Now in its fourteenth year, Oxfordshire’s home-grown premier music festival, set in the green pastures of Steventon Village, returned this July with an expanded site, a more diverse crowd and a solid line-up with the likes of Bellowhead, Tribes, Benjamin Francis Leftwich, The Go! Team, Gruff Rhys and Johnny Flynn.
The festival underwent quite a large redesign this year. Apart from the usual quaint tea stalls, stages and shops, the flat-bed truck stage that originally comprised the Main Stage was replaced by a ‘natural’ amphitheatre. Upon first impressions, this was a shame simply for the novelty of the unusual stage at the festival, but placing nostalgia aside, the new stage blasted out a remarkable level of sound across the sun kissed Oxfordshire countryside. More importantly, the Clash Tent (curated by independent labels, Transgressive, Heavenly and Bella Union) were among many other stages such as the Last. FM Tent and the Wood Stage, that have been added since my previous visits, meaning that an even larger variety of established and talented up-and-coming bands have been able to grace the festival this summer.
Amenities aside, one of the first Main Stage bands at the festival was Fixers, who, after receiving extensive airplay on BBC Radio One/BBC Introducing, were one of the most hotly-tipped acts of the weekend. Running out onto the main stage in crazy attire that ranged from hairy mammal faces to sailor hats, everyone could see that Fixers were out for some fun, or at least as the lead singer, Jack Goldstein, shouted, “a fantastical, an out of body experience!” Their mash-up of exciting buzzy synths, sleigh bells and multi-part harmonies, however, did not carry well live and it almost felt too early to be watching these five wild lads jump around onstage whilst toddlers interweaved the crowds. Away from the main arena in the Last.FM Tent were some more subdued local boys: Trophy Wife and Pet Moon. Trophy Wife were well and truly suited-and-booted for their slot of disco/indie-pop, with the catchy, ‘The Quiet Earth’ and fan-favourite, ‘Microlite’, which duly prepared the crowd for an explosive performance of, ‘Take This Night.’ The latter song certainly regurgitated the most gigantic sound of the set with its pitchy guitars, walking bass and crisp tech drums. Electronic experimentalists, Pet Moon, however, got off to a very shakey start with technical difficulties and, unfortunately, they did not redeem themselves nor truly engage the crowd throughout, regardless of the former Youthmovies front man, Andrew Mears, spilling his heart out onstage. Later that evening, chillwave extraordinaire, Chad Valley, completely wowed the audience with his one man show of electronic fireworks and dozens of guest dancers to boot on his pop-tropical hit, ‘Now That I’m Real’. Tribes also gave a powerful performance the following day, with an anthemic rendition of, ‘We Were Children’ which effectively fuelled their addictive, My Bloody Valentine-meets-The Libertines grunge rock. Their carefree, rock ‘n’ roll attitude was completely refreshing in comparison to Pet Moon’s introverted performance and they were by far one of the highlights of the weekend.
Everyone was glued to Sea of Bee’s atmospheric folk music on the Saturday evening in the Clash Tent, with the band’s adorable knitted jumpers pairing beautifully with Julie Ann’s vocals – vocals as sweet as the soft rock rhythms of ‘Marmalade.’ In her closing solo performance, Bee dexterously mapped out the constellations of her story with her voice and guitar, hooking every member of the audience onto each twist and turn in the narrative. Happy-go-lucky Danes, Treefight For Sunlight, were one of the most consistent acts in the Clash Tent, let alone the entire weekend and after the trembling piano build up in their new single, ‘Time Stretcher’ and the funky, Bee-Gee like harmonies that fluttered throughout, ‘Facing the Sun’, they revealed a pitch-perfect cover of Kate Bush’s, ‘Wuthering Heights’, albeit sung by the most unassuming man imaginable. Over on the Wood Stage, fans of the critically-acclaimed singer/songwriter, Benjamin Francis Leftwich, were treated to a wonderfully intimate performance with mats spread across the canopy floor, low-level lighting and choral to the hushed melodies of, ‘Atlas Hands’ and ‘Pictures.’ Contrastingly, The Go! Team’s overly-distorted guitars on the Sunday evening drowned out any singing and while this was hugely frustrating, they nonetheless gave an incredibly energetic performance as the sun nestled itself behind a crescent-moon amphitheatre.
Truck Festival 2011 was overall a mixed bag of many delights with a few disappointments. It is fantastic to see such a boastful number of promising and established bands performing at a local festival at such a reasonable price (£100 for the 3-day adult weekend ticket) and the atmosphere remains as warm, friendly and relaxing as it was in previous years.