The Yearly Pilgrimage To 2,000 Trees Doesn't Disappoint
Ben Hiorn's yearly pilgrimage to 2,000 Tress lives up to all expectations, especially when it comes to the festival setting itself apart from the rest of the British festival scene.
It's a fair statement that in 2014 there are just too many British music festivals. According to Wikipedia at last count the number was somewhere in the hundreds and the lofty competition and unfair supply/demand ratio mean that modern music festivals have to really pull off something special to stand the test of time year after year.
2000 Trees does just that for me, a relatively low-key festival staged on a small farm in the middle of nowhere, (well, just outside Cheltenham) it's a consistently charming event with one of the friendliest audiences and most positive atmospheres I've been lucky enough to experience at a festival. And it just keeps getting better. Every. Single. Year.
This was the festival's 8th year, and with the abundance of t-shirts from previous festivals I spotted throughout the weekend it was obvious that the lion's share of the festival goers were returning fans. This is also the third year running that the festival has implemented it's “extra day,” with the bands now starting on Thursday evening.
The best thing about this extra day is that it feels so much more relaxed than the Friday and Saturday, presumably because there are less people about and everyone's still de-stressing after a week at work. Either way, I arrived this year around 5PM on Thursday afternoon following an unfortunate bout of minor car trouble (though considering the year before I was possibly the most hung-over I'd ever been in my entire life it was certainly an improvement).
I was initially struck by just how much the site had grown over the years, with the "Cave" and the newly re-named "Axiom" stages now flanking the entrance and the campsite yawning off behind into the forest and the "Croft" (formerly known as the "Greenhouse" stage beyond). I was told that the stages were renamed after local music venues, which I thought was a nice touch. I wasn't too keen on the relocation of the Axiom mind, as its proximity to The Cave meant a frequent cross-pollination of sound unless you were standing dead-front and centre. But that's splitting hairs really.
Unlike most modern festivals the camping and music areas are not segregated, which means you can take your own food and drinks into the arena. This might not seem like a big deal, but considering you're talking over £4 a pint otherwise it's actually an incredibly generous boon on the part of the promoters (though considering the deliciousness of the Badgers Bottom cider and Cotswold Lager the price is more than justified).
We camped directly opposite the 'Croft' stage, otherwise known as my 'usual spot' and set out towards the main area for our first musical taste of 2,000 Trees 2014.
Our first dash of musical wonderment cam in the form of Johnny Foreigner, who whipped up a frenzy in the Cave with a selection of songs culled from their surprisingly hefty back catalogue. Their latest album, this year's “You Can Do Better” is easily the band's strongest offering, so I was pleased that they chose to air many of its tunes, but the sing-alongs were reserved for the old favourites.
We settled in to catch the headline set from Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip, which (if I'm being blunt) left a lot to be desired. I'm not denying there's a certain element of witty social commentary behind Mr Pip and his merry Panda headed cohort's musical offerings, but I was left a little cold this time.
Maybe the act doesn't translate well to a festival atmosphere? That's not to say they didn't put on a show (boy howdy those lights were quite excessive right?), but in all honesty, even the crowd favourite “Thou Shalt Always Kill” failed to raise my cockles. The rest of the crowd seemed enraptured mind, so what do I know?
Friday morning was a struggle (as it always is) considering we ended up hitting the proverbial hay around 4AM and were woken a mere 3 hours later by the baking sun. Still, after a few hours spent dozing and cooking outside the tent, with the sounds of the BBC Introducing sessions drifting across from the Croft, we were back in the room.
Heading into the main arena for the first time felt a little bit like a homecoming. Everything was in the same place it was last year, the bar was (mercifully) already open and the music had already kicked into gear. The first band we caught were a young pop-punk quartet called 'Natives', who looked like One Direction and sounded like... One Direction.. with guitars.
I understand there's a market for this kind of safe, hook-laden pop-rock amongst teenage girls, but I didn't hear any hooks and the frontman's perpetual posturing was borderline frustrating. The only one who looked like he actually belonged in a rock band was the bassist. Thankfully, Bleach Blood on the Axiom stage, were a much more interesting proposition. With an infectious rhythm section and a frontman who actually appeared to be enjoying himself (not simply playing the role of a frontman who was enjoying himself) it was perfect festival fodder.
The next two acts were the revelations of my weekend. First up, The Computers on the main stage. Now I will admit, The Computers are a band friends and acquaintances alike have been insisting I check out for years now and I've always resisted. It appears I was seriously missing out on something quite spectacular. With a stage show that plays like a cross between Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and a catalogue of rockabilly tinged soulful rock and roll songs that The Gaslight Anthem would kill for, The Computers completely tore me a new one.
The pure effervescent energy of the show can be quite acutely summed up by the band's frontman, who scaled speaker stacks, stalked the stage like a demented preacher and made his way into the crowd to orchestrate a monumental slam pit. If you get the chance to see them live, don't let anything stand in your way.
Next up was Nordic Giants on the Axiom. As a self-professed fan of everything 'post-rock', I had a feeling I might enjoy this duo's show, considering the programme had listed them as ”For fans of Sigur Ros and 65daysofstaic”, but nothing could prepare me for the cinematic (literally) spectacle that I was about to witness.
The show relied as heavily on the expertly synced films projected both behind the band and on a high definition LCD screen in front of them as it did on the music. It was like watching a David Lynch film being scored live. Musically, if you've heard M83's early records, then you know what to expect; dense, piano led instrumental rock framed by disparate, disembodied vocal samples and a sense of drama, which is underlined by the duos stage garb (all tribal masks and feathers). To say anymore would be the spoil the experience somewhat, all I will say is that it was a show that genuinely brought me to tears.
We finished the night at the main stage for an evening of high quality grunge-pop in the form of Blood Red Shoes and Band of Skulls. Blood Red Shoes had a lot of stage to fill considering there were only two of them, but what they lack in band members they more than make up for in charisma. Whilst Laura-Mary Carter's guitar was loud and abrasive the lack of low-end was noticeable, but Steven Ansell's powerful drums and harmonies almost filled in the missing space.
There were a few cheap heckles (which miss Carter expertly deflected) and attention waned a little during the slower numbers, but with a back catalogue containing glorious grunge-pop numbers such as 'Light It Up' and 'Cold', they would have almost had to have tried to disappoint. They didn't.
Band of Skulls closed out the night with their set of surprisingly groovy (in the literal sense) blues-inflicted alternative rock. From the opening 'Asleep at the Wheel' to the closing 'Death by Diamonds and Pearls', the Southampton trio appeared to have the crowd in the palms of their hands, even inspiring some genuine dancing. I will admit to not being familiar with the groups prior to the festival, but have purchased 2 of their albums upon my return, that should probably tell you everything you need to know.
Once Band of Skulls had vacated the stage we made our way back to the tent to see what was happening “In the forest.” Making a welcome return this year was the 'Forest Sessions' stage, which had expanded exponentially to include a second, larger stage replete with lounging hammocks (yup) and a striking triangular awning.
As the area was spitting distance from our pitch, we spent a fair chunk of the weekend here and it played host to some of my favourite moments of the weekend. Which included (but were not limited to) a steward who seemed to find her inner golden goddess and began conducting the crowd to the strains of some bizarre 90's R&B, falling asleep in a hammock and being woken up loudly by a green-haired Irishman and watching a wonderful band on Friday night who I think were called 'Written in Waters'. Feel free to correct me though. It was like Siouxsie and the Banshees without the dramatic posturing and distortion.
The next morning, with our hung-over minds cleansed by a few bacon sandwiches, we made our way down to the cave for &U&I, the Birmingham based math-rock band formed from the embers of the more abrasive Blakfish. &U&I are certainly a more immediate proposition than Blakfish ever were, but that doesn't mean they are any less furious a live act, in fact the trio seemed to blaze through their 30 minute set with all the rage and intensity of an entire orchestra on fire.
The usual swift time signature shifts, pummeling riffs and vocal shredding hollers, which define the genre were backed up by some really intelligent hooks and a sense of urgency which was quite overwhelming. Their cover of Seal's “Kiss from a Rose,” was an odd choice for a closer, but the crowd lapped it up!
We headed to the Axiom next to check out the stoner grunge outfit Loom, who peddled a deceptively tight set of Mudhoney-esque fuzzy pop. It might have been the hangover talking, but I wasn't feeling it. That's not to say it was without its charms, but I was in the mood for something a little more ethereal.
Enter Maybeshewill. Yes you could be cynical and call it 'generic' post-rock, in fact, they even used 'that' sampled from 'Network', which I've heard used at least 6 or 7 times before in a similar scenario, but that would be missing the point. Their set was a genuinely emotional one, eschewing the swagger and poise of lesser such bands in favour of pure unfiltered beauty. There was not a note wasted throughout their epic 45 minutes set. My only complaint is that it simply didn't last long enough (headline set next year yes?).
We settled into the back of the Cave to watch ex-Reuben frontman Jamie Lenman finally make an appearance at the festival which has been worshipping him as a demi-god since day one. I'll admit to being a Reuben fan in my teens, so I was expecting something of a nostalgia trip, but conversely his new album 'Muscle Memory' is a genuinely confrontational set of hardcore-punk/ swing-pop (really) had also been on repeat in my stereo for the last fortnight.
Unfortunately, whilst he appeared to have a great time (the red face paint and cover of 'Tequila' would have you believe as much anyway), his set pulled too liberally from the hardcore side of his latest album, and as such it suffered from monotony. The two Reuben classics were appreciated, but honestly, I expected more.
As feverish as the excitement brewing outside the Cave for Mr Lenman was, the Saturday night really belonged to headliners Frightened Rabbit though, who's closing set (their second time headlining the festival since 20011) really seemed to sum up exactly what 2000 Trees stands for; exciting, heart-felt, underground British music, which at lesser festivals would be relegated to morning sets on the kind of stages you'd have to trek through a swamp to get to.
Songs from all of the band's albums were aired, but it's the songs from 'The Winter Of Mixed Drinks' album that best suited the headline slot. Songs such as 'Swim Until You Can't See Land' and 'Living In Colour' lent an anthemic heft by a backing band who seemed perfectly attuned to Scott Hutchinson's thick Scottish brogue, a gorgeous, warm voice which could melt steel. Also he came across as a genuinely lovely man who was honestly humbled to be there (I swear he was almost tearing up) which only added to the groups like-ability. The good vibes were tangible throughout and their set brought the weekend to a stunningly optimistic close, you could almost hear the smiles on the audiences collective face.
Of course, as with any modern festival the music is only one facet of the 2000 Trees 'experience'. The fancy dress contest this year had a 'TV Box set' theme, and though in previous years the festival's denizens have approached the idea of fancy dress with open arms, this year's crowd seemed less keen.
It probably had something to do with the monumental heat, but still the 'Box Set of Lost' was quite inventive and I managed to get a photo with a paralytic 'Mr Blobby'. The alternative headphone disco in the cave after hours was a genuine thrill too. The selection of food available at Trees is also remarkable.
Of course half the fun of a festival is the people and the crowd at Trees are largely the most pleasant individuals you could ever hope to meet. Of course, being quite close the Cheltenham there's a fair amount of 'hooray henry' types, but they are harmless (when not mistaking you for a ketamine dealer... long story) and the communal atmosphere is second to none. I will say there was an uncomfortable amount of underage kids huffing balloons full of nitrous oxide, but... maybe I'm just getting old?
It's true that as it's grown and continued to thrive 2000 Trees has lost a little of it's homespun charm, but the music and general atmosphere was once again exceptional. I don't want to imagine a world where 2000 Trees doesn't exist. Thankfully, I don't think I'll ever have to.