FM4 Frequency Festival 2009
St Polten, Austria - 20-22 August
They were joined by a host of big Brits that included Bloc Party,
The Prodigy, Jarvis, Glavegas and Kasabian.
But did this relative newcomer compete with the likes of Benicassim, Werchter or Exit in attracting punters away from the
big UK events?
First impressions were mixed: the site is easy to get to (an hour from Vienna on a cheap and comfy double decker train that put our crawling cess pits to shame) and the plentiful camping is set alongside a refreshing river teeming with bikini clad females of questionable age and sunburnt men of questionable sobriety.
But as those who've ever been to the Big Chill will attest, the nicest setting can't make up for a poor line-up, and it's the impressive assembly of big name British bands that has attracted us to St Polten.
“Welcome to Jarvis Island,” proclaims Jarvis Cocker three songs into his mid-afternoon set. There are no rules here, he continues, celebrating the anniversary of the real Jarvis Island being discovered and drawing an interesting comparison between the tiny, usually uninhabited, US-territory that lies 25 miles from the equator and the Frequency main area, which is essentially a dusty rubble car park with a stage at the end. And in the blazing sunshine, with the beer flowing and the ex-Pulp frontman on top form, this setting is a mere inconvenience.
On Saturday, however, when the skies unleash lashings of miserable rain and main area resembles a pool of lumpy, unset concrete, it'll become almost as painful to the feet as the woeful Subways do to the ears.
Cocker though isn't troubled by the conditions out front and despite being dressed in full supply teacher uniform of dad-jacket, shirt and knitted tie, sensible shoes and his trademark specs (“I’m sorry I’m not wearing clear ones today,” he jests), gets himself into a seriously sweaty state by utilising all the moves perfected since the Michael Jackson and Bar Italia days.
Between sharing jokes with former Pulp axeman Steve Mackay and ex-members of Joes Strummer's Mescaleros, he rips through a corking set of new songs ('Homewrecker' being a brass-infused highlight) as well as recent solo standouts ‘Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time’ and ‘Fat Children’, complete with star jumps and hopping the width of the stage.
Few artists are even within touching distance of Cocker’s lyrical dexterity and amid all the finger-wagging hip-shakery, it’s this that still lifts him above the reams of mediocrity half his age. He met a girl in a museum of palaeontology and makes no bones about it. Genius stuff.
Such a shame then that Glasvegas, who kicked off the Brit invasion on day one (a Thursday, probably because Austria seems to shut on Sundays) are so content to go through the motions.
While there’s no doubting the quality and promise of their debut record, they played as though suffering a carbohydrate coma from dodgy Austrian pretzels, the stalls stuffed with which litter the site. A major let down for the hardcore fans in the front row who knew every word of ‘Flowers And Football Tops’ or ‘Geraldine’. Or at least those words which the band could be bothered to sing properly.
Thankfully main stage proceedings are put back on track by The Ting Tings, a band seemingly unaware of the notion of giving less than everything on stage.
Despite the shocking percentage of their music not played live (including a time filling DJ set that included 'Walk This Way' and the Ghostbusters theme song while Katie had a rest from her fluorescent yellow and orange microphone), only the most miserable or drunken Glaswegian would not be able to take to their toes for ‘Shut Up And Let Me Go’. Sure, it’s the kind of achingly simple pop music with the same shelf life as a chocolate teapot, but when its delivered with such a sweet dose of pouty gorgeousity who can resist?
The second best band at the festival by a mile are Enter Shikari, who totally destroy the Green Stage. The rawk-Klaxons earned their reputation as Britain’s best young live act years ago, selling out the Astoria while unsigned and turning down deal after deal as they toured the country. There’s a moshpit that compares respectively to the famous Less Than Jake effort at Reading in 2000 (which went around the mixing desk) and frontman Roughton Reynolds sets a target of 50 crowd surfers, with which the crazed kids willingly oblige. And as huge, crater shaping riffs, Mega Drive-referencing screamo and dozens of surf-shorted Austrian teens rain down on the pit, there’s no feeling to be had other than one of bleeding nosed euphoria.
Alas, the same can’t be said for Kasabian’s performance. Maybe it was because Tom Meighan has Samson like shortcomings and lost his ability to enthral a crowd when he had his hair cut off. Or simply that Frequency was just a show too far for a singer recently over swine flu and with an overnight flight to play the V weekend to overcome.
The set, front loaded with songs from the current album, sounded a bit disjointed, with slower numbers loosing the delicate arrangements of the record. Of course Kasabian didn't get to be the country's biggest Primal Scream tribute band without some great songs of their own and ripping versions of 'Fire' and 'L.S.F' saved the night for those not tempted by Rise Against on the Green Stage.
Hopefully it was the flu and not the hair, and we can look forward to Kasabian returning to the great live performances of Glastonbury, where they really asserted their position as Britain’s second biggest lad-rock outfit.
Starting 45 minutes after Kasabian, and therefore probably benefiting from the Leicester lads lacklustre showing, The Airbourne Toxic Event were a totally different experience, ripping up the Weekender UK stage, despite having to content with the disproportionately large and soulless hanger.
While current single, the re-released 'Sometime Around Midnight' was a highlight, with the majority of the ever increasing audience singing along enthralled, the whole set was an energetic and engaging delight that hinted at much bigger things to come.
The actual first night headliner was a chap called Peter Fox, a person unlikely to be well recognised in the UK. He’s best described as the conveniently white, German equivalent of Kanye West, except without any of the bling, bow ties, gorgeous gold painted girls or stupid slit sunglasses. Or catchy music. It’ more than a little painful and we realise just why they have so many UK bands on the bill.
One of the other big fan favourites here are of course Bloc Party, who, three albums in, show no signs of stuttering. Despite Kele Okereke’s rather nonchalant approach to stage-wear (the same basketball shorts and a sleeveless vest he was doing press in four hours earlier, or “wearing his body” as Official Secrets Act remark, good naturedly, when interviewed a bit later), the supermarket favourites kick things into touch for Radiohead with the kind of solid show that has become expected of them.
Solid, but, unless you're a big fan or haven't ever seen them before, not particularly exciting. Maybe it's the crowd's initially muted response, although this soon thaws once they hear “another from the hit factory” as Kele rather pointedly refers to 'Mercury'. He then (sarcastically, or relieved, it was hard to tell) tells the very sizeable crowd that “Well done Frequency, you've woken up, give yourselves a round of applause.”
It gives an interesting insight into how Brit bands approach non-domestic festivals. Without much of the local press or fanbase in pursuit, many acts don’t seem quite as fussed, which is a shame for those who do make the effort to travel, although the locals, many of whom will be seeing these bands for the first time, seem to have a great time.
Little Boots can’t be accused of any laziness though, as pint-sized Blackpoolian Victoria Hesketh insatiably attacks her first record with a dizzying display of pop action over on the Green Stage. Whatever you may think about Britain’s second girl power revolution (see also the cum-in-hair Aison Moyet-wannabe La Roux and Essex-on-legs Pixie Lott), Hesketh certainly has the best songs, although she could well do with some of the sparks-from-bra pyro fun that Lady GaGa used to such great effect at Glasto.
Many of the crowd seem to arrive just wanting to escape the emo lameness of German singing Farin Urlaub Racing Team on the main stage, but are soon captivated by Little Boots' sense of fun and energy and to a person there is singing and smiling when she plays the singles.
Scorching sunshine just isn't appropriate for watching Editors. Good job then that the third and final day sees the glorious summer heat replaced by heavy rain and moody clouds of every shade of grey. Playing with minimal backdrop and dressed in appropriately dark attire, the four-piece launch straight into their melodic melancholia, which soon has the sizeable crowd sploshing excitedly in the car park's puddles.
The set is mainly the new 'In This Light And On This Evening’ album which comes out in October. The abundance of triggers and effects could finally see an end to the Joy Division comparisons. Instead the third edition of the Editors story sounds much more like New Order...Not that this is a bad thing at all and the thousands of fans who were not long born when Ian Curtis checked out of the job centre love the energy with which the future hits are delivered, particularly forthcoming single 'Papillon' and it's brilliant lyric of 'It kicks like a ‘sleep twitch”, which compares favourably with ‘Munich’ or any of their other favourites. Similarly, the sardonic ‘Blood Drool; and the album’s title track, the doomy ‘In This Light…’ are also fantastic.
All of this is very entertaining, but, truth be told, probably wouldn't have tempted us away from Green Man or V. However, there are a few bands that would warrant the hassle of a 6am flight and one of them is most definitely the mighty Radiohead, who brought their king lightshow to Frequency for their Austrian debut.
Two varied hours of hits, including old classics 'Airbag', 'Street Spirit (Fade out)' and a last minute change to an acoustic guitar and piano led version of 'Karma Police' - all set against a dazzling stage show of pulsating light tubes – gives St Polten its most newsworthy event since Elisabeth Fritzl escaped from her father’s basement.
While some of the more obscure numbers don’t meet with the appreciation they deserve (‘Gloaming’ is supreme), and recent internet release 'These Are My Twisted Words’ comes across as a lengthy intro rather than a complete song, these relatively quiet moments merely let the crowd to come down from the dizzying peaks of this brilliantly diverse set. They throw in the likes of 'Paranoid Android', 'Idioteque' and 'Myxomatosis' and end with a fabulously deft rendition of 'Everything In Its Right Place'. Given that they're likely to be more knowledgeable of their wide ranging catalogue, the audiences at Reading and Leeds are in for an amazing treat.
So, with the majority of British representatives producing either good or great performances to offset the many German/Austrian acts that we couldn't understand, would we return to Frequency? As with all festivals bar Glastonbury, it's the line up that matters, so, if the organisers can make it more attractive than V, we'll certainly consider it! But we'll have to remember comfy footwear for that pesky rubble and some proper waterproofs for the rainstorms.
By Andrew Future and David Mindham.