Beacons Festival 2013 review

'A powerfully eclectic line up, encouraging everyone to go hard'

Photographer:John Paul Brown

Kyriaki Karadelis - 19 August 2013

After an ill-fated start with a cancellation due to increment weather in 2011, Beacons Festival near Skipton in Yorkshire doubles in capacity to 7,500 and strikes it third time (almost) lucky in 2013. 

A little confused about its identity, it has all the mandatory trappings of an arty middle class boutique bash (local ales, "diddy rascals" kids distractions, fairy lit spoken word and film tents, the now oft-seen Hollywood-style name sign) and a messy young hipster's paradise (inflatable slides aimed at adults, vintage hair and beauty parlour, giant golf ball tent with trippy indoor trance music and light show that recreates car park rave in the middle of the day etc). 

The non-musical programme is varied and - asking around - much better than last year's offering. There are whiskey tastings, trade union talks, constant films and even a "smellmet" where spicy aromas are wafted before your nostrils inside what resembles a turn of the century diving helmet. For £6 the organisers will mix yours into a seasoning and send to your home address. Friday is fancy dress day with a frontiers of the future theme, which panders perfectly to the current revival for shiny 90s spandex. 

A split site layout, with the music stages in one area and the artsy stuff across the campsite perhaps results in the latter being a little overlooked at times. Disappointing also is that entertainment finishes at 2am Friday and Saturday, but a measly midnight on Sunday, which results in campers creating their own fun; in this case a makeshift drum parade sing-along that starts with a rendition of 'Hit The Road Jack' and ends with The White Stripes' 'Seven Nation Army'.

Unusually, there's no outdoor main stage in the arena, just a big top, some smaller tents and a few wedding marquees for the equal parts guitar bands and DJs to play in. But what Beacons lacks in sophisticated infrastructure it makes up for in programming. 

The genre-bending line up hints at organisers who really know their stuff in regards to what will be hot next year, and who is noteworthy amid the local Yorkshire talent.

Things get off to a slightly shaky start on Friday when a crash on the M6 prevents Chad Valley from turning up and a relatively compact crowd arrives to see next big r'n'b/disco thing Lulu James (think latter day Roisin Murphy if she was more pop). Sparkling in a space-age mirrorball snood, bodysuit and thigh high boots, she takes pictures of the crowd for her twitter feed in a shameless promotional act (7). 

Youthful singer songwriter Dan Croll packs out one of the wedding marquees with his high pitch vocals, relaxed guitar and offbeat percussion edge (7), then odd limbs illuminated in unearthly green light punch the air during the heady crowdsurfing for thrashy punk band Eagulls, whose audience spills way over the allocated tent. 

But it's Leeds native Bonobo's headline set that draws the largest attendance, leaving the big top uncomfortably crowded during an atmospheric hour and 15 minutes of sonorous chilled-out trip hop that includes live clarinet (9). Meanwhile, across the field, the lead singer from Canada's Fucked Up is entering a circle pit emerging before him with a squashed plastic cup attached to his head (9).

A perfect transition from Bonobo (and a perfect recuperation from Fucked Up) Spanish blissed-out house DJ John Talbot hypnotises revellers as slender ladies loop glow-in the-dark hula hoops outside (9).

Shouty Stockport songstress Findlay wakes hung-over revellers on Saturday with some good old fashioned bluesy rock and roll, her dark and thundery beats reminiscent of The Dead Weather are the perfect fuck you to the menacing cloud cover overhead (8).

Mop-haired shoe gazers Temples play what feels like a slightly run of the mill set of 60s inspired pop psychadelia (6). Much more into their performance are dancing DJs Bondax whose rapturously received beats and bass include a remix of early naughties favourite Mojo's ‘Lady’ (8).

Ethereal French fancy Melody Prochet reminds a bit of Jane Birkin during the time of her sultry double-up with Serge Gainsboroug, ‘Je t'aime’. After taking some time to warm up, Melody's Echo Chamber close triumphantly, both twee and angsty at the same time (7).

80's inspired angular electroboppers Dutch Uncles aren't quite on their usual engaging form, but dancing like Gary Numan with an unscratcheable itch, the lead singer is surely one of the greatest new frontmen of recent years and definitely one to watch (7).

There's a huge buzz circulating around experimental electronic sounds producer Gold Panda from the start of the festival and needless to say the atmosphere is charged in the big top as he performs songs inspired by India, Japan and Brazil (8). 

Next up, LA indierock folksters Local Natives, with their two-way guitar and four-way vocals are climbing fast up a festival bill near you. They headline this Saturday: tight, energetic and in perfect harmony (8.5). "You got us really pumped up!" the keyboardist admits. Then it's time for some post-headliner pre-punk in the form of Wire. Yes, the actual 1970's godfathers of every punk/new wave inspired noise ever made Wire. Crazy headbanging ensues (8).

Sunday kicks off with glorious sunshine and noisy rock and roll, starting with some angry prog riffs from Wolf People, who apparently recorded their album two minutes up the road from the festival site (8). This leads perfectly into some raucous psychedelia from Leeds band Hookworms who are not only playing at the festival but have been hanging around for three days doing fun things that young people in a band should (9).

Moon Duo, actually a trio for today's purposes, produce a wall of sound that's loud and lo-fi (the bass drum surely won’t survive this performance) but fail to really inspire their audience (5). Maybe three outings of drum bashing and guitar thrashing in a row is too much for a Sunday afternoon. 

Detroit DJs Theo Parish & Andres commence a five hour back to back set of funk, soul and RnB with less fanfare and a smaller attendance than perhaps expected - maybe people are saving them till later (6). Actually it turns out half the festival has gone to see Iration Steppas, dub reggae MCs whose melodic sound is much better geared towards the hung-over, and whose cover of Dawn Penn's ‘No No No’ raises a cheer.

By the time SBTRKT goes on stage wearing his trademark indigenous mask and offering up his mix of dance, hiphop, drum n' bass and dubstep, everyone is warmed up and the inflatable crocodiles, mascotts on sticks and lithe teenage girls on boy's shoulders come out in their masses (10).

In a far-too-small marquee meanwhile, predominantly female punk band Savages tear up the stage with their French lead singer barking out expletives in an orgasmic trance, looking a bit like a possessed sheared-haired Natalie Portman. (9)

Beacons' line up leaves the best till last however: after 18 months of touring it's the final festival set for artsy and angular four piece Django Django - and they are determined to go out in style. Multicoloured lazer wave forms highlight patters on passing crowd surfers. A beer can totem pole falls victim to two shoulder-seated audience members who break it in half to use in a light saber fight. During "Wor", the band gets the entire big top to crouch on the floor and jump on queue. A career-defining set for a band that can only rise. (11)

One of the striking things about Beacons is how few people VF speaks to who have actually bought a ticket - about two thirds of attendees appear to be either: media, artists, working there, or friends of a friend with a guest list pass. Which begs the question, is Beacons going to make any money? Let's hope so: with a super-promising eclectic line up and some more thought about which market it's trying to capture, Beacons 2014 could be an exciting prospect.

Click here for our Beacons 2013 photo album.

Check out our full festival weekend coverage here.

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