2023 saw End Of The Road turn seventeen, and unlike me in my late teens this festival knows exactly who it is – confident, self-assured and certain of its place in the world. It’s a long weekend of beautiful moments of musical discovery and nostalgia, of clearings in the woods where you can play ‘thunderdome ping pong’ or gates that lead out to leafy lanes that wind toward the village pub, of plants that when touched play sounds, of immersion into the love of music. It’s a festival that takes the joy of seeing some of the indie scenes most established live acts and blends it with the genuine joy of finding something new.
THE LAST DINNER PARTY
The first shot of the festival was fired when relative newcomers The Last Dinner Party took to the stage. Their career so far launching to much hype followed swiftly by a backlash of accusations surrounding their authenticity, so the crowd who gathered under a slightly overcast sky, were not sure what to expect but it’s really hard not to warm to a band who are enjoying themselves so much. The sheer exuberance of their performance was something to behold as vocalist Abigail Morris owned the stage with the energy and charisma of a young Freddie Mercury. Whilst they’re clearly at the start of their journey as artists, on the evidence of this set, there’s some real substance behind their unashamedly dressing-up box style.
If you’ve not encountered Horse Lords before you really should. They’re a band that’s hard to explain and even harder to do justice to. Post punk, meets math rock, meets jazz, meets psyche funk. Sometimes bands are described as tight, but Horse Lords take this to another level – it was impossible not to feel a slight sense of voyeurism, as if I was overhearing a private and personal conversation between lifelong friends. You could call them experimental but that feels like implying they aren’t the finished product and they most definitely are. This isn’t so much music you hear as music you feel. Their driving rhythms and hypnotic, fractured arrangements attack all your senses and there’s something primal about the way their long, complex instrumentals pound your chest. One of the highlights of this year’s End Of The Road.
This was the first time I’ve ever experienced the music of Greentea Peng, and the only things I can tell you for certain is that it’s hard to describe and impossible not to dance to. Radiating effortless charm and sensual charisma , it’s really hard to put into words what Greentea Peng actually did, other than take my breath away. This was a kind of psychedelic soul music that, whilst imbued with an acid tinged, motown vibe, was utterly contemporary and totally rooted in post millennial London. She told the crowd that she was suffering from tonsillitis but if this is Greentea Peng when she’s not 100%, I’m not sure that I could handle her at full power, but I’d love to experience it!
With nearly a dozen studio albums behind them Scandinavian psyche jazz legends Dungen (pronounced “Doon-yen”) have been around longer than End Of The Road itself, but despite their two decades together they seem to sound fresher than ever. Their set, much like their whole career, lurched from soothing to jarring but was never anything other than infectious. The language barrier did nothing to lessen my connection to the powerful moods and emotions Dungen expressed throughout their set.
Angel Olsen’s delicate yet powerful channelling of American folk traditions always feels like one for the purists. If you’ve come for a hoedown then this may not be your thing but if you want to wrap a blanket around you and share sad stories round the campfire then you’re in the right place. After a day of sunshine the slightly chilly dusk that greets Olsen’s arrival onstage seems the perfect canvas for a performance that’s low on energy but high on emotion. Whilst her songs are laced with melodrama they never feel over the top, the strings section are fragile yet powerful and the whole set seem more intimate than it’s got any right to do. It’s a huge credit to Angel Olsen and her band that music that feels like it belongs in a smokey basement is somehow entirely at home at a festival.
One of the real pleasures of End Of The Road is that whilst the bigger names, with bigger sounds, on bigger stages draw huge crowds, there are also lesser known artists on smaller stages playing music that connects to the hearts of people hearing them for the first time. This was exactly what I found when I wandered serendipitously into the ‘big top tent’ at the start of Macie Stewart’s set. I was entranced by her finger picked guitar, loop pedal and violin. She sang songs of amazing beauty, accompanied by Jazzi Bobbi whose saxophone sounds possessed a reediness that whispered around the stage and lent the live performance a quality that isn’t always present in Stewart’s recorded work. As I found myself in tears towards the end of the set I looked around to find I was not alone.
If Macie Stewart was one of this year’s wonderful hidden gems, then Saturday night’s “Mystery Artist” turning out to be Wet Leg was one of its worst kept secrets, but the lack of surprise did nothing to lessen their performance. Wet Leg lore says that the band was conceived at a previous End Of The Road and they look like a band who are completely at home here. Blasting out a short but brilliant set of perfect, guitar fuzz, indie-rock crowd pleasers It’s hard to say anything more than Wet Leg did What Wet Leg do, but when they do it this well who needs anything more?
There’s something big about Future Islands. I don’t mean successful, I mean big. Their pounding yet wistful synth driven pop is huge in a way that almost looms over you. If New Order at their peak developed an obsession with 20th Century epic theatre, this is how they would have sounded. The magnetism of intense, hyper kinetic frontman Samuel T.Herring is undeniable. With vocals ranging from Death metal growling to soulful crooning and body movements that sometimes evoke a spiritual possession, Herring’s performance could seem like a parody if it wasn’t so evidently authentic. It’s like he’s been vaccinated against the virus of carefully carved, two dimensional revisionist rock and roll sheen that’s spread through the modern indie scene. Yes, he is so earnest it is jarring but you can’t take your eyes off him and you never once doubt he is channeling something real. Herring is entirely present and completely real.
As seventeenth birthdays go this was an all time classic. Next year End Of The Road will be officially old enough to vote in a general election and drink in a pub. I can’t wait to see how they celebrate.