(In order: The Barn Stage, Darlia, Gang Of Four, fairground corner, the coffee stall, MC Lars, crowds, the Truck monster meeting its public. Photographs by Alice Watanabe)
Truck festival has changed over time, and in the past couple of years in particular it’s morphed from a sketchy group hug for the local music scene into a more refined and organised family-friendly event. It’s not quite the ‘lifestyle festival with music’ that’s prevalent elsewhere right now; the live music – which has inevitably widened its range to encourage wider appeal – remains at the heart of everything, albeit surrounded with more stuff than there used to be.
With an approach to taking in the festival that is more about the overall experience, than about a comprehensive ticking off of all acts on offer, here’s a bullet-point list of non-sequential highlights and impressions of the two-day event, which took place on 18 and 19 July at Hill Farm, Steventon…
- Catfish & The Bottlemen (Truck Stage, Friday): Despite a name that suggests grizzled bluesmen, they are in fact sprightly youngsters. And despite not going musically beyond a solid, yet unrevolutionary type of indie rock, their lead singer is so enthusiastic and excited in his between-song banter that it’s hard not to enjoy their set.
- Deap Vally (Truck Stage, Friday): Expectations were high; the thought of a Californian female two-piece playing White Stripes-type cool rock was exciting. As it played out, however, the set seemed stodgy and as if the band themselves were a little bored and disillusioned by their lack of bite.
- Peace (Truck Stage, Friday): Something of a Mansun for the modern age – playing tired-sounding ‘epic’ guitar songs, here’s a band that seem desperate to tick all the ‘modern indie’ boxes that’ll keep them current for as long as an inevitably short burst of recognition can last.
- Interlude: Burgers and smoothies: The Rotary Club burgers, and banana smoothies, have been a familiar mainstay of Truck festivals for many years. It’s good to see that they’re here once again – the smoothies are a refreshing burst of flavour, the burgers are a solid meal delivered by an impressively well-oiled machine of a kitchen tent.
- Dodgy (Truck Stage, Saturday): Effectively sustaining themselves on the back of a couple of well-worn, er, ‘classics’, they sound like a bored covers band despite playing their own songs. ‘Staying Out For The Summer’ and ‘Good Enough’ even seem to trigger the start of a short downpour, which is presumably not what they had in mind…
- Interlude: Coffee served by kids: For the past couple of years part of the food’n’drink offering has been a coffee stall manned by perplexed, yet confident teenagers. Despite the surprise at being asked to provide drinks, the results are actually pretty excellent. An iced coffee or two on a very hot day is exactly what’s called for.
- Gang Of Four (Truck Stage, Saturday): Unlike, say, From The Jam, who have become a covers band featuring an original member of the source act, Gang Of Four retain the name yet now retain only Andy Gill from their original line-up. So they seem strangely young, but they’re also impressive. Gill’s gruff appearance is at odds with a confrontational and sharp guitar clang, and a slick-yet-impassioned performance sees songs that were rather too poppy to really fit in with post-punk now sound rather edgy in a smooth musical climate.
- Interlude: Shiny guitars: An observation. Many, many bands these days include well turned-out, tidily-hairstyled young men brandishing what look like brand new – or at least very recently buffed – guitars. Is this a thing now? What happened to sticker-covered, beaten-up old guitars?
- Darlia (Market Stage, Saturday): There are a lot of bands around right now that are ‘doing grunge’ twenty years later. Here’s one of them. There were a lot of bands around that got tagged with the ‘grunge’ epithet back then; not all of them were good.
- DZ Deathrays (The Barn, Friday): Another two-piece-doing-noisy-guitar stuff. Spirited, and focussed in their adherence to a Queens Of The Stone Age-style rock thunk.
- Interlude: The atmosphere: This is a festival with a nice atmosphere. It’s a good one to wander around, as it’s small in scale, and feels welcoming and airy. It’s got a fairground corner, and a row of festival-type stalls selling socks, hats, and vintage whatnot, so it hints at the tropes of ‘big’ festivals. However, the organisers have cleverly retained the ramshackle spirit of early Trucks.
- Blood Red Shoes (The Barn, Friday): Hey look, a two-piece! There can never be too many two-piece bands. This one have been doing their thing – angry but approachable female/male noise rock – for a long time now, which may explain the somewhat rehearsed and slick presentation of their songs. It’s a strong set, though, and despite some technical/sound problems, hugely enjoyable.
- Johnny Foreigner (The Barn, Saturday): Another long-in-the-tooth band, at least in the context of current times, they tend to go one of two ways – ramshackle yet fierce splattered-cuteness indie, or… ramschackle. Luckily, today they pull off the former.
- Interlude: Secret special guest: A ‘secret special guest’ promised for Saturday night was revealed as Danny & The Champs. Not particularly secret – having played already on the Truck Stage earlier in the day – and, unfortunately, not as special as expected, in terms of excitement. Why not Foals or Radiohead, eh, organisers?
- Andrew W.K. (The Barn, Saturday): A strange, long-term social experiment, W.K. has been obsessing over his ‘party hard’ schtick for years. This motivational speaker (seriously – look it up), TV presenter and, previously, member of both Wolf Eyes and Current 93, plays boogie-woogie piano over thumping beats while a bald friend stomps around the stage. We are encouraged to party both relentlessly and loudly. It’s precisely as good as you think it might be.
- Interlude: A secret rave: A new thing for this year’s Truck is a hidden dance/rave-type area, accessible through an almost-too-well disguised portaloo. Despite seeing some cheeky young fellows holding the door closed while a bemused raver tried to exit, all involved appeared to be having a good time. All day long.
- MC Lars (Veterans & Virgins Stage, Saturday): An old-school Truck participator, MC Lars went so far to self-describe as “MC Lars – he’s still a thing” – it has been a few years since he was last seen, admittedly. Banging out excellent, bouncy hip-hop with top-notch delivery and endless charm, it’s nice to see him back.
So, a musical rollercoaster of a Truck this year, with perhaps more gentle slopes than whirling excitement. The good thing, though? That doesn’t seem to matter. As a festival that’s as much about good times as it is music, it’s a great couple of days.