It's a relative luxury to go to a proper festival and end up in your own bed at the end of the night rather than, say, sleeping in a too-small sleeping bag in a damp tent. It's definitely preferable. And maybe even desirable, especially when the festival in question's bill contains some of the finest bands in the land.
This year's Offset took place, as always, in Hainault Forest and it would have been rude to turn down the opportunity to see the likes of Let's Wrestle, Damo Suzuki, The Horrors, Future of the Left, Pulled Apart By Horses, Wild Beasts, The xx and about a hundred or so others, even if the trek back to South-West London wasn't exactly quick...
The Chapman Family
The worst way to start things off. That said, the only way is up after such this lot. They fall into categories “dreadful” and “dreary” but thankfully for us not quite into that of “dire”. At times the lyrics seem sub sixth-form poetry and the music rises, every now and then, just above that level. Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh on the band - the lead singer did his best to try and liven things up with some techniques straight from the ‘classic rock moves’ textbook to some effect, but the overall impression left by The Chapman Family matched the Saturday sky – grey. Probably would've been better off another half an hour with noiseniks Cementimental.
Here with have a three-piece with much promise but not quite as much to deliver. Phrases and riffs from a lone trumpeter, bassist and sticksman evolve slowly into something substantial and foot-tap inducing more often than not but the limitation comes in the development – in that there isn’t much of it. Sure, when it sounds like backing for a particularly extravagant and experiment a brand of Japanese pop it works but it seems to never end. There is something, for some reason, that reminds me of cult slash band Causey Way albeit without the over earnest and oft misplaced intensity CW displayed. The introduction of a lunatic vocalist dressed in white would have improved them by approximately one third.
Pulled Apart By Horses
Their spitting, throwing and all-out rockin’ antics are really hard to beat or match. I found myself the beneficiary of their beer-throwing escapades early on – cheers, lads. In Pulled Apart By Horses we have are a band who just make you wanna fuck shit up. Badly. How they manage to maintain a level of ferocity only matched by a recently-bereaved bonobo on its period is mightily impressive. The masses - the biggest crowd on the main stage I've seen so far - clearly enjoy the rollicking and why not? The greatest attraction for PABH must be the half-speed, double weight break downs. Or maybe in the live show overall – they’re probably only matched by Dananananaykroyd for this all weekend. ‘E = MC Hammer’ may be a bit of a populist cheap shot as a title but, hey, it’s markedly better than some pseudo political nonsense AND it makes you want take up bare-chested wrestling as a part-time hobby. Are these guys the future of British hardcore music in the UK? If they aren’t they bloody well should be.
Despite describing the DiS forum as a hate-filled, rancid forum or thereabouts, I’m finding there’s a great lot to like about these guys. With the Americans doing the lo-fi/no-fi thing fairly damn well it’s nice to get a bit of English representation in that area. Regardless of who they sound like, talking and writing about a band’s influences, direct, obvious or otherwise ‘til you’re blue in the face, arms, legs and toes is absolutely no fun. Maybe it should be a compliment than it rarely happens to bands who happen to be lacking in quality. Their show today is rabble-rousing in the most literal sense as thirty or so fresh-faced fans clamber onto the stage attempt to dance but actually get in the way in the disorganised and apologetic way we Brits do things. If Vivian Girls were boys, they’d be Male Bonding.
DJ Scotch Egg fronts a band and it’s brilliant! He also plays bass! Doomy improv is what they specialise in! It possibly goes on for too long but, hey, it’s a wonderful noise! They have two drummers! One of the drummers used to be in The Boredoms! Sometimes the drummers play similar beats! Sometimes they have a little drum-off! They make a noise of the most righteous variety! Damo Suzuki comes on for the final song! Awesome show!
There’s absolutely no doubt that Cut is one of the finest albums ever made. No doubt at all. Sadly there was no doubt in my ears and eyes as to how much of a shambles this Slits performance ended up. This was a show of heart-crushing proportions. First, Ari spends at least six hours trying to get the sound to desired levels (not her fault, we all want clarity...), second, the sound never actually becomes even half-decent with people as far away as Barking being able to hear the guitar. The problem worsens when Ari decides to yelp on about this every thirty seconds. Poor ol’ Tessa Pollitt looks totally fed up for the most part and Hollie Cook slowly slips from being endearingly energetic to as irritating as a repetitive pin-prick in the anus. ‘Typical Girls’ lasts for a horrible eternity before the mother of all stage invasions starts during ‘Shoplifting’, upon invitation from Ari. The ratio of fans to self-important attention seekers is probably at 50-50 on stage. Personal shout outs? No, ta, get off the stage please. The persistent combination of general arsing around plus a stage riot leaves the Slits short on time and me even shorter on patience. The perfect argument for why once legendary bands should never reform.
To watch this band with the sun high in the sky with a slight cross-breeze and plenty of smoke on stage and in the air is exactly how it should be. That's once you get over the size of the singer’s trousers, which are pretty much full-on pantaloons of a truly a breathtaking fit. Maybe the inherent sense of doom present in their sound doesn’t quite fit in with the sun making a relatively rare appearance but I don’t think anyone gave the proverbial two measurements of excrement. Thomas Cohen’s mumblings mixed with heavy delay and apocalyptic riffage precede a slow swaying back and forth. Comparisons with the Horrors will probably stick for a while, especially given the familial ties between the two bands but, really, S.C.U.M offer something different, a variation on a theme, but The Horrors aren’t exactly godfathers and guardians of this genre, are they?
Die! Die! Die!
Die! Die! Die! are nothing short of an antipodean riot. If ever a band were reminiscent of the At The Drive-in circa El Gran Orgo, Die! Die! Die! are it. Clashing cymbals and discordant guitar interspersed with the odd drawling lyrical verse is what’s on offer, as ever. During the rapidly squawked ‘A.T.T.I.T.U.D’ frontman Andrew Wilson runs at least half-way to the crepe stand, has a little sing-song and then goes back again. This is much appreciated by all those in the vicinity, except those who fear he may knock the hot-dog out of their hands on his way. Just the right amount of regard is shown for melody as well as for their instruments as they are thrown about, up, down, left and right in a fury. It’s at this very point that you realise why the exclamation marks in the band's name are necessary. Perhaps song titles in ALL CAPS might be an idea, too.
Let’s Wrestle are a lot of fun. Despite some on stage bickering between Wes and Mike they deliver a rip-roaring if slightly out-of-tune 40 minutes. From start to finish you realise just how jam-packed In The Court of Wrestling, Let’s actually is. Every song could be a single and invites everyone to howl along with the band. If only the record buying public realised how much they need a band like Let’s Wrestle...Whilst 1640 on a Saturday on the main stage was never likely to draw a gigantic crowd, the masses begin to grow slowly as the slacker guitar-pop resonates around centre of the site. ‘I’m In Love With Destruction’ is probably the perfect showcase of their talent; an overly active and near-fiddly bassline plays underneath slowly but surely struck chords in the verse whilst in the chorus both guitars take a more percussive and destructive approach to matters, all the time when a trademark strained vocal line dances atop at full volume. It’s still a wonder how Wes – who looks about 15 – sounds so much like a man of senior years. In ‘Tanks’ they may have written the song of the year but today’s triumphant if ragged performance even gets me moving my feet - an achievement in itself, honestly. Perhaps changing the title of ‘We Are The Men You’ll Grow To Love’ to ‘We Are The Men You’ll Grow To Love The Second You Hear Us, Honest’ would be a top idea.
This may not really have been the time and place for a band who have produced such a fine, yet so evidently nocturnal album - it was, well, a bit early in the day, i.e the sun was out. The album is itself a beautiful thing and best consumed in the death throes of night or the dewy dawn of a new day. It’d be a mildly inaccurate and incredibly harsh to describe this performance as anodyne or flaccid and lifeless but that’s how it feels as I stand about 90 per cent of the way back. Things would be greatly improved if they smiled a bit but, you suspect, all dressed in black, moody and melancholic, gaiety times joy it isn’t exactly what they’re aiming for. A cover of Womack and Womack’s ‘Teardrops’ is part-highlight part-lowlight, evoking memories of my time as a wee bairn, listening to my mum's mixtape in the family car. How I now long for my booster seat. My friend remarks "The xx? More like the zz, right?". Maybe today, at least.
How can you NOT like this band? I mean, even if you absolutely detest the music – which, if not your particular brew of choice, can be a bit SHOUTY and inyerface – their stage presence and engagement with anyone within approximately three miles is purely astonishing. I’m not entirely sure if it’s best to describe Calum and John as dual vocalists or duel vocalists but I’m pretty certain they team up more than they conflict tonight. Despite being a massive fan of the EP but less so of the album, there was never any doubt as to Dananananaykroyd’s quality once they hit the stage. In the time from that EP to the debut album they moved from understated and energetic with moments of unbridled power to full-time fantastic fireballs and the latter exactly sums up tonight. A wall of cuddles instead of a moshpit? Genius and awe-inspiring.
Significantly gutted I didn’t get to see more than three songs of “second best Kiwi” on the bill Connan Mockasin, whose high-pitched childlike brand of weird-out pop sees me beaming within about half a minute. The appeal doesn’t lie in the fact that Mockasin is a fellow whose performances, appearance and sound are out of the ordinary or in the way he aimlessly blows the trumpet but in the simplicity and obviousness of his songs. They just stick. ‘Sneaky, Sneaky Dog Friend’ is an unadulterated bundle of joy and his cover of the Teenagers’ ‘Starlett Johansson’ is the definition of twee, all without a glockenspiel or melodica in sight.
The reception of Wild Beasts’ second LP Two Dancers has been nothing short of exceptional. It’s also been richly deserved. For my money, it’s up there with the best of the year, if not decade – several hundred others who have filled into the Clash tent at its fullest seem to agree. It’s all very much a team effort for Wild Beasts – each person brings something unique to the front. Benny’s icy guitar phrases, the pounding bass of Tom and Hayden and the vocal exchanges between the aforementioned pair as we see in 'All The King's Men'. Yet, for all this, Chris Talbot sits at the back beating the kit and occasionally tapping the bongos, going almost unnoticed, despite the fact that this time (and the previous time) the stick work is the standout aspect of the translation of Two Dancers from record to performance. Tom doesn’t seem entirely clear just how much this record is loved; he seemed to almost apologetically introduce the band’s name early on but almost the very second every near-perfectly crafted and performed song finishes, cheers and hollers erupt from all corners. How much has changed in a year.
Despite having to miss The Horrors for fear of not getting home within about three hours, the general consensus for Offset would be "more of this kind of thing, please", except the part whereby you can't take unsealed bottles on site...
See our In Photos coverage of Offset festival here.
Main photo is of Kasms.
Photo by Helen Boast