When does an event earn the right to call itself a festival? On the surface, it's probably not a question that matters much to many. But, it's one that we ponder a few times on Friday and Saturday night during 'What Became Of Us', a fab line up of up and coming bands taking place at both Leicester's Cookie and Oxford's Bullingdon. Bands that play in Leicester on the Friday swap with those that play in Oxford on Friday.
It's a question that matters to Nik Sharpe, the charming and knowledgeable promoter at these two venues. It seems that when you badge something up as a festival (or even a multi band gig over a couple of sites), it gives salacious booking agents the opportunity to command a greater fee. Bands that might play for petrol money and a bag of crisps now want a wine cellar in the South of France if the 'F' word gets mentioned. Thus, I submit this review to eFestivals reluctantly.
In its third year, What Became Of Us is forging something of a reputation for unearthing special bands. In previous years, acts such as Blossoms have taken to the stage at the Cookie and shown that they're on an upward trajectory. This year, there's a palpable sense of anticipation in the air as six bands each evening attempt to take that mantle.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Friday night belongs to Cabbage. Rambunctious and full of DIY punk spirit, their's is a set that leaves your regular gig goer gobsmacked. The hype that's beginning to build around them seems more than justified. From the off, this gang of five are determined to give us no respite. They pose as they flail their limbs over the security barrier. Shirts are lost and, somewhat strangely, by their final song, Cabbage's exuberant lead singer, Lee Broadbent, has his trousers around his ankles. He waddles around like a duck for a moment before removing them completely. Mic leads are tangled around us all as Iggy Pop like dashes are made into the crowd. Put simply, it's a lot of fun and what live music should always be about.
Whether it's because Toy had the enviable task of following Cabbage or whether their hearts just weren't in it we might never know. But, despite the strange sight of seeing a pretty active mosh pit forming for their set of stoned-out psychedelia, they never quite reach the heights. Their set is only four songs in (perhaps three) when they say that this is our last. OK, three minute, short and sweet tunes mightn't be this bands shtick but all the same this feels like short change. Toy insist on returning for an encore even though the response from the audience is hardly riotous. They might have been better just playing on through rather than forcing things.
Yuck hardly need my sympathy but they've got it. Headlining on the Friday, they try desperately hard to engage with a crowd who seem determined not to enjoy things much. To ever decreasing numbers, Max Bloom chats about Richard the Third whilst apologising for never having played Leicester before. There's some banter about Nottingham and local rivalries. What really stands out with Yuck is the sometimes understated quality of their songwriting. Newer tunes, still formed out of that Pavement-like slacker rock base, merge in with older 'classics' to make a quality, rounded set. But, maybe the ship they've been sailing for a few years now has sailed with the cool kids settled on Cabbage.
Other acts on the Friday are made up of two Leicester based bands and one from Oxford. A half 6 start and a need to get my beard trimmed combine to mean I miss local openers, Alligtr, but I'm sure my chance to see them again will come around soon. Willie J Healey (from Oxford) gets the evening moving well with a gravelly and soulful take on modern music whilst the somewhat established Leicester based threepiece, We Three And The Death Rattle, try their hardest to make our eardrums bleed with their rock and feedback immediacy. All in all, it was a fab Friday evening.
The Cookie in Leicester lends itself to these sort of events perfectly. And less than 24 hours after Yuck leave the stage we're doing it all again with six more bands demanding our attention. All of the gigs at the Cookie take place in a basement space which leaves the other two floors of this fine city centre bar open to the general public. There's a decent range of beer, both bottled and draft and a group of staff who are always smiling when they serve you. In terms of size, it's not a massive venue but it is one that's had a lot of love and attention spent upon it. And so onto Saturday…
The consensus on Friday night might well have been that Cabbage had stormed the day but honours were much more split on the Saturday. Gengahr, are a band that have largely passed me by but that didn't seem to be the case at the Cookie for the majority of those gathered to watch their headline set. I stood at the back of a pretty packed room as the predominantly student crowd sang along to the falsetto dark pop coming from the stage. Vaguely recognising 'She's A Witch', I found myself nodding along in general agreement, converted by their overall spirit. They apologise for not having played Leicester for some time. I can guarantee them that the next time they do, I'll be more receptive.
October Drift, the penultimate band of the night, were the one that impressed me most on the Saturday. With a lead singer who looks the spit of a younger Dexter Fletcher, they play an upbeat indie-rock thing with such energetic bile that you can't help but be drawn into their world. What might sound average on record suddenly becomes electrifying in a live space. They sweat and play like their lives are depending upon this and I text a few of my friends to say that they're missing a treat.
I suspect that Ulrika Spacek are the sort of band that will grow on me over the next year. With bags of equipment on the small stage, it's impressive that they start only a few minutes later than scheduled. It's psychedelia for 2016 and they drone on acceptably with a few artistic flourishes until beginning their next tune. Room splitters, they're a bit of a marmite band for those gathered. Great musicians but maybe missing the connection that others have bought to the table over this weekend.
The earlier slots from Saturday evening are again made up of two Leicester bands and one from Oxford. Hudson Scott, the Oxford act, are dowsed in all things 80's. It's perfectly acceptable in my book to want to be Curiosity Killed The Cat, Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran mixed together in a gigantic saucepan and this is what they achieve with singular effect. They seem slightly disconcerted by the fact that many punters have yet to arrive but this is a small criticism for an act that will certainly attract larger crowds moving forward. Lacura,, one of the Leicester based bands announce that they'll be splitting up (or at least doing something different) after this gig. It's a shame because they're as impressive as a few on this 'What Became Of Us' bill. I'll keep an eye on what they might be doing next. Arcades are next playing a headline show at Leicester's O2 academy. They've got all of moves and an impressive fan base but now need to work out what's unique about them that'll make them distinct and push them beyond simply being a popular local band.
And that's it. 'What Became Of Us 2016' was a great event/festival/gig (delete as appropriate) to attend. Ultimately, the weekend belonged to Cabbage and it's no surprise to see them being announced for prominent summer shows in 2017 already. They might have the right here, right now 'wow' factor but I wouldn't bet against Gengahr and October Drift also galloping and gathering pace in the new year.
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What Became Of Us 2016 review