Since a house party in 2005 spilt over into a nearby field, indie bigwigs and emerging gems have been descending on the emerald valleys of the Derbyshire dales for one weekend in July. Though this year they’re more of a shade of scorched brown (cheers, Global Warming), a fine bill of bands and some long-awaited drizzle manage to perk things up a treat.
Kicking off Friday’s proceedings are South London trio Honeyglaze and their selection of brooding, proggy bangers on the Giant Squid stage. They’re a gratifying addition to a bill that was, until recently, hegemonized by indie-rock; combining the slow, mechanical rhythms and sparse, simpatico vocal performances of their Speedy Wunderground produced debut record with ample on-stage shoegazing.
Over on the Big Gin stage, peroxide mullet jostling in the wind, Oscar Pollock commands Sundara Karma’s sophomore Y Not jaunt with startling nuance and subtlety. While spring-loaded hits like ‘She Said’ maintain lessons from the cream of 2000s indie, fizzing hyperpop choruses on newer cuts like ‘Oblivion!’ introduce the Pikehall crowd to an emboldened reinvention of Sundara Karma. Though it’s difficult to tell whether they’re loving it or the boxed wine has just hit.
Defying questions of enjoyment, however, are Sports Team whose pandemonious pageantry threatens to cave the Quarry stage in on itself. Fronted by (King?) Alex Rice in his royal mantle, the Cambridge grads treat their loyal subjects to “all the hits”. Opener ‘Here It Comes Again’ wastes no time in inciting commotion, all crunchy guitars and deadpan delivery, whilst ‘The Races’’ staccato, Pavement-ish delivery feels more confrontational in a live setting. By the opening chords of ‘Happy (God’s Own Country)’, Rice has stripped off to the usual white vest, presumably to better facilitate bounding around stage and dancing like he’s trying to pull a hamstring.
The tent has hardly cooled down when Mancunian goth-gang Pale Waves launch their salvo. Despite an unfortunate clash with Friday headliners, Stereophonics, the Quarry is threatening to burst at the seams once more. During the electrifying ‘Red’, Baron-Gracie roams the stage free from her guitar, fittingly lit by the colour of blood. Her gasping swoops in pitch sing of late Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan, and when blended with the aching romantic paeans of ‘Eighteen’ and ‘TV Romance’, are totally transfixing.
Heading back in for round two, Saturday kicks off in fine (albeit drizzly) style with Deco’s tonic of 80’s wonky-pop opening up the Main Stage and Clear Vinyl proving an early highlight down at the Quarry. Over at the Giant Squid stage, the rain has failed to dampen Pixey’s spirits. “We’re gonna bring the sunshine back to the tent today,” she beams, ushering soggy punters-by into her intricate psych-pop wonderland with jams like ‘Life in Stereo’ and ‘Just Move’.
Similarly determined is the dull drizzle that has begun to turn the festival floor to a sorry sludge. Luckily, punters need not brave the monsoon as the Giant Squid stage promises an afternoon of brilliant bands. After a quick foray down the M1, Nottingham crew Do Nothing are up next on the Derbyshire bill. At first the turnout looks light, but by song three, a steady stream of campers - bucket hat brims tipped over eyes and arms folded over anorak’s - have flooded the tent. The track in question? ‘LeBron James’: a chugging tirade on con-men, fraudsters, and the like, that placed them at the heart of 2020’s Sprechgesang renaissance and sounds just as enigmatic two years down the line.
Though Y Not is, by historics, an indie stronghold, this growing presence of post-punk is a welcomed addition; if not for the scuzzy riffs then for the bizarre humour that permeates the genre. “Pillars to the front,” a smug-faced James Smith titters as he takes to the stage for the next bombardment. There’s an unfortunately placed tent pole right in front of the Giant Squid stage, which the Yard Act frontman peers around like a naughty school kid: “I guess we should get this show on the road then.”
From the dance-punk groove of ‘Pour Another’, a feel-good mover about not sweating the small stuff, to their riffy fusillade on laissez faire economics, ‘The Trapper’s Pelts’, their set is a seminar in both swagger and showmanship. Between songs, however, Smith swaps his usual political ballyhoo for more existential ponderings: “Life is made up of many moments. We’re grateful we get to share this one with you, Y Not.”
Things don’t remain serious for long though as the feverish ‘Payday’ rattles out of the traps. There’s a vuvuzela, a giant blow-up zebra, and a garish bucket hat which gets thrown in bassist Ryan Needham’s direction as he “has a small head.” A breakneck rendition of 2021 single, ‘The Overload’ seals the deal. Janet and Keith would be proud.
A vision in black (with smiley faces), Baby Queen’s infectious persona and internet-age pop face-melters are the perfect remedy for the final morning blues. It’s a refreshing diversion after the previous evening offered up the usual horde of white blokes with guitars: “Have you guys been camping?” she grins, “slay!”
Also feeling the Sunday vibe are Easy Life, who even conveniently have a song about it. After opener ‘pockets’ lays down the gauntlet for a giddy, hazy soiree, Murray’s blissed-out tones send the Big Gin crowd into tessellation – “I’m loving her scent and she loves my sound/And every time that I lay her down/It feels like Sunday/Feeling okay.” The sun-deprived Derbyshire crowd don’t need an excuse to boogie, but the Leicester quartet sure as hell give them one.
Just a hundred meters away, Dream Wife must have missed the mellow memo. Though with a sound that slinks somewhere between nineties riot grrrl and noughties dance-punk, it would have been a big ask. Opening with fast-paced tirade ‘Hey Heartbreaker!’, the octane endures as the band rattle through a brief but bursting set. During the pouty single ‘Sports’, lead singer Rakel Mjöll disappears to the back of the stage, leaving guitarist Bella Podpadec and bassist Alice Go in a battle of the strings, before returning with a money cannon and a leery smirk. Unfortunately, the machine fails her and the singer resorts to lobbing wads of fake cash into the crowd. It’s witty, immersive, and fabulously entertaining.
Running the gamut from indie past and present to future, The Vaccines intersperse generational hits with dirty disco newbies for Y Not’s penultimate shindig. After a brief interlude to announce that football has indeed come home (which produces the only rivalled cheer of the evening), the band lurch into a bastion of the former, ‘Post Breakup Sex’. With its languid chorus and daft lyrics, it shouldn’t be such a mover, but the nostalgia-factor and Young’s jaunty, angular moves make it one of the festival’s knockout moments.
To the punters’ delight, ‘Nightclub’ makes a rare mid-set appearance and inspires a rapturous singalong; good news for a sheepish Justin Young who confesses to having a bit of paper with the lyrics on. “They’re printed off Google so they’re slightly wrong, but let’s give it a go.” As usual though, it’s a faultless junket, reminding fans why the band are still a festival mainstay over ten years since their debut.
The Pikehall crowd aren’t kept waiting for long before Stockport-bred Blossoms saunter on from stage left and, from the cool synths of ‘The Keeper’ to ‘Honey Sweet’’s treacly goodness, their bouncy blow-outs and big choruses are an immediate Main Stage winner. The gooeyness continues as frontman Tom Ogden confesses, “This was the first festival I ever came to, some 10 years ago now. Cheers for having us back.”
And though their tales of girlfriend-nicking and stately home frolicking are fun, they aren’t exactly revolutionary, and it’s a bizarre but crowd-rousing mid-set medley of Babybird’s ‘You’re Gorgeous’, ‘Three Lions’, and Oasis’ ‘Half a World Away’ that steals the show. Rounding up a weekend of sonic surprises and soggy sleeping bags, it serves as a final reminder that Y Not is always worth the trip.
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