July 26th 2009
1234… and you’re back in the room. You’re back in the periodic rain, the juggled band line-up, and a blend of promise; but immediately among people who are genuine enthusiasts of that new sound… a sound found digging into an ever-diverse mixed bag of sweeties and bogies. The loss of acts like Ipso Facto and dance tent headliner Krazy Baldhead were sour defeats to the showcase. But a pleasant atmosphere forecast thoughout – with some light and happy spells with highs in a park of 3000 strong – ramblers, promoters, writers and renegade musicians all in a bustle of activity.
Making a dash through to Stage 2 to catch up, I fell upon An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump- an Oriental London based girl band trio; immediately striking and furious but having swapped an uncomfortably overdriven bass duty, pointless guitar licks and thumping drum loops between each other a couple of rounds, they became suddenly lame. AEWABITAP (hats off to the acronym, like) rolled in and out of Sonic Youth’s Dirty, flattening it into pulp and then seeming to just drag it along trying to escape into some kind of soundscape which thankfully at times worked the high vibrancy of their individual warbling.
A wander followed and the prompt discovery that there had been extreme line-up shuffling and no previous set order was really applying apart from those devised in the VIP strip where the main promoters set up camp. Without regularly updated signage, there was no true way of knowing which acts were where, and this man was asked countless times by surrounding folk as to who the hell they were looking at. Word to the peers – carrying a small notebook into 1234 makes you attractive to the badly informed.
But there arrive acts that just don’t fail to be recognised. You see a buzz, and you can eventually through process of an occasionally fun personal identity parade work out who were busting a gut in front of you – and this could only be Hatcham Social. Almost two hours earlier than billed after cancellations they were given grace time to perform even more numbers off their debut album You Dig The Tunnel I’ll Hide The Soil and I foresee a bigger trajectory for HS than some of the day’s audio transparencies. Lovely high ambient keys kept permanence and angry drums gives frontman Charlie a framework to weave elements of The Fall and early ’90s shoegaze; vaguely Arabic-exotic and still twitching with life. On tape it’s a whole different thing and the true songwriting values get their own recognition, although cross-fingers there is plenty more history to see improvement.
More floating, and with the tents so strategically placed you could stand in the arena centre and just get swept toward one tent. The electronic stage had a grab of the visitors mainly thanks to the impressive Joe And Will Ask who looked smug with enjoyment as the just over marquee-sized arena throbbed with beats. Worked perfectly as a basic reliable side-order to a dish requiring a sometimes acquired palette.
Rolling back over to the second stage was something of an eye opening back-to-back discovery. First something that really opened my eyes – a band just oozing colour and panic into a now drab grey pit. As LA’s Kennedy professes in his catchy driving closer ‘I Hate Rock And Roll’ he’s got ‘Dancing Queen’ running through his head, and that means the world to his early ’90s twee-groove pop, pumping like Ace Of Base through Marc Bolan’s amp. He be the bassist of an ensemble that strike as a band as he struts his suspiciously lanky Lennon-like figure across stage and with the female lead forms a wave of charisma and bold vocal force. He still counts 50 Cent and Justin Timberlake in his self-confessed likeness but more accurately it materialises as pure ’70s cocktail of dance-floor playing host to glam. Free rolling jubilance is compounded with what seemed to be, from additional inspection of his blogs and online presence, an absolute honour for him to be playing 1234.
Kennedy did one and immediately brought home Ulterior, a dark cloud of a four-piece with immediate head-nods to Guns ‘N’ Roses (the leather clad singer sneering pulls long blonde hair under an Axl Rose bandana) and a barrage of phasing fury and wiry drum machine loops. The tiny tent couldn’t quite handle them; sure they weren’t the only act to suffer at the speakers of the Pix Stage’s muddled PA. We received poisonous feedback and were collectively insulted by the singer’s excellent spitting ability. Good reason, then, to have Ulterior on a bigger stage – to try and capture that which they seem to manage well on tape; and so that nobody has to put up with that little moody bloke’s saliva. You also wince and wonder whether the trend for arrogant prat singers has died.
The weather groaned and after his opening Patrick Wolf had every intent to cast a spell… didn’t entirely work, but soon after came the heartfelt violin intro to ‘Damaris’, somehow the rain was no longer a problem. A quite naive beautiful highlight, but ever deep and sinister. Reputedly duped with his next musical steps lately, PW seemed uncharacteristically toned down for the event, in a simple black angel-wing and leather glove combo over a leotard split down to his upper groin. Ever the showman, and a fine way to leave the park. And as the clouds bloated and a final recon of the tents took place, it makes you consider that this is where everything starts – the 1234 is a fledgling, and these are the bands of today presenting the bands of tomorrow. And just like everything else that day, they truly were a mixed bag.