2000 Trees 2023 review

in its 15th edition, Trees keeps improving

By Mike Marshall | Published: Mon 17th Jul 2023

around the site

Thursday 6th to Sunday 9th July 2023
Upcote Farm, Withington, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL54 4BL, England MAP
from £190.50
Daily capacity: 10,000
Last updated: Tue 4th Jul 2023

Sometimes, you get into a place and it just feels right. Festivals can be such a place, and 2000 Trees certainly was. It’s set in a really nice location, with a gentle hill (at first!) leading down from the campsites through the arena entrance and down to the main stage. The 4 major stages are well spaced out, with adjacent stages on alternating slots with 5 minutes in between. Simple, but keeps sound bleed to a minimum, while giving punters a constant selection of bands to see.

walking down

Walking down into the arena with cans in hand (yes, they let you do this here), we head to see Kid Kapichi. Prior to seeing them, I’d largely written them off as just another 4 shouty white boys with guitars, but on stage they have a surprising vulnerability and freshness. 

Over on the Neu stage, Bex has an almost terrifying intensity to her despite a tiny crowd. Impressive stage outfits, her show is glamourous and violent, simultaneously raw and polished. She'll almost certainly be climbing through the stages, as Bob Vylan have already done with their bombastic grime punk.

Bex

And So I Watch You From Afar don't quite feel like a Trees band, their math-influenced post-rock more akin to the prominent styles of its sister festival ArcTanGent, but their sheer excellence makes them an excellent crossover selection.

Bars at Trees are well-managed, queues remain short, and the price of £6.50/pint, while high, at least seems tolerable in comparison to recent inflation. A greater range of beer would be nice, but the festival have been quite open about the problems of low bar takings while allowing drinks in, and it's admirable that they're continuing to put focus on punters' experience. The standout drinks are probably the Moonshine cocktails, particularly the apple and ginger Anklebreaker.

bar

Thursday’s headliners are Soft Play, formerly known as Slaves (UK). I was intrigued as to how this set would be, with no releases yet this decade, and whether their chosen name indicated a possible shift in energy. They quickly alleviated such concerns, churning out hits such as "Debbie Where's Your Car" and "The Hunter" with the same in-your-face energy that has permeated their style and career. 

The after-hours entertainment at Trees is a Silent Disco, and this was done excellently. Actual DJs working the different channels, doing hype work, and curating a developing mood over the night. The impact of being in the same tent as the DJ of your channel was huge, with the crowds partitioning to create distinct energies.

 

Friday morning, with the sun beating down on our tents, we steadily emerge to grab some fresh fruit and head to see St Pierre Snake Invasion, who have a fairly extended soundcheck and a delayed start, but their brief set is still an excellent wake-up call.

fruit

The heat and hangover are a little much, but thankfully, there’s the delightful Forest Sessions stage, a shady little wooded stage with a number of more mellow performances. It’s a delightful way to relax through the worst of the weekend’s sun, although I was a little disappointed that a few of the side exhibits in tracks off it were missing this year. At other moments through the afternoon, we saw the stunningly excellent Brutus, and the incredibly underwhelming and flat Dinosaur Pile-up.

Brutus

Time for a quick food break, and while it’s common at most festivals nowadays, it's always worth reiterating when the selection is excellent. There was a diverse range of delicious options, with the Pad Thai and Bunny Chow particularly standing out as tasty and filling, while distinct from traditional festival fare.

Friday’s headliner, and probably the biggest act of the weekend, were Bullet For My Valentine. They asked the question “Are we the heaviest band to play this festival?” and were met with hilarious silence. The one misjudgement aside though, their performance was an impressive display of metal showmanship. Playing songs from across their catalogue, it felt like they were bringing the whole audience back to feeling 16 again. That said, my experience of being 16 and listening to Bullet was being surrounded by people who loved them while I wondered whether they’d do anything more interesting than technically adept metal. Perfectly replicated.

Bullet

A one-night addition to the Silent Disco for Friday is Thrill Collins, a covers/medley band playing a set that's broadcast across the headphones for the first 90 minutes. Sure it's cheesy, but it's immensely entertaining, and once again showed that Trees will do that little bit extra to add to punters' experience.

 

We were awoken by the rain on Saturday, and with it a not ridiculous distance, we decided to pack up our tents and get ready to leave at the end of the day. Credit to the festival though, they swiftly distributed straw across muddy choke points, and at no point were the day’s intermittent downpours allowed to create unsafe terrain or disrupt the day’s entertainment.

Our first band of the day was Witch Fever, and wow were they excellent. Playing to a sparse lunchtime crowd early in the day is tough, and even moreso when there’s a bit of a drizzle to dampen the mood. Not here, they brought a real energy, filled with a doomy intensity and a punchy anger.

WitchFever

Some things sound too silly not to check out. Dick Valentine of Electric Six playing an acoustic set on the Forest Sessions stage was one of them, and it was just pure, excellent fun. Gently taking the piss out of his own guitar skills, introducing songs with gently meandering tales to tease out chuckles from the crowd. The full band packed out the main stage later, but even with big hits such as Gay Bar, that performance wasn’t as joyous as the much more unique acoustic set. An excellent mid-afternoon entertaining booking, just outshone by the delight of the earlier weirdness. 

Quick shoutout to the security teams at Trees, who were friendly, respectful of punters, and proactive at offering people ear plugs and water. Mosh pits and crowd energy were well-managed throughout the whole weekend, with it genuinely feeling like security were there to ensure everyone was safe. This was particularly true in the Neu Stage, where Enola Gay brought chugging and absolutely filthy guitars, with hip hop vocals that felt like a more inventive blend than nu-metal ever did.

The Oozes were the only riot grrl band I managed to catch over the weekend, having missed Lambrini Girls due to their early set, but they very much felt like the next stage of the movement. Overtly queer, referencing their politics and trans identity, their music is intently tied into their anger at how their right to exist as themselves gets questioned.

The Oozes

The day's rain made tents a little more appealing, and a couple of softer bands were playing in The Axiom and The Cave. That said, softer is relative, and Black Honey somehow offered a doom-infused surf-rock set, Casey's songs were excellent individually, but their transitions between emo, hardcore, and post-rock tempos felt jarring.

There’s not been many line-up changes throughout the weekend, but signs around the festival communicate the few that do happen. Loathe are the first real miss, but St Pierre Snake Invasion stick around and their second show is much better than the first. Their sound carries around The Axiom and the extra time gives them a greater chance to show off their variety of riffs and styles.

The final band on at the Cave is Pitchshifter, and this is what I’ve been waiting for. Pioneers of industrial post-hardcore, Trees is their second of only two shows, the other having been the night before in Bristol, and wow did they live up to this. From the opening riffs of "Microwaved" they never let up, bringing on a slew of guest singers, including from Saint Agnes, Rews, Earthtone 9, and Crashface. The entire experience feels relentless, unleashing the last dregs from both the band and the crowd until "Genius" provides the inevitable fantastic finale.

Pitchshifter

Trees was, once again, a wonderful experience, filled with a fantastically diverse range of angry music. It’s carved out its own niche in a busy festival circuit, and fills it excellently. Bands return to perform across different stages over the years, but the line-up rarely feels repetitive. There's enough of the side extras to give a rounded festival experience, but the focus remains on the excellent music, with a brilliant blend of both nostalgia and exciting upcoming bands. Here's hoping there can be 15 more.


review by: Mike Marshall

photos by: Benji Corless


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