Top 7 festival bands playing the UK this summer

Me and Max at Reading 2006
Festivals can do horrible things to your face…

For the first time in 13 years, I’m not going to a music festival this summer.

So for those of you lucky enough to be heading for the mud, crowds and euphoria, I thought I’d indulge in a listicle and recommend a few bands to catch if you possibly can.

To narrow down my list to a top seven, I’ve only included bands that I’ve seen at two or more festivals, proving that their brilliance wasn’t a one-off.

Without further ado, let’s dive in:

Elbow

True festival veterans, Guy Garvey and his cohorts never fail to hit the mark, whether that’s tugging at the heartstrings (Real Life) or slapping you in the face with a gigantic riff (Grounds For Divorce). Come for One Day Like This, but stick around for Lippy Kids.

Playing: Kendal Calling

The Hives

The quintessential festival band, The Hives’ brand of unashamed punk rock can make even the most respectable festival goer rush to the front and lose their dignity. Unhinged rabble-rouser ‘Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist serves as the ideal frontman to orchestrate the madness.

Playing: Calling Festival

Manchester Orchestra

Fast-rising American quintet Manchester Orchestra don’t look like festival heroes, especially hermit-like lead singer Andy Hull. But it is the sheer force of their music that makes them unmissable, from the shape-shifting dynamics of Shake It Out to the irresistible singalong of Pensacola.

Playing: Reading Festival

Muse

Going to a festival is an expensive experience, so you want to know that at least some of your money has gone on stage theatrics. Muse have this down to a fine art and are constantly upping the ante, but best of all their music is so bombastic as to make all this theatricality seem totally justified.

Playing: Download

Gogol Bordello

Festivals are a great place to discover a new style of music and with a Gogol Bordello show you can discover half a dozen genres in half an hour. The self-proclaimed gypsy punks tackle a wide variety of styles with unerring gusto and sets often end with frontman Eugene Hutz crowd-surfing on a bass drum.

Playing: Boom Town Fair

Dry The River

Forget Mumford & Sons headlining Leeds Festival, the real folk rock event of the summer will be Dry The River’s appearance at the multi-venue Live at Leeds Festival. From chest-out singalongs to extended outros, a DTR show has it all and Lion’s Den is ultimate set finisher.

Playing: Live at Leeds Festival

Foo Fighters

I’ve saved the most obvious choice to last, but I couldn’t ignore the recent news that Dave Grohl and his band of merry men are headlining the UK’s biggest festival for the first time in 17 years. If you already have a ticket, you’d be a fool to miss what will surely be a monumental headline set from a truly peerless live band.

Playing: Glastonbury

 

Anyone I’ve missed off? Let me know in the comments…

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Arcade Fire, QOTSA and Bob Dylan: The rise of the interactive music video

An interesting trend has sprung up in the cash-drenched and often-pretentious world of music videos, one that has huge potential.

More and more bands (well-funded bands, I might add) are seeing the potential to make videos that their fans can interact with in one way or another, so that no two people experience the same video.

It all started back in the summer of 2010, when Arcade Fire teased the launch of the third album ‘The Suburbs’ with an “experiment” with the then novel technology of HTML5, as supported by Google Chrome.

The result was ‘The Wilderness Downtown’, a half-constructed music video for ‘We Used To Wait’ by Chris Milk, which fans could customise by putting in the name of their hometown.

Tapping into Google’s burgeoning Street View image library allowed the video to superimpose imagery from the viewer’s hometown into the scenes, reflecting the themes of the song in an intelligent and, to my knowledge at least, completely innovative way.

If you haven’t already, I urge you to try it. It’s quite an eye-opening and rather personal experience, as you see places you remember from your childhood overlayed with a music video.

arcade fire the wilderness downtown we used to wait interactive music video

After that it all went quiet for a few years, but Arcade Fire brought back the idea this summer in anticipation of their fourth album, ‘Reflektor’.

The new project, called ‘Just A Reflektor‘, goes one step further by asking you to turn on your webcam so that you can star in the video, as well as tracking the movement of your mouse so that different sections of the screen come into focus.

In truth, the effect created was pretty cheesy and seeing my gormless face staring back at me during the climax of the song was hardly gratifying and a bit of an anti-climax.

Thankfully the torch has now been picked up by two more acts, who have refined the idea into something simpler, more easy to adapt, but no less impressive.

Queens of the Stone Age’s new single ‘The Vampyre of Time and Memory‘ is played out across several rooms of a haunted house, with the band playing in one room and some actors creating a cryptic scene in another.

In the areas between, you can click through a book of lyrics, click through to iTunes to buy the accompanying album ‘…Like Clockwork’ and plenty more besides.

This is a huge improvement on ‘Just A Reflektor’ as you feel in control and curiousity compels you to explore and even start again in case you missed something.

For what it’s worth, the band have published their own Director’s Cut on YouTube to draw people into this eerie world:



Not to be outdone, even dear old Bobby is getting in on the act, and with quite a fitting choice of song.

This is partly because ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ was released in the days before music videos, but also because it was part of Dylan’s controversial electric period, where he departed from his bluegrass acoustic protest music roots.

In the video, which was posted online this week, you are given 15 TV channels to flip through, and on all of them the actors are lip-synching along.

This allows for brilliant, often comic, juxtaposition. When I watched it through, I laughed at a street reporter asking a random member of the public: “How does it feel to be on your own, like a complete unknown?”

In the end, I settled on an East Coast rap rendition for its sheer unlikeliness.

Give it a try for yourself and you’ll find that making up your own music video as you go along is a very addictive and empowered experience.

I can only hope more bands take this idea and run with it. My money’s on Muse going one better than their live videos that allow you to simply switch camera angles, but the possibilities are literally endless…

Top 20 albums of the year 2012

It’s been a hit and miss year for rock music, with just a handful of high-profile releases, but plenty of surprise packages. In keeping with tradition, here’s my Top 20 rundown. Click on the links to take a listen on Grooveshark or Spotify.

1.) Dry The River – Shallow Bed

There were a few difficult decisions in the Top 20, but picking a top album was not one of them. Dry The River’s highly engrossing blend of folk and emo is nigh-on irresistible and sets the standard for their contemporaries to aim for.

2.) Bloc Party – Four

A triumphant return to form from Kele and his cohorts who remembered just how effective distorted guitars and thunderous riffs can be.

3.) Muse – The 2nd Law

Taking the ‘kitchen sink’ approach to songwriting, Muse threw everything at this third album and the result is a thoroughly adventurous record which improves with every listen.

4.) Jim Lockey And The Solemn Sun – Death

The record I’ve been waiting four years for Jim Lockey to record – Death throbs with powerful tunes, and excellent production values underpin this meaty new sound.

5.) Sonic Boom Six – Sonic Boom Six

Running Muse close to the wire as Britain’s most inventive band, SB6 went for an electro approach on their self-titled fourth album, resulting in some hard-hitting tunes and a bit of a classic ska-punk thrown in for good measure.

6.) Mumford and Sons – Babel

More of the same from folk-rock’s darlings – they may have cracked America with Babel, but will need to display more invention next time around.

7.) Gaslight Anthem – Handwritten

Five months ago I called this a strong contender for album of the year, and whilst it has faded in appeal after a few dozen listens, Handwritten remains a solid album full of big riffs and bigger choruses.

8.) Baddies – Build

First Danananaykroyd then these guys – for the second year running, I tip a band for big things, then they split up. Nonetheless, Build will stand as a fitting swansong for this dynamic quartet.

9.) Maximo Park – The National Health

Going back to their roots, a return to forum, call it what you like, this album is Maximo Park playing to their strengths and hitting heights not seen since their 2005 debut.

10.) Maps & Atlases – Beware & Be Grateful

Perhaps the most confusing album in my Top Ten – Maps & Atlases manage to blend together math rock and 80s pop into a delightful combination of charm and sheer technical brilliance.

11.) The Futureheads – Rant

12.) The Cribs – In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull

13.) Frank Turner – The Second Three Years

14.) Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly – Maps

15.) Pulled Apart By Horses – Tough Love

16.) The Beach Boys – That’s Why God Made The Radio

17.) The Killers – Battle Born

18.) Air – Le Voyage Dans La Lune

19.) Green Day – Uno!

20.) Tenacious D – Rize Of The Fenix

So, what can we expect from 2013? Well the year will surely get off to a great start with Biffy Clyro due to unveil their double album, Queens Of The Stone Age will return with Dave Grohl on drums, and Lostprophets will… oh, wait.

Until then, I leave you with my favourite video of the past 12 months, enjoy:

Setlist fm or Songkick? The dilemma for music fanatics

Given that I have now dedicated this blog entirely to music, it may not surprise you to learn that I am quite the music fan. Scratch that, I am a music obsessive. I have a CD collection over 200 discs strong (carefully alphabetised, natch), I own more band t-shirts than any other type of clothing, and I have been to more gigs than any sane person should be able to remember – only I can, because I have a creepy OCD document for that.

Muse at Reading Festival 2011
Muse at Reading 2011 - Rock yeah!

So if you are like me, or even a little bit like me, you will like love Setlist fm. Maybe you’re already familiar with it?

This site chronicles every gig played by every band ever. Or at least every gig that someone has uploaded a setlist for, and that’s quite a few.

Great aspects of this site include the stats (oh, the stats!) and the geeky annotations (did you know that Muse’s headline set at Reading included a Sweet Child of Mine outro for Hysteria?!).

What’s more, I was particularly interested to find out the other day that you can track particular bands that you are super-obsessed with. So now, I will get e-mail alerts everytime someone uploads a new Frank Turner setlist.

However, whilst perusing the BBC’s excellent footage of Reading and Leeds, I stumbled across what appeared to be a competitor. You see, the BBC’s festival setlists are ‘powered by Songkick‘.

This site offers something that Setlist fm does not: a personalised feed of all the local shows being played over the coming months by bands you like. Almost immediately, my girlfriend warned me that this was the perfect way for me to spend all of my monies, and more, on gig tickets, and indeed using this site requires a bit of willpower to resist going on a spending spree.

You can also sync up Songkick with your iTunes library, Last.fm or Pandora account and it will import all your favourite bands, then show you when and where they are playing next – and how much it will set you back. This is powerful stuff, kids!

setlistfm/songkick logosOther big plus points include the ability to share which gigs you’re going to, or even just thinking of going to, in one click. I did this on Facebook and immediately found out one of my friends happened to be going to the same gig as me later this month.

Also, there’s an iPhone app, if that’s your thing, and you can track individual venues as well as bands, although I’m not entirely sure why you’d want to…

To answer the question at the top of this post, the answer is: use both. The actual setlist aspect of Songkick seems more like an afterthought as they aren’t that easy to reference quickly, so Setlist fm will continue to take priority there.

Setlist fm is great for looking back over the gigs you’ve been to and Songkick is exciting and inspiring for finding out about gigs that are coming up. I wholeheartedly recommend signing up to them both.

Reading Festival leads the way with deposit scheme

Biffy Clyro on the Main Stage, Reading Festival 2010Exactly one month after being embarrassed by a line-up leak, Reading Festival has launched a deposit scheme to help shift the last of its day and weekend tickets. 

The way the system works is you can reserve your ticket now for a £7 booking fee, with only 25 per cent of the ticket price paid up-front. The remaining balance is then paid in three equal instalments over the next three months.

Some may say they’re just copying Glastonbury, but the key difference is that most of the line-up has been revealed before you commit to pay and the monthly chunks of £48.12 are much more affordable than the £150 lump sum Glastonbury asked for earlier this month.

Also, Reading has a much younger target audience, so it makes sense to offer a staggered way to pay. With the price of festivals going up across the board and punters budgets being stretched tight, this could be the way forward for many UK music fests.

This year’s Reading and Leeds Festivals, just in case you haven’t already heard, will be headlined by My Chemical Romance, The Stokes, Pulp and Muse.

Has the leaked Reading line up proved a point?

Reading Festival 2011 line-up
Erm... whoops!

Reading Festival organisers and Zane Lowe have egg well and truly on their faces today after an unnamed Kerrang! insider leaked the full line-up yesterday lunchtime, more than five hours before it was due to be announced.

As a result, this year is the first time in at least four years that Reading weekend tickets have not sold out in a matter of hours. I checked 23 hours later and Seetickets was still selling them.

The line-up itself was the subject of a fierce Twitter backlash, with many voicing their disapproval. But in all honesty it’s the same every year. Those with the most vociferously negative opinions will always be heard the loudest in the social media echo chamber. Although that said, the Official Reading Facebook page’s attempt to delete spoiler comments was hilariously naive and just proof that they had something to hide.

Is the line-up worse than in previous years? That’s hard to judge objectively, true there’s less metal, but that trend has been ongoing since 2008. The Strokes and My Chemical Romance are both massive bands, whether you like them or not and Muse’s only festival appearance this year is sure to be something rather special.

Zane lowe bbc radio one dj
Zane ain't happy...

The main difference this year is that the power appears to have been at least partially taken out of the organisers’ hands. Zane Lowe in particular was left looking more than a little bit foolish last night after his grandstanding annual line-up announcement live on BBC Radio One was well and truly gazumped by the power of the internet. As he struggled to maintain his trademark Kiwi cool, he let slip “this was meant to be a celebration and now I’m trending with hate.”

Maybe fans are a bit sick of being treated like unquestioning saps by the organisers, who are pushing towards getting the tickets on sale before anyone knows for sure who’s playing.

They may argue that they’re following Glastonbury’s lead, so they are justified. But this is only partially true, as the Pilton farm mega-fest only asks for a £50 deposit in good faith and they then only demand the rest once the first 20 or so bands are announced.

At the end of the day, I can’t help wondering whether this whole embarrassing debacle will maybe make Festival Republic think twice about their approach to announcing the line-up and selling tickets next year…

In the meantime for those of you that are going and are excited (like me), I humbly present my Reading Festival 2011 Spotify playlist and Neat Little Rows from the splendiferously magnificent new Elbow album: