I’m in Peckham. It’s freezing and I’m slightly confused as to where I’m going, but I find myself in good company as the synth wielding band I stumbled across don’t seem to know much either. Eventually, after maps and phone calls to friends have failed us, we spy a small crowd of young people huddled around an alley…finally, we have found Nail The Cross Festival.
Back for only its third year, No Pain in Pop and Adventures in The Beetroot Fields’ Nail The Cross Festival has moved from its previous home in New Cross to its brand new home in Peckham Rye. Having quietly put on the likes of The XX, These New Puritans, Wild Beasts, Banjo or Freakout, Joy Orbison and Veronica Falls over the past two years, tonight’s line up promises some equally exciting new talent.
As with many infant festivals everything is running late: DJ sets have been cut and the stage times that adorned the walls all of 5 minutes ago already seem to have been taken down to avoid confusion. The new warehouse space is incredible though, and the atmosphere therein is subtly electric, and aptly chaotic. As the rooms and staircases begin to fill out, it is pretty clear that the secret of this boutique little festival is well and truly out of the bag. Hardly surprising considering that the hotly tipped Chad Valley are set to kick off the incredible line-up.
Hugo Manuel, aka Chad Valley, stands exposed under dim lights: infectious Balearic beats and sun kissed harmonies emanating from his laptop. Isolated on stage, the strength of Manuel’s unassuming ambient electronica seems to lie in his incredibly confident, soaring vocals. The luxurious haze of synths swirl around rumbling bass lines on the stunning live version of ‘Ensoniq Funk’ whilst brooding lyrics, reticent samples and ethereal howls bubble underneath. And as the last slice of chillwave infused electro-pop rings out I am sprung from utter captivation by the call of the second room upstairs and the band that have audaciously named themselves Big Deal.
The guitar driven boy/girl duo offer up pretty formulaic melodies that, whilst hardly made of the most groundbreaking stuff, sound incredibly accomplished for a band that only got together in the summer. Their slightly dry performance would perhaps benefit from a more lo-fi approach, akin to the delicate aesthetics of their recorded efforts but nonetheless the sultry dual vocals of Kacey and Alice are honest, raw and infused with a an achingly retro pop sensibility.
Up next in the third room of the evening is Seams, the nom de plume of James Welch, whose rich, textured output fuses industrial techno beats with gentle electronic noise. The dizzying melodies surge forth from the speakers, the bass lines shaking the audience to the bone as crisp high-pitched chimes ring out with a simple clarity. Whilst in Berlin making his debut EP Tourist, Seams spent his time recording sounds from around him on an old cassette tape or his mobile phone. These ephemeral noises gently fizz in the background this evening as he brings a little touch of those hazy summer days to the wintry warehouse.
Continuing along the same vein is Becoming Real’s Toby Ridler. Rhythmically the Kingston producer finds himself somewhere between early grime, hip-hop and intelligent avant-garde experimentalism. With a few releases under his belt, Ridler really draws a crowd this evening; I assume that number of the tickets left on the door is dwindling rapidly. As his stuttering compositions ebb back and forth, the warped thumping bass wraps itself around ghostly vocals and haunting, distorted keys.
We head back up a congested staircase to catch the dreamy, lo-fi pop of Mauro Remiddi, better known to you and I as Porcelain Raft. Drenched in the aesthetics of Beach House and Perfume Genius Remiddi’s warm guitar led melodies swell with soft, sighing vocals. Floating, isolated and intimate his beautifully crafted songs throb with reverb as the heart wrenching lyrics soar over sparkling, sparse anthems such as ‘I Found A Way’ and ‘Dragonfly.’
Everything at Nail The Cross is as I imagined it would be, the rapt audience still with coats on and hoods up, constantly bumping into people they know as they shuffle their feet to the music. And after the blistering finale from Porcelain Raft has died down they all disperse, some heading for the bar whilst I, amongst others, head to see Walls. Hailing from London the pair hunched over synthesizers on stage have risen from previous underground outfits to form their blissful, woozy electro harmonies. Embellishing simple ambience with flourishes of pop, their introspective lyrical hooks flow seamlessly with percussive dance rhythms.
From here on in everything in the main room is crazy, the festival is packed and everyone is dancing but before I get too swept up in the duo’s intoxicating mixes it’s time for Echo Lake. Having seen their talents mature a great deal over the past month, the London based five-piece are more stunning and accomplished than ever. With shimmering depth the young purveyors of dream pop glide through delicate and tentative lullabies such as ‘In Dreams’ with a much fiercer edge than previous renditions, before moving onto the ghostly howling vocals and the feedback drenched shoegaze of ‘Everything is Real.’
With constant traffic flowing from upstairs to downstairs and back again this evening proves to a bit of an adventure: this time it’s down to see Actress. Having expected a live performance it was a bit of shame they only played a DJ set but as the lights flickered, the dirty dub bass lines and infectious electronic blips seem to almost have the support beams buckling and the whole crowd moving in a frenzied dance floor.
As the house lights flash on, Still Corners ready their fuzzy chill-wave inspired dream-pop. Growing in texture and confidence, the romantic haze of keys rolls out over smoke machines and hushed whispers. As if that wasn’t enough, singer Tessa Murray couldn’t channel Nico anymore if she tried and looking around it feels like maybe this is what Warhol would be doing in his warehouse today if he was still with us. The guitars rill with such intensity whilst the shimmering sixties girl pop sensibilities are punctuated by a gritty fuzz, as if you should be witnessing this performance in static smattered black and white or subdued sepia hues.
Up next are D/R/U/G/S, whose hypnotic throbbing bass and brooding house ambience really mark the transition into the early hours of the morning. The small room behind blackened curtains at the back of the building is wall to wall with a mixture of slightly weary revellers bopping their heads and beyond fashionably late new comers moving to the incredible ebb and flow. Probably the band to have emerged from this years In The City, their intelligent soundscape is innovative and infectious. Blissfully euphoric melodies gently swell against a sinister undercurrent as that Orbital comparison really rears its head.
To pin point the genre of this festival would be pretty impossible but what can be confidently said is that everything could be described in some sense by the word ‘electronica’ and the next act are no exception. Having started their musical life as a duo, Darkstar’s James Young and Aiden Whalley added the vocals of James Buttery to the mix before recording their debut album, North. Steeped in eighties synths the trio delve beyond modern dance music constraints as they fuse dub-step, early 70s electronic and cold industrial samples. Crackles of distortion permeate sweeping piano’s and subtle programming noises until they shatter into a warped mesh of digital production.
Bleary eyed I stare at what resemblance of a line up schedule I have left in my hand and then at my watch, as thoughts such as ‘just exactly how many night buses I’m going to have to catch to get home?’ begin to cross my mind. Determined to stay until my brain has lost all communication with my feet I stay for one last snippet of musical goodness from Vondelpark. The shy, ghostly yearnings of the young Surrey based band are cautiously explored on stage. Introverted and slightly awkward there is something rather special about the understated electro numbers floating forth from the speakers. Mumuring their way through heartbreaking narratives and more invigorating guitar led numbers, their output is the perfect soundtrack to the end of this evening, and to the view over my shoulder as I walk down the stairs for the last time.
Goodnight Nail The Cross, you have been nothing short of awe-inspiring.