On the 20th of March this year we shall reach the equinox; the sun has already appeared and the season of the festival is at our door. When people say ‘festival’ nowadays, images of prissy skinny wannabe models struggling through the Glastonbury mud, or neon prepubescent scene children jumping up and down next to fluffy haired posh boys at Reading invariably come to mind. Long gone are the days of Hawkwind playing atop standing stones backed by nude dancers whilst distributing free acid – the festival in the 21st Century is an extremely commercial, homogenised experience.
Which is why it’s nice that on our doorstep, beginning on the 26th March as we head towards the bright lights of summertime, the British Wildlife Festival is coming to the Brudenell Social Club, Nation of Shopkeepers and the Royal Park Cellars in Leeds. A taster on the way into the big festival season of May, June and beyond, this three dayer is perfect for dipping in and soaking up some true independent festival spirit before heading with a deep breath into the corporate horror of a certain other notable festival in Leeds. That said, it’s not like Guns ‘N Roses, Lady Gaga or Aerosmith are playing: the talent consists of lovingly homegrown bands from the local scene and beyond that sum up the sound of the underground in Britain better than Girls Aloud ever did. A subterranean mong-out with dedicated bands playing for peanuts in the most homely venues in Leeds – perfect for soothing our festival souls. But before you grab your railcard and ponce off in a none-more-indie manner lets have a bit of a look-see at exactly what wildlife the festival team have, in true Attenborough fashion, discovered for our delectation.
The ‘big name’ for the festival, Tundra isn’t exactly Radiohead but he’s pretty close. Having remixed Franz Ferdinand and the Pet Shop Boys, as well as hosting Resonance FM’s show ‘Max Tundra’s Rotogravure’, he’s the act you’ll most likely have heard of. An electronic mastermind who has toured in support of current darlings of the British music press (despite an iffy fourth album) Hot Chip, Tundra has released three extremely original and lovable albums, with assistance from his friends in ubiquitous psych-folk beardy festival band Tunng. He was also one of the last musicians to record a Peel Session, and recommendations don’t come much higher than from the Margrave of the Marshes himself.
The naturalist explorers of the British Wildlife Festival must have found Palehorse ‘neath a considerably large rock. Easily the most aggressively original sludge/noise outfit operating in the UK, Palehorse inject a sharp shot of Diazepam into the arm of a tired genre, and cause it to gloriously, numbly die onstage. Seemingly named after the band in cult graphic novel ‘Watchmen’, they sound similar to that book’s sense of apocalyptic Cold War doom. Debut LP ‘Gee, That ‘Aint Swell’ is one of the most torturous, out-there records I’ve heard, inhuman shrieks set to a twin bass artillery assault. They’ve existed as a band for most of the last decade, progressing as slowly as their sloth-like sound, but their live performance is not to be missed – exhilarating, exhausting, disturbing.
Sounding like West-Yorkshire brethren The Cribs having snacked on some badass tranquilizers, Wonderswan play righteous slacker indie. The lead singer sounds like he’s dribbling out his words in the best sort of way, and the overall impression on listening is that you’ve accidentally toppled arse over tit down a wormhole and are back in 1994. Named after Bandai’s inferior competitor to the market of the Gameboy Color, the band are clearly living it up somewhere where Tony Blair is hip, Cobain just died, the Spice Girls are popular and people still think England have a World Cup chance. Get them to come up for Fibbers’ Hammertime.
They sound like they’ve been sucking off Steve Albini a little too much than is healthy, but for bad attitude, low-end 80’s noise rock this does the trick nicely. Having distributed headlocks to audience members at a recent Fibbers gig, the live performance is confrontational and generally upsetting to minors. The band’s sound is less original than others on the bill, but with some great lyrics and a tight live performance this is easily made up for by the band’s passion. The frontman’s stage presence is genuinely reminiscent of a mentally unstable ape, and with a solid as fuck rhythm section, Blacklisters are not a band to miss. If you miss them, they’ll probably break into you house and steal your cat. And shag it.
Deerhoof-endorsed Glasgow agit-punks who sound a wee bit like Lydia Lunch being involved in an orgy with 80’s underground heroes Flipper. Scrappy, scratchy and angular punk rock with crazy little girl vocals. With a debut 10” EP out now on Optimo Music, they are one of the more prominent bands that has helped contribute to the sterling reputation of Glasgow’s burgeoning noise scene.
That Fucking Tank
Leeds scene champions who form a clan of sorts with fellow locals Pulled Apart By Horses and These Monsters. Describing themselves as a ‘minimal riff disco’ band, their sound is a high energy krautrock/mathrock cross-breed with elements of techno and prog. Basically, spliff tunes abound. Song titles such as ‘Stephen Hawkwind’ and ‘Bruce Springstonehenge’ coupled with wacky time signatures and general musical nerdiness, a heady mix of geek and reefer. With a live performance that features masks, few clothes and ‘novelty equipment’, don’t miss them.
Lastly, Camberwell’s Part Chimp are the unsung legends of the London underground. Another John Peel endorsed addition to the bill; they’re usually unhelpfully labelled as post-rock, despite that term being in itself nonsensical. The band combine several styles of the above bands and more to create a blistering musical hate-fondue. That’s not to say they’re cheesy, far from it – bands as diverse as Lightning Bolt, Kyuss and mclusky come to mind as you let the groove ridden, bludgeoning black magic melodies wash over you. Like Mogwai after a nine day cider drinking binge, unhealthy vocals yell over a sludgy rhythm section, as the guitarist peals of swathes of ultra-riff. Loud as fuck but deft and intelligent, this is the sort of stuff that should be synonymous with indie rock in the UK, rather than the Wombats, Ting Tings et al.
So come on down to Leeds on March 26th and blow the cobwebs from your ears. The auld festival spirit might not be truly alive and kicking but at least British Wildlife have set up a way to cleanse yourself of the guilt of galloping round corporate music showcases all summer. Ok, save the tent burning for Reading and the mud for Glastonbury, but get the attitude here. There’s plenty of bands on the bill I haven’t mentioned who I’m sure will be hidden gems. The greatness of it is the fact that you’re paying at the most 15 quid for a weekend ticket, which means you can pop in and out whenever you please. There’s really no excuse for anyone living in Leeds interested in independent music to miss it. The horribly ironic corporate trap of the festival season can sometimes get me down when I’m lost in the middle of it. Dedicated little festivals like this keep me sane; I hope to see you there.
Visit http://britishwildlifefestival4.blogspot.com/ for more info.