Bands in order of appearance:
Still a very new event, still only in its second year, the Offset Festival seems to have captured the collective imagination of the twenty-first century post-punk massive. The festival provides an opportunity for a cross-section of today's new wavey indie outfits to do their thing alongside acts from the old school.
At a time when festivals seem to be proliferating like acne over the face of the music biz, it's unusual to find an event that has a defined aesthetic, an overall point, but the Offset Festival has exactly that. Notwithstanding a hardcore stage at this year's festival - populated exclusively by bands that go 'Huuurrrgghh!', if my cautious peep around the tent flap is any guide - Offset knows its territory and the bands that populate it.
So, it's day one, band one - here goes. The Nuns are rockin' the new bands tent, while dressed in a strange selection of suits and capes. They look more like a mafia Halloween party than a religious order, but that's fine by me. What's also fine by me is their ramshackle garage band racket - The Nuns exist entirely to play the songs of 60s garage combo The Monks, girl group style. Highly conceptual, and not a bad noise, too.
Now let's poke our noses next door, into a tent sponsored by Southend's Experimental Circle Club - which now seems to have rebranded itself as a snappy 'n' trendy set of initials - 'ECC'. Don't quite know why they've done that, but hey, it worked for Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Here, Disconcerts are playing a concert. Three neatly-dressed young chaps generate skittery-scattery guitar noise over an assertive beat. The vocals are clipped, staccato. I can hear the usual suspects in the band's influence file: a bit of The Fall, a slice of Gang Of Four.
In this, Disconcerts station themselves slap in the middle of the new wave High Street, for half the bands in the indie zone seem to have soaked up exactly the same influences. But there's more than a touch of messthetics in their mess, too. I don't know if the band have ever heard of A Witness, or any of the scratchy, strident DIY bands that used to crop up on the John Peel show years ago - they seem to young for any of that - but whether they know it or not, that's the Disconcerts area, too.
I suspect Advert will eventually get tired of having Jesus And Mary Chain comparisons thrown at them - but here comes another one. The band's scuzzy, fuzzy, low-slung rock does indeed have a touch of the J&MC about it. Early period, when the Mary Chain were merchants of barely structured noise, rather than the mannered rockers they later became. That does seem to be Advert's territory, too.
Today, in the ECC tent, they're joined by the lead singer of S.C.U.M on bass - hey, we're only three bands in and already we've got a supergroup on our hands. I don't know if this means Advert don't have a permanent line-up - are they a band or a project? - but either way I like their ripped-to-shreds sound, while their splendidly disrespectful take on 'White Wedding' turns Billy Idol's cheesy old anthem into a punk rock funeral march.
the ECC tent, just past the ice cream van, we stumble upon a couple of
chaps making free-form noise with a trestle table full of effects. I'm
not sure if they're an official Offset act, or whether they're just a
couple of blaggers who sneaked their gear past security and wangled a
power feed from the ECC tent PA. My anarchist self rather hopes the latter
is the case. But even if they are official, I'm glad to see them freaking
and shrieking away, to the bemusement of passers-by. Impromptu eruptions
of free-form noise - now, you don't get that at the Reading festival,
While a spot on this stage certainly looks like a bit of promotion up the rock 'n' roll rankings, it's not necessarily an easy gig. There's a vast swathe of empty space immediately in front of the stage - ostensibly this is the photo pit, but why it's so big is anybody's guess. What are they expecting, Cecil B. DeMille to come down with a Hollywood movie crew?
This means that the bands on the main stage have to hurl their noise across this vast acreage of no man's land before they can make a connection with the audience, and I suspect that'll be a problem for some of 'em. It's no problem for An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump, however, who have all the firepower they need to lay down a barrage over those distant ears. Their minimalist, maximalist bass/drums thunder can't be stopped by mere distance. The Birds are a divine dichotomy: utterly anti-rock 'n' roll, and yet completely rock 'n' roll.
Following the Birds onto the main stage in short order, KASMs are also experiencing a certain upward trajectory. Last year, they were in the new bands tent. Twelve months of hard work and relentless noisemaking later, they're main stage contenders. Today, the yawning chasm between band and audience means that vocalist Rachel Mary Callaghan can't do her trademark leaps into the crowd to accost innocent bystanders (I suspect the crowd is suitably relieved), so she directs her energies vertically and essays a few scissor-kicks in mid air instead.
But there's more to KASMs than the acrobatics of their singer. They have a neat line in crazed but controlled shiver-and-shatter guitar turbulence, nailed to a rhythm that has a certain authority even when it's goading and pushing the songs along, and these cross the great photo pit canyon quite effectively. Bassist Gemma Fleet remains aloof. Rachel climbs up the lighting rig. Had to be done, really.
The Berlin Brides don't come from Berlin, nor are they married to each other, as far as I can gather. In fact, they're from Athens, and right now they're kicking things around in the new bands tent. This is the great thing about Offset - you never know what good stuff you're likely to encounter at any time.
And the Berlin Brides are good stuff - giving it a funky rattle and a punky roll, fuzzed-out keyboards sweeping across the rhythms, the singer jumping up and down like she's got tin tacks in her shoes. They're like CSS should have been on their second album, spiky and assertive and left-field but always primed to party. And if you need a clincher, here it is: the Berlin Brides have a song, as energetic and addictive as all their stuff, called 'Failure To Wank'. While I have to admit that's never been a problem I've encountered in my own personal life, I can't help but like any band that regards wanking dilemmas as a suitable subject for a pop song. Up the Brides, I say!
Another band that's made the upgrade from new bands tent last year to main stage this year is The Chapman Family. They're on the main stage right now, so let's leave the aftermath-buzz of the Berlin Brides set and scuttle round there to check things out. The Chapman Family are a full-on strop-experience, and last year, in the confines of the new bands tent, they blew up a real storm.
Alas, the wide open spaces of the main stage - or, more pertinently, the wide open spaces of the bafflingly large photo pit immediately in front of the band - seems to sap their power today. Their roaring and stropping seems to dissipate before it gets anywhere near the audience. I think this is a band best experienced close up, when their in-yer-face attitudede can really be in your face. On this occasion, my face just isn't in the right place.
Sometimes, Offset throws in a wild card. Right now, in the new bands tent, Lekkido, Lord Of The Lobsters is about as wild as they come. Singing disco anthems to a backing track, he's a one-man lobster theme park. All his songs seem to be about lobsters, he's wearing a lobster-decorated outfit, he does lobster dance moves - I have a certain suspicion he thinks he is a lobster. But he's actually a lot of fun - and a genuinely good showman, too. He really works the crowd, and by the time his final lobster-oriented anthem subsides, he's got a tent full of fans cheering his every lobster-like move.
Respectability reigns once more in the ECC tent, as Cheval Sombre and Sonic Boom create their - I was trying to avoid using the word 'soundscapes', but that is, inescapably, what they do. This collaboration between two musicians who approach ambience from different directions works rather well - although it's inevitably a low-key experience.
Sitting in a chair, Cheval Sombre strums a guitar and croons his way through some slo-mo dreampop, while Sonic Boom sits on the floor and feeds in audio colour from an array of effects. The overall effect is sometimes rather like Sonic Boom's old band, Spacemen 3, and that's not a bad thing. My attention is only slightly distracted from the performance by a nagging thought that just won't quit my head: doesn't 'Cheval Sombre' translate as 'sad horse'?
Romance are on a roll these days. Every gig they play, they seem to get more epic, more intense - and their audience seems to get bigger. Not bad going for a band that's still only about one year old. Here in the ECC tent, as the dusk gathers and the stage lighting comes on, Romance give a no-shit demonstration of their not-so-secret superpowers.
In short, they rock. In the new wave world - where arch, arty, angularity rules - that makes them unusual, and a strangely enticing proposition. Although they might be too cool to admit it, I bet that even the most angular new wave kids harbour a desire to get their rock on, and it's interesting that the two bands of the current post-punkish scene that have unashamedly nailed their colours to the rock mast - Ulterior and Romance - aren't doing at all badly.
Tonight vocalist Jaimie holters and roars, somehow getting away with rock god shape-throwing that he's surely learned from the Ian Astbury book of stagecraft, while new bassist Samantha Valentine looks revealingly at home as she rocks it up far more than she was able to do in her old band, Ipso Facto. The music is a heady blast: the crowd worships at the shrine of Romance-rock. Mission accomplished, then.
The ECC stage is nothing if not eclectic. As a complete contrast to Romance's rockin', here comes Factory Floor, throwing down their hypnotic mantras under stark white light. Electronic pulses shudder and stutter, the drums slap the beat into shape, guitars and effects are suitably manipulated. Factory Floor use (more or less) the standard acoutrements of rock 'n' roll, but the noise they generate couldn't be further from Romance's racket. They're out on their own limb, which is probably located just between Can and DAF on the tree of music - at any rate, Factory Floor make a kind of post-krautrock neo-electro, filtered through that East London art-rock sensibility.
Put all that in a tent, with white light bouncing off the canvas, with the three band members stepping back into the shiver and twitch of the music, mere shapes in front of the glare, and Factoiry Floor - for all their prosaic name - seem almost other-worldly.
That's probably a good point to wrap up day one of the Offset Festival, even though there are a few bands still playing, elsewhere on the site. The Slits are holding a party on the main stage, Kap Bambino are allegedly coming on later in the ECC tent - I say 'allegedly' because after hanging around hopefully for a while I see no evidence of any band taking the stage. So I think we'll duck out now. There's a whole other day of it tomorrow...
to Day 2 of the Offset Festival here.
For more photos from the Offset Festival, find the bands by name here.