Sunday afternoon and people are trickling through Corsica Studios, clutching beers, waiting for both the bands and the barbeque to get going. Free mixtapes from the merch stands, calls of ‘rad’, high fives all round, and more than the usual smattering of guys in Sonic Youth tees. This is Radfest, brought to you by the good people of Sexbeat. An acute case of High School nostalgia? Faux-nostalgia? What. Ever!
Things kick off with Bear Driver. You need bands like this in the summer. Playing their dreamy, pretty, soothing pop on the floor of the second room, it’s charm through and through. One looks like Jonathan Creek, one is a smiling girl with a tambourine, and several other cute looking instruments (an accordion among them) keep slipping their way on stage. “Are you having a rad time?” they ask. And we forgive them because, being first on, they’re allowed to say it before it becomes deeply boring banter.
After taking in some of Lasers From Atlantis doing their noise-scape thing in the main room, it’s over to New Yorkers Von Haze. Radiating intensity from a place carved somewhere between ice and smoke, fluttering like a choir of ghosts. More and more punters are slowly drawn into their web, and then stand there quite unable look away. We are the moth, they are the light bulb. And how Sad Girls burns you up!
Earlier, we caught up in a cramped corner of the smoking area, trying not to get in the way of the barbeque line.
How’s the festival going so far?
Travis: It’s really cool. We just got here, but I think it’s quite a cool little thing you’ve got going on.
Cathy: I dig the smells. Lots of smells here. And I’m digging the dirty old tarps above our heads.
Travis: Yeah, good vibes, good vibes…
So what do you think of the name Radfest? I was thinking it has a very ‘90s American High School feel to it. Something you can identify with?
Travis: Takes me back to the rad old days…
Cathy: I think I used to use ‘rad’ quite a bit when I was like nine years old, so yeah, I like it. Digging it. Taking me back.
Travis: I think the more grown up band in me would prefer Radical Festival.
They should get the grammar right shouldn’t they?
Travis: Yeah. Too much shortening. Radical Festival. It would be a bit more classy!
It definitely does have a kind of nostalgic feel to it. Do you think that’s a good thing in music, to be looking back?
Travis: Well, it always looks back doesn’t it? I mean, it’s funny that the ‘80s and ‘90s seem far away all of a sudden. I guess I’m just getting older and older…
Cathy: Yeah. The ‘90s is vintage now. Yeah, looking back is good, looking forward is good, just being here is good.
Travis: At the Radical Festival.
Cathy: At the Radical Festival.
I leave them to their grammatical musings and move back inside for a bit of Echo Lake. They’re all about the melodies, the delicately sifting noise. You know the drill. Yo La Tengo would be proud. Next!
The line-up today plays like a mix-tape, where the occasional anomalies make it all the more endearing. As one of the very few acts gracing the stage sans-guitar, Dam Mantle is atypical. But there’s charisma here, and the way each track subtly reveals itself keeps everyone on their toes. Looking around, appreciatively bobbing heads are at their most vigorous yet. A little later, we grab a sofa (why can’t stuff like this go on in my living room?) and talk.
Have you been doing a lot of festivals over the past few months?
Yeah, we did a few. Did one in the Czech Republic, one in Poland, Truck, Field Day. A fair few.
How have those Eastern European festivals you mentioned been different to the ones here?
They are quite different actually. It’s strange, they have weird rules like you can’t drink while you watch bands. You have to drink in a separate area. I don’t quite understand it. But people really, like watch the bands. People they stand and watch the whole set no matter how experimental, how ambient it is. People were really receptive. I think in the UK, yes they want to hear bands, but people are here maybe more to have a good time. They’ve got a real hunger for music there. I mean, I was listening to the radio there, and they like pump ‘80s rock out of shops and stuff. And then they get these touring bands coming, and I think they’re so happy to hear some original music.
Does how you play live vary depending on the vibe you’re getting from a crowd?
Yeah it does I guess. I mean, we’re just working on a new set, trying to get things more danceable for when people really want to dance I think. But yeah, we try to make it different every time. Yeah, it’s a real pleasure. I love playing live, it’s where we can remix what we’ve done before, things can spontaneously happen. Yeah, I really enjoy playing music for people.
What kind of audience do you have in your head when you’re writing songs? Do you think about making it for clubs or for people to listen to on headphones…
It depends on my mood really. Sometimes it will be like I’ll be wanting to make something that’s going to make my heart beat really fast, but sometimes it’s about something different, it’s about something really mournful, something sad… Again, it really varies. I want to cover, I’m interested in, all the spectrum of human emotions and all the spectrums of music. And sometimes it just meshes together nicely.
Being at Radfest and all, I should ask: what’s the most rad-ical thing that’s happened to you recently?
They’ve given me a pair of jeans actually (one of the event sponsors was Nudie Jeans). Which is pretty rad. Yeah, I got a text from my agent yesterday going what’s your jean size? Strange.
And now for something completely different. They’re called Cerebral Ballzy. Dude! The guy’s wearing a headband and singing about skateboarding. And there is way too much double denim here. Rad overload! I’m not hard enough for this. Retreat, and stand outside being fumigated by the now cooling barbeque, with everyone else who is of a similar constitution.
Graffiti Island, back in the small room which has by now reached Turkish Bath temperatures – without any of the cleanliness, are more my cup of tea. Is it a quantum leap to suggest there’s something of Gil Scott-Heron about front man Pete? The way he’s spitting rhymes all loose and esoteric. Except of course he’s not preaching politics and injustice, more slasher movie sub-plots. Which may be a less noble cause, but makes for a great off the wall time.
But you can’t hide forever. Shirts off, tattoos out. Back on the main stage someone means business. It’s Trash Talk, previously billed as ‘Secret Californian Special Guests’. “We don’t have cool shit like this in America. Nice silk screens, expensive jeans, girls… Anybody got any weed?” goes singer Lee in between bouts of musical karate kicks. “Circle pit! Everybody in this fucking room!” Move over ironic rad, this is the reeeaaaal deal.
Afterwards, backstage Lee is holding court while munching on stale Doritos.
So you guys just played. Good crowd?
Yeah it was fun. Yeah good crowd. Crawling all over shit, having a good time. This is like a party here. It’s chilled, people are just, like, having a beer.
So what are your plans for the immediate future?
We just got an apartment in London. We’re just staying here like for a month and half, playing festivals here and in Europe. Pretty much just flying out to Europe, hanging out.
What’s the most rad-ical thing that’s happened to you recently?
We played a festival yesterday in Kent. I made 400 people circle pit! That was fucking rad. (Pause) I got a nice pair of jeans today. That was rad!
I leave him telling gig horror stories (one involved a fan flying through a glass window I believe), and go see how things are wrapping up on the second stage.
I mean well when I say this, Bo Ningen are legitimately insane. They’re such quiet, softly spoken guys, but put guitars in their hands and they’re capable of throwing out one dense, spasming, psych typhoon. Look! Real full on, fear for your life a bit, moshing! Always the quiet ones isn’t it?
So how does this festival compare to other ones you’ve done over the summer?
I don’t know… This one, it’s really… Young?
You’re playing in the smaller room later. It’s pretty packed and gets quite intense in there.
Yeah… It’s going to be mad…
Do you prefer that as a band? Playing in quite a tight space, with a lot of direct audience interaction?
Yeah, yeah that’s good… That’s always good… I mean big stage is good, but… yeah…
Umm, yeah. Cool!
In the main room A Place To Bury Strangers are stalking the stage, twiddling pedals you need a physics degree to get to the bottom of, preparing for their headline appearance.
And so, for their final trick, Sexbeat bring you the ultimate sensory assault course! This band could be the death of you, making everyone present helpless with the mind-altering, seismic way they bring the noise. The room is thick with smoke and strobe lighting. In the end, the only thing anyone can do is stand there, stock still, saucer eyed, and submit.
Me and my ears? Yeah, we don’t get on anymore. And there are some problems with walking in a straight line when it comes to catching the night bus. But seriously, what a blast.