Shoreditch Park, London, September 1
“One-two-three-four!” It’s the battle cry that launched a thousand great punk songs, a few million shit ones, and a music festival in east London. Stands to reason, too, since 1-2-3-4 is the brainchild of a one-time member of Subway Sect, and this year climaxes with a man in his fifties singing a song about wanking (though Buzzcocks’ ‘Orgasm Addict’ would sound great sung by a gas-leaking corpse).
Still, it’s up to the bright young things of 2012 to make most of the racket today, and Gross Magic set the scene nicely. Their look – back-to-front baseball caps, lank hair, scuffed jeans – is pure slacker-kid cliché, like an ad man’s early-’90s wet dream. The sound sports the same semi-ironic embrace of grunge as latter-day Generation X-ers Yuck and Wavves, but with a bubblegum edge that keeps things fun.
On the main stage Gabriel Bruce is coming on like a cruise-ship preacherman (do they have those?). With his OTT baritone exhortations and brace of female backing singers, the London-based fellow strikes notes somewhere between Patrick Wolf’s cathartic pop and Leonard Cohen circa ‘Death Of A Ladies’ Man’. It’s a bit ripe, but none the worse for it.
Riding in the slipstream of 2011’s noir-stained punk kids par excellence Iceage, Sweden’s Holograms deliver a set of no-holds-barred aggression – less arty than their peers, perhaps, but with a petulant delivery from co-frontmen Andreas and Anton, who sound like a pair of brats recently deprived of their favourite toys. Andreas wears a leather jacket with ‘Suicide’ emblazoned on the back, which is weird, because that’s who Dirty Beaches remind us of back on the main stage, paring rockabilly down to its eerie, animating spirit.
If nothing so far has quite dispelled the sense of lurking summer hangover, all that changes with the one-two stab-and-twist of Bo Ningen and Savages. The latter dispatch their set with businesslike cruelty, but it’s four strange-looking Japanese gentlemen that the night belongs to. What to say about Bo Ningen, except that they look and sound like nothing much from this spiral arm of the Milky Way? With jet-black hair down to their waists, these willowy visitors to planet Earth move like Kate Bush possessed by woodland spirits in a Miyazaki film, and perform with astonishing grace and ferocity. Since none of their recorded output does justice to their brilliance just yet (a new album arrives in October), it’s live where you’ll experience their logic-defying mix of cosmic psychedelia, Led Zep riffing and post-hardcore skronk. At the death, frontman Kawabe seems to plunge his guitar into his guts in a symbolic act of hara-kiri. A fitting end to this most ignoble of summers.