If Beacons Festival 2013 had a motto, it could have been “third time’s a charm”. The Skipton-based three-dayer may be in its infancy, but has not been without its tribulations
At its 2011 launched, flash-flooding resulted in an opening day cancellation. Last year Beacons bounced back with an impressive line-up, but the arena was sparse, the toilets were few and the food was expensive. A combination of unrelenting drizzle and seemingly endless queues detracted from a bold comeback.
Third time out of the blocks, Beacons finally realised its proper potential.
In addition to a significantly larger capacity (up to 7,500 from 5,000) and more stages to boot, the organisers did a lot more to push the arts element of the event. While last year’s campsite was little more than a soggy field, campers were this year treated to The Space Between, hosting non-musical entertainment for late nights, early mornings and any time in between.
Between early morning (i.e. 10.30am) yoga and whiskey-tasting sessions, there were plenty of punters milling around the Marvellous Tea Room and Vintage Boutique, as well as a screen-printing stall that seemed to mainly produce flags. The Impossible Lecture comedy tent doubled up as a late-night disco, while the film schedule at Into The Woods acted as respite from the crowds.
Almost all food stalls, The Social bar/stage, ELFM stage and RFID Dome, along with plenty of seats for relaxing and inflatable slides for playtime, sat outside the arena security point, free from the bondage of festival-priced beer. It was a nice touch, and gave weight to the claims organisers had tried to keep costs down for revelers.
Despite the space disco fancy dress theme, Friday didn’t lead to throngs of funky spacemen lining the fields as you might have expected. There were, however, plenty of star-spangled faces, metallic leggings, coloured wigs and men in bras to be seen.
On stage for the opening day, Big Deal brought their harmony-infused slacker pop to a mid-afternoon slot at the Loud and Quiet main stage. Sadly the audio balance between vocalists Kacey Underwood and Alice Costelloe was off, which was oddly distracting. Sadly it wasn’t the last time in the day that the Loud and Quiet stage was mainly quiet.
A quick hop over to the You’ve Got To Hear This tent for Thumpers and the laidback atmosphere was ratched up a notch. The tent was packed to see the alt indie duo, as the stage looked equally full of supporting musicians.
One of the biggest criticisms of Beacons last year was the short set times. With tight scheduling and a stage too small for multiple kits, the smallest tent of the weekend saw a lot of short but sweet sets. Thumpers was one that people would happily have kept dancing to.
The much-hyped Lulu James pleased the crowds Loud and Quiet, pulling in an audience that more established acts would struggle to get. She did sound and look good, and was very endearing, but lacked some substance. Nevertheless, the crowd seemed happy, so her future’s looking bright.
One of the most anticipated acts of the day also turned out to be the biggest disappointment. Ambient electro wonders Vondelpark, on the festival circuit following the release of their first album Seabed, were on stage but kept the crowd waiting. And waiting. For 25 minutes. Finally the band started up… and finished after four songs. The sound was wrong and the crowd ended up restless – a frustrating non-event to behold.
As the sun went down, the arena filled with post-work revelers, feeling a lot busier than earlier in the day. Ghostpoet made a predictably popular appearance on the main stage, marking his third time on the Beacons line-up. Over at the You’ve Got To Hear This, a thrashy back-to-back of Eagulls and Traams played to a pumped-up crowd. While it was difficult to get into the actual tent, the music was loud and the area bustling enough to keep the stragglers entertained.
Bonobo provided the main attraction of the night, with Loud and Quiet becoming a clammy buzz of moving bodies. Sadly the tent’s sound problems persisted, but while the music could have been louder, it didn’t detract from the atmosphere.
Barcelona’s finest John Talabot took over the Resident Advisor stage for a two-hour DJ set in the last slot of the night. It was a mixed bag of tech house that kept the ridiculously busy crowd moving until 2am – then the records went off, the lights went up and people looked a bit lost.
It appears there may have been some timing caveats put on this year’s licence; even at the campsite disco, the music was turned down to barely louder than a home stereo at 3am, “because of they neighbours”.
Technical glitches and strict curfews aside, Friday proved a promising start to the weekend.
The Heslaker Farm site that hosts Beacons Festival the second weekend of August is incredibly picturesque, framed by the rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales for miles.
Sadly, those hoping to take in the scenery on Saturday of this year’s event were greeted by grey skies and rain so hard it was a push to make out the tents in the arena at times.
Despite the bustle of Friday night, Saturday’s arena seemed quiet. Each downpour caused a mass migration to the nearest covered stage, regardless of who was playing; the Whitelocks Ale Tent, which had already proved popular, was unable-to-move busy for most of the day. As each act closed their set, no-one was in any hurry to get out into the open.
As Spectrals performed in the main tent, there was a small but enthusiastic crowd waiting for the Leeds rockers. Temples then brought a psychedelic bent to the stage; while the crowded didn’t get much bigger, the people who made it there were pretty lively.
It was Melody’s Echo Chamber that really got the afternoon going. French singer Melody Prochet and her band brought a light, summery vibe to the rainy hills of Skipton, and finally the dancing began. Everyone on stage threw themselves into the psychedelia-infused dream pop set making it all the more enjoyable to watch. It was a pleasant injection of fun in the dreary afternoon.
Dutch Uncles’ brand of art pop was technically good, but the set felt like something was missing. The Stockport band were friendly during downtime, but the crowd was slow to warm to them. Eventually their Hot Chip-esque sound seemed to hook people in, ending the set on a high.
As the sun went down, the rain finally started to ease, bringing more people out from their tents. Childhood brought some classic indie energy to the once-again rammed You’ve Got To Hear This tent. The four-piece from London not only sounded like they are destined for big things, putting their own twist on classic Brit rock, but they looked the part as well. Much like their peers Savages, there’s likely to be no getting away from them soon.
The Saturday night schedule created a split-yourself-two-ways dilemma, with Loud and Quiet and You’ve Got To Hear This jockeying for attention. On the bigger stage, Gold Panda performed a storming set, with a lot more energy and animation than was shown at some of his recent tour dates. The tent was packed, the music was loud and it had the classic festival set blend of hits and new tracks.
With the steam rising over at the big tent, Mickal Cronin made brought some good feelings to the smaller alternative. The Ty Segall Band alum’s garage rock sound was tight and driven, and accompanied by thoroughly endearing on-stage banter. People danced, people smiled; if you asked anyone about Cronin’s set for the rest of the weekend, the response was: ‘So good – he’s such a nice guy.’
A quick dart over to Local Natives’ set presented a surprisingly sparse crowd for the indie folk darlings – particularly for a headline slot. The music was much as you’d expect, but the atmosphere seemed a little dialed down.
Back at You’ve Got To Hear This, it quickly became clear why: a crushing throng of people packing in to see Wire. The punk veterans’ set was as heavy and accomplished as you’d expect but, disappointingly, focused on their new material. As a result, the crowd thinned half way through as people realized that maybe they didn’t like Wire as much as they thought.
Machinedrum’s jungle and bass-heavy set rounded off the day at the Resident Advisor tent. Starting off just as busy as John Talabot the night before, the crowd slowly quietened down. Over at The Social where, crucially, there was a bar next to the stage, people continued to dance, but overall Saturday drew to a fairly quiet close.
Saturday’s line-up had some gems, but many of the best DJs were held over until Sunday. As a result, what is usually the biggest night of a festival had its wings clipped.
Beacons, a boutique festival set in the Yorkshire Dales near Skipton, might not strike you as the most obvious target for a terrorist attack. Nevertheless, campers near non-musical entertainment area The Space Between awoke on Sunday morning to rumours of a ‘suspicous package’.
Sure enough, security formed a perimeter and evacuated some bewildered pyjama-wearing festival-goers from their tents, while the police arrived on site. It was a false alarm – but nice to know safety was taken seriously.
The grassy expanse between the arena’s stages was a different world from the day before: brilliant sunshine brought the crowds out into the light, with groups of drinkers laughing, chatting, lounging on hay bales. It’s amazing how sun and dry grass can change a festival.
Hookworms’ eclectic psych-infused garage rock took over the You’ve Got To Hear This stage with an intense set. However, the loungers seemed more interested in Floating Points’ light, soulful house, which drew people out of the sun and into the Resident Advisor stage.
Moon Duo’s turn at Loud and Quiet brought some no-nonsense rock ‘n’ roll to the afternoon. With the titular duo of Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada joined onstage by a session musician, the band began strong, powering through tracks with plenty of zeal. As time progressed, however, the songs started to bleed out into unnecessarily lengthy solos, meaning each was about a minute longer than it needed to be. It was a shame, and ultimately people lost interest.
After the relatively chat-free but appreciative Moon Duo, Splashh took to the stage with an antagonistic swagger. The London-based alt rock band, fronted by former Colours guitarist Sasha Carlson, played well enough but bristled with passive aggressive mid-set banter. At one point Carlson seemed to mock the crowd for wearing sunglasses inside a tent, despite one of his compatriots also donning shades. So far, so unimpressed.
Much of Sunday’s best action was in the smaller tents, with the main stage relatively quiet. Meanwhile, You’ve Got To Here This was so jammed for Wet Nuns and Savages, it was near impossible to get in. Many of the bands that appeared on the stage suit a smaller, intimate venue, and a packed tent does create a buzz, but it was disappointing to find yourself unable to see or hear bands you’ve waited all weekend for.
The final hours of Beacons 2013 undoubtedly belonged to the DJs. As the dusk came down, Resident Advisor kicked off a Theo Parrish and Andres five-hour back-to-back with Andres at the decks; Theo Parrish was apparently two and a half hours late. Nevertheless, when the US techno legend did arrive on the stage, there was no end to the cheering, as he launched into a loud and pumping set.
A quick detour into headliners DJango Django saw an enthusiastic but somewhat depleted crowd to close out Loud and Quiet. The band were energetic, visually striking and musically tight, exactly what you’d want to end a festival – if the atmosphere and music hadn’t been so much better elsewhere.
Out at the Red Bull Music Academy van – the only outdoor stage of the weekend – James Holden summoned a rapidly growing group of dancers. The threat of rain lingered, but didn’t put off any of the crowd as Holden delivered a classic tech house closing set, full of big tunes without being a string of anthems. As the night drew to a close and the steam rose over the crowd, the festival certainly went out with a bang.
At 11pm, it was all over. Wandering past the still-heaving Resident Advisor stage, Theo Parrish was desperately trying to play another tune, much to the chagrin of some stern looking security. As it finally dawned that was really the end, the crowd started peeling back to their tents for a final night of revelry.
Three years after launching, Beacons delivered on the promises it originally made: excellent music and good beer in a great setting. The biggest criticism of Sunday was that there was too much good music on at once – a sign it definitely got something right.
Beacons 2013 is proof that De La Soul were right – three really is the magic number.