a camera. Look out for them in the very near future. Wild Beasts were a nice find for us after the sweat-filled sauna of Eagulls, and provided a much need rest bite before the inevitable progression towards memory loss and liberal doses of experimental shapes in the dance tent. Although we didn’t catch the whole set that Wild Beasts had to offer, they did catch our attention with their unique style of artistic rock and indie and needless to say, we were very impressed with the lead singer’s oftenFreddy Mercury style vocal deliveries.
The final day of Beacons rose thick and loud on the Sunday, the long sour taste of acid and cider imprinted in my mouth and half remembered moments of dance, rave and swill projected with distortion and fondness. Emerging from the tent was an arduous and time-consuming ordeal, yet the Sunday held the best line of music for the whole weekend in my opinion and it needed to be seen and experienced. Remembered in a non-linier development of time, the whole day merged into one endless delight of music and memory that was endearingly shaped by a morning headache and a stomach full of Paella and stone baked pizza.
With the theme of the splitting between the Vice/Noisy tent and the main Stool Pigeon over the weekend, with the odd trip towards dance, the Sunday was no different except for the inclusion of Dirty Otter, Leeds’ finest promoters and pioneers of everything awesome when it comes to alternative and experimental music. Curators of the Vice/Noisy tent for the day, the Dirty Otter stage acted as a magnet, dragging our sorry asses back for more and more amazing music. From starting off with the beautiful and often sorrowful country tones of Willy Mason at the main stage, where American singer brought us back to reality with ease and care. We quickly were reminded again and again of the line-up in the Dirty Otter themed tent, and we still remember it now.
Tall Ships, a long-time favourite, brought back their branded and unrelenting musical professionalism, but this time within the confines of the amazingly well fitted festival atmosphere. Proving again and again that, like a fine wine, they keep getting better with age, and that they are also going to blow everyone away with their debut record in October. Before Tall Ships,we came the face smashing sounds of That Fucking Tank and Hawkeyes, big sound’s from two up coming yet already well established bands. The distortion and expression of Hawkeyes brought forth an immense amount of energy to the final day in which, in true Hawkeyes style, saw the lead singer knee deep in the crowd furiously tearing the listeners’ ears apart, only to be equally matched by the two-piece partnership of That Fucking Tank. The instrumental and free flowing, all out riff-rock of the Northern duo left the audience’s necks crooked after the law-abiding head banging had to sadly finally come to and end. And as good as it got, there were also so many other awesome bands that we were so disgusted we didn’t get to catch in the Dirty Otter Tent; the brash and hard-hitting sounds of Blacklisters, the radial rushes of Mazes, the quirky bird noises of B>E>A>K and all the rest… god damn you festivals, making us miss everything!
Onto the Stool Pigeon stage came Willis Earl Beal entering with a massive black cape and giving a roar like I have never heard. He started his set with his own uniquely odd but amazing mix of folky soul music, but not the kind that’s warming to your heart, but really the kind that frightens you. His voice and movements on stage were both unpredictable and mesmerising, with no one really making a sound the whole time he was singing. It really is difficult to explain the surreal experience that was Willis Earl Beal; his mad voice so powerful and haunting, all the more so set against the backdrop of his lo-fi reel to reel player he had ticking over in the background. But his sounds were different and deafeningly experimental, and it all ended with him whipping a chair with his belt. We’re still not sure what we saw that afternoon.
The change of atmosphere was brought about by the frantic country beats of the amazing Felice Brothers; an American troop of musicians whose fabulous combination of hard rock, folk and country were the perfect lead up to the last act of the whole festival. They’re presence and use of the piano, accordion and violin alongside hard-hitting drums, guitar and bass was an absolute revelation.
I find myself sometimes forgetting the headline act on the final day at Beacons when I think of the festival as a whole, and it’s so incredibly hard to say why, as the mind-numbing awesomeness of Toots & the Maytals should never, ever be forgotten. Filled to breaking point, the Pigeon Stool tent was on fire that night, as the reggae funk group that defined a generation brought about what can only be described as almost two hours of the most inspirational and enjoyable showmanship you’re ever likely to see. Hands in the sky with chants of call and response, endless dancing, skanking and singing, shouting and screaming, punching and kicking, and all out satisfaction all blurred into one big inaudible smiling memory of recollection. One that solidified the success of the festival no matter the weather, mud or lack of sun, irrespective of the toilets, that one stupid t-shirt or the unforgiving security and regardless of how ‘expensive’ the beer was, even though beer is expensive everywhere nowadays.
So yeah, looking back, we had an awesome time at Beacons 2012 (the first of it’s name) and we hope you did too. We look forward to seeing you next year, where, you never know, we might have our own tent.
Find all our pictures of Beacons 2012 on Flickr HERE
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See you in 2013
Words by Andy Crowder