1234 Festival 2012
As we're approaching the site from what must be an odd angle compared to the norm, the first thing which is striking about Shoreditch's 1234 festival is how difficult it is to find the entrance. Walls of towering, temporary, green fence loom above the familiar surroundings, as tight jeaned boys and ripped t-shirted girls wander around the menacing edge, following each other to dead-ends and pretending not to look baffled, while crashing drums and screeching vocals overflow from the compound.
Once the main queue of punk haired, seemingly only half dressed (it is a lovely day) twenty-somethings leading to the entrance is located, and our way in successfully navigated, Shoreditch Park unfolds before us as a swathe of noisy, angry vocalled opportunities. Now in its fifth year, 1234 seems to have attracted the more dishevelled and morose looking of the Shoreditch 'cool' crowd, but they're still noticeably out in force - we spot more than one member of the 'Dalston Superstars' hanging around the VIP loos - alongside a smattering of ageing mohicaned men, clearly dressed up for the occasion of seeing The Buzzcocks, and several pre-prepubescent rockers, complete with Sex Pistols t-shirts, and slightly alarmed looking parents in tow.
All this taken in, we head to the main stage - no small affair - to catch one of today's only real pop acts, and 405 favourite, Porcelain Raft.
Setting up in front of almost no one but us and our coffee, Mauro Remiddi, the man behind the moniker, is strikingly handsome and clean cut compared to the carefully coiffed messes our side of the stage, but nevertheless, as his dense walls of shoe-gazy dream pop float out into the 2pm sun, battling with the not-too-far-away screeching of guitars, he grabs us, and the ever-growing crowd, by the hipster-punk balls. His Placebo-esque falsetto vocals come across considerably less feminine than on record, although this may be purposefully orchestrated to please today's crowd - and it all feels a whole lot less pop than we might have expected, but just as lovely, and kicks off the festival to a pretty fantastic start, with single Drifting In and Out.
A quick Jaunt through the sparsely populated dance tent sees us assaulted with the bleep-ridden electro of Regal Safari. Their newly undercut heads bob as they stare intensely at their small array of dials and buttons, twiddling knobs and rocking back and forth like teenagers trying to shag standing up for the first time. This is harsh, but they are certainly a little awkward on stage, and their pulsing mixes of ethereal sounds and pounding pop beats might have gone down a lot better were it 3am and much more alcohol had been consumed, but unfortunately here, it just doesn't come off, and we quickly return to the main stage for Jeff The Brotherhood.
A duo of long hair, crashy drums, screeching guitars and American style post-punk stage presence, mixed somewhat with the look of 80s hair metal, the two thunder through wammy-heavy, catchy noise for a few songs, before we're quickly dragged away by the pull of Gross Magic.
One of the most anticipated acts for the day, these Brighton boys give our 1234 experience its first taste of proper angst. Geek-chic, grungy, fuzz-heavy and thoroughly charming, the band seem, like Porcelain Raft, to have turned up the noise and off the pop a touch compared to what we expected, but bring a whole lot of warm, all encompassing, fuzzy noise to the shadowy tent, and bring to mind the likes of previous tour mates Yuck and Fanzine, with their American sounding trashiness. All in all, they're perfect for the young crowd, who are as angsty looking as the band themselves (bar a just-passed-middle-aged Asian man, happily reading the sport section, who wouldn't have looked a whole lot out of place on accidentalchinesehipsters.tumblr.com, but given his presence here, it almost certainly is not accidental.)
Over in the Artrocker tent on the other side of the charmingly tiny - if sound leakage inducing - park, Holograms take to the stage to a full room and much anticipation. Unfortunately, their I-wish-I-was-Joe-Strummer shouty punk vocals don't quite come off, and mar what may otherwise have been an OK performance. They may have been able to bring us round, but an almost all encompassing lack of charisma, and occasional lack of timing, left us fairly baffled as to what the fuss has been all about.
Onward and upward, Dirty Beaches takes to the main stage with everything Holograms lacked. Dark, strong looking, tattooed and menacing, Alex Zhang Hungtai paces the stage, shadowing the crowd with low, Joy Division-esque vocals, alongside carefully timed yelps and screams on top of industrial guitars and sharp electronics. His swagger and attention grabbingly morose aura may not be at its best in a sunlit field, but the crowd is captivated nonetheless, and it's not hard to imagine that this would be fantastically intense were we squeezed into some ill-lit basement somewhere.
Trashy female punk is our next calling, in the form of Zoetrope. Drawing us into the tent like a maniacal siren call, the local Londoners are a whirlwind of harsh noise, flying hair and swagger. Lyrics like the repetitively yelled "stop fucking looking at me" augment fearsome guitars and leave us feeling like we've just been assaulted in a dark alley way, rather than watched a band play in a tent, but somehow, it's exactly what we want.
After this almost S&M experience, Proper Ornaments bring things down to a nice 1960s jaunt-in-the-park feel (and not in an acid trip kind of way) with tight catchy melodies over indie-pop guitars. Somewhat forgettable - although this could have been caused by the loss of brain cells from the noise of Holograms or Zoetrope - but nonetheless enjoyable. If either of these two had already impacted on our neural capacity, it was nothing compared to what we're about to see. Japanese punk four-piece, Bo Ningen, tear through a set of perfectly messy, screech heavy, eardrum imploding cool. Charisma is key, and the female front half of the band hold their own here for themselves, and pretty much the whole of the rest of the festival. Taigen Kawabe's impossibly fast Japanese-language vocals cascade over the stage while she and her band-mates propel themselves through the set with high-kicks, guitars swung high in the air and the perfect amount of we-don't-give-a-fuck to bring the audience into a feverish mush, screaming as the band end the set with a crescendo to end crescendos. If we were worried about brain cells before, we don't have enough left to think about it anymore.
It's a hard act to follow, for sure, as Savages' Jehnny Beth points out after providing us with half a set of more banshee-punk goodness. Songs full of feminist angst and aggression are accompanied by a possibly-purposeful slightly awkward stage presence, complete with short bursts of frantic energy around the mic, and more of the air humping we saw from Regal Safari in that long distant past before Bo Ningen blew our minds. It's a tight but satisfyingly caution-less set, with undoubtably well written songs, but it's certainly not quite as brutal as what we've just seen.
The Buzzcocks might have made for a disappointing end to the day's entertainment as 1234 draws to close. The band are all of the old-men-who-should-know-better you might imagine, and are so uncompromisingly safe and bland it's hard to remember any specific songs, even if we could sing along at the time. There's very little that's punk about this anymore.
Luckily Citizens! come to our last minute rescue back in the Artrocker tent. Their charming brand of bounce ridden, if slightly forgettable, indie pop bringing the evening to an amiable close, as we end our night watching their confident frontman clambering on to the tent's supports above the audience, before tossing away the mic to some unsuspecting girls, and posing like a good rock star should.
The festival done with, we may not be able to hear much for the next few days but constant tinnitus, but we won't be missing those brain cells too much; we'll be too busy scouring Bo Ningen's tour dates to find out when we can see them again.
Perhaps the best things in life really are free. Or so you may think after Tramlines weekend in Sheffield. Now well established as the jewel in the city's musical calendar by its fourth year, the festival attracts established acts from far and wide and has every band in the city honing their set and looking to secure the best possible slots to showcase themselves to huge crowds of non-paying punters. [read more]
On to day two of FPSF and I was set to relax more, catch up with friends and get some frozen drinks in my system. Fortunately media passes have their perks providing sprawled-out air-conditioned tents with VIP craft drinks from one of the best bars in town all a round the festival. [read more]