Festival Review: X&Y – Part 1

x & y 2016 headerX&Y

9th-10th June 2016, Liverpool

Words: Gary Lambert

Photos: Fi Carroll

x&y festival 2016 posterSefton Park in south Liverpool, of a summer’s evening, produces a fine depiction of the suburban area. The park is bustling with clean energy. There are joggers, cyclists, people clad in Lycra for purposes beyond comprehension and dog walkers with a few too many dogs off the lead in this picture of some would call suburban bliss. Nothing seems to break the idyll. Until…

Oh dirty rock n roll. How wonderful you are. In the magnificent surroundings of The Palm House there is something happening. X&Y Festival has broken out of the city centre and is this year taking place in one of the most splendid buildings in a city of splendid buildings. Hidden behind the trees is a giant greenhouse containing all manner of flora and fauna, surrounded by manicured gardens suitable for a green at a golfing major, and statues of great people from all fields and ages. How many gigs venues have statues of Darwin and Columbus outside where the smokers gather?

There is a wonderful juxtaposition created by sticking this hive of new music and youth in amongst the ancient and historic. It jolts the senses and suggested that rather than settle for suburban slumber, we can rise up and take their world by surprise and claim it for our own.

The opening act of the first evening was Lunar Runway who can have all kinds of hackneyed comments made by writers if they become more successful than playing a slot that requires driving through rush hour traffic to see some of. The commuters blocking my way did stop me from seeing their opening number, but allowed me the rush of summer excitement upon hearing the band playing in the distance.  They were distinctly enjoyable; mixing their singer’s Scouse twang with a guitar backing reminiscent of the debut album of The Vaccines – which is for me one of those albums that will forever sound youthful even if it falls in and out of fashion. It turns out too that this was only the band’s third gig.

Following on from them came the four piece, Idle Frets. Now I am a sucker for a good pun so they get a tick from me straight away, but watching the band play gave me an appreciation of how well drilled they are. A band is only as tight as the connection between the drummer and the bassist, they lay the foundation on which the entertainment rests and Idle Frets get it precisely. The  drummer and bassist are in constant communication; with smiles, eye contact and the occasional word. For me, it is a setup that breeds confidence in all on stage. Even an awkward recurring whistle through the speakers does not break the momentum of the band. Even the drums coming loose stops them not. There is talent to go with the graft too. As they played their final song the singer starts with only a sparse guitar to accompany his vocal, but he thrives and sings with power and appeal.

It is a difficult balancing act at times for a frontman to grab people’s attention without being an attention seeker. The Polar States sometimes fall by the wayside when performing live for this reason, but this set saw less of the earnest soliloquies and more leading the band and as a very gym was the best performance I have seen from them. This act has created a sound for themselves which is suited to the festival scene which would not be testing for an audience of strangers and is bold enough to fill a bigger tent than a back room venue. But a bit of the scuzzy would not do harm to them. It might also get the attention of their talented bass player who gives off the vibe that he would be OK playing and thrashing around in a dirty sweat box.

After all that guitar, bass, drums and vocal traditionalism, it was a sorbet to the musical palette to get an offering that was a bit different. Club Kuru added synthesiser to the usual suspects and we’re all the better for it – even if it did take me until their finale to appreciate their performance. Sometimes as a gig-goer you get a feeling that there is something worth persevering with and that was nagging at me throughout this set so I headed outdoors to take in the last number and was rewarded with great understanding of the textures that were being weaved and welded to the songs by way of that Korg. It was distinctly a grander sound when given the chance to take to take to the air.

 

Now ever since 1989 and The Second Summer of Love, the British music audience has a particular soft spot for a powerful female vocal riding on a cloud of electronica. Babeheaven have a chance of tapping into that taste as their singer, Nancy, has an absolute whopper of a voice. Not too loud and not too warbling with the right choice of music to accompany that we could get into memorable territory. At this point though everything sounds safe and their entertainment value is also neutralised by a lack of engagement with the audience. These are things that come with experience though and nights like this will help. With a talent like this so suited to the British market – in a few crossover fields too – it could be well worth the necessary hard work to push on. They have got to give it a go. Make it fun, make it sweaty and they might just make it.

Finishing off the night was the urban soul of Honne. This would generally not be the style of music I would choose to listen to, I prefer pounding to swaying, but with a stylish presentation and a distinct soul vibe there was something an outsider like me could latch on to – and the fans saw it similarly as they crowded near to the stage without any encouragement being necessary.

Vant xy festival fi carrollAfter the expected rock that opened the event, the different styles of the final three acts gave day one of X&Y a festival feel. It was not just a case of rolling out the same old bands to entertain the same people. Instead there was a mixture of styles to entertain and challenge in a memorable venue. A very, very good opening.

For the second date, and despite an afternoon interlude of biblical proportions as the heavens opened, The Palm House and Liverpool still had the humidity hitting us hard. Opening up came local bands The Protagonists and The Jackobins. Both bands turned it up loud and went through the motions and played tightly and did exactly as you would expect of them. For this reviewer though I want to see bands produce a lot more than meat and two veg rock inspired by bands the young should be rallying against such as Simple Minds, U2 and Dire Straits. As someone with zero musical talent at all, it is frustrating to see young bands playing music that entertains their dads and their dads’ mates. In fact, I have a whole rant prepared in the recesses of my mind called Generation Terrorists which describes exactly this situation. I’m sure though in fifteen years when the guys are sat in the pub comparing war stories of playing in front of Auntie Vera and Uncle Billy they won’t be regretting having talent and playing to entertain that kind of audience over and over and over. They are only graffitiing their name on walls in town from really proclaiming themselves as the Kings of Local Bands. They probably have management already, but can some big, angry ex-punk please grab hold of them instead and fill them full of vitriol and bile. But most importantly fill them full of hatred for the music of their parents and beyond – and play with anger and ambition rather than simply be well rehearsed.

Next up came Fake Street and from the start it was obvious that this was a step up from the two who had come before. With a greater volume control and softer vocals the quality of the songwriting of this band took centre stage – and they could offer a variety of play with mixing loud, chorus-filled numbers with a more subtle, toned down track or two. I was reminded of festival staples such as Feeder with this performance. They will be nobody’s favourite band, but you will struggle to find a way to criticise them.

 

Interestingly next up came Cabezudos and upon seeing the frontman I felt dread. I do not like being negative about music, but when you have seen people front bands over and over and never felt anything more than the need to cringe and hope the set is short, it does not build much hope. Well I take my omnipresent hat off to these guys. This is a band that works. The retro-styled bluesy vocalist was able to show off his instrument without looking like showing off, because there is much more to this sound than the bands I have seen Jack Hughes front before. Also with more people on stage it provides less room for his look-at-me antics. Although that was ruined by him jumping down from the stage to encourage his friends to jump around which sought to steal the attention from his band mates during a instrumental section – and makes his mates look sheepish when he returned to the stage. Remember you’re a team. That said Cabezudos are in my little black book of Bands To Watch Again.

 

Vitamin are not a surprising band especially for Popped Music. We know them and love them. They have well written songs, finely honed stage craft and are a sharp, charming band. Coming on after a local act with a lot of their friends in the audience meant that the first song was conducted in an awkward stand off between audience and band, but there was no standing on ceremony as lead singer, Jared Laville, asked, nay, demanded that the audience move forward. And then counted their steps and made sure it felt like a gig should. Vitamin sounded ace and did not disappoint on expectations although a swollen ankle meant I was watching the performances from a marble bench 90 degrees to the stage. After that, Vitamin controlled the stage and performance and showed why Popped Music have loved them for so long.

For me though it was Vant  that ruled the night, forcing me to get up from my marble sofa and get as close to the front as possible. Hobbling or not, Vant are a musical tractor beam. They don’t order you to come closer, the power of their rock makes the audience gravitate to them. Vant exist and as a result you must ensure that you coexist with them. I loved this performance to the extent that I forgot about making any notes or trying to analyse their actions on stage. I was sucked in, chewed up and spat out by rock n roll. It was glorious.

 

Now it is time to recuperate and wait for the second, already sold out, second part to start. Roll on July!!!

X&Y 10th July -Photo Gallery:

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    Popped Music has been going since Feb 2010.

    All articles written by Elena Katrina unless otherwise stated.

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