The tent was, quite literally, bouncing for Rival Consoles and Incendiary cut some rug in a fashion not seen in quite a while.
Richard: Friday morning saw an annual Incendiary ritual, the inspection of Haldern’s bizarre supermarket offerings. As well as the (normal?) chainsaw accoutrements sat alongside the crates of beer and onion sauce packets this year, a knitted bottle warmer in the shape of a poodle with fake diamond eyes and a large fluffy space shuttle were Incendiary’s objets d’art of choice. Honorary mention must also go to the solar-powered hippopotamus garden feature; the sun’s job seemingly to facilitate a water jet through each nostril, a snip at 50 euros.
Feeling somewhat strange walking round with a large fluffy version of the shuttle (never mind the poodle) we nevertheless gamely tried to get in the popular Haldern Pop bar to see Matthew and the Atlas and Josh T Pearson. And failed, through the agency of the overwhelming press of human flesh. Still, we did see the great JTP’s arrival. Like a frail Old Testament patriarch about to address a congregation on weighty liturgical matters, he stalked up to the bar and with a slight admonitory wave of his hand the dumb hordes parted. This spectacle was possibly better than the gig or so we like to fool ourselves into believing. Pragmatism won the day and we decided that it was best, yet again, to find some musical succour at the main festival site.
A mention should go to Golden Kanine on the Main Stage: a Swedish outfit that are, on this showing, really good in that excitable, Swedish, angsty manner. They’re all so tense and committed; they seemingly play to the verge of ridicule. This we like.
Damian: There was a lot of yearning going on.
Richard: They also clang their guitars in a way we like and have a way with melody. The Antlers were up next and proceeded to make merry hell without any concessions to the crowd, something that worked pretty well on the day: it seemed crowd and audience were equally determined to enjoy this Friday.
Damian: Burst Apart is one of my albums of the year and the polished live sound The Antlers created stood up very well against its recorded counterparts. Here, their lack of repartee with the crowd was forgiven, simply because they played hard. Yuck take note. Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out was incredible. Their set was very well received and acted as the real spark to what became quite an impressive day.
Richard: Meanwhile a splinter group had decided to check out Bodi Bill in the Spiegel Tent. This trio from Berlin trade in smart electro pop that can be a bit too academic and a bit too EMO at times, but when it works and they shake their hips, their music kicks off in a most supreme manner. One of the last tracks in the tent morphed into an updated, funky version of Harmonia’s Sehr Kosmische, or so it seemed to the increasingly frenzied brains of Team Incendiary. Bodi Bill are pretty fucking good.
Johnny Flynn and his guitar picking style presented a soothing contrast to the modern urbanisms of Bodi Bill. We were initially resigned to another parade of winsome songs about something or other but, no, this lad is talented and has that ease of manner that comes with being talented. His songs are crystalline dreamscapes that conjure up reflections on similar artists like those from the British folk scene of the late 60s, or Gravenhurst and Nick Drake. It’s pastoral in the best possible manner of the word, though Incendiary also thinks there’s some end of the pier wistfulness about what he does, which makes us think of Robyn Hitchcock too. After a while the music created a sense of contented calm, irrigating the tent with good and gentle vibes. Along with the “Harmonia tribute track” from Bodi Bill, this gig, for me, was the official start of Haldern Pop 2011.
Selah Sue brought a form of gay Belgian abandon to the Main Stage whilst Wild Beasts held court in the Spiegel Tent. Incendiary love them and have championed them for a fair while and it was good to see a gig that showed off their talent, but is there ever a band so wrongly named? These are nice lads, gift-wrapped sons in law, doing something inspiring, dreamy and gently persuasive. If we continue the Narnia metaphor for Haldern just that little bit longer, then Wild Beasts would be the band the charming, soppy, dreamy faun Mr. Tumnus would play in. Playing a lot of tracks off the romantic and woozy new LP Smother meant that the usual cadences and tempo changes and hints of violence have taken a back seat. The band decided to trade by means of a glossy thoughtful funk last perfected by the likes of The Colour Field, The Communards or Marc Almond. It also helps that the drummer is seriously fucking good (bringing a presence on a par at times with the thump Stephen Morris brought to New Order). The audience, politely impatient at first, just gave in and grooved once they were fully immersed by this wave of smooth charm. Why fight it when you can feel it? Anyway, how can anyone resist when Tom Fleming sings of “girls from Roedean, girls from Shipley, girls from Hounslow, girls from Whitby” in All The King’s Men? It’s impossible. A magical gig, but that’s no surprise, really. This lot are that rare commodity in these production-line years, the real deal.
Damian: They certainly won me over but they didn’t do it quickly. They entertained and slowly, over time, I found myself warming to them more and more. It was as if they were stroking me gently throughout the gig and – as everyone knows – the more you get stroked, the more turned on you get. Wild Beasts can safely say they came, they saw, they played and they conquered – in the slyest fashion. Well done chaps.
Richard: Gisbert zu Knyphausen was on the main stage this year, performing with the same intensity as the last time we saw him at Haldern. He looks like he’s had a pie or two, (still skinny but not snappable) and this fortitude of purpose has rubbed into his music. It’s tougher, more rounded. We like Gisbert, he’s got a rock vibe that is pretty mainstream; but mainstream in the way that Joe Jackson was. There’s enough there to hold your interest if you understand German, that is.
Factors out of the Spiegel Tent’s control meant the programme was running late, and doing the other stuff you do as a reporter at a festival (interviews, talk piss with old journalist and photographer mates) meant we missed a fair whack of Socalled. We knew nothing of them anyway so didn’t feel we were missing out, until we turned up to catch the last 20 minutes of their set that is. Then we realised we were missing out. On paper the combination of Klezmer and East European turbo folk with North America’s funk and Soul Food poetry recital, sounds like one of those poncey fusion cooking ready meals you walk past in the kind of supermarket chains that have pretensions to be delis. You might dig the ingredients but you sure as hell aren’t sticking it in your mouth. Still, when you see an entire tent going ape to a clarinet solo leading a quicker, very Jewish version of a Clinton work out, you know that Dame Music has merely been toying with you. Of course you like it. This was an astonishing gig. It also helped that the band looked like a collection of your most whacky and least visited uncle’s mates. And what was going on with the pig glove puppet? A question best left open we feel… As to the performance well, there was everything here; wit, charm, funk, folk, daft acapella takes on what sounded like a Yiddish prayer call, as well as gooey reflections from a girl who could have been your Kindergarten assistant… how can we make this ungainly list sound as brilliant as it was? Finishing on an extended take on the great Fred Wesley’s House Party, Socalled walked off like triumphant gladiators in the Coliseum. An extraordinary gig and words just cannot do it justice.
Damian: Incredible, I think that’s the only word for it. A truly special Haldern moment. Next year, we’re bringing glove puppets too! I can’t believe I wasted part of my life watching Selah Sue twiddle a microphone as if she were eating raw herring on the main stage when I could have caught the rest of this spectacular show. Even so it was easily, EASILY, the gig of the day for me and one of my favourite Haldern moments ever. I’m still smiling now, just thinking about it.
Richard: Incendiary stuck around for Dry The River (in parlance of the weekend, they were a “two and a half beard band”) who were mildly diverting and no more. Sure the songs were good, the melodies were well constructed and the harmonies were beautifully delivered. But during all of this musical perfection we found ourselves diverted by the task of designing a facial hair template that would simultaneously advertise three major sports footwear brands on beard, moustache and sideburns reflectively. We were happy enough.
Damian: At one point somebody pointed out that the singer sounded like Aled Jones – at which point we sang in childish choir voices and ruined the next fifteen minutes of the show for anyone within earshot of us. Fear not, dear reader, we had left the tent at this point and were not interrupting the gathered throng in front of the stage but then, something unexpected happened.
Richard: Suddenly we were brought back to the gig with a shock as the band ripped apart their last song and threw it to the Gods of Rock in some absurdly pagan offering. Now this was more like it. Like angry, starving dogs let loose, guitar feedback and thundering drums dementedly tore across the stage and howled ferociously at the audience. What the fuck was all that, and, much more importantly, why didn’t they do that earlier?
Off to the Main Stage to take in Okkervil River….
Damian: Well done for not mentioning Miss Li. The Yorkshire Terrier in trouble. Yelp! Yelp!
Richard: ….who we have a lot of respect for – based mostly, it has to be said, for making such a fine fist of Roky Erikson’s backing band on his last excellent LP, True Love Casts Out All Evil. Okkervil River seemed to have sound problems, maybe their monitors were bust, maybe they didn’t care, but boy were they out of tune.
Damian: They were all over the place, but I actually think it worked in their favour. It made them feel a bit edgy and exciting.
Richard: In some ways - considering all the harmonies and melodic entente the day had so far offered – this brazen cold snap of tuneless vocals and out of synch guitars was very refreshing indeed. Because, boy did they belt out their songs. No fear was shown, only an absolutely devil may care feeling prevailed, one that seemed to whisper “stuff it, let’s have fun trying”.
Damian: Over time I’ve really grown to like this band and, on this, the second Haldern performance I’ve seen them play, I think I’m starting to love them. It’s almost as if they’ve got something special hidden in them and they have absolutely no idea how to bring it out on stage and – somehow, I’m not entirely sure how – that pleases me immensely.
Richard: Back we trudged through the gloop and glower to the Spiegel Tent to catch the Erased Tapes night. Erased Tapes have a lot going for them, great artists and a strong independent aesthetic, plus a hint of the hippy chin-stroking so often seen at Haldern. Playing a showcase night here made a lot of sense. Matters began with Codes in The Clouds, a band whose LP As the Spirit Wanes we like a lot. First we had to negotiate a short speech by Robert, the enthusiastic and committed head honcho at Erased Tapes, who somehow managed to mention the recent London Riots and the benign programmers of Haldern in the same sentence. Unperturbed by the awkward pre-gig pauses, and needing no further introduction, the band began to blast out a set that was much punchier than their album hints at, though tracks like the delightfully skippy reflection Look Back Look Up still had its winsome charm intact. Responding to one crowd comment seemed to be part of the fun too; “course we fucking rock, what did you expect?” was one rejoinder. Incendiary enjoyed this immensely, especially the opening, crashing Behemoth of freeform noise which rent the idea that it could be possible to quietly appreciate of the band’s merits asunder. You can’t beat rock and roll.
Damian: They were incredible. If it wasn’t for Socalled’s unexpected lunacy, they’d have walked away with gig of the day by a country mile. They played with a fierce energy and you could sense their confidence and swagger increasing with every track. The set just built up and up in every way, dragging the audience along with them. What had started as a quite, polite crowd turned into an ecstatic, hungry, sweaty throng of nodding heads and waving arms. Triumphant.
Richard: Following this warm bath of electronic noise; something a little more refined was promised: glamour puss Nils Frahm and doe eyed cellist Anne Mueller would, we fervently hoped, recreate large chunks of their brilliant LP, 7 Fingers. Frahm’s gig was the highlight of Haldern Pop 2010 for some of us, and this gig should draw on the new direction the LP had promoted. Unwieldy electronic appliances were wheeled onstage, knobs were twiddled and pedals cautiously tested. Time again for a quick introductory word from Robert, who became even more gauche this second time around. Nils, all assured calm and flashing teeth, intervened and placated the restive crowd with the suggestion that they should shout macaroni instead of clapping after each track. It worked. All was in place and Fram & Mueller proceeded to play their beautiful and complex music; Frahms restless, jack-in-a-box movements contrasting strongly with Mueller’s dreamy vibe. Things got dizzyingly romantic, swirls of noise powered by delay pedals and magnetic tape intertwined and created something magical.
Damian: I was getting worried for him at the start because he seemed to have so many toys to play with – often leaping up to twiddle another knob in the midst of a complex piano part - that I actually thought he may be better off getting an assistant but then he seemed to settle into the rhythm of things. His smile widened ever further throughout the gig and by the end he, and us alongside him, was engulfed in a sense of occasion, of warmth and, indeed, love. It was a hauntingly evocative and stunningly precise performance from both of them. Truly beauitiful.
Richard: The woozy, complex and disorienting atmosphere could be summed up by Mueller’s comment to a remark of Frahm’s “Oh Nils you have such a beautiful back”, a statement that could be read in a variety of ways… mild dancing and mooching ensued. Once the gig was over Frahm & Mueller embraced, maybe this had been a strain in making their perfect LP live on a stage. Whatever, it was well worth it from our standpoint. Oh, and no-one shouted macaroni, they were too taken up in the music.
Damian: I did hear some cheeky scamp shout tagliatelle at one point.
Richard: Finally we had Rival Consoles, otherwise known as Ryan West. West, a thin, ethereal/feral being (or so it seemed to us at 2am) stood with a sense of urgency and purpose behind a mixing desk. A laptop stood open. Our heats sank a little. We like action, not staring at someone looking at a screen… Luckily it seems West thinks like us. There was no smug standing around, rather his slight frame shuddered along with his music, his head violently dipping and swaying, small jerky, jabbing hand movements of indeterminate and mysterious currency sometimes making themselves manifest. It was actually very compelling to watch. And to dance to. West’s music is a mix of anthemic classic club passages and very fractured shards of abstract noise and texture that somehow amalgamate to create tough uncompromising dance music that built steadily in power and intensity. Strange shapes were thrown. There was snogging. There was standing around and chin stroking appreciation. There was a bit of lairy lad behaviour too. In other words you could have a bit of everything. Perhaps this aspect summed the entire showcase, as all three acts allowed the audience to react to the music in whatever way they felt like, a rare quality indeed. Security pulled the plug around 3:30 and that was it.
Damian: They had the pull the plug because nobody wanted to leave. 3:30 in the morning and still shouting for a third, if not fourth encore. The tent was, quite literally, bouncing for Rival Consoles and Incendiary cut some rug in a fashion not seen in quite a while.
Overall, the Erased Tapes showcase can only go down as a triumph. Haldern is a wonderful festival and the audience likes to get involved. They love to sing, and clap along. They love a bit of whoa-oh-oh and all that. (Who doesn’t) but to see three instrumental acts of varying, often contradictory styles win over the crowd in the fashion they did was wonderful to behold. Each of the three acts played an absolute blinder and each of them, in their own inimitable way, produced a performace of real class. The three acts will probably never appear one after the other again at any other festival. Most programmers aren’t that brave. Only at Haldern could something like this be possible. Thank you Haldern. Thank you Erased Tapes. We should do this more often.
Richard: What a marvellous day.
Damian: Praise should go out to The Wombats, who stormed the main stage at around the same time the Erased Tapes showcase was kicking off and, by the accounts of many a teary eyed German journalist and photographer, Tim Isfort, John Grant and their accompanying orchestra performed wonders under the full moon and starry skies. Let’s face it, no matter where you were in Haldern on Friday night, you were glad to be there.