Larmer Tree Gardens | 30th August – 2nd September
Photos: Rowan Allen
In the surprisingly quaint estate of the Larmer Tree Gardens, End of The Road opens its gates to an intimate crowd for another year of eclectic curation amongst an established imprint of folk of various forms. For many, this is the last chance to embrace the surreal escape of one of the hottest and most positive British summers in memory, and if that means lying in front of a stage built like a lavish tropical living room in the middle of the Wiltshire countryside, then we’ll hold on to it for every last second.
“This is a dream come true,” exclaims Lily Wolter, halfway through Penelope Isles’ atmospheric set, as they open the Big Top for the first time this year. Alongside Amyl and The Sniffers, who unleash chaos with their rambunctious Australian garage rock, they set a precedent for a weekend of excitable liberation as much as placid and cathartic relaxation.
Fat White Family veer venomously towards the former, returning triumphantly, still unwilling to piss on you if you are on fire. Their new tracks sound surprisingly jaunty and familiarly drunken, while The Orielles incite a much different type of party. The big top bounces in unison to their instantly catchy funk pop, going down a treat with the Friday night crowd.
St. Vincent arrives in a bath of strobing lights, standing uniformly with her bedecked band before descending into the glitchy hysterics of ‘Masseduction’. It’s glaring, animated and effortlessly cool. While the set does miss an emphatic moment, with the crowd disappointingly mellow, the star power that Annie Clark possesses cannot be ignored.
The sun once again casts brightly over Saturday morning as the cinema gifts a sleepy-eyed double bill of Wallace and Gromit. The joy and invention of the classic animation is just a touch of what the festival offers outside of the music, instilling the creative nature of the festival across all forms, whether literary, comedic or with more hands-on experiences.
Having ignited the fire with the Fat Whites the previous night, Saul Adamczewski opens the Saturday morning with Insecure Men, the glassy coolness of the band filtering through the swaying crowd as their grotty lounge pop leaves a yearning feeling. It’s only intensified by Duds, who while being much more suited to their late night secret set later on, still stimulate and encourage in the early afternoon heat with their rabidly catchy punk. In the Garden, (Sandy) Alex G delivers his country-inflected indie rock with gritted vehemence, his random experiments with noise live is a jarring experience, but still suitably finds the balance between his most fragile and melodic work.
It’s been a whirlwind year for Shame, and their set here may just be their most triumphant moment yet. The crowd are frantic and baying, lapping up ‘The Lick’ and ‘Tasteless’ with a large pit that Charlie Steen can’t help but descend upon. It’s relentless and utterly impactful. Within the intimacy of the Tipi Tent, Soccer Mommy’s beautifully honest songs burn vibrantly, Sophie Allison’s voice utterly arresting as she heartbreakingly tears through ‘Clean’ and a captivating version of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘I’m on Fire’, cementing her as one of the most captivating songwriters of the weekend. Hookworms have found a coruscating middle between being an experimental psych project and a distinctive electronic live act. They smoulder emphatically throughout a seamless evocation of synths and barraging guitars.
Oh Sees drop into the festival as perhaps the most anticipated act of the weekend, their blitz of high-octane garage rock pleasing even the most mellow of campers. While it takes a little while to warm to Jon Dwyer and Co due to sound issues, things quickly fluctuate, the double drummer combo rattling through ‘Toe Cutter/Thumb Buster’ and ‘Sentient Oona’ with aplomb as Dwyer snarls his way through the set like a demonic shaman.
While it takes a little while to properly settle into Sunday, a day spent amongst the greenery of the Garden Stage pavilions is the perfect way to prepare for the maniacal curation End of The Road has in store for their final night. Iceage open such proceedings loud and emphatically, their roughshod and vibrant rock n roll looms large as Elias Rønnenfelt conducts from the front with a punch to his chest and a wrangling of his throat.
Despite the strangling heat of the Big Top, it seems everyone has arrived for IDLES. Bathed in a blue light, they tear through ‘Mother’ and ‘Danny Nedelko’ with equal parts vehemence and unity. Their live show takes everything they stand for and intensifies it by a hundred, Joe Talbot spits louder, the guitars shred with more venom, the words hit harder. ‘Samaritans’ is as much a charged act demanding change live as it is a raucous punk song with emotional weight on record. You can see why this band have become one of the most sought-after and cherished of recent years.
With each year End of The Road further cements its importance, and this edition once again shows how idiosyncratic yet passionate direction and an open mind can make for the most gratifying of experiences.