6Music's 2nd Festival took over Tyneside for two days and three nights of music and performance and showcasing of some of the most popular and upcoming artists in indie and alternative. Based around the O2 Academy, The Ouseburn area, the Boilershop and the wonderful Sage on the banks of the Tyne; 6Music set their stall out in a massive and impressive way.
Kicking off the 6music Festival weekend was a quartet of bands that by rights, could be headlining sell out shows on their own and on a cold February Friday, the O2 Academy in Newcastle upon Tyne was packed.
The War on Drugs:
“Amazing. Such a shame they were only able to play four songs.”
“Boring, terrible band. They sound like a rubbish Dire Straits.”
“They were superb. Everything layered up and built into great, joyous soundscapes.”
Don't take their word for it. Have a listen to them on BBC iPlayer here
“An absolute dream come true.”
“I had a hamburger in McDonald's in Gateshead and it was better than Sleater Kinney.”
“Brilliant. Why had I never heard of them before?”
See them them on YouTube here and see if they were right.
Wearing the official New York indie uniform of black suits and leather jackets, Interpol reek of Bowery dives circa 1981. Their staccato, sombre, post-punk is solid but there seems to be a spark missing although the majority of the crowd are lapping it up as they slog through a set consisting of tracks from 2014's El Pintor and a selection of tracks from earlier works.
Admittedly, this is the first time I've seen Interpol but really, I don't understand the fuss. The throbbing bass-lines have urgency and there are clever lyrics aplenty but when you're wearing your influences on your sleeve as much as these guys are, surely you need to give something extra? Musically, they do all the right things but ultimately it's workmanlike and uninspiring . Lyrically, it's smart, cutting and entirely disengaging.
Mogwai are unassuming. Unlike Interpol, they don't have a uniform that ties them spiritually to some sort of cultural heritage. They look awkward as if they're physically disowning the space and in one of the largest venues in Newcastle they look like they're plugging in for a jam session in the basement.
What you do get with Mogwai is tumultuous, building waves of calculated instrumental genius. The feedback, the bass swell, the beat that isn't played. Their music comes together to create something larger than the sum of its parts.
A charge through their considerable back catalogue was almost a selection of greatest hits. The electro-throb of 'Re-murdered' builds to a chest wobbling climax before they hit us with the knock-out blow of 'We're No Here'. Massive doomy riffs that plunge into climactic feedback and leave my ears bleeding with pure joy.
From the first night, the festival had an unusually welcoming feeling to it. This in part, I think, was due to the fairly recent announcement of the festival, creating a huge rush for tickets and an almost feverish expectation on behalf of attendees. Everyone wanted to be here and if you were, you were part of the 6Music family.
This feeling continued on the Saturday in the Ouseburn area of the city; an ex-industrial area now thriving with real ale bars, live music venues and independent businesses.
The Cluny is one of the mainstays of live music in the north-east featuring bands almost every evening and has two performance spaces.
Cluny 2 had a rotating line-up of 6music DJs and artists in conversation. First up in the morning was Lauren Laverne interviewing Bryan Ferry. Polite and well-spoken, he seems a little nervous and retiring as Laverne talked him through his early days in music. As the conversation progressed, he relaxed and spoke with real warmth of his youth in Newcastle and the bands he saw on stage in their prime.
Ferry's enthusing over the bands of the 1960s, performing in their sartorial splendour is brought into juxtaposition by stepping into The Cluny's main venue where Slaves are raucously steaming, bare-chested, through a set of dirty punk invective. Aggressive, weird and, at times, hilarious, I could have watched them all day.
Outside, under one of the arches of the huge viaduct dominating the Ouseburn, a variety of street food vendors had set up shop providing pizza, Vietnamese style burgers, curry and barbecue sandwiches.
As a short-lived freak burst of snow set in, I went back inside to check a band I'd wanted to see for a while. Joanna Gruesome play a lyrically abrasive spazzy indie-punk. Lead singer, Alanna, has a commanding presence and feedback problems aside, the band didn't disappoint with a performance full of energy and dynamics. A hungry band deserving of a lot more column inches.
A dash up the hill to the amazing Star & Shadow Cinema to see Sleaford Mods, ended in disappointment when I found that there'd been some changes to the scheduling and they'd already played. Disappointing. Also annoying was that the session entitled Punk Poetry featuring John Cooper Clarke was also stuffed full of people and I couldn't get in.
Not to worry. Back down the hill to see ten minutes of The Wytches do their psych-rock thing before heading over the river in time for the evening's showcase event.
The Sage in Gateshead was an inspired choice of festival venue. Large rooms with perfect acoustics, bedecked in plastic trees and light, that are usually reserved for a more refined punter.
In the main hall, seating removed for the first time since Sage opened in 2004, local heroes Maximo Park made a superb entrance. Paul Smith was at his energetic best. Maximo's star has been on the wane for a couple of years now but their anthemic rock has a place in a lot of hearts, especially in the north-east, and they were the perfect opening act.
I avoided The Fall to go and see Father John Misty over in Hall 2. A more intimate, venue suited him perfectly and after superb reviews from the release of 'I Love You, Honeybear' there were queues outside the door.
Oozing charisma and style, his performance is pure theatre. Part easy-listening, part-Las Vegas showman with a neat sideline of between song patter and barbed lyrics drenched in wry humour. One of the highlights of the weekend.
Kate Tempest in the main stage was a revelation. Poetic political and social commentary spoken with passion and fury over the top of pounding urban rhythm. An outstanding show that won her a lot of new fans, I suspect.
Next up, Royal Blood. Although one of the biggest bands in the UK at the moment, I was waiting to be convinced and convince me they did. A huge sound, flashing strobes, rock star moves and a crowd that had evidently been dying for this moment. Pints even got thrown and when it was costing around £4.50 for a Heineken, the sacrifice must have been worth it.
Downstairs, Jungle play out their funk-dance fusion on the Concourse stage. It's an absolute riot of fun and especially when you see Stuart Maconie doing his best dad-dancing off to the side. Steve Lamacq stands a little further away. Does he look a little embarrassed?
Last band of the evening on the main-stage is Hot Chip. Another band I don't get. They look like some sort of fancy dress party for geeky kids and their estranged dads to bond at. “Play instruments together – it'll help the healing process”
One of them is wearing a mumu for god's sake.
I suppose they have danceable tunes but that's about the best I can say about them. As ever though, it's not about me and they did really go down a storm with the now quite inebriated crowd. Maybe I should have drank more.
A tiring and enjoyable first day...roll on Sunday...
Sunday's daylight events took place in the unassuming Boilershop. An old warehouse tucked away behind Central Station and just a stone's throw from the river.
I'm not going to lie. It was a cold day and the warehouse seemed to act like some sort of refrigerator which, although leading to a camaraderie of sorts between the attendees, made things a lot less enjoyable than it should have been. That being said, the atmosphere was great inside.
A small record fair took place at one end of the space with stalls from local record shops including Frankie And The Heartstrings' superb Pop Recs from Sunderland and, quite possibly, the finest concept in cuisine and music ever combined; the amazing Pie & Vinyl from Southsea. Pie & Vinyl also dished out free coffee which meant that there was a massive queue as word quickly spread.
At the other end of the room were two stages. The smaller of the two was reserved for the various deejay/artist interviews and the larger stage provided the setting for live music.
Beth Jeans Houghton's Du Blonde started off the day. Enjoyable rocky sort of stuff and a little more mainstream sounding than Houghton's solo forays.
Following this, Cerys Matthews interviewed The Charlatans' Tim Burgess about his career, influences and recording processes. Tim is a lovely guy and spoke with real enthusiasm about his favourite records. Tellin' stories, indeed.
Later on this stage, there was a panel discussion involving Guy Garvey, King Creosote, and Tom Robinson. Focusing on how they write songs, consideration of great songwriters and some live performance from King Creosote with Guy Garvey doing backing vocals, this was an interesting session and well worth a listen on iPlayer.
Ushering a bit of musical warmth to the room was Hyde & Beast. Featuring drummers from The Futureheads and The Golden Virgins, I always thought this was an interesting side-project and they have become a much more complex and interesting concept since I first saw them two years ago. The best way to describe their sound would be to ask you to imagine T-Rex covering Crosby, Stills & Nash. There's a sort of west coast country rock aesthetic with the posturing, scuzzy guitar of glam. It shouldn't work but it really does. Full of sunshine and feel good.
Womans Hour follow on and I find them difficult. They were very professional, everything sounded great and the lead singer had all the moves but they were just too clinical. Ethereal pop drowning in synth normally does it for me; especially when female fronted, but the ice of the warehouse seemed to numb their music. Like my fingers, I just couldn't feel them.
Beardyman was about twenty minutes into his 'Make an Album in an Hour' performance when I left to make my way to Sage for the Sunday finale. What I did see was an amazing show of improvisation, skill and talent. Creating songs from Twitter suggestions made by fans and listeners of 6music. It had to be seen to be appreciated and I wish I could have stayed to see more.
Due to Jon Hopkins' non-attendance through illness, there was some rejigging of the lineup on the evening. Some bands got bumped up and The Maccabees were moved to headline another stage. Opportunity then for Newcastle's own Nadine Shah to open in Hall 2 and she grabbed the opportunity with both hands. There's a darkness and gloom to her gothic sounding pop and she is really captivating.
Gaz Coombes' solo material is a lot more mature and layered than I was expecting. I saw the first two songs and was impressed enough to make an effort to listen to his album in full when I get chance but down in the Concourse, I couldn't miss the amazing Wire.
When I'm old enough for my bus pass, I can only dream as being as innovative and uncompromising as the veteran art-rockers. Playing a set of new songs that were angular, abrasive and affecting, they were probably the most vital band of the festival which is a huge credit to them and their creativity. What was in effect, the foyer of the Sage, has probably never and will never see anything as wonderfully antagonistic as this again. Amazing.
Another old stager is Neneh Cherry. She didn't play “the hits” and you could tell there was some disappointment at that but she really was excellent. A small backing band made a lot of noise as Neneh prowled and preened at the front of the stage. Watch and learn.
A dash back downstairs to jostle for position to see Public Service Broadcasting. An excellent stage display of old televisions and monitors along with a vast array of musical machinery indicated the route their set was going to go. Retro visuals and samples with what is essentially Skint era big beat backing tracks. They're pretty much Propellerheads in tweed instead of tuxedos. A similar atmosphere to Royal Blood taking the stage the night before led to something of a party atmosphere. Pulsating and professorial, they don't need the Doctor Who wardrobe, but they just about make it work. It's cheesy and fun and sometimes that's all you need.
Finishing off the weekend, indie veterans The Charlatans were greeted rapturously. If the 6music Festival was a family party then these are definitely your favourite uncle. Even if you're not into them, you have to appreciate and applaud their longevity. And they have tunes that everybody knows. It's a fitting end to what was a superbly run festival in wonderful venues. Wherever the 6Music Festival pitches up next year, it will have a long way to go to get anywhere near Newcastle's weekend.
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