Tuesday 8 September 2009

Offset Festival - Sunday 6 September 2009

Bo Ningen


Arriving full of vim and vigour for day two of Offset, we first happen across Jessica Larrabee aka She Keeps Bees. Judging by the persistent effing and blinding, she is not a happy camper. This may be something to do with her equipment, but she is too angry to make this clear. What she does play seems ok in a sub-PJ Harvey kind of way and we look on with happy bemusement.

Stepping into the next tent we find that proceedings are running at least half an hour late. This enables us to enjoy the majority of a set from Brontosaurus Chorus, who are a kind of mini-Earlies, incorporating trumpet, cello and string section. And they are really good, being absolutely spot on for a sunny Sunday afternoon. I have seen them before and rather dismissed them, but today they are perfect for the time and place.

Meanwhile, on the main stage, S.C.U.M. are performing at the hottest and sunniest time of the day. Contrary to expectations, they do not wither or burst into flames when exposed to sunlight, but instead put in a fine performance that is part Sisters of Mercy, part Echo and the Bunnymen and wholly about looking so damn cool that lesser mortals should just go away and kill themselves. Much the best that I have seen them, and it shows that they do have something going for them other than distortion and dry ice.

Stage timings in the tents have gone awry (something to do with the generator that powers the site), so I happily stumble across Artefacts For Space Travel some time after I would have expected to have missed them. Main man Joe Walsh and chums wow a packed tent with a blistering punk set. They annoy the organisers by overstaying their welcome, milking the crowd for support, but they are the only band over the two days who I see doing this.

Next up come Death Cigarettes, whom even casual readers of this blog will realise I have more than a soft spot for. As a fan, I really want them to do well and they do not disappoint. Once they get going, the tent is soon filled and enjoying itself. Singer Maya is a bit apprehensive and unusually restrained, staying on the stage throughout. However, to compensate, she screams herself breathless, finishing the set with a face as purple as a plum. New song ‘Horses’ sounds excellent and final number ‘What Went Wrong?’ is an absolute stormer. I feel as proud as a parent.

The next act is so completely off the hook that for the rest of the day you can hear people around the site discussing it- it is the “Were you there?” moment of the day. I have seen Bo Ningen before in a show that was relatively sedate (audience nudity, guitars passed through the crowd) but today they are like the Apocalypse. To a heaving tent they start with the all-vanquishing whoosh of a space shuttle taking off, seemingly screaming off in all directions. Their set is simply astonishing, because it is so perfect – each member of the band is the coolest guy you ever saw, the space-Jap-metal rock din they make indescribable. The sheer momentum and violence- both sonic and physical - is astounding. Settling on a humungous dirty riff that would make Black Sabbath soil themselves, the band end with a guitarist kicked face first through the crash barrier (the security guard in front of me actually cringed and covered his mouth) and drummer Mon-Chan hanging upside down from the main pole holding the tent up. I am wet with terror and glee at the same time. Genuinely one of the most amazing performances I have ever seen.

An impossible act to follow, but in the next tent I am consoled by the twin drummer assault of Methodist Centre, who are a meat and two veg Oi Oi Saveloy very basic punk act of the type that you don’t see much these days. They are as two-dimensional as a cartoon, but they are fun and a bit of an antidote to some of the more precious acts around.

I’m glad to catch Bearsuit, who are dressed in feathers and beaks and who play a delightful set that showcases their position as if not quite the godfathers, but certainly the older siblings of the twee-core movement. You don’t underestimate the power of a punch from a foxy boxer, as their song has it.

The XX have become the darlings of the age, and their tent is so packed that I can only loiter under the flaps, listening to their quiet intensity. I have problems with their album and I have problems with them live – they have an interesting sound, but they have no actual songs that you can cling to- getting a grasp of them is like nailing jelly to a wall.

I have a similar lack of empathy with Dananananaykroyd on the main stage. They have a fanatical support who worship them, but to me they just seem to be as silly and superficial as a shouty Goldie Looking Chain. One for the kids, I guess.

Wild Beasts are much more ‘adult’ in their appeal and initially at least they are seductive, with a blend of guitar and keyboard that is kind of dance-y but also a perfect backdrop for their falsetto vocals. However as they go on, I find them less appealing and more annoying – not because they are bad but because they are utterly one dimensional – you get the same feeling from one song as you do from the next. Rather like The XX, I get the impression that they make the type of music that is played in the background to a dinner party, where you only notice it when it stops.

Wandering around the site, I hear a promising sound and chance across the Santiago based band Panico, who absolutely rock our socks off. Singer Edu is a brawny, sweaty, macho guy who lasciviously pays court to every woman in the audience. The band twitch and judder in a febrile, synth based groove that is propelled by two percussionists. More dancing ensues, and we are lost in the rhythm. A tremendous performance that culminates in the singer licking the front of a T-shirt before swirling it into the crowd. I love them to bits. Like the Berlin Brides of the day before, it is left to the bands from overseas to provide sex rather than style.

We finish the festival stood behind members of Panico as we watch The Horrors on the main stage. They have their moments but the sound, which is never good, doesn’t allow those on the fringes of the crowd to engage. During the ‘final’ song Sea Within A Sea the keyboards break down completely, and what starts as an instrumental passage becomes first a desperate exercise in filling in and eventually a complete collapse. The band storm tersely off stage and Offset (for me) is over.

It’s been a terrific couple of days and plaudits go to all involved. Sure, the security could have been a little less heavy handed and the site would have benefited from some litter collectors (by the end it was like a rubbish heap from District 9) but I’m sure that the crowd and the bands by and large had a whale of a time. I saw some stand out performances and also ticked off a number of acts that I had not previously seen. All at a reasonable price in an accessible location. Top marks all round.

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