Each festival on the circuit is bound to say they offer something special, but none more so than End of the Road. Not only has this Larmer Tree Garden-based festival managed to host a fantastic lineup year-on- year to the intimate 11,000 strong attendance, but even the audience themselves host a completely different vibe other festivals. They’re reverent, respectful (usually) and they’re there to see and discover great music. This is backed by artists enjoying their performance as much as, if not more than the crowd. Even James Mercer of the Shins, upon completing his first UK performance in four years, claimed the festival was “just beautiful”.
The weekend featured a huge range of acts- from the gentle English folk of Josienne Clark and Ben Walker at the Gardens stage to the fully-fledged crazed psychedelic rock (spattered with the odd flute solo) of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, who tore up the Big Top (and some probably some ligaments considering the energy within the crowd) on Sunday evening. The Big Top hosted other upcoming acts such as Pixies-reminiscent DILLY DALLY and The Garden, who despite not particularly being the most musically competent, absolutely delivered in terms of rigour, angst, humour and pure energy. Broken Social Scene’s epic set for the Sunday late-afternoon set sums up the feelings of the weekend: empathy, respect and enjoyment. With four guitars, a five-piece horn section, 3 percussionists, vocalists and who knows what else, it’s oxytocin
party. Even with a new female vocalist, justice is done to “You Forgot It In People”, and the crowd loves it. No wonder they returned to the UK after five years for this: the band is enjoying themselves just as much as us. Thee Oh Sees raw energy rounded off the Sunday night perfectly, delivering the perfect psych frenzy to satisfy the audience (who were craving just that bit more insanity after King Gizzard’s set.)
Not only does the lineup differ in terms of genre, but also in the fact that nearly half of the lineup were female- a refreshing transformation from the male-dominated scene of Reading & Leeds. Bat For Lashes delivered a gorgeously atmospheric set, with Natasha Khan performing new tracks off haunting concept album The Bride, and even squeezed in an on-stage proposal, much to the delight of all watching. Other female acts also impressed: U.S. girls delivered an eclectic Big Top set, as did the frontgirls of Swedish band GOAT, driving out psychedelic rock and roll (whilst wearing pagan outfits and headdresses, adding a somewhat voodoo ritualistic vibe to the whole affair.)
Beyond the artists, the stunning grounds offer just as much respite as the bands. Amongst the forest clad in fairy lights and art installations, spirited festival-goers can make their way through to the forest disco- which is quite literally a dance floor amongst the trees overlooked by a ‘disco ship’ where the DJ is based. Throughout the site there are music, literature and culture references: whether it be the huge “Hey Ho, Let’s Go” sign by the forest disco, or the tiny messages and lyrics punched in the leaves of the trees in the forest. The piano stage (a tiny cross-section of a living room type setup) is home to small interviews or anyone who fancies doing a little gig. And no, unlike other festivals, no one tries to vandalise or ruin it for anyone else- another part of the magic.
Whilst it was a shame for those who weren’t Joanna Newsom fans to have little else to do during her set (she had set sound restrictions due to the nature of her performance style), the offer of a silent disco didn’t go amiss. Each night at the Garden stage, two DJs battle it out to earn the party-goers’ listen. From Ska, to Britpop to 90s classics- there really is something for everyone (tip: it’s just as fun without the headphones.) Both discos offer a fun alternative to artists, as does the tiny comedy stage deep within the woods, this year showcasing Stewart Lee, Adam Buxton and others.
Alongside seeing artists we’ve been meaning to see for years (Cat Power, Animal Collective, Bat For Lashes, Teenage Fanclub), End of the Road is ultimately a festival of discovery. Simon Taffe, the primary organiser and curator, really seems to have his finger on the pulse in terms of upcoming acts who could make it big in the span of a few years- this year Whitney, Younghusband, Oscar and Local Natives among many others have already made their way onto my playlist.
BE also performed on the Sunday morning, bringing their mesmerising symphony of man and bee to the Garden Stage. The hypnotic sound was flawless there- it encased the audience in a way that felt ethereal.
In the words of James Mercer of the Shins on Thursday- “We’ll be back.”