Festival wristbands are like Vodka Revs’ ‘Rich and Famous’ photos. They don’t attest to an enjoyable experience but pronounce ‘Look- I was there; I was one in a very overdrawn and intoxicated onslaught of Obey caps and iPhones blaring Niggas in Paris’.
The Beacons band was a plain, understated green. The line-up had everything from Japandroids to Pearson Sound, only an £85 ticket meant a back-field in Skipton instead of a Croatian beach. A location, I should add, that flooded so badly in 2011 that Beacons’ debut appearance was held back to this year.
I didn’t expect anything slick. Friday afternoon’s sad words “Sorry…Our equipment’s wet…we’re going to have to stop” felt fatefully inevitable. As third track “Control” was cut short halfway, a slightly embarrassed, older 1/2 of Disclosure had to meekly apologise to a disappointed crowd all well aware it’d long fallen flat.
But morale held strong. Minutes before she stepped on stage, the Stool Pigeon tent was swarmed for 2012’s soaring newcomer Jessie Ware. Debut album ‘Devotion’ comprises vast influences; each so subtle it runs the risk of falling into Radio1’s drearily middle-of-the-road clutches. Yet the range of her band drew out the distinct grooves of each track. Her sensationally soulful voice and natural charisma made her set feel intimate, in spite of the scale of her turnout.
Inverting the mood for nightfall with Nik Colk’s mournfully manipulated vocals, Factory Floor came next setting the stage for Mount Kimbie. With mangled guitar sounds and sampled crackling clashing for the most part of the duo’s set, the sound was one of gritty improvisation rather than pre-recorded perfection. Sparse moments of harmonic co-existence became cutely coincidental; diamonds in the eddying rhythm of rough drum pad play.
In many ways, this was what Beacons became about: taking sogginess with the rare moments of sunshine, the bad in the light of the good. With Bashmore’s dubiously excused cancellation, Friday night saw Night Slug’s L-Vis 1990 deliver an arguably better substitute of disco-house, centred on the sound of 2011’s ‘Neon Dreams’. Absence was compensated for as “’Au Seve” became the weekend’s notably overplayed theme tune.
At times the organisation seemed clumsy, but endearingly so. In the midst of evolving from producer to artist, Saturday afternoon saw Kwes at ease enough to stop seconds into “Get Up” and do himself greater justice by perfecting his set-up and restarting. As his slot warmed up and his impressive three-piece backing band (including a sensational female drummer) tightened in time for “Bashful”, I saw a slightly tipsy mum and two tiny kids dancing in the middle of the crowd.
Organiser John Drysdale’s aim to keep it “inclusive yet edgy…to avoid obvious music choices but work the crowd nonetheless” felt alive at moments like these. After an hour of Koreless’ warm, jazz-influenced response to a dying dubstep, Saturday night saw notorious crowd-worker Oneman deliver a memorable, two-hour set. Tracks from Mya’s 1990s pop-hit “Watcha Gonna Do” to TNGHT’s “Higher Ground” had the crowd united, all ecstatically howling with every tantalising rewind.
The same atmosphere ran through Wild Beasts’ performance. Mingling their older, more polished songs like “Devil’s Crayon” with newer material they worked the crowd to a sweat for bassist Tom Flemming to wittily remark that they “smelt good”. Harking back to the ‘golden years’ of teen-festivals, they came back on stage wearing balaclavas for an encore/tribute to Pussy Riot.
As it drew to a close, I realised that the weekend had been refreshingly free of hard-core types trying to revive the gratuitous mosh pits of Reading 2009. Making friendly conversation with his audience throughout his Sunday slot, Star Slinger rubbed well as he dropped his revitalising remix of the mainstream, club-dominating track “We Found Love”.
Refusing to play her most popular song “What They Say” and feeling inadequate as a follow-up to XXXY and Huxley, reputable Maya Jane Coles drew the weekend to a disappointing close. US rapper Lunice’s last minute cancellation was a bit of a bummer too. Yet with the last return to camp coloured by all singing Bashmore’s big ‘Owh baby’ sample as one, it clearly hadn’t jeopardised much.
As of yet, nobody’s pulled me up on my bogie-coloured wristband. Beacons 2012 was one of the UK music scene’s best kept secrets. I doubt its reputation will allow it to retain its small, community spirit through to next year. But regardless of what is to come, I’m actually glad I was there for the experience that it was.
By Jonjo Lowe