Set against the stellar line-up of last year’s fest, 2011’s offering looks, at least on paper, a little light on notable, acclaimed acts, lighter still on ‘big-name’ draws. In actuality 1234 2011, a quirky little proto-hipster fest, now in it’s fifth year, falls lower than expectation would suggest while maintaining just a little taste of the cutting edge philosophy it espouses – perhaps enough to keep people coming back for more next year.
Among the dross are festival openers ‘Chapter Sweetheart’ on the main stage whose scenester jazz-fusion is both inept and, as on their risible cover of ‘My Girl’, borderline offensive; hotly tipped, tragically earnest and deeply dull northern heroes ‘The Chapman Family’ whose all-in-black stage presence suggests a seriousness of intent that they unfortunately deliver via the medium of sounding a bit like ‘Six By Seven’ but not as good. ‘Rubicks’, a band who won a competition to play the Artrocker new band tent but have sadly not yet won the battle against themselves to stop being a Radiohead covers pub band in matching animal face sweatshirts and ‘Lydia Lunch’, a legend who has dragged her live career out a little too long and, in front of a small but adoring crowd, fails to win over any new converts by doing a lot of screaming and embarrassing headbanging.
Luckily there are the likes of ‘Hold Kiss Kill’ to give the crowd a little adrenaline rush back at the Noisey stage . Despite the awkwardness of their name, they manage to throw early 90s power 3-piece shapes that are both satisfyingly retro and charmingly tuneful. Though they wear their grunge influences on their sleeve, as indicated by a late-set Sonic Youth wig-out, they have some great tunes and a visibly dedicated following. On the same stage later in the day we have ‘Throwing Up’ who not so much display their Babes In Toyland/Bikini Kill influences as actually become possessed by them. Riot Grrrrrl rock, haphazardly performed may have it’s place (Washington in about 1991?) but it’s not here in 2011.
‘The Black Lips’ give out their usual fast and furious garage rock nastiness (tempered on their most recent album by Mark Ronson of all people) to a large and appreciative crowd – but their set does give off the idea that 1/ this was pretty much the only band anyone here came to see and 2/ their bludgeoning power may not be quite what it once was.
‘Advert’ seem to be an entirely alright pop band; ‘Novella’ a lyrical and smart venture into dark, guitar driven territory; ‘The Little Bleeders’ mod-rockers saved by the relentlessly entertaining gurning of their excellent drummer and ‘History of Apple Pie’ a light, shiny trip into polite poppiness.
Over at the Dance Tent ‘Dam Mantle’ drops dark, glitchy beats that resonate in the heart as much as the head – in fact the dance tent provides a great deal more consistency than any of the other stages throughout the day, it being a cool, dark spot in which to nod along to the crisp, pounding sound system. The only problem with this stage is that at one point ‘Nitewreckage’ play. They are very, very poor indeed and their stomping, sexualised disco reminds one horribly of ‘Chumbawamba’.
‘Bo Ningen’ side project ‘5 Seconds Exposure’ are post-rock without the rock. It’s like all the quiet bits in ‘Mono’ songs tied together and improvised upon – the sounds they make are hypnotic, lulling and faintly magical.
The genuine lowpoint of the day occurs on the same Artrocker stage as the extreme highpoint, one directly after the other. ‘Arrows Of Love’ are a band very much on the rise, as recent press and radio attention suggests, but they are a horribly contrived group, equal parts faux-At the Drive In and weak ‘The Make-Up’. The singer’s spiel about ‘turning it up’ and his practised ventures into an uncaring audience are only made more cringeworthy by their careful, considered attempt to ape various elements of underground rock to severely diminished returns. Just dreadful.
Luckily we have a tremendous saving grace to the day, and that comes in the form of ‘Blood Music’. They play a three song, twenty minute set that just blows the rest of the day away. Drenched in white noise, augmented with driving, droning guitar and beautifully understated vocals, they make the place their own – a whirling, scarlet nightmare of repetition, subtle melody and frantic noise. Just wonderful.
So maybe the booking was not so strong, the sound across almost all of the stages a little inadequate and the lack of ‘names’ frustrating to the casual punter, but for what could have been a total wash-out, there were at least a couple of shining moments to validate a day out in the ‘Ditch.