Monday, March 3, 2014

BBC 6 Music Festival Victoria Warehouse, Manchester, 28th February 2014 7/10

This brand new festival seemed almost too good to be true: the canny scheduling decision in a normally quiet weekend before SXSW and licence payer subsidy allowed a surprisingly eclectic line-up. The BBC's mission to give access to the arts allowed relatively inexpensive £25 ($40) tickets, which despite opportunistic touting opened up the audience beyond middle class music fans. This public indie music station, once threatened with closure by a government of philistines, was now celebrating both the BBC's move from London to Manchester, and its expanding influence with a new annual event.

I just hope the BBC will find a more suitable venue next time. A capacity of 4200 filled the venue to breaking point, and seriously impeded movement between the two stages. The lighting was impressive on the main stage, but the secondary stage was suffered from a low stage, obstructive pillars and a claustrophobic feel. Given that was still February, a choice of indoor venue may have appeared a judicious choice, but circulation and relaxation space were both absent. The food provision was diabolical, water was not on tap, and set times were kept secret from all but the few who purchased £8 ($14) programmes. Artistically, my judgement may have been clouded by the remarkable St Vincent set I'd experienced just a week earlier, but the non-musical elements of a festival can affect the atmosphere immensely. Even more important is to get the sound right, and both of Victoria Warehouse's stages suffered from excessive volume, boomy bass, and recessed vocals, an affliction evident wherever I stood.

Luke Sital-Singh 6/10
A friend commented that this London singer-songwriter's music is utterly middle of the road. I felt he was trading individuality for mainstream appeal; I was hoping to be challenged, but instead my mind wandered. His vocal performance was accomplished, and his band lively; he may appeal to fans of Josh Ritter.

Haim 8/10
Haim's energy is incredible, yet they inexplicably failed to really excite the crowd. Perhaps this was due to their early set time, but they themselves seemed frustrated that there wasn't more engagement. They're a joy to watch, and the highlight of my day, yet their set list hasn't evolved since the last two times I've seen them, perhaps because their relentless touring scheduling leaves little time to develop new material.

Metronomy 6/10
Festival favourite Metronomy faced the challenge of presenting music few of the audience will have heard before, and it wasn't until they played The Look from English Riviera that the audience started to dance, at least those with any room to move. Unfortunately, I'm not wholly convinced with the upcoming new album Love Letters, and this set did nothing to persuade me otherwise. Perhaps I was adversely influenced by the dangerously cramped conditions at the front, which necessitated a retreat to safety.

Midlake 7.5/10
After catching some of Kelis' impressive Soul set, the Texan band played a solid set on the main stage. Their sound was tight, stagecraft accomplished, and the earlier over-crowding was forgotten. Yet, it never really felt as if there was ever any danger of it straying beyond safe boundaries; perhaps aware their every note was being broadcast live to the nation, they were reluctant to risk compromising their technical perfection.

The Horrors / Damon Albarn 6/10
By this stage, I was exhausted, yet of the two closing sets, The Horrors were the more invigorating. Alas, their music isn't wholly to my taste, but here there was greater crowd excitement than I'd seen all day. By contrast, Damon Albarn's laid back charm fell flat, and felt soporific, not helped by muddy sound. Committed fans will disagree, but this felt better suited to the afternoon sunshine of Coachella than the climax of the evening.

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