Truck festival has been steadily expanding for a few years now, with more days, stages, and capacity added as it has grown in size and stature. The line-up is fairly similar stylistically to previous years, with lots of British indie-rock bands interspersed with a selection of other genres, yet something was different this year. The bookings felt more inspired, more interesting, with most of the major acts seemingly on the rise, or at least if they were trading off past glories, capable of doing so well, and still having new material to offer something different. There were still plenty of local acts as well, scattered well throughout the festival instead of just opening to empty stages. 2019 also brings the addition of bands on the Thursday, with bands playing both on their 2nd Market stage and the This Feeling tent for unsigned bands.
Arriving late afternoon, we set up the tent in the searing 37 degree heat with enough time to head in and get a spot for the extra day’s main attraction Slaves. After sub-headlining here two years, it’s a slightly sideways step to top the bill on a smaller stage and smaller day, albeit understandable considering their third album Acts of Fear and Love hasn’t had the same level of critical and commercial success. Arriving to a tape play of Vengaboys and immediately launching into a pair of new tracks off a less successful new album isn’t a particularly auspicious start; while the performance still had power, and attracted huge sing-a-longs for the big hits, the combination of the blazing temperature and less familiar songs created a slightly lethargic crowd reaction. Tough as such circumstances are, I couldn’t help but be disappointed with this merely solid performance.
The quality of the show may have been average, but the management of the extra day and hot weather was impressive. Thursday’s capacity was well judged, with the tent slightly overflowing but with no risk of being packed to the point of dangerous; security were constantly distributing water through the crowd, and swift to help people out of the mosh pit as needed. There was a respectable amount of late night entertainment as well, the singalong of the silent disco reverberating through an amused campsite.
Friday welcomed the majority of punters, and a much wider array of stages, the main Truck stage, as well as The Nest, and Veterans and Virgins tents. The layout, while similar to previous years, felt much improved, with wide areas to meander and linger in between the still closely located stages. This created a much more relaxed vibe, with fewer choke points and a lot less rushing. There was a greater sense of freedom like at many smaller festivals, albeit still with (slightly lax) alcohol checks at the entry from the campsites. There were a few non-musical entertainments, the Barn, previously another musical stage, had been converted into “The Rocking Chair”, a comedy/bingo/DJs/other venue, as well as a few fairground attractions and a kids’ area with some crafts activities, stories, and face-painting. Still, it seemed like the best use of our time was some nice traditional stage-hopping.
We started with Lacuna Common, a local punk band performing in The Market. They felt slightly overeager, but were enjoyable enough to open the day with. The electronic pop trio Candy Says over on Truck stage had a bit more about them, yet while there were enough crowds in the tents to generate some atmosphere, early afternoon performances to a slightly empty field on the first day struggle slightly. Dolly and the Dinosaur in The Nest brought some more upbeat indie rock, but the shouted lyrics didn’t feel clever, just desperate attempts to be witty over a backdrop of catchy, but slightly generic riffs.
Sometimes a band’s popularity can explode in a few months. Originally booked for 30 minutes in The Market tent, Fontaines DC’s cancellation and huge demand meant IDLES were promoted from a 30 minute Market slot, to an hour on the main stage. Wow was that necessary, the crowd swarmed to see them, packing in more densely than anyone except the headliners. Fresh from their Mercury Prize nomination, they delivered a performance to justify the hype. Right from the start with Heel/Heal they delivered a dominating display, driving the crowd to sing and move along throughout. They interspersed their set with brief political interludes, (including “Fuck Boris”, which would be repeated by many bands throughout the weekend), yet instead of detracting from the performance, these only amplified the tension that unleashed and rebuilt through hits such as Mother, Love Song, Danny Nedelko, Divide & Conquer, and the intense, powerful finale Rottweiler. It takes a special band to produce a defining festival set at 3pm on the first main day, but IDLES managed it.
Taking a breather, we wandered into the Veterans and Virgins tent to see what the BBC Introducing lot were offering. Another local act, Lake Acacia had an engaging and intriguing opening few bars, but swiftly morphed into a fairly generic pop-punk riffs. Heavy Lungs on The Market were notably better, with a much more bass-driven punk sound, and a more unique vocal style. She Drew The Gun appear to be everywhere this summer, including the Truck stage, but that’s no bad thing. Their slightly psychedelic indie-rock is nicely layered and engaging, and the spoken political lyrics feel appropriate for our time, instead of forced or dated. Anteros brought some dancey guitar-pop on The Nest, a bit out of place for the supposed “noise/punk stage”, but definitely a pleasant and lively half hour.
Lewis Capaldi has been getting a huge amount of buzz, engaging fans with a witty social media presence, and getting a number one album slot back in May. Unfortunately, his liveliness online wasn’t apparent on stage, the “bants” feeling like that of a failed comedian rather than a witty musician, and the dreariness of his songs amplified by a performance that was even more bland than the material. We left halfway through his set, and judging by the stream of the crowd, so were plenty of others. Our early departure was rewarded as well, Spector offering a bright performance, albeit overly inspired by the samey chugga chugga guitar style that was vastly overused last decade.
It’s not really news that Public Service Broadcasting are an impressive live act, but it’s worth reiterating. Their arty electronica, backed by well-crafted videos is a seriously immersive experience, and the Market Stage had the perfect size and acoustics to showcase this. The sound and style is very clearly heavily influenced by Orbital, but with a freshness that makes it feel much more relevant this decade.
Sometimes, the first time a band headlines any festival, they can look a bit nervous. Other times they relish in it and rise to the occasion. Such was the case with Wolf Alice, who were absolutely imperious, blending different volumes and tempos perfectly. Starting with early hit Moaning Lisa Smile, they never lost intensity while displaying their full variety of sounds through You’re A Germ, Don’t Delete the Kisses, Beautifully Unconventional, and Silk of Trainspotting 2 fame. Their second album Visions of a Life won the Mercury Prize last year, and their live performance warrants similar acclaim, particularly Blush and the stunning conclusion of Yuk Foo, Fluffy, and Giant Peach.
Most people know that festivals are quite overpriced for food and drink, but Truck didn’t feel too bad this year. Most meals were priced around £7/8, and there was a nice selection with little feeling either disgusting or a rip-off. Beer was still slightly excessive at £5/pint, but the selection of 5 ales or Jet Lager from Fourpure Brewing was a marked improvement over the offerings at many other events, including Truck two years ago.
Oxford Symphony Orchestra have become a bit of a staple at Truck, welcoming waking punters on a Saturday to a full orchestra playing film scores, classical music, and rock hits. The enjoyment of the performers was clear, with most grinning as they played, and the conductor was determined to try and engage the crowd as well as lead the musicians. There’s something refreshingly unique about seeing a mosh pit to movie soundtracks at 1pm, and long may it continue.
Haze are very clearly a bit of a post-punk revival style indie band, but at least they sound a little distinctive from many of the identikit bands from the noughties. There’s a serious groove to their sound, and that’s epitomised by their bassists moves on stage. Unfortunately their frontman lacks any of the charisma of the bassist and lead guitarist, dragging down what could have been an exceptional show to something merely impressive. Gurr had a much more consistent performance, their bouncy garage rock supported by a display filled with chemistry, understandable digs at the dated nature of German festival line-ups, and crowd-diving.
Milk Teeth came onto The Nest with an apologetic declaration that their drummer had had a family emergency, and that they were going to have to try an unplugged set. A difficult ask of a punk band, but they managed to stylise their performance well, offering hints of their typical intensity combined with mellow versions of many other songs. The crowd clearly welcomed their efforts, and fed their own enthusiasm back to create a surreal and notable experience.
Over on the main stage, Vistas entertained with some pleasant summery indie-pop, perfectly suited to the mid-afternoon slot they had, while next on The Nest were Puppy, whose intense heavy metal felt slightly out of place, but impressed nevertheless. Veterans and Virgins hosted HOO, a local shoegaze band (and from the original era), with all the good and bad that entailed: eerie melodies crafted artfully from distortion and effects, but a completely introspective performance, and the crowd were nearly as lifeless as the band. Palace had a bit more energy, but their downbeat bluesy style didn’t really reignite real enthusiasm, so we headed off early to get a prime spot on the main stage for the legend performing there...
Johnny Marr excelled, showcasing material from across both his solo career and time in Electronic, without ever departing for too long from his unique jangly style, epitomised by The Smiths songs Bigmouth Strikes Again, How Soon is Now?, This Charming Man, and the brilliant finale There Is A Light That Never Goes Out. Morrissey might have had a much more successful solo career commercially, but this display felt far brighter and more positive than his former bandmate has offered, with his own vocal performance similar stylistically yet feeling distinctive enough to be more than just imitation.
Shame had to withdraw on the day due to flight problems, and were replaced by Mystery Jets. There was plenty of notifications and announcements on screens around the festival alerting people, and despite their last minute booking, they performed in front of a packed and appreciative tent, with the sort of reception that makes you wonder why they weren’t booked to return originally.
The whole festival has been building up to one thing though, Foals’ return to Oxfordshire to headline Truck. They’re a much bigger act than the last time they played here 12 years ago, and probably too big for this size festival in general, having headlined Reading, Latitude, and Bestival. They walked on to rapturous applause and instantly started with recent single On The Luna, before working through their hits Mountain at My Gates, My Number, Spanish Sahara, and Inhaler. They talked about their homecoming, with having recorded their first album Antidotes nearby, and having performed at Truck 15 years ago before they were signed. Strangely, they asked for photos to be during their encore instead of the start of their set, but what a climax it was: Yannis indulging in his famous crowd-diving, as everyone danced and grooved to Hummer, What Went Down, and Two Steps, Twice. A brilliant return by a local band and a hugely different experience to their previous local shows.
Sunday had a lot fewer must-sees than the previous days’ lineups, but there wasn’t much left to explore, so we just returned to stage-hopping and checking out random bands. Unfortunately, the scheduling was frustrating, with the Market, Nest, and This Feeling all operating simultaneously throughout the day (and most of the weekend), with only the Veterans and Virgins stage sometimes offering anything opposite the main stage outside of the late evening performances.
We started out the day by going to see False Advertising on The Nest, who entertained, but their noisy-grunge inspired sound felt like a dated nostalgia attempt instead of anything fresh or modern. Swimming Girls doused the Market in fuzzy, dream-esque riffs, but their performance, like those of many other early bands, was quite forgettable. Much better were Cassels, who certainly stood out at Truck. Ferocious and lengthy math-metal songs offered an engaging contrast to the mostly 3 to 4 minute conventional rock hit. Not that seeing Cassia on the main stage afterwards disappointed, their generic upbeat summery indie-pop was a nice way to relax and decompress in the heat to an efficient and pleasant performance. The Japanese House were a huge disappointment however, they arrived late, and spent a lot of time moaning about the sound mix. Their version of dream-infused indie-pop could have been perfectly enjoyable, but the constant disruption exacerbated an already tedious performance. The band seemed surprised and annoyed at being called off before their last song as well, despite the delays being caused by their own dithering. At least the following act Sea Girls were much better, producing a well-received display of upbeat indie rock filled with energy and enthusiasm.
Hip-hop act Easy Life marched onto the Market stage, filling the tent with their mellow, breezy vibes. The chilled nature of their sound offering an impressive juxtaposition with the energy they showed showed on stage. Rats were on during a rare moment with neither a clash nor an urgent craving for food, so we figured we’d check out the This Feeling stage for more than five minutes for the first time over the weekend. Unfortunately, they turned out to be just a noisy pop-punk band, with the vocals in a high-pitched scouse accent. Plenty of the other sounds drifting out of the tent over the weekend had been much more impressive, but alas timing limitations, and our least brief foray still had a moderately swift departure over to The Nest.
There’s been a fair few acts here this year attempting dream-pop infused rock sounds, but Island were clearly one of the better ones. The ethereal noises carefully meshed with breezy electronic beats to produce something that was very close to special, and yet just lacking in that essential spark that can make a show great.
Sometimes, diva is used as a pejorative. This certainly isn’t appropriate for Kate Nash, her elaborate dress and aura amplifying the musical performance, rather than detracting from it. Her witty lyrics entertained and felt meaningful, with her backing performers clearly enjoying the stage, often displaying large grins as Nash herself vocalised and danced with a confidence that contrasted with the self-deprecating content of her songs. Singer-songwriters can often feel uninspiring and lifeless, whereas Nash was the exact opposite, bringing an incredible presence to an already engaging set.
Two Door Cinema Club were Sunday’s headliner, and while their performance was lively, and filled with hits such as Undercover Martyn, I Can Talk, Bad Decisions, Dirty Air, Lavender, Sleep Alone, and the finale Sun, they never quite reached the heights of the previous nights. It wasn’t exactly a disappointing performance, yet with a steady stream of people leaving early to beat the morning traffic, it didn’t feel like the finale the weekend deserved. It’s hard to imagine the crowd trickling away during the magnificence of Wolf Alice or the triumphant return of Foals.
Truck has grown a lot in its 22 years, and at times it’s felt like it’s gone too corporate, trading on its own past glories as well as booking acts doing the same, but this year felt a lot fresher. There were plenty of vibrant, exciting performances by bands growing in stature, and a much improved layout and atmosphere. It wasn’t quite good enough to want to go back regardless of the line-up, particularly given the slightly sketchy scheduling, but still a fantastic weekend and I’d be excited to return if they can pull out a program even vaguely as impressive again.
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