I think I have found what I was looking for… A festival that, despite being sold out, succeeds in :
- having as a line-up only interesting, good or great bands
- keeping a human face and making your life enjoyable rather than miserable with great food, not too much walk between the four beautiful music stages, easiness to get access to the camping or parking areas , clean toilets without no queue, plenty of space when one attends a gig,…
- being really different with lots of great stores, surprise concerts in the forest, other stages (comedy, disco, cinema)…and peacocks in utter freedom
- making you feel young again compared to other festivals ! I have never seen so many babies (not children or teenagers, I really mean babies!) but people in their 60’s as well
So, yes, English summer time means 18 degrees at best but there was no rain at all during the whole festival and Sunday was sunny and wonderful so I guess we were lucky here too. No question about it : that was my best festival of all times with Austin City Limits and although a few of you might be sceptical in not finding so many big names, the density of good bands is amazing. I attended 31 gigs in three days and did not remember a bad one (ok… maybe I should exclude Sleaford Mods… but these guys remain interesting). I had to do choices so I did not succeed in seeing such big artists as Tame Impala, Django Django, Saint Etienne, Mark Lanegan, Laura Marling or Mac De Marco but I guess I have been rewarded by those I saw. Here is the list of my favourite gigs, stage by stage. Many of these artists will be found again in my best of the year 2015 list and I must say that women are more than ever leading what is interesting in pop and rock today.
- Tipi Tent
Very nice and friendly space, protected from the weather…with carpet on the floor. Temperature on site often reached around 10 degrees at night so the campfire held outside was a brilliant idea too. Three names I would like to comment on in particular. The first one was actually the first gig of the whole festival I went to (Friday 1.30pm) with a new artist named Aero Flynn. He is a friend of Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and his music is a beautiful mix of American sensitivity with a electro/Radiohead touch. I finished my first day until midnight with another musician I have been following during these last 3 years : Jacco Gardner. This Dutch artist does a very melodic music with influences I can spot coming from the Byrds or Teenage Fanclub. But the best gig of the Tipi tent I have attended was without any question that of a UK band called This Is The Kit, lead by Kate Stables. Their music is difficult to describe ; it mixes folk and electro with a grunge attitude, whatever it means… The band were really amazed by the crowd packed in such a small area and my feeling is that they should be really successful in the years to come
- Garden Stage
Without any doubt the most beautiful stage not only of the festival but of all of them. This is the place I spent most of my time and one could feel a real sense of happiness and achievement between the relaxed audience and the bands. Weird to hear regularly the typical sounds of the peacocks but this is one of the charms of the festival. Low, one of my favourite bands were the last band on this stage on the first day and theirs was the usual mix of Velvetian cool melodies and more “in your head” songs. Saturday was only dedicated to the label Heavenly, home of prestigious past names such as Doves, Edwyn Collins or Manic Street Preachers for instance and all the bands I have seen that day were really a pleasure (cf. gigs’ list page for details). But my main enthusiasm of the week-end went to the great retro/soul sounds of Natalie Prass, with whom I had the pleasure in having a 5-minute chat during the Rough Trade signature event.
- Big Top
A more traditional tent stage as can be found in other festivals, this stage still had a je-ne-sais-quoi that still made it different ; probably the elephant hanging from the ballon under the roof…This stage was made to receive tougher sounds and the two artists I prefer there were really in that mood. Metz is not only the name of a French city but as well of a powerful trio signed on the seminal Sub Pop label. Difficult not to mention Nirvana such their music is powerful and demanding. Let’s stop the comparison here as not a lot of bands would be advantaged by such a thing but let me just write that I spent a hell of a moment with them, in the good meaning of the word. The other gig I would specifically like to mention here is that of the great Beth Jeans Houghton who has been facing this year a complete transformation under the name Du Blonde. Her music is like such a name could mean for me : great melodies with no fat and a close to the bone attitude, whilst still keeping a feminine touch. Without falling into stereotypes, she is one of these artists who achieve something more while on stage.
- The Woods
The Woods, what a nice name rather than calling it main stage… As this is what it is about probably, the outdoor stage with the main space and the bigger names but with something different once again difficult to describe. Due to the choices described above, the only gig I attended on Friday was that of Torres but what a gig that was. Torres is the artist name of the American female songwriter Mackenzie Scott and her music is very intense and beautiful at the same time. Her latest LP is a real treasure and benefits from the presence of Adrian Utley from Portishead. To make it short and lazy, she is the new American PJ Harvey.
The names on Saturday were amazing. I had in mind to watch My Morning Jacket for 45 minutes before leaving to catch Saint Etienne on the Garden Stage but their concert was so great and authentic that I stayed until the end. I may have been too over familiar with this great American band and will dig again in all their records, such their musical evolution is interesting. And they really have an amazing leader with Jim James, who is able to sing like an angel during one song and play a saturated guitar solo five minutes later.
The main star and headliner of the festival was of course Sufjan Stevens, one of the best artists of our times (ranked #89 in my top 100). Although I feel that his music may sound not that warm sometimes on stage, his talent is so immense that he succeeds in making you feel very personal quiet songs, surrounded by thousands of other people. His interaction with the audience was very funny as well and full of wit. That was my third Sufjan Stevens gig and that was probably that where I found the best balance between his acoustic side and his electro one.
Sunday at the Woods was probably as good as the previous day. The festival had the good idea in closing with The War On Drugs, the band lead by Adam Granduciel and in which Kurt Vile used to play as well before going solo. Their LP “Lost in the Dream” was to be found in all best of the year 2014 lists and I must say there are probably even better on stage than on record, with a huge emphasis put in guitar solos. What Bruce Springsteen would be if he were to start today and was slightly less mainstream (and this is a compliment).
But for me the main thrill of the festival was to eventually see Future Islands. I have been a huge fan of their 2014 LP “Singles” and I guess anyone who has seen a TV live performance of the great single “Seasons” and the crazy dance moves of their singer Samuel T. Herring will not forget them in a long time. On stage, the formula is simple but super efficient : no guitar but a never ending groove beautifully orchestrated on keyboards/drums/bass by the band whereas Samuel T. Herring keeps on singing and living his songs as if it were the last day on earth. Not sure I spent a better moment this year than during the hour and fifteen minutes that last their gig.
So this is the way it ended for 2015 and the 10th anniversary of the festival, full of memories and great moments. Thanks to Sofia and Simon for having created this marvellous idea ten years ago and see you next year (already got my ticket…)!