We finally have some summer worthy weather and where are we heading? Yep, to spend the day hiding inside a sweaty, oppressively hot warehouse – otherwise known as Hackney Downs Studio. We’re here for a good reason though, actually several of them, as Radfest returns for its fourth year with a mind meltingly good line-up. While all around us London Festivals are struggling, and in some cases completely breaking under pressure, Sexbeat and Nudie Jeans Co‘s venture has gone from strength to strength: from the tiny ramshackle dive bar of its inaugural run it moved to Corsica Studios, and then to Peckham’s Bussy Building and now it finds its home in this large capacity giant. And well, it works pretty perfectly.
Sweatfest references aside the place is just right the level of busy, as bodies jostle past one another at just about the right level of intoxicated, staggering towards the indoor food market, the surprisingly reasonably priced bars, the tiniest bit of sun offered in the smoking area or more importantly one of the three stages playing host to 15 acts today. Having put on the likes of S.C.U.M, Sauna Youth, The History of Apple Pie, Mazes and Echo Lake in the past, today’s bill promises an equally exciting array of new, largely guitar driven, talent.
As the rooms, some adorned with Poster Roast posters and some occupied by Kristina Records’ pop up store, begin to swell the feeling that this is the only place to be today is steadily reinforced and before we know it, it is time to dive into some music. First on our agenda, having missed Throne, is London via Brighton four-piece Fear of Men, who appear to have gone through some serious line-up, and hair colour, changes since we last saw them.
Straddling the divide between early grunge and jangly indie pop, they peddle their own brand of ‘90s nostalgia that finds itself in much fiercer territory live than it does on record. Trying out a fair few new numbers amongst recently revealed tracks ”Green Sea’ and ‘Born’, the quartet’s scuzzy guitars and dreamy vocals belie the influence of the Breeders and the Cocteau Twins alike and have people gently shuffling around the room, as any crowd should be on a suffocating early afternoon. Having lived in the shadow of tonight’s headliners and contemporary London via Brighton lot Veronica Falls since emerging, today was a clear grab for individuality, exploring the unique nuances that have been breaking just below surface for a while now.
Giving us what will probably by the only break in swirling, surf pop inspired anthems of the day, even though young Sam Howard definitely breaks out a guitar at one point, Halls‘ delicate ambient creations are up next. With three other musicians in tow his light, drifting harmonies are imbued with an added sense of drama – an extra weight if you like, keeping them more grounded than celestial and importantly adding a dynamism to his beautifully stuttering electronic affairs. The additional members seem to have bolstered his confidence too, and with the follow up to his Lifeblood EP on the way in the form of debut full length No Pain in Pop released effort Ark, we can only hope that Halls’ slow burning intensity continues to grow.
As the afternoon begins to give way to the evening Shaun Hencher’s Virals inject that perfect last does of sunshine into proceedings, his warm Californian surf vibes wrapping themselves around the sickly thick air that now occupies most of the building. Carefree jams like ‘Coming Up With The Sun’ and recent number ‘Shake It Up’ have a distinctly vintage feel: the bleached melodies, blissed-out vocals and momentous yet understated percussion has everyone jittering around like they’re stuck in the 70s at a beach party.
From the sunny West Coast haze to East Coast cool and the Brooklyn four-piece who occupy it so well, DIIV. Having only unleashed their incredible Captured Tracks debut album Oshin back in June their set today feels incredibly accomplished. Watching as Zachery Cole Smith thrashes around stage, the band’s less is more formula comes out in waves of dreamy, layered guitars and the occasional reverberating vocal note. Inhabited by The Cure’s sense of melancholy and erstwhile project Beach Fossils‘ lo-fi shoegaze aspirations, each track possesses a languid intensity, flourishing and wilting all at once whilst effortlessly finding an infectious ground to stand on.
As if there is a constant East Coast/West Coast battle raging in this packed East London warehouse, LA’s FIDLAR nail home one of the best sets we have seen in a very long time and quite possibly manage to steal the show, if not only for the chaos they inspire in the audience.
They couldn’t be a more Wichita band if they tried, their latest EP Don’t Try gelling with the labels giddy enthusiasm and an intoxicating lo-fi guitar aesthetic. The momentous, pogo-ing rhythm and high-speed vocals of lead single ‘No Waves’ inspire a mosh pit of the sweatiest order. In anyone else’s hands the lyrics ” I need a new body and I need a new soul” could sound terribly stayed but when Zac Carp’s spits them out alongside phrases like “I feel, feel like a coke head” with such a vitriolic undercurrent you can’t help but be carried away. With the most critical ear, FIDLAR (apparently standing for Fuck It Dog, Life’s A Risk) are not reinventing any wheels but honestly, who needs wheels when you have Jay Reatard inspired punk sensibilities driving high-octane pop. Now if only we could find them amongst the frenzy to present them with their “Best Show In Festival” rosette.
Jacuzzi Boys take the edge off with short, sharp bursts of garage rock from their 2011 debut Glazin’ before well established favourites Veronica Falls round off what has, without a doubt, been one of the best London festival experiences this year. Maybe keep the BBQ’s outside next year though guys.
Check out the bands you missed on Radfest’s mixtape below.