Welcome to the Wild
West South East.
Standon Calling (aka ‘The little festival that could’) sure knows how to celebrate, and its 10th birthday party went off in fantastically vibrant and eclectic style. With the sun shining down all weekend, the grounds of Standon Lordship were transformed magnificently into the ‘Town of Two Faces’: a magical place where Cowboys and Indians come together to dance and sing in drunken harmony. There were showdowns and hoedowns, transvestites and trapeze artists, and a line up packing just as many hidden treasures as big-name acts.
The festival started, all those years ago, as a birthday barbecue for festival founder Alex Trenchard. There were a few bands, a rickety stage and a dozen or so people, and the festival has grown exponentially from then. Now, ten years and 8,000 people later, the festival still maintains the intimate, celebratory vibe. The amount of love that has been poured into the festival is visible, with evidence littered across the festival ground. There are the big gestures like the massive clock tower erected in the centre of the festival, a church and cemetery disco and even a sheriff’s office to complete the Wild West illusion. But there are also smaller touches like Alex’s personal musical recommendations for each day of the festival, which really gives away that the festival is a massive passion project for the founder.
It’s easy to get caught up in the festivities and fancy dress and forget about the most important thing at the festival: the music. Here’s a day-by-day blow of what went down:
Unkle Funk and the Boogie Wonderband (http://burnfm.com/music/interviews/unkle-funk-and-the-boogie-wonderband/) a ludicrously fun disco cover band – were tasked with opening the main stage, and they opened it with a bang. Watching 9 adults dressed head to toe in flared white outfits, gyrating around stage wearing cartoonish afro wigs, really was the perfect and most fitting way to kick off the festival. Later in the day, Jamie Lawson serenaded a sun-soaked crowd with his sweet, heartfelt folk songs, whilst Remi Miles’s breezy indie-pop was building anticipation for what the evening had in store.
The evening began as it meant to go on with an explosive set from Prides (http://burnfm.com/music/interviews/prides-interview/) Though there were not many in the audience when the synth-pop power trio took to the stage, the bombastic, booming sound quickly travelled and a massive crowd was drawn in. Prides have been making steady movements in both mainstream and indie spheres, and regardless of your feelings toward 80s pop, it is difficult not to appreciate the spectacle that is a Prides live show. There were numerous hipsters on the outskirts at the start, who were in the middle singing along to the hooks with the rest of us by the end. Taking a sceptic to a Prides show is the musical equivalent of putting a fruit pastille in their mouth and telling them not to chew it: they will be determined not to bite, but the flavour is so irresistible that they will inevitably give in.
Friday was definitely a day for synths, and headliners Little Dragon proved themselves as the one of the best things to happen to electronic music since Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity. The Gothenburg four-piece are rarely placed at the top of festival bills, making them a somewhat unorthodox choice as a headliner. Therefore, massive credit must go to Alex Trenchard for sticking his neck out, because their set was a complete triumph. The band’s genre-defying brand of electronica coupled with Yukimi Nagano’s addictively unsettling vocals creates a soundscape that is both beautiful and sinister. Safe to say, they had the Standon crowd eating out of the palms of their Swedish (and impressively dextrous) hands. But the best thing about their performance (aside from Nagano’s sensationally abstract dance moves), is that it can be engaged with on any level. You can choose to surrender yourself to the textural trance and immerse yourself in a visceral wash of polyrhythms and synths, you can sit back and appreciate the intricate melodies, or alternatively just throw your caution to the wind, your hands in the air and dance like no-one’s watching. Health warning: heart may burst if all three are engaged simultaneously.
Following a live performance that transcended genre, came an after party that transcended gender. ‘Sink the Pink presents Savage’ in a Church-come-dancefloor was another exclusively Standon experience. Dancing drag queens were scattered around the makeshift club, busting some of the best moves of the weekend (aside from cult hero Big Jeff’s bopping) in and amongst the bouncing crowd. Whilst the night did suffer slightly from a volume cap, everyone still had their fill of drunken debauchery. Luckily, the church club came fitted with confessionals.
After waking up with some indie-disco from Patawawa, Saturday went from strength to strength. Standon has gathered a reputation for booking acts who go on to big things eg Florence and the Machine and Mumford and Sons, as a result there was plenty of upcoming music on offer. Real Lies (http://burnfm.com/music/interviews/real-lies-interview/) a real discovery; the London trio swerve between genres, creating an immersive cocktail of spoken word, house and electro pop music topped off with cutting lyrics that get stuck under your skin. The refrain “There are so many things you can do with a Saturday” from ‘Naked Ambition’ has been engrained in my head ever since. Strong sets also came from Kwabs and The Antlers, but this was just the calm before the storm.
As it turned out, that storm was a hurricane in the form of punk-rock duo Slaves. The band’s massive riffs, shouting vocals and huge stage presence brought out a side of the Standon crowd that I didn’t think they had in them. The crowd was made up largely of families, middle class adults and young professionals, but they may as well have been the cast of the Young Ones, and were moshing, jumping and screaming with the best of them. The sheer scale of the band’s sound is incredibly impressive considering the minimal set up. One guitar (sometimes switched for bass) and a stripped back percussion set-up combine to produce a sound ten times bigger than the sum of its parts. Their recent success in the mainstream is a testament to the quality of their songwriting and the thrilling live shows. Watch out for Slaves, it could just be that these two loud boys from Kent could spearhead a punk revival.
Having to sprint (due to the only troubling clash of the weekend) from the front of Slaves to catch the back half of Amber Run’s headline set on the BBC introducing stage, was well worth the exercise. The more subtle pop-rock style was an immediate contrast to the ferocious nature of Slaves; with both acts expressing emotion in very different ways, think of Amber Run as more beautiful than brutal. The Nottingham based five-piece clearly had a great time playing the festival, their luscious harmonies and dreamy riffs went down a treat with the Standon crowd, and they closed the BBC curated stage in style.
Saturday’s headliners, American rockers The Dandy Warhols were the only real disappointment of the weekend. They played a solid set, and with over 20 years’ experience, they were a noticeably tight band. However, the performance lacked energy and variation and songs blended into each other with little differentiation. This is not to say Saturday night fell flat, quite the opposite. The real party was going on at DJ Yoda’s ‘Old-School Hip Hop’ set in the big top tent. What started as hip-hop was expertly manipulated and manoeuvred through pretty much every popular genre. Ludicrous morphed its way into Dolly Parton which was then morphed into The Cure, whilst still using hip hop beats to underlay the transitions. DJ Yoda’s set somehow managed to perfectly encompass the eclectic nature of Standon Calling and it was as delightfully crowd pleasing as it was technically impressive. Yes Yoda, very impressive it was.
The church club was bouncing to Bondax and Maribou State later on, ending on a high after a brilliantly varied day. Turns out Real Lies weren’t kidding; there really are so many things you can do with a Saturday.
The problem that often plagues big blockbuster festivals these days, is that with so many billboard acts, there is little to no room for musical discovery. Punters mark out their favourite acts, and then go from stage to stage working through the itinerary. The problem lies in that there is never room to wander round the different stages, stumbling on acts you hadn’t heard of.
With this in mind – Sunday – the day with the fewest big-name acts on the bill, was welcomed with open arms and an open mind. With no acts marked on the must-see list until early evening, Sunday was a day for blissfully floating between stages, listening to new acts and soaking in the sunshine. Some real gems were uncovered, the first of which was Psychedelic dream-pop project Syd Kemp, who played an incredibly impressive set to a depressingly empty Big Top Stage (clearly not enough people were floating). Following them was Jagaara, one to watch for fans of atmospheric electro-pop, the song ‘Faultline’ was instantly affecting, with ornate vocal hooks caressed by delicate harmonies.
However, it is not just musical discovery that you miss out on by sticking to a schedule, you may also miss out on weird spontaneous experiences. For example, the entertaining ‘hillbilly hoedown’, or a ‘voguing masterclass’ from the aforementioned drag queens, or most memorably, seeing music cult hero ‘Big Jeff’ (famous for going to a different gig pretty much every night of the year) singing ‘20th Century Man’ Karaoke on the main stage. Never has a more natural frontman graced the stage.
After all the spontaneous delirium, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (http://burnfm.com/music/interviews/hypnotic-brass-ensemble-interview/)brought in the wave of Sunday’s must-sees with an inspiringly brilliant set. Their hip-hop/jazz fusion is fresh and unique, and the family nature of the band leads to an unrivalled, mind-boggling unity in their performance. In a similar way to Little Dragon, HBE’s charm is in the way that the music can be enjoyed on multiple levels. Whether you’re bouncing to the funky beat, focussing in on the deliciously crunchy horn harmonies, or lying in the sun letting the sweeping brass arrangements wash over you, you will no doubt be left in awe by HBE.
There was a palpable excitement for indie darlings The Horrors to take the stage as it was covered with thick, foggy smoke. And where there is smoke there is fire; the band played an incredible set, immersing the audience in their special shoegazey, pulsating goth-rock music. The set finished explosively with ‘Still Life’ and ‘I See You’, prompting hands to be flung in the air and shouts of ‘WHEN YOU WAKE UP!’ and ‘I SEEEE YOOOOU’ to come from the excited audience.
But Sunday evening was all about Basement Jaxx. As one of the most established names in British dance music, they were the ultimate Sunday night headliners for Standon Calling. Hits like ‘Never Say Never’, ‘Good Luck’ and, of course, the eternal ‘Where’s Your Head At?’ are recognisable to those of all ages, and despite many of these songs being nearly two decades old, the irresistible hooks and traditional approach to dance music were proved to be timeless. The set was a genuine spectacle, the Jaxx have been touring with 18 people on the road, and they were all put to good use. There were dancers laden with massive sun helmets, adorning beautiful, blindingly colourful dresses, not to mention the rainbow ponchos. Needless to say the performance was a musical and visual treat, and was a gigantic finish and fitting tribute to the equally vibrant festival.
Gilles Peterson and Patrick Forge’s ‘Sunday at Dingwalls’ DJ set at the church club was a boogilicious final goodbye from the festival, and finally free of volume restrictions, they managed to resuscitate the weary, unwashed masses for one last dance. Their old-school funk and soul tunes kept the party going until the early morning, and by the end everyone left exhausted, with tired eyes and legs, but massive smiles on their faces.
That’s what went down at Standon Calling 2015, it pulled out all the stops musically, visually, decoratively and otherwise and the result was an electric and (I’ll say it one more time) ECLECTIC weekend. It was so good that next year’s pre-sale and early bird tickets sold out in one day, so make sure you don’t miss out. So next year, when Standon is calling, don’t let it go to voicemail.