Constellations Festival 2011

Thanks to “All Tomorrow’s Parties”, winter indie festivals are becoming in vogue and the Constellations Festival has taken the initiative as well with its second year running.

The festival took place on the 12th of November in the Leeds University Student Union. The first thing that strikes you is the incredible setting. The Leeds student union, so my step-cousin who studies there tells me, is one of the richest student unions in the country, and it is massive! It’s as if it was designed for a music festival. The union boasts two large theatres, the largest being the Stylus arena, which had its own pit and balcony and could probably fit 1,000 people. There are also two intimate cubbies for the smaller acts, as well as multiple bars with cheap(ish) drinks.

Having taken a lazy Saturday train down from Durham to Leeds, I arrived at around 2, and met up with my old school friend for a long lunch and cup of tea in his derelict student accommodation. My friend dropped me off at the union at 6, for though the festival had started at 2, none of the big acts were on until the evening. And as luck would have it I realised that with my press ticket I was entitled to one extra ticket for my cameraman. So I invited my school friend back to be my cameraman. So for the night I was the amateur journalist with only a scrap of paper to take notes on, and my pal was a cameraman who had forgotten his camera.

The act I was most looking forward to was Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, for Malkmus is my musical hero who frontmanned the band Pavement until the turn of the century, and has since done a decade of music with his new band the Jicks. They had just released their Beck-produced album Mirror Traffic, and so most of the songs were from the album. The style was definitely more old school with some good riffs from “Tigers” and “Senator”, and Malkmus was certainly his old self with good audience interaction. The drummer deserves a mention for being the sweaty moustachioed, Hawaiin shirted, mentalist in the back. All in all, the band fulfilled satisfaction and managed a throbbing head banger with “Baby C’mon”, as well as solid jam on “Real Emotional Trash” to conclude. So though the cracks didn’t show, the band’s wrinkles certainly did, and the Jicks are certainly a bunch of middle-age rockers.

The next act on in Stylus was Yuck after a 20-minute delay due to technical difficulties, which actually pervaded throughout every act, and really gave a poor impression of the techies. They were playing all the songs from their self-titled debut, which consisted of a Sonic Youth/Dinosaur Jr.-esque style, and there were a few songs I was looking forward to. So after frustrating delay, they kicked off with the great song “The Wall” and trudged through their album, although I felt that you couldn’t hear the lead singer Daniel Blumberg’s vocals enough. Their best song “Get Away” started off well with its gut-wrenching chorus, but then they sped up the pace halfway through, which ruined its effect. However, they did make a great conclusion with the droner “The Rubber”, which made some of their poorer songs forgivable.

We then went to the Riley Smith room to see The Antlers who were incredible. They were showcasing their dreamy album Burst Apart, and incorporated a solid bass-line to keep the movement. The whole band looked like they were having fun as well, and at the core was leader Peter Silberman holding it all together with his impassioned falsetto, and swaying with rubbery fluidity as he sang. Their strongest song was definitely “Rolled Together” which encapsulated the audience in an epic combination of the repeated line “Rolled together with a burning paper heart” and the driving drums, culminating in a breathless climax. They also finished with my personal favourite “Every Night my Teeth are Falling Out”, where I frankly lost it for a minute or two, but later concluded that they could have done it slightly better. Nevertheless it was a very strong performance.

However, the festival highlight, probably felt by everyone was Wild Beasts returning to headline at their hometown. The floor was filled with fans who knew all their songs, and the enthusiasm caught on to the band members who were obviously having a good time. Although I have listened to their albums, I’m still not sure if I’m totally taken in with their falsetto Kate Bush ways, yet it could not be denied that they were very good. The band was stacked out with all kinds of equipment, and the two singers Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming would swap bass and lead guitar in between songs. Some of the songs they came out with in their equipment was truly mesmeric, but every song ploughed ahead with a steady and always interesting bass. All of their songs were strong, although “Albatross” got under my skin especially. But most importantly their music made you feel that they were doing it differently.

The show finished at around 11 and we hung around for a few more drinks then went back home. The festival had good music and a great setting, and we can only hope that more of these boutique winter festivals turn up (hopefully nearer Durham).

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