Earlier this week, I read an article about how miserable the music festival experience can be. One of their prime examples was Chicago’s Pitchfork Festival; a festival which I had the pleasure of attending last year. And whilst I had an undeniably great time, I can see where the writers of the article were coming from – it was cramped, it was hot, and it wasn’t ideal.
On paper, the Pitchfork Festival – like so many other American festivals – is brilliant: an eclectic mixture of great artists for an astoundingly friendly ticket price. The thing is that it never quite becomes anything more than the sum of its parts; nothing more than a collection of great bands in one place. When I wrote about it this time last year, I failed to muster anything more stimulating than a systematic day-by-day listing of which bands were good, which bands were bad and which were somewhere in the middle.
Last weekend’s Standon Calling, then, comes as a staggeringly fun reminder that – despite having a significantly smaller muscular flex than America – we in Britain can pull off a three day party so life affirming and joyous that its stellar line-up of bands almost becomes a matter of secondary importance. Aside from its brilliant line up in terms of music (which I’ll get onto in a moment), Standon Calling is set apart by its strikingly friendly vibe and its let’s-all-have-a-great-time atmosphere.
A lesser festival just has a bar; Standon Calling has its bar built into a cluster of trees, adorned with fairy lights. A lesser festival has people walking around in normal clothes; Standon Calling has a full-on fancy dress party. A lesser festival has no swimming pool; Standon Calling has a motherfucking swimming pool.
It’s testament to the overall feel of the festival (and the people who attended it) that I can get this far into the review without mentioning how brilliant (and brilliantly eclectic) was the musical line-up itself. Liars headlined Friday night, Etienne De Crecy (with his spectacular light show built around a giant structure of neon cubes) headlined on Saturday and – wait for it – Buena Vista Social Club nearly brought me to tears of joy with their unbelievable Sunday night performance. Can you think of a more eclectic trio of headliners at any festival this year? I’m certainly unable to myself.
Brooding rock, French house and Cuban jazz – all received with equal zeal and appreciation. Further down the bill, the eclectic nature continues to thrive and I would wager that Standon Calling is one of a rare breed of festivals where a French jazz covers musician named Benoit and hardcore punk outfit Fucked Up can arouse equally enthusiastic movement in a festival crowd within the space of just a few hours.
Blending their line up between up-and-comers like rap outfit Sound Of Rum, nostalgic pop merchants Summer Camp and psychedelic rock band Sleepy Sun (check all of those bands out) and more established acts like The Magic Numbers, Metronomy and Efterklang, Standon Calling announces itself as a festival with its finger firmly on the pulse. But, as I’ve said, Standon Calling is far more special than how its line up reads on a poster.
Whether it’s the playable piano in the middle of the field at the main stage, the holding of a dog show on a sweltering Sunday afternoon, the live-band karaoke sessions, or the seemingly unlimited amount of fiercely inviting dance-parties (huge, deep beats continue across the site until 5 o’clock every morning, by the way) – every little detail of the festival oozes with fun and friendliness while all in attendance spend their weekend dressed up, acting silly and partying hard.
I feel confident in saying that Standon Calling is most probably the only place on Earth where a lanky white-boy dressed as Avon Barksdale, dancing to tribal African rhythms, can be described as ‘blending in’. That is both my highest endorsement and my most accurate encapsulation of this delightful and wonderful festival.