September 5, 2009
So here we are again: the first weekend of September. An autumnal chill on the darker nights, and one of the last festivals of the summer – Offset, in a beautiful country park in Essex.
Muso’s Guide latched onto this particular fest in its infancy – 2008 was the very first Offset – and on a rainy and miserable Sunday we experienced the delights of seeing Gang of Four ripping up the main stage and Metronomy sparking a mass dance-off in a teeny tent.
This year, Offset really is bigger and better, and Metronomy return as Saturday night headliners. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, there are other fish to fry first. We kick off with a bang by heading straight to the Main Stage to catch The Chapman Family. Favourite sons of Teesside and one of the hardest working bands I can think of, TCF (who are not a cult, coincidentally) hit us with a blinding set. Recent single ‘Kids’ loses none of its power and wrath, as frontman Kingsley stabs himself in the chest with his microphone and mocks up a noose with the microphone lead. Confronting the alienation and apathy that it’s easy to feel when you come from a grim town with dark, choking indie-fuzz, big things are coming The Chapman Family’s way. It’s long overdue; we’re well excited about their forthcoming album here at MG Towers.
After starting Offset on the good foot it’s time for a wander of the perfectly sized festival site; with six stages (five of them inside marquees) it’s dead easy to make your way around the site and catch as many bands as you feel necessary. It seems like a large proportion of Shoreditch has decamped to Hainault this weekend but, dodgy haircuts aside, there’s a nice atmosphere here – much preferred to the beery-leery types at Reading and Leeds. Enjoying the last of the afternoon sun, we head to the ECC Stage to catch the excellently-named Teeth Of The Sea. All melodic-but-very-loud instrumentals, TOTS propel their eardrum-shaving noise with a hypnotic floor tom, entrancing the whole tent with tunes from their debut record Orphaned by The Ocean.
It’s Male Bonding up next, in the Loud & Quiet tent. Of course, the “Quiet” bit of the stage name can be disregarded for these grunge-punks from East London. The trio play a slamming set (and turn out to be my highlight of the weekend) to a rapturous reaction from the crowd, who are clearly as pleased as the band are about their recent signing to Sub Pop. It’d be silly to overlook the similarities to Nirvana; they are there and they are plentiful, but it’s the funner, poppier side of the Seattle legends that Male Bonding have taken on board. Guitarist John Arthur Webb pulls off moments reminiscent of Graham Coxon in his ’90s heyday while his bassist leers around the stage with his long blonde hair in his face. A horde of kids invade the stage, pogoing everywhere, toilet roll flies through the tent and someone hijacks the mic to sing The Vaselines’ ‘Molly’s Lips’. Crazy and utterly glorious. Another album we’re so excited about…
Back to the Main Stage, and Future of the Left are doing their darnedest to push their mega-rock onto the crowd who are milling around. I sort of wish they were in a tent, but they do a pretty good job of gravving the scenesters and getting them nodding along. ‘Best Laid Plans’ is cracking, as the remnants of 2003 favourites Mclusky stand their ground with the Main Stage big boys. Watching these fellas with a spicy chana aloo wrap from Chapati Man (truly the food of the Gods), and with the sun going down across the fields – this is pure class. The Futureheads are next up on the Main Stage, sticking with the forward-looking name theme, and what a set of jolly Mackems they are! Guitarist Ross Millard is on form, telling a chilly member of the crowd to “get another Bratwurst down yer, man, and keep quiet”. They rattle through the big numbers at speed, cramming as much as they can into their set, and while it’s all fun and a nice singalong, we’re sad to say that The Futureheads might have lost a bit of their charm on us now. We’d love to see them take a completely new tact on their next album, but time will tell.
Feeling the need to warm up and man up a bit, we rock over to the tent for Dead Kids. Much loved by a few Muso’s writers, Essex’s Dead Kids are the connoisseurs of entertaining live shows. Frontman Mike Title is menacing, standing on the monitors holding his microphone aloft. Amusingly, a raft of bouncers turn up (Right Guard Security, safety fans) to which Title’s reaction is to shout “calm the f*** down, security!”, before berating his own band for complaining about the sound. It’s all very heartening, really. Mike Title is probably the last person you want to spill your pint on, but his arrogance is not misplaced as Dead Kids really are great, dragging punk up off its arse and making it look easy.
As the smaller stages wind down for the evening, it’s back to the main stage and The Slits. Concluding a set that’s heavy on newer material, the ’80s punks have taken a turn towards reggage and it seems to be falling flat on a crowd ready for one hell of a Saturday night party. Maybe it’s for this reason that Metronomy are upgraded to first class: a Main Stage headlining slot.
Gone are the novelty-in-hindsight pushlights but the addition of Gbenga Adelekan on bass bolsters their sound into a tour de force of even more cosmic proportions. They’re in need of some new material now, aside from that recently released Not Made For Love EP, but once it comes their impact’s set to be even more distinctive. ‘Heartbreaker’ is still addictive, ‘Radio Ladio’ is frighteningly moreish and the general conclusion is that they’re still one of the funnest live bands the UK has produced in the noughties.
Click here for our thoughts on the Sunday.