young embarrassed Germans told team Incendiary that by wearing tee shirts emblazoned with industrial diggers we were giving visual signals to other Teutons that we were Flash Harrys given to indulging in exciting sexual adventures
Richard: A day of rain, sometimes light sometimes bloody heavy awaited us. This gloop became more threatening as the day went on, adding a weird feeling of deflation in between some sterling music. The weather’s such a funny thing.
First port of call was the Pop Bar where finally, after two days of trying, Incendiary got in or rather stayed in to see Other Lives after the festival’s annual press conference. The press conference was a funny affair, with journalists often more concerned about where the children’s playground should be situated, than the overall vibe of the festival. This year’s topics included the after effects of 2010’s Love Parade tragedy, namely the sad influx of additional security measures into this charming and civilised festival. Other Lives were mournful, bearded and made very beautiful music. There really isn’t more to say, as it wasn’t a gig where watching the band added anything to the experience.
Damian: Actually, from where I was sitting, it was impossible to watch the band because I had the thighs of some fella in between mine and the back end of a rather large woman in front of my eyes. (I’ll let you figure out the logistics on that one) There wasn’t even enough room to stand up but thankfully neither of my close companions broke wind so I survived reasonably comfortably.
Richard: Other Lives were quiet and restrained, but they make lovely songs and they have a sad melancholy vibe that isn’t really like many other bands.
Damian: I thought their set was rather beautiful actually. The singer of this five beard band has a wonderful way with his vowels. They seem to drawl and resonate around his mouth, even if they’re dispensed with rather quickly and the violin player plays as if someone’s just died. On every song. Which is nice. Honestly, they played a stormer, as the loud applause, two encores and the long line at the merchandise stall payed testament too. Every time you think there are enough American Folk bands in the world, another one comes along that make you pay attention. Other lives don’t mess with the recipe in any way, but they still make a damn fine meal of it.
Richard: Then we walked up to the Main Stage, to catch Moss. Moss have one or two extremely catchy songs, and now and again their music moves away from its normal feel of polite, ordered restraint into an infectious, beat-laden roar. That’s when they’re good. But it’s funny and not a little frustrating seeing this band grapple with the widescreen vision and the parlour room reflection in the same gig, there’s an awkward imbalance that needs addressing. There’s no doubt they have something that could make them really big, (namely a great way with melody); maybe they need to inject that little bit of bravery to truly throw down something wild and disordered.
Damian: When they focus on making you dance they’re great but when they get all serious they just lose all the power and momentum they build up. Stay happy lads, you’ll be better for it.
Apologies here must go out to Josephine, who was on stage back in the village, Alex Winston, who we were unable to see due to some official business involving a laptop and The Black Atlantic, who we simply ignored.
Richard: Some of the team then went to see Steve Craddock make beautiful Byrds-style guitar music in the Spiegel Tent, whilst spitting a lot. Craddock, that is, not us.
Damian: Honestly, the front row must have been rather uncomfortable. They were getting sprayed, and not in an accidental fashion. Still, dressed in his white trousers and floppy scarf, Craddock looked every bit the Stephen Stills impersonator he probably thinks he is. I don’t want to be too harsh on him because there’s no denying the craft, intelligence and sheer polish of his music. With cleverly used reverb, some impressive double layering of his twelve string and some beautiful harmonies with his backing mods, the sound was undeniably impressive. It’s just not my thing. The gig was the stereotypical example of that other phrase we used quite a lot throughout the weekend – pleasingly forgetful.
Richard: The rest of us watched Destroyer play the Main Stage. Destroyer’s main lad Dan Bejar seems to be a funny cove… Incendiary like some of this band’s music a lot, especially the brazen record from 2008, Trouble In Dreams. But the latest LP, Kaputt, offered up by many as an example of modern rock at its best, leaves us cold. It’s not that it’s bad music, some of it is great, it’s more that it seems to be endlessly (sometimes elegantly) trying to get to the point. So with the gig. When a track went up a gear or there was a goal to focus on, the band’s talent was there for all to see. When things got too reflective our attention wandered. Shame. More melancholy music, albeit music with a more sinister, purposeful melancholy was offered by some other Canadians; Timber Timbre. Despite two of the three members sitting down and one hiding out of sight, not to mention a parade of what were effectively murder ballads, this was a fairly intense and enjoyable gig, and one we found difficult to move on from. Lots did, mind. An orderly queue to go and see James Blake started pretty much after the first number. The music was a slow burning gothic snarl, plodding effortlessly on through murky tales of murder loneliness and mayhem. Imagine a sinister version of Lambchop and you’re just about there.
Damian: I thought these guys were great and felt an extra thrill at watching the amount of bemused teenagers heading off in search of happiness and good times elsewhere. I kept on thinking, “One day, you’ll know better.” Sometimes it’s good to be old. Grumpy old sods should probably head out and buy Creep on Creepin’ On right now. It’s a gem.
Richard: A quick check of James Blake did nothing to avert Incendiary’s suspicions that he wasn’t for them. To be fair, it was just too quiet a gig for a muddy field, really.
Damian: I found myself thinking about an upcoming dental appointment. Not good.
Richard: Back to the Spiegel Tent for another Canadian, Dan Mangan, who ran through a set of perfectly pleasant Americana / folk / singer songwriter numbers that again failed to take us to anywhere interesting. At times his rambling homilies were akin to an emotional geography teacher saying goodbye to his favourite class. All well and good (and of course he had some nice songs, especially when he upped the ante), but something more was needed in our opinion.
Damian: If he’d have appeared on the radar before Bum Fluff and Children (Mumford and Sons) went interstellar then he could probably be riding high on the crest of a wave right now. As it is, you kind of get the feeling that you’re listening to something a little too familiar. It’s all well played, well crafted and admirably performed, there’s no denying that, I just wonder if he’s a little too late to the race track?
Richard: Incendiary says: Cannucks! Lighten up! Have a bloody shave too!
...Fortunately some vim and vigour was provided by La Brass Banda, a bunch of German batty boys (their words, not ours) who like to play fast and fun work outs on their brass instruments. Their muse is not concerned with forging any new musical fusion or seeking out a “lost” brass-powered path in rock, but rather about having a lot of fun, and this approach was just what was needed to lift spirits at that point in the day.
Damian: It’s Oompa rock! This is not serious music. It’s there for you to have a laugh with and, for a while, we did.
Richard: La Brass Banda played long and hard, going through a repertoire of “reggae” numbers, klezmer and turbo folk numbers and a couple of strange, semi-classical knees ups, interspersed with lots of German jokes. A good laugh indeed. Back to the tent we sloped for Shara Worden, aka My Brightest Diamond. We like Shara’s music and we like Shara as a person, and we’d found out by talking to her the night before that she was nervous at the prospect of playing a load of new songs in her set. So, in a way we were that little bit nervous for her.
Oh fools of journalists, never fear for artistes…
My Brightest Diamond put on a gig that was strange, quirky, ridiculously winsome and never short of brilliant. We can fully appreciate that her dreamy vibe is not for everyone but she has the ability to be a pretty major artistic force. She has two major advantages. First, Shara Worden can make you believe in nearly everything she sings, even when it’s stuff as gooey as songs about appreciating your loved ones, baking apples and folding laundry away. And, moreover, sung in a manner that could be vetoed from a Disney film on grounds of excessive sentimentality. Secondly she can call on an astonishing range of moods, emotions and subject matter to hand. Seemingly using any instrument. Whether it’s belting out a snarling cut from her first LP, or dancing round the stage wearing a huge round face mask, she is utterly convincing, however ridiculous or pretentious her muse might seem on paper. The woman has a witch element, there’s no doubt about it, as well as a touch of melancholy. Her music isn’t banal optimism or pointless anger, that’s for sure.
Damian: This wasn’t just a very good performance, this was exceptional. Honestly, I’ve had a few days to think about this now and I still think this is one of the most emotional, heart warming gigs I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing. My Brightest Diamond captivated me from start to finish. I could not say it was a perfect gig, the out of tune ukulele and unwelcome heckling at one point put pay to that, but it was an absolutely stunning one. The crowd hung on every word she said. Her voice was so powerful and precise an instrument that it simply forced you into submission. Lyrically she can seem twee and almost naïve but everything is so sincere, so precisely worked and performed with such honesty that she transcends all thoughts of sentimentality and kitsch – even when she’s dancing around with what looks like a Frank Sidebottom mask on her face. She reduced Team Incendiary to such a level of emotional fragility that we had to take time out to compose ourselves afterwards. To illustrate the power of this performance we must tell you about the poor girl who stood next to us, who suffered a near nervous breakdown during the show. Admittedly, she appeared to be drinking vinegar from an olive oil bottle (How did she get that past security?) but we’ll skip past that.
The girl stood, arms waving, eyes closed, smiling and swaying gently through the first few songs until she could contain herself no more, “Shara we love you!” she cried at one point. When what was obviously one of her favourite songs appeared in the setlist the girl started to lose control, whipping round to slap a kiss on her boyfriend’s lips before dancing, like a witch doctor in a trance, throughout the track and then, towards the end, she simply broke down. Arms flung tight around her boyfriend the tears started to flow, and flow. And flow. Her legs buckled and her boyfriend had to use all his strength to simply hold her upright. We left them, after the gig, still hugging.
So never mind what us to old farts thought of it, any artist who has the power to provoke that kind of reaction from a member of their audience deserves your respect. I don’t think we can blame the vinegar for it either. Honestly, I feel privileged to have witnessed that show. It will live with me for a very, very long time. Once again, thanks Haldern.
Richard: We missed Wir Sind Helden due to post- MBD emotional drainage syndrome, but stuck around the Spiegel Tent for Hauschka who was high on our lists of “must-sees”. Hauschka is a genial, slightly monkish soul whose take on the Düsseldorf musical legacy is a charming one. His party piece is to play a prepared piano, altering the timbre by attaching ping pong balls to the strings in the body of the instrument. When he hits a key, out the balls pop and fall somewhere else in the piano’s framework. Or so it seems. Somehow this morphs (with the aid of a spectacularly brilliant rhythm section) into a wonderful mix of delicate, reflective piano runs and thumping mantras, Kraftwerk-style. One long piece became a beautifully serene cod-dub reggae work out, which, as the tempo built up in intensity, inspired knots and clumps of bedraggled and cagouled figures splashing about in the sodden fields, dancing along to the big screen. It was exhilarating.
Back to the Main Stage for The Low Anthem who had sound issues of the “I can’t hear a bloody thing” variety. Actually they had issues full stop. Dwarfed by the size and sheer physicality of the stage and barely audible due to god knows what consideration, they seemed to prefer huddling in a circle, holding on to their mandolins and banjos for dear life. This might be fine in a small venue but when there are upwards of three thousand people watching it can lead to a very depressing state of affairs.
Damian: This was by far the biggest disappointment of the weekend for me. Their performance in the spiegel tent the previous year was a joy to behold and their latest album, Smart Flesh, is an impeccable piece of work but it’s the kind of album you need to give your full attention. The band won’t meet you half way and they refused to do that here, which meant that almost everything transpired against them. For starters the weather made things far too gloomy for comfort, the low sound (seriously, what happened to the main stage volume in the afternoon?) would have been a problem in itself but the fact that you could see people playing instruments on stage but could not hear them made things very problematic. For example, Boeing 737 is a powerful, cacophonous track on record but here it felt like it was being dragged through the mud against its will. The only instruments clearly heard being were the drums – which sounded incredibly flat – and pump organ. The sound was such a problem that you actually had to stand in front of the lighting/mixing rig in the centre of the field to actually hear anything. More than the technical difficulties though, their actual show felt out of place. If they’d have been in the Spiegel tent, they’d have been extraordinary, but the main stage, at this time, in this weather, needed something a bit more welcoming. You can stand there looking pretty all you like but if you don’t give the audience chance to go with you, you’re going to be in trouble. Keep the most intimate stuff for the intimate venues, please. If they’d kept the huddling round microphones until the end they may have had a slight chance but with everything else counting against them, the whole gig fell as flat as a pancake.
Richard: In fact, it depressed us enough to miss Warpaint and seek enjoyment via some light refreshments and easy banter in the press tent. This lasted as long as it took Suuns to stalk onto the Spiegel Tent stage and crank out their noise.
Damian: Some of us actually braved it back into the main field for Fleet Foxes and we’re glad we did. For one, the volume returned, which was a blessed relief. I do think that if the weather had been kinder throughout the day, or hot and sunny even, then the main stage line up could have made for a beautiful and memorable line up. If the weather that blessed Grizzly Bear and Bon Iver’s time in this field not too long ago had returned today, I suspect we would have been talking about another one of those classic Haldern afternoons and evenings but sadly, this time, it wasn’t to be. Thankfully, you could put the fabulous furry Fleet Foxes (although they’re rather more clipped than they used to be) in a dark refrigerator and you’d still feel like the sun was beaming down on you. You simply can not deny their abilities as a live band. Their harmonies are incredible, their sound is more polished than the floors of St Peter’s and they create some beautiful, beautiful music. Somehow, their records just don’t capture the magic they can create when they’re on stage.
Ok, so their second album may not contain anything as outstanding as Mykonos or White Winter Hymnal but those songs are still there to pull any gig they play out of the doldrums. Standing there, with the stars up above, soaked in the warm lights of the stage I, and everyone else stood around me in the field, gave thanks once again to the musical Gods and were more than pleased to be there.
Now then, back over to Suuns.
Richard: Now, we had a slight issue with Suuns. Whilst liking their latest LP in theory we have found it an album that has been quick to lose its charm, as it’s slightly anaemic and flat in parts. Live, however, the band is a completely different matter. What sounded diffident and weak on record sounded immense live. The beats fizzed and thumped, laying down an insistent Suicide-style groove. Vocals that had sounded reedy took on a new aspect, balancing out the crash of guitars and effects, and adding a sinister edge to the whole ambience.
Damian: I think they crowd pulled the best out of them. You could sense, after the afternoon of wet weather and – to some extent – wet music they needed a lift and one slight hint of an upbeat rhythm got them excited. To be fair to Suuns, they rose to the challenge and within a few minutes they had the tent swaying and by the end it was bouncing. Job done, and done well.
Richard: Things got a little deranged to the beat of the music… small cheeky-looking Germans cadged piggybacks, other Germans pretended to be hunchbacks and young embarrassed Germans told team Incendiary that by wearing tee shirts emblazoned with industrial diggers we were giving visual signals to other Teutons that we were Flash Harrys given to indulging in exciting sexual adventures with the opposite sex. And, often as not, seeking out more than one coupling opportunity at the same time… oofph, who would have thought images of industrial diggers could engender such “amore”? Off to the main stage for the final time in a slightly deranged state to witness Explosions in the Sky who made a beautiful noise, chiming, peals of guitar and squalls of feedback ripped through the glowering curtain of mist and rain.
Damian: I love this band. I think they are criminally underrated – although they’re not doing too badly, it must be said, but it was a pleasure to witness them play live, even if I didn’t give them the full attention they deserved. Their ability to layer different levels and moods within a single track is extraordinary. Simultaneously soothing and aggressive, they played with real power and commitment and blew everything that had appeared on the main stage prior to them that day away, like a gale force wind. If they are anywhere near you, make the effort to go and see them.
Richard: The filthy weather suited the band; their outlook is one of Sturm und Drang, of invoking images of wild untamed nature. Listening to the rest of the gig round the roaring and spitting backstage campfire only heightened the primeval nature of their music. Weird that we saw bits of the gig only but felt happy that the decision to sit and yarn whilst using the gig noise as a soundtrack to flickering flame was the right one. Or not. Maybe that’s Haldern all over. Maybe that’s the essential, shape-shifting nature of this beautiful festival.