Celebrating its tenth year (the ‘Happy 10th Birthday’ sign at the foot of a giant straw bear/beaver creature by one of the bars was a giveaway), End Of The Road (4-6 September) continues to maintain its reputation as one of the UK’s best small-ish festivals. A lot of this is down to the overwhelmingly relaxed atmosphere. While entering many festival sites can feel like getting a shake down at airport security, the laissez faire attitude is such that it’s hard to recall actually being asked to show your wristband at any point over the weekend. The chilled out vibes permeate the whole event; the stages are within easy ambling distance of one another, people seem to be bathed in a warm glow of contentment all weekend (perhaps because it doesn’t take an age to queue up for a locally sourced ale or cider), there’s a few peacocks nonchalantly wandering around the grounds and bar the railing against the modern world swearathon of Sleaford Mods‘ Saturday night set, most of the acts stick to the sort of thoughtful indie and folk-leaning rock favoured by men with beards and rucksacks. It’s not overly gentle (once the main attractions are over you can wind your way though the well-kept lawns and gardens for a cornucopia of great DJ sets through the early hours), but then again it’s not exactly selling your clothes for ketamine at the Bang Face Weekender or hoping teenagers wired on Carlsberg and GSCE results don’t burn your tent down at Reading and Leeds. Here’s what we learnt from this year’s festival…
1. Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker has upped his frontman game
Sonic psych wizard he may be, but Kevin Parker (pictured) has never been one of life’s natural frontmen. However, where once Parker may have done things like stop his band’s biggest hit halfway through to fiddle with his guitar pedals, during Tame Impala’s bass-heavy psychedelic pop workout on Friday he pumped his fist in the air, whooped (a couple of times) and even did things like talk to the audience. Parker’s never going be Miley Cyrus on stage but top marks for improvement.
2. People must not dress up very often at US festivals
In the UK if you see someone dressed up as a giant pickle or one of the Super Mario Brothers at a festival you assume they’re either on a stag do or it’s part of some sort of elaborate forfeit. This must not happen as much in America. Halfway through her Friday afternoon set, Virginia singer songwriter Natalie Prass spied two people dressed up as characters from Back To The Future. Rather than ignore or ridicule them though, she invited them up on stage. “Oh my god, is that Doc Brown?… and Marty McFly?!?” she exclaimed with what sounded like genuine amazement. Prass then made her band improvise their way through a pretty impressive version of Johnny B Goode while ‘Marty’ and ‘Doc’ looked embarrassed and shimmied around a bit.
3. You can here a pin drop during a Sufjan Stevens gig
The Detroit singer songwriter doesn’t do festivals so End Of The Road getting him as a headliner was a big deal for those who hold Stevens up as one of the most gifted songwriters of the last 20 years. Now, much like the statistic that claims you’re never more than six feet away from a rat in London, generally you’re never too far from a loud, pissed up idiot and his mates at a festival headline slot (big shout out to the guys at Tame Impala substituting ‘mole!’ for every other lyric, really, it got funnier every time you did it). Yet such was the level of awed reverence during Stevens’ (or simply ‘Sufjan’ to literally everybody who likes his music) set that The Woods stage (confusingly not in the actual woods) and surrounding area fell under an eerie silence while he played. Evidently even those who weren’t card carrying Sufjan-ites couldn’t help but be dumbstruck by the utterly beautiful music coming from the stage.
4. I’m Mark E Smith, no I’m Mark E Smith…
South London degenerates The Fat White Family lurched their way through an early evening set on Saturday looking like there should have been someone side of stage with a defibrillator in the likely event that one of them keeled over and died. While it’s rumoured that their eagerly awaited second album is now done and dusted, the only song played that was less than 18 months old was the droning hero-worship of I Am Mark E Smith. However, 24-hours previously that claim was audibly being staked by Montreal’s Ought. Over a twitching, Television-like backing there was something-ah in-ah the way singer Tim Darcy-ahh phrases the English language ahhh that suggests he may own a Fall album or ten.
5. You can put on a festival that doesn’t ignore female artists
This summer festival promoters came under fire for the paucity of female artists appearing in their lineups. While many had the entirely reasonable defence that they are merely booking popular acts people want to see, End Of The Road showed that there are enough amazing artists who happen to not be born male to fill a festival bill twice over. From folkie turns by Laura Marling and Marika Hackman (also appearing together at a surprise show in the middle of the – actual – woods), The Runaways-play-The Cars riffing of Ex Hex and Hinds’ endearingly shambolic indie pop to mesmerising sets from Jessica Pratt and Stealing Sheep, female acts dominated both the lineups and the list of stand out performances.
Chris Catchpole@ChrisCatchpole. Photography Gaelle Beri
For more, including news of tickets for next year, head to Endoftheroadfestival.com.