Offset Festival, Hainault Forest, Essex, 30/08/08
Don’t judge a brochure by its cover. Offset festival’s programme cover promised a scene that could, alas, never be. Camped out under a tree, replete with quasi Red Indian headdresses, four Bright Young Things sat in front of a small, very bijou wigwam and enjoyed a balmy summer night picnic - graced with wicker baskets and porcelain cups. Some aesthete called Sleepy Sparrow had snapped this image of Narnia, Essex style in the hope that jaded and cynical Metropolitan types would (yet again) suspend disbelief, and find that this festival wouldn’t be like other, lesser festivals; that attendees at Offset would be transported to some Sylvan glade where Gandalf would be in constant attendance, ushering the naive through a blissful portal between the sounds of Righteous Elders and the exciting Sounds of Tomorrow. Or summat.
Once Team Incendiary had got the bus out to Hainault Forest (driving through what seemed to be the biggest council estate in Britain, doubtless populated by a form of Essex hobbit), eaten a pie and joined a cue for day tickets; all ideas of Sylvan glades, fauns and talking animals were well and truly dissipated. For one, it was bloody hot, and secondly the unrelenting blare of dissonant, competing noises reached levels that could be described as uncomfortable. I mean, who in their right minds puts a funfair next to the stages at a music festival?
Still, we were here to see what London had in terms of the new, as well as having the safety net of Wire’s gig later in the evening to make the 35 quid entrance fee feel less of a rip. Getting in just in time to see Maths Class on the Main Stage, Incendiary settled down for the first of many unwelcome surprises.
What is it with the youth of today? Whatever Maths Class’s musical merits were (which weren’t many) they were eclipsed by the overwhelming irritation felt as we saw the singer go through a series of gyrations that could have been interpreted as dancing along to his band’s noise. Maybe he was showing his pain, his intensity and his deep, like, you know, sort of like, emotion, right, but his movements were a very un-Righteous mixture of pigeon-toed embarrassment, appalling, asbo-attracting smugness and a mime of cowering in the face of some invisible parental figure. Look son, shake your hips, cut some rug, throw a few shapes. Be a man.
Be a Man
The Experimental Circle Club Tent promised much, and given the Main Stage were soon to show a band called Thomas Tantrum, we decided to spend as much time there as possible. Parked right next to said tent was a huge pile of horse shit, doubtless some whacky parody that would have excited some louche mind. To us, it just looked like a huge pile of horse shit. And it smelt. At least it smelt slightly better than the aroma of piss that permeated the tent’s other entrance. Maybe there was some subliminal balance at work here. Maybe we were unwittingly in the centre of a conceptual work of art. Who knows?
The Experimental Circle Club certainly experimented with traditional concepts of time; maybe half the gigs happened in another dimension, whatever. The fact remains that apart from Futurism vs Passeism, precisely no bands started anywhere near the listed hour. Futurism vs Passeism were interesting enough; reedy, clattering guitar wrestled with Stereolab-style vocals to good effect. Whether they and their moody one-chord work-outs were rubbish or epic is still debatable; what they did do was create their own scene, a scene which didn’t really owe anything to anyone else. I’d like to see this lot again, for sure. After this we took in a smidgeon of The Domino State’s set. Moody, lean and black-clothéd; they set great store in showing their commitment and passion (if the singer’s jerky squinting shuffle was anything to go by), and building up spiralling, ever-more-euphoric chord sequences. It was okay and very Big Country at times; the slightly older, podgier lead guitarist’s attempts at out-doing Robin Guthrie almost sold it to us.
Following this it was off to watch ddd who are a duo, again black-clad and angular and full of art-school ideas. Actually they were pretty great, with the lad on vocals delivery turning what could have been a set of average art school work-outs into something quite exciting. And who says drum machines don’t add anything. Incendiary got the impression that a drummer would have destroyed the tightness and menace the set exuded. At times they almost strode into Neu! territory, (which would have been great) but just fell short. A definite recommendation here.
A bummer note. Festival organisers and hangers on should not jump around behind the stage, hijacking a performance and distracting the audience. The bearded idiot who obviously felt he needed to show all the hipsters how spiritually connected he was with the music, the scene, the vibe etc, etc will feel the wrath of our bombast should we ever meet. Bearded idiot, be warned.
Seeing the gloriously named No Bra wouldn’t be playing for at least another century (given the problems encountered by all and sundry in the Experimental Tent) we chanced our arm and wandered back to the Main Stage to catch Victorian English Gentleman’s Club’s strange take on life in general. I still have problems - after about 4 years of trying - in working out if I like them; maybe that is their point. They’re not especially difficult to listen to; rather it’s hard to work out what on earth is going on in their collective psyche and whether it translates into tangible, effective music. Incendiary are still none the wiser.
Another name that sounds like a Times leader followed: The Strange Death of Liberal England bashed out their psyched-out folk, their undoubted attack undermined by a noticeable gaucheness and a strangely paced gig. It’s glaringly apparent they don’t do festival afternoon slots often; neither do they have the musical armoury to effectively build up a head of steam or engage the audience’s attention once the shouting stops. It’s all a bit one-paced. Still they have something, the question is, where will they take it next?
We headed back to the Experimental Horse Shit Tent to see S.C.U.M.’s excellent take on early Goth. You couldn’t ask for more clichés but hell, what with all the dry ice, the moaning and wailing, the one-chord dirges and Cave-style histrionics they put on a great show. The singer’s determination to out-diva the audience was impressive stuff too, so top marks all round. And the dry ice negated the smell of shite… With the timing completely out of the window it was a case of wandering round the various tents, filling cups with grass, playing on the dodgems and trying to see if there was anything that caught our attention. LevelLoud were great fun; a duo interested in making quirky, spiky pop, and a duo who instantly endeared themselves to Incendiary for wearing yellow and looking like they could carry the weight of their worlds on their shoulders
A word too for the Guitar Hero Rock Stage, where power chords and screaming bloody murder constantly ripped up the atmosphere. No gauche pissing about with sound levels there. In many ways this seemed to be the place where people were genuinely having fun and not for the first time I regretted disliking Heavy Metal and Hard Rock in all its fragmentary forms.
Good Clean fun was not the order of the day back in the Experimental tent; Factory Floor sounded like New Order cover band. I mean, we all like New Order, especially Everything’s Gone Green era New Order, but really, what’s the point? One is tempted to say that the band really sounded like the sweepings from the Factory floor but would that be too rude? Probably. Sorry.
Still, maybe this is an idea for future events; why have new music? Why not just have tents that allow you to enter 1981, and experience the sights and sounds of that, or some other seminal year. There’ll be plenty of bands able to copy the required sound.
After this it was off to Colin’s Tent to see Glam Chops. Luckily we were just in time to see the arse end of a rousing set by Trademark. Think sparkly electro pop, with the merest hint of an early ‘Mode. Somehow the gaucheness, the twee-ness and the willingness to entertain really connected. And, (of course), great, hook-laden pop which allowed us all to jump around in a very un-cool manner. After all there are only so many moody teenagers and so much re-hashing of the 80s that one can take. Thank God for Trademark putting us in a good mood. Otherwise, the wait we endured for Glam Chops could have resulted in violence. Especially given the number of smug nobbers in the crowd….
Glam Chops is Eddie Argos from Art Brut’s other band. Together with David Devant, and about 50 backing singers, Argos’s act sounded like a laugh at the very least. Sadly we didn’t wait around as there is only so long one can watch arsey smug roadies who insist on sorting out the 3rd flute’s reverb pedals or whatever (in case you were wondering, we waited 40 minutes)… I mean, for fuck’s sake we are in a tent, gentlemen. It’s a festival, in front of drunken people. There is lee-way...
stop pissing about!
Luckily the Glam Chops delay meant that we were able to watch the Young Knives run through a very, very enjoyable ‘60s R&B tinged set: quite why people see similarities with bands like BSP is beyond me, it’s more Kinks, Who and Jam. Good fun banter between songs, too. Great gig.
Onto Wire; now we saw Wire play a brilliant gig earlier in the year, in Utrecht’s Ekko. Somehow, despite my misgivings of seeing a band I’d always associate with smoky clubs play in a field full of Bright Young Things, they blew the place apart with a rousing set. Playing a mix of classics off Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154, and stuff from the excellent new LP Object 47, Wire set about wearing down the audience into accepting their flinty world-view. Perhaps it was the gathering mist, perhaps it was Colin Newman’s studied looning around, or just maybe it was because of the brilliant renditions of stuff like The 15th, who knows? All disappointments from earlier melted away as Wire’s chugga-chugga grooves tapped into some ancient steely Skando-Saxon memories buried deep in this now very misty Essex field..
Sitting on the bus that wormed it’s way back through London’s hinterlands, Team Incendiary marvelled at the extreme thinness of the Bright Young Things’ legs and their devotion in looking and moping around like Jim Reid did twenty odd years ago. A mixed day music-wise, but fun nonetheless.
Words: Richard Foster