The sun beats down on Upcote Farm, home for one weekend a year to the finest festival around for fans of DIY punk, indie rock and metal: 2000 Trees. Heading through the grounds to the campsite there are promises of tributes to the late Scott Hutchison, whose band Frightened Rabbit were due to play this weekend until his untimely death earlier this year. Across the weekend songs will be dedicated to him by many bands. There’s even a makeshift acoustic stage named after the band.
Turbowolf kick things off in style, arriving to a fanfare. They deliver their classic rock with a healthy dose of charisma, bassist Lianna Lee Davies joking that they’re playing with an extra member after she “went and fucking got myself knocked up, didn’t I”.
It’s still warm so we head to the beautiful Forest stage, set in a clearing in the ample woods the festival is named for. Emo stalwart Jonah Matranga begins his set by reading a story from his recent book about not selling out. He’s wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the word ”LOVE” and dedicates songs variously to his kid, Scott Hutchison, Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington. He finishes with a cover of a song he says many people think he wrote, Deftones’ ‘Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)’.
Black Honey infuse their indie rock with various disparate influences, elements of shoegaze here, a torch song there. Their latest single ‘Midnight’‘s bassline is almost electro and they certainly seem to have more fun with the more upbeat material, especially when singer Izzy Baxter gets in the crowd for infectious closer ‘Corinne’.
The expansive, proggy hardcore of Black Peaks is the perfect warmup for tonight’s headliners. They come on to a hail of feedback and the crowd chanting their name. A couple of big black balloons appear after a heartfelt thanks to the festival that’s seen them grow to this point over the past four years. ‘Glass Built Castles’ is the closest thing they’ve got to a hit and it’s met by a huge singalong.
At The Drive-In arrive to white noise that builds into a pummelling ‘Arcarsenal’. ‘Sleepwalk Capsules’ sees singer Cedric Bixler excitedly throwing his mic stand in the air. Someone starts waving an inflatable cock so naturally they mention Donald Trump’s state visit to the UK. The latter half of the set sags a little, as guitarist Omar Rodriguez Lopez seems more interested in extended jams than anything else. But before we know it Bixler is reminding us to cut our nails and wash our arses as his weird rambling introduction to a closing ‘One Armed Scissor’. It’s a refreshingly short sharp shock following the looser end of the set.
Friday begins with Phoxjaw, who are all already shirtless. Their keyboard player is freaking out to their dramatic metal, spending as much time screaming and making faces at the crowd as he is playing. With his keyboard at knee level and eye makeup smeared down his face he orchestrates a hectic pit to say that nobody’s had their lunch yet. It’s a rowdy start to the day.
Over on the Neu stage, No Violet are a dramatically different proposition. Their singer’s quavering voice makes the whole thing feel uncomfortably voyeuristic, like reading a stranger’s diary. As the band explodes into the louder sections her voice becomes a tortured howl, like a more vulnerable Sleater Kinney. They’re captivating, the rock solid bass building a foundation for the lead guitar to make patterns over the top.
Chantal Brown, formerly of Chrome Hoof and Do Me Bad Things now fronts Vodun. Her voice is incredible. Combined with the tribal body paint and outfits they look amazing, but over sludgy Black Sabbath riffing it’s jarring. It’s more successful when the guitar and drums lock into a groove, less so with the reverb cranked. The drums are uncomfortably loud too, so we retreat to the bar.
PINS have had an overhaul lately, both lineup and sound-wise, with a newfound electronic sheen and two new drummers. They’re still the coolest gang in town though, with no interest in playing songs we know. The only previously released songs they play are recent singles ‘Bad Thing’ and ‘Serve the Rich’. The tent fills up as it starts to rain, but it’s the songs that keep people here.
Fortunately the small site means it’s only five minutes walk back to the campsite for waterproofs. We decide to pitch up early to the Forest for Jamie Lenman. He’s met by a heaving crowd, joking about three people leaving halfway through ‘I Ain’t Your Boy’ because there was too much emotion for them with all these sad songs. He’s endlessly charming, even closing with a song he wrote about the festival.
Dream Wife make more sense live than on record. Singer Rakel Mjoll’s habit of hanging behind the beat with her speak-singing style is easier to get on with when you can see her knowing grin. They’re sloppy, they’re punk as fuck, her shirt says “SLAY” and they certainly do. They talk about how nice it is to play a festival that puts on a lot of female-identifying bands, and dedicate ‘Somebody’, a song about gender roles, to “all the bad bitches”.
My Vitriol seem to have a backing track with bass, synths and backing vocals, as the stage set up is two guitarists and electric drums. They seem to be making up for the lack of a full setup with sheer volume and relentless strobe lights. There’s still a surprising amount of goodwill for the older material considering the extended gestation period for their second album, although the tent is maybe only half full. That makes some sense, as the likes of ‘The Gentle Art of Choking’ still sound huge, it’s just weird when the stage is mostly empty. There’s no physicality of a drummer when they’re playing an electric kit facing the side of the stage, and no chemistry with the band when the second guitarist is effectively behind the drummers back. Even ‘Always Your Way’ gets lost in the bluster.
Saturday begins slowly, but the Women’s Institute are at the merch tent with a lot of cake, so cake for breakfast it is. Avalanche Party play to a sparse crowd at the main stage, their organ-led garage rock struggling with a big stage at the hottest part of the day. It’s especially creepy, then, when the singer starts crawling, shirtless over the monitors singing “come and get what you want” at a couple of women in the front row (the only row) until they walk off halfway through the song, clearly uncomfortable. We follow suit. Their antics are especially disappointing considering the outcry caused when Moose Blood were announced following a series of allegations of sexual harassment. For a festival with good connections to the organisation Safe Gigs for Women, bookings like these certainly raise some questions.
Back on the Forest stage Hundred Reasons (in their acoustic guise as Undead Raisins) begin with a chorus of System of a Down ‘Chop Suey’, into their own ‘If I Could’. They keep up the fun, incorporating a chorus of Taylor Swift’s ‘Out of Style’ in the middle of ‘Falter’. People in the crowd even let off party poppers in the middle eight of closer ‘No Way Back’.
Nelson Can have got stuck at the airport, so we go for an enormous portion of mushroom risotto and a pint of the specially brewed 2000 Trees pale ale. The fancy dress theme this year is 2000 bees, and at the front waiting for the band is one bee with multicoloured floral wings. This year there also seems to be an abundance of flags being worn as capes, from a pair of Yorkshire flags and a Pride flag with matching bandana, to a Jagermeister flag, which you can’t help but feel doesn’t have the same emotional connection to it.
Hell is for Heroes power through a set they would have been proud of 15 years ago, which makes sense considering they’ve spent the last year or so reunited. ‘I Can Climb Mountains’ sounds just as good as it did in their heyday, even if they’re now smarter dressed. The main riff of ‘You Drove Me to It’ sounds even better than it did, if anything.
Enter Shikari headline the weekend and determined to play a crowdpleasing set. It’s surprising how, this long on in their career, it takes seeing them live to understand what they’ve been trying to do this entire time. On record the trancey elements of their sound feel shoehorned in but live they fit entirely naturally. This is pop music, not as we know it, but pop music nonetheless. They even play the riff of ‘Insomnia’ by Faithless halfway through the set. They close with the electro pop of ‘Live Outside’ which could have been written at any point in the last 30 years.
It’s testament to the boldness of such a small festival that a potentially divisive band wrapped the weekend up so well. They’re the talk of the Silent Disco, at least until the DJ plays Motorhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’. It speaks to the power of 2000 Trees that the community it’s grown from is still so passionate about it ten years on, but they should reconsider booking bands full of creeps. In the wider context of the weekend it’s a small complaint but an important one. Over the past few years there’s been a noticeable effort to put on more bands who aren’t exclusively male. These are the achievements that we should celebrate Trees for, leading the way in a festival ecosystem that’s still so homogenous.