Now in it's eighth year In The Woods Festival, curated by the Laurel Collective took place from Friday 30th August until Sunday 1st September 2013 at a secret location in Kent. There was storytelling, games, silent disco/cinema and more but of course the main focus for eFestivals was the music.
Hailing from Madison, Wisconsin – Phox are one of the few acts based outside the UK to have made the In the Woods line-up and they are more than worthy of their place on The Quarry Stage. Front woman Monica Martin vocals are delivered with an authority that even some of the soul greats would be proud of. It’s a pretty idyllic festival opener which delivers their own brand of soul tinged indie pop with ‘Noble Heart’ especially fitting as the sun peers through the trees.
Rosie Lowe and her band take to the stage and there is an immediate likeability to them. Humble and giddy there clearly happy to be here, disappointingly that’s where the positivity ends. They have that generic sounding minimalist based RnB – Lowe to her credit has a warm and soulful voice which has seen her guest with a host of others such as Jessie Ware and Lil Silva – but it quickly becomes apparent that each tune is gradually getting duller than the one before to the point that it becomes intolerable.
Benin City is one of those acts were you can see the potential for both critical and commercial success, mostly down to their charismatic frontman Joshua Idehen who has the lyrics, the moves, the attitude and sheer confidence to stand out from the rest. It’s early in the day and people are content watching from afar yet Idehen commands us to come down the front and get involved - which we all do. That’s not to say this is a one man show, this wouldn’t sound so good if it wasn’t for band mate Tom Leaper who is the man responsible for this mostly genre bending experience. Seemingly a master of horns, synths and anything else he can get his hands on, it’s his exploits which perfectly complement Idehen’s and together drive the band onwards. Tracks like ‘Love’ and ‘Faithless’ have a real sincerity and woozy soulfulness to them that you can’t help believe these guys are the real deal.
LandShapes, the artists formerly known as Lulu & the Lampshades, take to the Quarry stage on a mid-Saturday afternoon. There are nods to a wide range of things in their music – pop, folk, psychedelic – but it seems to lack a focus or drive to really connect. It’s harmless enough and there are some pretty decent melodies. They’ve also just released an album on Bella Union so they must be doing something right, but for me there sound seems a bit too misplaced.
Hello Skinny have long been involved in the jazz circles in London but there sound lends itself to so much more, there is a clear debt owed to electronic music and they sound like Fuck Buttons for the more refined, this is in no way a slight on them as they are arguably the most stand out act at In The Woods as they provide that little bit something different. Although it is the brainchild of Tom Skinner who drives the band on throughout from behind the sticks it is saxophonist/clarinettist Shabaka Hutchings who stands out for his virtuosic display. Beyond the solo acclaim the band are run tightly and provide as leftfield a jazz performance that you are likely to find.
Superfood arrive at In the Woods with something of a reputation, rumour has it there is a few A&R people here to scope them out for a potential deal. It’s easy to see their appeal; you can see them turning a profit, brashy youngsters with the impetus of youth on their side knocking out a new spin on Britpop. There are obvious comparisons with early Blur to be made but I’m not fully sold on them, they’ve got some moxy about them and that could be enough to at least get them off the ground.
When you hear an act described as a former model turned folk singer it automatically sets alarm bells off, Marika Hackman is just that. But surprisingly it isn’t the disaster that it ought to be, it’s quite the opposite in fact. There is a long line of recent female English folk acts and Hackman supported perhaps the best known in Laura Marling on her recent tour of Australia. There is something that separates Hackman from the long list of twee and dainty English chanteuses, her folk comes from an altogether darker place. You can hear something which sets her apart on tracks like the cerebral ‘Cannibal’ and new track ‘Cinnamon’ there is something alluring about her music and her presence which goes well beyond her looks. The set goes as well as a solo acoustic show can go, it’s probably a bit too late on where the crowd has got a bit mouthy, slightly tainting an otherwise captivating set.
Sivu, otherwise known as James Page, comes to The Quarry stage with a bit of hype surrounding him. The music changes rather dramatically from track to track, he opens with a track which passes by like tumbleweed in the dirt. But Sivu grows from this not merely from confidence or performance but from his output to date ranging from poor to great. He’s got an interesting falsetto voice and his music at times isn’t afraid to go off on tangents. There is undoubtedly something of interest here; I’m just not sure what it is yet.
Drenge seem to be one of the star turnouts of the weekend and could find themselves the band that everyone talked about this year. They are certainly not to be dismissed with songs like ‘Backwaters’ and ‘Bloodsports’ packing a severe punch.
Part of what makes In the Woods so special is that it focuses upon new acts and has acted as a sort of precursor to what is going to be big in the next 12 months. This time last year Alt- J took to the Quarry stage and they’re now a Mercury Music Prize winning stadium act.
The special guest headliner of the Saturday night is fellow Mercury Music Prize nominee Ghostpoet – who is welcomed to rapturous applause (I think it was one of the few times at a festival that a secret guest has been kept actually secret until the reveal) He fires out the “hits” from his Peanut Butter and Melancholy Jam LP including ‘Lines’ and ‘Survive It’ as well as giving us a taster of some new material like ‘Meltdown’. The crowd are on top of their game as the lap it up and Ghostpoet himself is in fine form, looking a different person to the one that eked onto our scene a few years ago. Now brimming with a joie de vivre on the stage with a tight backing band in tow it enables him to take his live performance to another level.
It’s as quaint as a festival as you get, festival is probably the wrong word, a small gathering of like-minded individuals is possibly more apt. It feels as special as you can imagine though, artists and punters mingle alike in what is basically a commune for the weekend with no aggro and nothing but like minded souls there to have a good time. To call this a festival would be a disservice to what it actually is, it’s something different altogether perhaps so one of a kind that a word is yet to be created for it.
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