30 April 2008

Pugh! Pugh! Barney McGrew! Cuthbert! Dibble! Grubb!

Just back in Dublin after a very musical long weekend, with three days spent at the Bang Face Weekender in Camber Sands followed by a trip to Belfast to see Bjork at the Waterfront Hall.

The last festival that I was at was Glastonbury last year, and although I enjoyed it and managed to have more showers than pints I swore that I would never do the camping thing again. I also started to worry that as I hit my mid-thirties I was loosing interest in shared musical experiences, preferring to squirrel myself away in the comfort of my own studio and avoid the distractions of drunken youths that inevitably accompany public performances. Bang Face was just the antidote to this musical tweed jacket that was being donned far too prematurely.

Located in a Pontin's Holiday Camp near Rye in the south east of England, with less than 3,000 attendees and no camping, the weekend veered erratically between extreme civilisation and neo-rave armageddon (as it said on the flyers, the projections, t-shirts and in indelible marker on at least one unfortunate sleeper's forehead). The Very Understanding Girlfriend and I shared a chalet more luxurious than some student flats I've been in in Rathmines with two Irish friends currently living abroad, and also spent most of the weekend with Mr and Mrs Love Rhino, and two French friends of theirs. Our self-catering chalet was less than a minutes walk from the main venue, but surprisingly sound proof. This allowed us to take multiple food and tea breaks between the acts, and I can heartily recommend a large pasta break at 2am to boost a flagging dancer. We had at least 5 types of cheese, numerous pastas and vegetarian treats, and started each morning off with cava and raspberries, much to the amusement of a friend who brought nothing but tinned baked beans for the weekend. Having a warm bed to sleep in, a shower to start off your day, and a full stomach throughout the festival made it so much easier to kick back and enjoy the music.

Most of line-up was stuff that I have been listening to for the last ten years, so I thought that the audience would all be similarly aged to me. While this ultimately proved not to be the case and I felt at times a bit too old, overdressed and sober, the general atmosphere coupled with the good group of friends I was with insulated me from my usual dismissive and grumpy nature.

So how was the music? Amazing, quite simply some of the best stuff I have seen in ages. Ceephax, Shitmat, Venetian Snares and Bogdan Raczynski were all folks that I wanted to see for some time, and didn't disappoint. Squarepusher on Sunday night was amazing, playing live bass and guitar over his normal stuff in a room that felt like a sauna and caused me to loose about 5 pounds over the course of the evening. Cassette Boy was also someone that I'd wanted to see for ages, and had a stunning live show involving two grown men in anatomically correct 'his n' hers' Monkey Suits acting out non-Family Safe pantomimes to the mashed up sounds of Jamie Oliver. I found Plaid disappointing, having seen them quite a few times I found this set a bit boring, but the big revelation for me was Modeselektor whom I'd never heard before but played one of the best sets of the weekend.

The event was amazingly well organised, with each main stage act accompanied by dozens of inflatable things (kangaroos, alligators, beach balls, medieval weapons) hurled into the audience with literally thousands of glowsticks, and with Saturday night culminating in a seriously old school rave set by St. Acid (one of the main organisers), it was like a time warp back to the heady days of 91-93 via Trumpton and some serious hardcore interludes. The fact that it was a gloriously warm weekend that involved an afternoon spent on the white sands of Camber only added to the contrast with the misery that was last year's Glastonbury.

I met my sister in London on the Thursday before we went down, and she had been at the Bowlie Weekender in the same venue, the legendary precursor to the All Tomorrow's Parties series back in 1999 hosted by Belle & Sebastian. From the way she talked about it I had the feeling that this Bang Face will be spoken of in the same way in ten years time by those who were there, it was just something special.

It was good to meet my sister on this trip, as she and her fiancee had given me tickets to see Bjork in Belfast's Waterfront Hall on Monday night. I'd seen Bjork's current show in Glastonbury last year, but seeing her indoors in a concert hall more used to classical music, with amazing acoustics and an intimacy impossible to achieve in almost any other setting, was an altogether different and unique experience. With a bass sound stronger than Squarepusher, a full brass band, reactable and tenori-on, it was Bjork's voice that was the real show-stopper for me, with a range and power that is impossible to reproduce in the studio. Simply stunning.

All in all possibly the best four days of music I have ever had.

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