Festival review: Beacons 2012

Following its cancellation in 2011 due to floods, Beacons Fest wasn't going to let anything get in the way this time round. Will Orchard reports on a young festival with a defiant spirit and truly cutting-edge line up.

Jayne Robinson

Last updated: 29th Aug 2012

Having been cancelled due to bad weather last year, Beacons Festival is no stranger to inconveniences. And with a first day that includes the cancellation of Disclosure’s set (technical difficulties), the non-appearance of Greendales stage headliner Julio Bashmore (ostensibly an ‘ear infection’, though rumours of a more self-inflicted nature of illness abound) and the return of the festival site’s now infamous heavy rain, you’d be forgiven for worrying that a replay of 2011’s events were on the cards.

Fear not though; where last year’s event ended – or rather, failed to start – on a note of disappointment, there’s a distinct sense of triumph throughout what is essentially the Skipton festival’s first year. A meticulously and tidily-planned site, with camping areas within a short walk of both entrances, makes the myriad stages large and small seem manageable. Meanwhile the attractions slotted in between music tents, including an extensive vintage clothes stall, numerous multi-cultural food stands and an ale bar run by local Beacons-affiliated pub Whitelocks, lend the festival a warm, boutique feel that has taken many of its competitors years to create. Given an extra year of organisation they’re unlikely to have anticipated, it’s doubtless the Beacons team have put their time to good use, crafting an easy, relaxed environment, whose attractions offer as much onstage as off.

Of course, the extensive music line-up (presented alongside Vice, The Stool Pigeon and Noisey) is the reason we’re here, and there’s rarely a moment without something truly exceptional to watch, from the thrilling garage rock of Dead Sons (Friday’s main stage openers) to reggae legends Toots and the Maytals, who close the final night. London’s Factory Floor, recent signings to DFA Records, are perhaps one of the most predictable highlights of the weekend, considering the reputation of their blistering live show. Their appearance on the first night immediately sets the bar high for the rest of the line-up’s electronic contingent, with the likes of ‘Two Different Ways’ and ‘A Wooden Box’ providing some of the most intensely gripping dance music this side of the Pennines. Followed by a resurgent Mount Kimbie and Manchester’s D/R/U/G/S, as well as tent-filling Siouxie-esque trailblazers Savages, Friday’s proceedings are a non-stop, thrilling whirlwind.

Saturday, thankfully, starts somewhat more placidly. Calm, hushed appearances from the likes of Cass McCombs and Still Corners are the perfect tonic for a tent of bleary eyes and aching bodies, while the languid acoustics of Grass House are a bewitching pleasure, reflecting The Coral in their ethereal atmospherics, if not their temperament. Yet despite the myriad exceptional sets throughout the day, the brisk electro-funk of Junior Boys and the tub-thumping rock of Japandroids grooving and throbbing in equal measure, Saturday belongs to tonight’s headliners. As local boys done good, Wild Beasts’ return to this part of the country lends their appearance at Beacons a special edge. After all, with the “girls from Shipley” referenced in ‘All The King’s Men’ present in such numbers, it’s clear this has the feeling of a homecoming of sorts, even if we aren’t necessarily on the right side of the Yorkshire Dales. Having toured third album ‘Smother’ for over a year, there are few surprises in store, but with the oozing sexuality of ‘Loop The Loop’ and ‘Reach A Bit Further’ and the moonlit likes of ‘Hooting and Howling’ and ‘We Still Got The Taste Dancing On Our Tongues’ peaks of an already stunning 90 minutes set, who needs surprises? Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming remain the most exceptional vocal pairing of recent years, with each languid purr complementing the next, while Chris Talbot’s brisk percussion adds backbone and structure to an otherwise lovely indulgence. Prescient closer ‘End Come Too Soon’ is as much a striking bookend as it is a mission statement; few bands could absorb and stun with such equal measure as to pass over an hour with the click of a finger.

As the five-piece leave the stage and the tent empties, the hoards disappear in one of two directions; the campsite or, for those with an inexplicable spring in the step, to the Beacons Social, where Andrew Weatherall and Sean Johnston headline with their ‘A Love From Outer Space’ project. An amalgam of disco and techno, the pair’s set aims for the more discerning end of the dance market, with deep and often otherworldly psych cuts thrust effortlessly between thick slabs of throbbing, insistent beats. It’s as inspired a set as you’d expect from DJs like Weatherall and Johnston, and for a weary and weather-worn crowd (many of whom intend to leave the festival before the final night) it’s received with the vigour and passion you’d expect from an inebriated, mucky and wet group of new friends with nothing to lose.

Sunday’s daytime proceedings are, perhaps unsurprisingly, tame by comparison. Casino Times’ DJ set is smooth and sunny yet sits uncomfortably within a half-empty tent in a sodden sun-trap, while Willis Earl Beal’s main stage appearance promises more than its tedious nature can deliver. In fact, for a festival filled with the best and brightest in new music, Beal’s performance is the only example of style over substance and while his vocal ability is undeniable, a half-hour set that rarely picks up a shred of pace soon falls flat. Yet such examples are a drop in the ocean of what it is otherwise an exceptional, cutting-edge line-up. 

It’s rare in the current festival climate to find a weekend event utterly unique, least of all a brand-new one, yet Beacons’ pairing of a stunning landscape and one of the most impressive sets of acts this summer marks it out as a refreshing addition to the UK festival circuit. While the weather that caused Beacons’ cancellation in 2011 is an unavoidable factor of an open-air event in Yorkshire, the festival team have done enough to prevent the elements affecting proceedings, and with such talent spread thickly across three days on five stages, it’s sure to be a highlight of 2013’s summer calendar.

Words: Will Orchard 

Photo: Sam Huddleston

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