When I was a wee lad in short trousers and Butt-Ugly Martians merchandise, one of the first things I was told about writing was to always provide a balanced argument. A ‘for’ and an ‘against’. Then, something comes along which is so blindingly brilliant that core principle finds itself buggered; you have to weave faults in to the unfaultable, and frankly it doesn’t feel very fair.
Set in idyllic Cotswolds surroundings with great bands and great people, 2000trees is a festival that, in only a few years, has become a culture unto itself. Far more than just a piss-up in a field, the communal atmosphere extends from the revellers, to the bands, to the organisers themselves who are constantly seen around site watching bands and making sure all is running smoothly. All barriers, from performers to promoters, are broken down, making for an event where everyone involved is truly having a good time.
Proceedings begin on Thursday with a headline performance from Dan le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip in The Cave tent. Pip traverses the stage, intently spitting his socio-political observations whilst Dan le Sac grinds away on a laptop producing the bass-heavy yet sprightly soundtrack. The duo take a moment in their set to sincerely thank the organisers, the first act of many this weekend to do so, firstly for being treated so well and secondly for being given the opportunity to headline the main stage back in 2011. It’s of no surprise then, that the audience greets them with a heroes’ welcome.
It was here, watching the two-piece from a bench outside the packed tent, that I felt my first touch of the 2000trees magic. “Do you mind if we sit down here?” a woman asked me, pointing at the empty seat positioned on the other side of our table. “Of course, no problem at all”, I responded. From there we shared a 40 minute conversation about music, festivals, youth and everything in between; absolute strangers, a decade or so apart in age, wonderfully enjoying the company of each other. It’s this emanating of friendliness from all around which is the defining factor that sets the festival apart from the sterile, unforgiving environment of corporate majors. At the monoliths of R&L, V, Wireless etcetera, people are largely closed off and self-concerned, resulting in an event with as much atmosphere as a particularly harrowing inner-city bus station. The only freedom is found in setting fire to gas canisters and getting munted in a campsite, because despite their respective dangers, for many it’s still a damn sight less scary than the unpredictability of talking to people. As with any great festival, 2000trees is more than just some bands and a whole lot of booze, but it also connects together those who may never cross paths in normal life, allowing for a strong and joyous collective human spirit to flourish. Making my way back to my tent, overlooking the serene countryside hills that were all for miles around, I knew that I was a part of something very special. And I’d barely seen any bloody bands yet.
First up on Friday were Bristolian garage-punks The St. Pierre Snake Invasion. Armed with a sardonic wit and an arsenal of brute-force riffs, they were certainly an effective way of waking up the still-yawning midday crowd. “If your favourite singer wears a trilby or a vest then your favourite singer is a dick” seethes vocalist Damien Sayell on ‘Last Words of a Bent Cop’. Energetic, aggressive and laugh-out-loud funny.
Next on comes Wolverhampton two-piece God Damn. Filled with frantic drumming and reverb-drenched, Sabbathy guitar lines, the duo blitz their way through a noisey, angry yet terribly fun performance. However, it’s only when Kentish punks Slaves take to the main stage that the first whole-heartedly brilliant set of the day occurs. Vibrating with excitable energy, drummer and lead vocalist Isaac stands behind his kit launching in to tribal, marching beats whilst guitarist Laurie continually delivers the sort of macabre yet instantly recognisable licks last spotted in Gallows during their prime. With tales of girl fights, jealous spite and quests of vain approval, the lyrical content is dark yet always supplemented by an idiosyncratic humour that runs concurrent with the bleakness. Whilst it would make sense to think that their dank and dingy racket would feel out of place in the sunny open-air, their songs are built in with enough tunefulness and singalong quality that a frenzy is still easy enough for them to work up. If you can only see one new band this summer, this is the one.
Only 20 minutes later came the high-energy Northern Soul-indebted sound of The Computers. Dressed in tailored suits, the band are part of a small minority who maintain such showmanship and professionalism yet still contain an aurora of spontaneity – frontman Al Kershaw takes on the role of 50s entertainer, parish preacher and feral animal all at once. Jiving with audience members one moment and organising walls of death the next, The Computers are as dynamic and pure dynamite of a live act as they come.
After a bite to eat and a quick return to campsite it was time to see the math rock madness of Arcane Roots. Whilst it may never be possible for the band to fully shake off the Biffy tendencies and comparisons, the crowd were most certainly there to see the group because of their own merits, hanging on to every word of tracks such as ‘Energy Is Never Lost, Just Redirected’ and ‘Resolve’. It may have taken some time, but Arcane Roots are definitely now a band of their own worth, their own fanbase and their own sound; conjuring songs of a freneticism that it seems Simon Neil and co. could not muster nowadays.
Whilst all the acts of the day had a unique energy and style, almost all could be instantly forgotten once faced with the full-on assault of Cave headliners The Bronx. Donning tiger facepaint, vocalist Matt Caughthran dominated the stage; even if he spent half the gig 20 feet away from the damned thing in the crowd. Blazing through an hour-long collection of songs from all of their back catalogue, the band enjoyed the most fervent reaction seen at the entire festival with pits-a-plenty from the word go to the word stop. Violent and chaotic, yet always good-spirited; The Bronx reminded everyone just why they are one of the greatest bands around in hardcore punk.
After a sleep it was to the newly-introduced Axiom stage on Saturday early-afternoon to catch Brummie punks Youth Man. Fizzing with excitability, the band smash through their 30 minute set of rabid, teeth-bearing post-punk. A little bit Black Flag, a little bit Fugazi, a little bit Siouxsie Sioux; a whole lotta fun.
A while later Maybeshewill begin their set on main stage, the fifth consecutive year that they have played the festival. It’s these acts of kindness, giving a once tiny Leicester-based post-rock act the promotion and position to unveil their greatness, which is why the relationship between the bands and the promoters is stronger than any other festival. The set feels like a homecoming; the group breezing through their scattery polyrhythms and intricate guitar work with ease.
Next it’s to The Cave to see former frontman of cult alt-metal band Reuben, Jamie Lenman. Pulling out of their headline slot in 2008, this was to be the first time Reuben songs would be performed at the festival by a member of the band. The reaction was, well, like you’d imagine people would react after waiting for six years. However, this was not just a matter of nostalgia, with tracks from Lenman’s debut solo album Muscle Memory also being greeted with adulation. Split between brutal, bloodthirsty post-hardcore and carefree jazz; the set was a scattershot joy.
Tasked with closing the weekend were revered Scottish foursome Frightened Rabbit. Working their way through a cathartic compendium of earnest, lovelorn anthems, the crowd stand in tranquil bliss. Lead singer Scott Hutchinson raises a drink to the crowd; “down it, down it” comes the chant from the audience, Hutchinson duly abides. By the end of their headline show he is on his knees, exorcising his spiritual wrongs the only way that Frightened Rabbit songs can. It’s really the most fitting way to the end the weekend; sincere, compelling and beautiful. Pretty much the best way to sum up 2000trees.
See you next year.