When music festivals go bad, you’ve got to write an honest review

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This year 2000 Trees left me feeling a bit bummed out. I’d say this was probably why the music site I did it for didn’t post it and I guess that’s probably fair enough, but then I don’t know. I’m not a doctor.

Hey, maybe it’s just poorly written, I’m open to that – and they haven’t specifically said they’re not posting it, but it’s been two months. It’s a more vitriolic approach than I’d tend to go for, but I had some problems with the festival this year (but none of the bands… except maybe one…) and the website has some affiliations with the festival so it’s understandable. However, an explanation would have been welcome, rather than not hearing anything from a mag I’ve written for from its inception in 2007.

Essentially, I don’t want these 2000 words to go to waste – even if it goes against the probable majority that enjoyed the weekend – and especially as I wasn’t paid to do this, and had to pay a percentage of the ticket cost so that I had the privilege to do my job. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention. Not only is it nearly impossible to get paid to write about music now, I also have to pay to do this work. Isn’t that interesting? This is the first year I’ve noticed festivals really doing this, and I’m hoping it’ll be a one off, because, well, you know – writers might be less likely to focus on the positives if it becomes a thing.

That may not be particularly professional, but then… I wasn’t being paid to do a job.

2000 Trees 2014 left me feeling a bit bummed out

Well, that was a strange one. 2000 Trees; Cheltenham’s premier small festival, just 5,000 capacity, and a rapport amongst its attendees that has resulted in the festival cementing its place within the hearts of long-term fans, and spawning major return acts and subsequently, their own camps – such as Camp Turner! Where a bunch of dudes turn up and play Frank Turner songs on a little circular disk in the middle of the camp site, and Camp Reuben! Where… well, a bunch of dudes turn up and play Reuben songs. But at least that’s in a little tent in a remote corner of a camp site, and at least they tried to do other things like open mics, and secret sets. However, as told to us by someone working at Camp Reuben, this largely was not allowed to happen after the “Reubenites” turned up just wanting to sing Reuben songs. Apparently this was all too much for her because she was currently on the entirely wrong side of the campsite seeking solace from Camp Turner and its relentless leakage of platitudes describing how English everyone’s bones are, while a small splinter group took it upon themselves to make sure everyone knew that Frank Turner used to be in the band Million Dead.

In the VIP

It’s Thursday, which is the first day of the three-day alternative, rock, punk, and, well, a little bit of folk for some reason, festival. This is the VIP day – VIP means you get to sit around and drink beer and listen to music for three days, instead of two days, like the peasants have to.

This first day saw a pretty impressive line up considering only a section of the attendants were there. Only the Cave – the festival’s second largest stage, was open. Early up, was Oxygen Thief. Bristol’s one-man acoustic screaming man. He’s played the festival five out of seven, but this is his first time with a band, and it’s a fucking revelation. Following a successful year, releasing a couple of records on Xtra Mile Recordings, Oxygen Thief returns triumphant – his songs are known, the crowd familiar with the man’s work and happy to have him back, but things get moving and mixed up with the added momentum that the heavy as shit, and rugged as hell bass adds to the proceedings. The approach is infectious and soon, even the proportion of the crowd that were still pre-pubescent the first time Oxygen Thief would have played the festival were up and jumping, despite their initial confusion and trepidation at the streaks of grey in lead-singer Barry Dolan’s flowing locks.

Later, Johnny Foreigner played. Despite also playing the festival five years ago, there was no grey here, and the band were able to stir up the various GCSE leaving parties that dotted the festival from the start, with some fine Birmingham indie-rock, fresh as can be all the way from Waited Up ’til It Was Light, to their very latest album, You Can Do Better.

But the main attraction for this Thursday evening was Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip – the hip hop duo are a fantastic cross-over act that works well at ‘Trees, having previously headlined in 2011. This time round they were on the smaller stage, but the tent was packed as the band powered through singles like Get Better. Their flagship tune ‘Thou Shalt Always Kill’ sounded murky, plagued by sound problems that followed them around throughout the set. Strangely enough, the lights seemed temperamental too – swathes of the performance saw Scroobius Pip shrouded in shadows. But with only a handful of shows left before the pair go their separate ways, the festival provided the perfect backdrop.

In celebration of Baby Godzilla

Suddenly it was Friday, and there were a number of intriguing acts today. So, you know when you invite a guy to the party and he drinks all the booze, takes all the drugs and breaks a bunch of shit and doesn’t leave? That’s basically what Baby Godzilla did, but there’s four of them and everyone loved them. This didn’t make sense, at all, because what’s so great about an hour long drum solo and lots of shouting? A bizarre spectacle, the four-piece from Nottingham describe their music as ‘General extreme noise’, which makes sense because when the singer fell off whatever the fuck he was climbing on at that point in time, it could have been anything, and snapped his guitar in two and then pretended to smash it up on the stage like he meant to do it all along, well, that was pretty extreme. And the way that the singer and guitarist both kept jumping into the crowd, and off guitar cabinets so they couldn’t possible play anything resembling a note, especially when there’s no way anything would ever be in tune again, well, that was pretty noisy. And the way the singer climbed on the bass cabinet and in the process yanked out every single wire going into the bassists cabinet so that the bassist shouted ‘what the fuck are you doing?’ at him and had to spend the next two songs with two roadies trying to figure out what the fuck he had done, well, in general, that was massively cunty of him. But at least they’re accurate in their description.

They also put a bunch of people in a bin and told them to have the smallest moshpit. They didn’t explain why, and they didn’t need to because everyone (four guys) did it.

Then the bassist sang a chorus and it was great, and showed some real talent, but then all too soon there was another verse and the singer was climbing up onto the Glastonbury Pizza van’s roof and shouting “I’M SANTA WATCH ME BURN” before falling into a patch of stinging nettles and arising covered in bleeding sores and proclaiming himself the son of Duran Duran, like Duran Duran was a real person. Or something like that, anyway.

Despite their popularity, there were a whole bunch of other heavy bands that drew an enthusiastic crowd this weekend; the likes of Turbowolf, with their keys-laden rock ’n’ roll, or The St. Pierre Snake Invasion’s hangover shattering opening performance earlier that day (for both the band, and audience), but neither quite drew the levels of fandom that only an empty spectacle can. Or the number of lines in a festival review either, it seems – the irony/hypocrisy certainly isn’t lost on me.

Thanking the lord for shelter

The origins of the festival name is confusing, because while the centre piece was just a singular tree, there were 2000 people passed out under it when we reached Saturday morning and the magnetic poles of the earth reversed and the fiery pits of hades rose to the earth’s surface to scorch the already bedraggled husks of festival attendees. There was only one area that you could go to escape this, and that was the forest. Previous ‘Trees fests have seen the surrounding shrubbery criminally under-used, but these days you can go through a door in a hedge and reach a clearing that plays host to Walter and The Dude from The Big Lebowski. Go further into the woodland and you’ll find a hidden stage; the Forest Sessions stage, which played host to numerous acoustic and stripped down acts chosen by musical education organisation, BIMM. This stage was criminally under-advertised, however, thanks to the beating sun, it didn’t suffer under-attendance as people quickly realised this was both literally and figuratively the coolest place to be. Acts I saw here included Ergo Schmidt, a pushing acoustic force with an elliptical vocal delivery, waking up the snoozing audience mid-afternoon.

But there was another stage to reach; The Croft – named after nearby Bristol’s highly-regarded small venue that met its end last year, but it required an expedition to get there. After walking those 14 miles under the blistering Arizona sun having twice mistaken a tree for the croft stage in a fit of mirage-based fantasia, we eventually reached the stage at the dog’s arse’s end of the festival site. But you know what, it was bloody worth it to see some of the best bands of the weekend perform there.

Including Lonely Tourist, i.e. Paul Tierney, who sauntered into the festival site, dressed in jeans and a blazer jacket. The sweat was instant, and he noted that he’d made a dire mistake, but that “fuck no, I can’t do that” in response to an audience member’s response to him taking off the jacket. His music is something akin to indie, or folk rock, but any description you can imagine would be met by an “aye, something like that” in his Glaswegian patter, but Tierney’s charm is half his schtick, and can be half the battle with a hungover audience attending a festival largely designed around the heavier end of the rock spectrum. But that’s why the Croft’s placing was so good, and you tended to find a different crowd at its stage most of the time.

Oliver Wilde also made an appearance. Wilde has release two records over the last two years or so and both have caused the indie press to go both nuts and bananas. His forms within lo-fi rock have made him an intriguing listen. Live, the bells and whistles are both out, and while some sounds are presented exactly as on record, guitars are louder and for once Wilde’s voice soars way above the music on tunes like ‘Flutter’ from debut album A Brief Introduction to Natural Light Years, which is an exciting watch. The set is short, but sweet.

A little about the loos…

ObvIously, the most exciting thing about 2000 trees followed a perusal of the FAQ section of the website, pre-fest, through which it’s revealed that the festival officially has the best toilets ever. In 2010, at least. And according to the UK Festival awards. But imagine the surprise to arrive at the men’s loos to be faced with a hay bail to piss on and a drunk woman with her pants down shouting into an oversized pair of headphones. However, this was of course explained by it being 2 in the morning during a silent disco. And it being an ‘eco toilet’. There was something very freeing about the whole experience, though, and for everyone involved, apparently.

Of course, there were proper toilets too, and they were very clean.

Not to hark on about the toilets, but this whole glowing reputation was then sadly shattered into a million pieces when one reckless ne’er do well decide it would be super cool to push a portaloo over when there was a guy inside – following two hours in a St. John’s Ambulance (this story isn’t autobiographical by the way, these details simply waft past a reporter’s nose as he follows the stench of a great story) and a ritual burning of clothing, the deservedly miserable individual was set free back into the festival to recount his dour tale. The reason this is being brought up here is because this was just one of the things that made this year’s 2000 Trees a bit like Reading Festival-lite – that kinda vibe. And this isn’t coming from someone that’s spent too long at festivals where the only kids in attendance wear their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirts without irony, ‘Trees used to be a lot different. However, the influx of individuals where the only thing more exciting than going to a festival with your mates is the opportunity to drink instant coffee from a common room vending machine during a Friday afternoon free period when you finally make it into Sixth Form next year. Understandably, this has affected the dynamic, considerably.

Those individuals that made the festival what it was, that gave camp Reuben and Camp Turner a reason to exist, were overshadowed by a new group of people – those that figure sitting around the campsite all day trying to drink Carlsberg hangovers away is experiencing the festival just as much as actually watching bands. But, and we’ll leave you with just this one snippet of wisdom; it’s important to realise, guys – that it fuckin’ ain’t.

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