Connect Festival Report

As far as festivals settings go, Connect, in its debut year, is up there with the best. Set in Inverary, sixty miles from Glasgow, the minute loch town opened its arms to 15,000 festival punters, with only one rule: “don’t f**k up the castle!” That’s right, as if a hilly loch town in the middle of nowhere wasn’t enough, the good people of Inverary decided to construct the festival around the eighteenth-century redeveloped castle. Given the surroundings, the festival had the feel of a medieval carnival; camped a good half mile from the arena, every morning the peasants made the long walk across woodland to sing songs and drink wine. Or in this case Kopparberg cider. By the gallon. With a Linda McCartney lasagne on the side.

With such a great setting for a festival it would have been a shame to fill it with Razorlight, Keane and 10,000 chavs. With this in mind Connect put together a line up of eclectic and alternative acts (read: the sort of bands a Reading crowd would bottle). As well as the less-mainstream acts, the festival was spliced with food and drink stalls so far from the usually Carling dominated festival experience. We sampled fresh salmon and muscles pulled straight from the loch, as well as our fair share of the thirty plus malt whiskies available. It felt like a village fete, if village fetes were the thing for drug & booze fuelled twenty-somethings.

With all this going on, you’d be forgiven for forgetting there was actually some music going on. Kicking off the Friday were Brazilian ‘getting better every time they play’ collective CSS. Lovefoxx, clad head to toe in a sparkly rainbow catsuit with facepaint, still managed to look absolutely stunning. With the crowd in full swing and the sun out for the first time, CSS got the weekend off to a fabulous start with their carnival-punk vibe.

After the lovely Lovefoxx and co it was off to the Manicured Noise Tent for the ex-Beta Band consortium The Aliens. Kicking into their 70’s rock, the lead singers strategically placed fan allowed him to rock the full Led Zep-esque hair perfectly. Recent single ‘Robot Man’ provided the first surreal moment of the festival, witnessing a whole tent jumping, hugging and singing “I AM A ROBOT MAN”. Consistently for five minutes. At the top of their voices. I spend the next hour trying to get that ridiculously catchy song out of my head.

With a new album out imminently, The Go! Team take to the Guitars & Other Machines Stage (which is technically the Second Stage despite being the size of a proposed terminal five runway) to whip out some old favourites, but mostly showcasing their new stuff. If CSS had set the bar for stage energy, Ninja smashed through it like a Glaswegian at kicking out time. After applauding the Scottish crowd (her “favourite” audience, apparently) the joint crowd/band energy made for a thoroughly enjoyable show.

Headlining the Main Stage on Friday was The Beastie “Boys”. Now easily in their late 40s, possibly even verging on the 50s, the guys, unsurprisingly, look pretty old. The strange thing is, they probably aren’t that old, they just seem it because of their style of music. It’s a bit like your dad at a party after one too many shandies; rocking out the air guitar and head banging (despite the distinct lack of anything on top) to Deep Purple. Three old white guys rapping about putting the ‘root down’ and their right to party was slightly embarrassing. Their new ‘jazz’ direction that everyone had been so excited about proved to be a drawn out, half-jamming, non-vocal jazz interlude that became increasingly boring the longer it went on. I think it’s time for the “Boys” to hang up the mics and join a ch-ch-ch-chess class.

So it was off to Hype Park (or the ‘Second Stage’) to watch Wales’ finest, The Super Furry Animals. Stupidly consistent, Gruff and the boyos rinse through the classics; ‘Juxtapose’, ‘Golden Retriever’ and the rest. Closer ‘Don’t Give A Fuck’ sends every loopy, naturally. Welsh Valley boys – 1, Brooklyn home boys – 0.

It’s an early start on Saturday for 1990s on the Main Stage. Like The Aliens yesterday, they bring a rocky vibe with catchy guitar hooks and chanty vocals. A great way to dust away any of those hangover cobwebs. At completely the other end of the musical spectrum it was back to the second stage for Mercury runner-up soon-my-mum-will-own-this-album sensations Bat For Lashes. The stomping ‘Trophy’ and the delicate ‘What’s A Girl To Do?’ remind me partly of Bjork and at times of Meanwhile Back In Communist Russia (10/10 for ‘Cult Oxford Band Name Dropping Prize). Khan’s vocals were absolutely stunning, backed by beautiful harmonies and subtle song structures. If this performance is anything to go on, they were robbed of the aforementioned award.

Wetting myself with excitement (not literally) with the thought of Modest Mouse later that evening, I ran around the arena trying to keep myself occupied. On the Main Stage was The Divine Comedy, who, after ‘National Express’, bored me senseless. Hannon’s once majestic voice struggled on the big stage, looking as dejected and bored as most of the audience. Rilo Kiley were girl-rocking it out on the Second Stage to a healthily sized audience, but again, failed to flick my switch (despite Lewis’ rather skimpy attire). Perhaps I was so excited about the prospect of Modest Mouse that no other band could possibly ‘turn me on’? Good theory, until I strolled along to see Sons & Daughters. The girl/boy vocal action combined with catchy guitar riffs and stomping basslines, was one of my highlights of the weekend. Playing material from their first two LPs and their forthcoming record ‘The Gift’, the bands ‘festival cover’ (Seal’s “Killer”) set the rather wet Scottish crowd into a frenzy.

Modest Mouse, lived up to all my expectations, with a fantastic 50 minute set, finely picking songs from their elusive back catalogue. Crowd favourite ‘Dashboard’ was only topped by the indie disco smash ‘Float On’. The only problem with Modest Mouse creating such a massive sound (two drummers, two guitars and a double bass) was that Isaac’s vocals were hard to make out and could have done with being turned up a tad. Despite this minor fault on the sound techs part, the set was perfection and proof that Modest Mouse are one of the greatest live bands on the planet. Oh yeah, and Johnny Marr. Like, wow.

Sunday morning in the real world is usually a massive hangover and the Hollyoaks omnibus. Today, however, we decided to take a walk (people still do that?!) up the hills in the surrounding countryside. With the sun rising we could fully take in what a beautiful setting Inverary Castle is for a festival. As we sat at the top of the hill, looking down on said castle/loch/festival combination it felt like we were part of something special; a new type of festival, in the vein of Glastonbury, when the bands come second to the feel and atmosphere created by the setting and organisation. Saying that, Patrick Wolf was on in fifteen minutes so we had to get down that bastard hill pronto.

So everyone’s favourite weirdo opened proceedings on a cool Sunday early afternoon. After stories of quitting music et al, it’s nice to see Patrick on stage and performing. Decked in cut off jeans, two shirts (the same shirt; one long sleeve, one short) and a tartan throw over, Wolf put on a great show, saving us from his pop phish of his latest album, preferring to sample tracks from his earlier releases. Well worth the trek down the hill. In a similar vein to Patrick Wolf, quirky eccentric Regina Spektor is next to grace us with her presence, with her magical vocals and sharp witty lyrics. ‘Poor Little Rich Boy’ is the highlight of the show, providing a platform for Regina to show off her piano and drumming at the same time. Clever clogs. M.I.A followed with a suitably rousing Sunday afternoon set. Bass heavy, the set was largely a ‘Kala’ showcase, with a few older tracks thrown in for good measure. Akin to those that preceded her, the shear presence of MIA on stage was enough to get the crowd grooving. She is an amazing front-woman, jumping and running around, full of energy: she could, in time, become an international superstar. Her perfected image, beauty and ability to produce and perform incredible songs is begging for wider recognition. The set ends in a rowdy stage invasion (prompted by MIA – naughty, naughty) seeing hundreds bombard the stage.

As I tried to avoid Bjork at all costs (great performer/live show blah blah blah – her voice does my nut), the delectable Polyphonic Spree were on the Second Stage. Performing in rather bizarre black jump suits (they looked more like Green Day than the robe-wearing hippies I once knew); luckily their altered ‘get up’ hadn’t affected their music. Banging through a selection of new songs from ‘The Fragile Army’, the Spree left the stage mid-set, and voila! re-appeared in their iconic white robes. Their cover of Nirvana’s ‘Lithium’ was greeted by a mass sing-along, with classics ‘Reach For The Sun’ and ‘Soldier Girl’ getting the crowd looking like a new-age Christian group on an MDMA trip.

Although not technically headlining, LCD Soundsystem closed the festival’s main stage on Sunday night. Lead singer James Murphy is so damn cool but a complete introvert, barely speaking between songs, adding an air of mystery to LCD. They ripped through all the modern classics; recent single “North American Scum“, the shouty “Yeah”, and crowd favourite “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” amongst others. It was a tall order for LCD to close the festival, put they pulled through with a spotless show, aching coolness and charisma.

So that’s Year 1 of Connect done and dusted. Obviously there were some teething problems, as you would expect with any festival in its first year. But a quick glance at the line up and you can forget all the minor negativities. Add to that the beautiful setting and relaxed atmosphere and you’ve got yourself on of the hidden treasure of the summer festival calendar.

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