By Sam Lawson
Normally when writing reviews my intros can be long winded but those of you that caught my 2000 Trees preview article will know just how excited I was for the festival. Although there were some bands and artists that I missed I will get another chance to see them at other up-coming events and festivals.
Here are all of my favourite sets from this year’s edition of 2000 Trees, in order of when I saw them!
Arcane Roots (electronic set)
I hadn’t seen Arcane Roots live prior to Trees, and now I was going to be seeing them twice in one day, in two very different settings. The Forest Sessions stage is definitely a unique and distinguishable characteristic of this festival in particular, not yet at this time completely rammed every hour of every day so I was able to just sit down and relax and watch the set. The first song saw the group, for just a moment, disassemble and fall apart and then both professionally and very humanly admit to their mistake and try again from the beginning. Things got into full swing and this band’s very emotive and unique approach to songwriting really shined through, despite the fact this wasn’t their usual instrumentation. The band announced that sometime in September they will be playing a “quite special one-off show” and that they’ve been working on a follow up EP of electronic tracks taken from recording sessions for their latest album ‘Melancholia Hymns’. Overall, this set was a warm welcome to the 2000 Trees experience, with Arcane Roots being regulars of the festival and quite evidently having some very devoted fans in attendance.
Blackpool based 5 piece emo/pop punk band Boston Manor were next on the list. Not a group I was overly familiar with but one that I knew existed within the realm of bands and artist that I hold dearest to my heart. The band had a wonderfully infectious energy and the audience were swept up by that, singing along to every word and all the newcomers to the world of Boston Manor were nodding their heads and smiling and I think everyone was in agreement that they were doing an incredibly stellar job up there on The Cave stage.
My first real potential highlight was upon me as I was desperate to be in attendance for this performance, especially after having been impressed by the electronic set earlier in the day. The band’s setlist was stacked with great songs, all of which I am a fan of. It’s worth noting that they didn’t play a single song that I wasn’t hoping to hear which, given the fact i’m only really interested in two of their releases total was a happy coincidence for me. I had been checking setlists online and was pretty stoked to see that ‘Slow Dance’ may be making an appearance, a track that is definitely my favourite due to it being emotionally poignant. On occasion, the bass seemed to be mixed perhaps a tad too loud and drowned out some of the cleaner more delicate guitar and keyboard passages but Andrew’s distorted tone, ran through not one but two Victory amp heads definitely made itself known when the time came. A great selection of songs carried out with a very energetic performance and it caught the attention of Cedric fucking Bixler fucking Zavala so let’s just allow that to speak for itself.
Turnstile are one those very important bands and I don’t mean that personally speaking either. Hardcore music often finds itself in a state of flux and change as the years go on, Turnstile most notably being one of the leading American Hardcore bands on the forefront of what the genre has become and for good reason. Retaining lots of things both musically and in terms of attitude that those early Washington and Orange County bands had but also being able to adjust to the modern era and keep things fresh and current. The on stage performance was outstanding, vocalist Brendan Yates fluidly moves from overtly and aggressively masculine to gracefully feminine stood atop on stage monitors dancing whilst bass player Franz takes over the vocal responsibilities. It should be noted just how dynamic and interesting the two different voices that make up this music are and especially when in tandem. The smoother and more melodic vocals that Franz brings into the mix met with the searing and piercing yelling from Brendan is a truly interesting blend. All of the band’s newest material really went down well too, which was good to see. I, of course, avoided the pit and saw several people storm out crying and hurt. The music is very good and when the band say “take care of each other” they mean that, please listen. Hardcore dancing is fine, crowd killing is not fine. Don’t be a dick.
At The Drive-in
This is most definitely the aforementioned “big one”. My first ever time seeing Cedric and Omar, the leading players in so many bands I adore, perform live in any context. A lifetime of scouring the internet for live footage of both ATDI and The Mars Volta, I almost felt like I knew these people, that’s how much time I had spent obsessively watching their performances, interviews and so on.
The setlist was wall-to-wall stacked with great material, all of the tracks you could have hoped to hear from the band’s most critically and commercially acclaimed records were in there, including ‘Napoleon Solo’ from In Casino/Out which was most definitely the icing on the cake. Vocalist Cedric in his usual fashion, prefaced every other song with some incredibly convoluted vocal linguistics rather than generic stage banter, it was refreshing. Before the band played my favourite song ‘Invalid Litter Dept.’ Cedric made a point of discussing the recent event happening in the band’s home country of America, pertaining to the Trump administration and the border/immigration policies being implemented over there currently. A week earlier, I had seen Roger Waters do the same thing at Hyde Park, albeit in a little bit more of an intense fashion (he quite literally had children with jumpsuits and bags over their heads on stage..) regardless, it seemed like a very important message Cedric was trying to send to the audience about how not all Americans think the same way as their president. The lyrics to the song were changed accordingly to reflect the recent events down on the border, it was very moving and a real reality check. Omar’s performance was, as expected, quite still. Not a lot of movement and what may appear to some as a lack of enthusiasm even, but it is to be remembered that his guitar parts are incredibly difficult to play, I can understand why he doesn’t dive around the same way he used to. The band played a blistering set and I was thoroughly happy with my first experience seeing At The Drive-in.
Friday was for the most part, a day not featuring many bands I had heard of or was all that interested in however upon arrival to the festival grounds for day number two, I definitely wanted to make sure I checked out Holding Absence’s set. This set definitely wins best vocal performance and best drum sound of the entire festival for me.
Vocalist Lucas most likely receives comparisons to singers like Sam Carter from Architects quite frequently, it wouldn’t be an unfair claim either however, I found some of his melodies to be generally a lot more interesting, even if that is sacrilege to say. Holding Absence are one of those bands that even if you don’t know them as individuals on any level, it’s quite clear to see how humble they are and that they really did grind it out to get to where they’re at. These lads are some of the most respectful musicians I know and hear about frequently for that very reason and it strongly and clearly shows in their live performance. Incredible compositional value, an interesting take on a genre i’m rarely all that interested in anymore but ultimately captivated by when done by these five. I’m definitely hoping to see the band again before the year is out.
Jamie Lenman (acoustic set)
The man himself, one of Great Britain’s post hardcore/alternative rock royal family. Perhaps an odd way to be introduced to his live performance as what Lenman is usually more known for is his incredible disjointed, discordant and jarringly heavy and angsty composition but it’s no secret that he’s mellowed to some degree over the years. A packed out Forest in 30 degree heat was just short of uncomfortable but made better by Jamie’s arrival to the stage, humbled by the amount of people that had come to watch him. An acoustic set featuring guest vocalists, contemporary pop covers and plenty of original material was very well received.
And So I Watch You From Afar
ASIWYFA are a band that i’ve always paid attention to and tried to keep an eye on because I know they’re part of the circle of bands that lots of my favourite groups are also, but in seeing them live I really couldn’t understand why that was. A far cry from a serious fan but most definitely open minded enough to try and find the positive in almost all live performance, and there certainly were positives to this set.
The audience were loving every second, the amount of inflatable bananas in the air start to finish is definitely noteworthy and the sing-alongs were clearly bringing a lot of people joy. The band play with a definite energy and conviction however I just couldn’t find anything in the compositions that resonated with me whatsoever. The riffing didn’t seem very emotive and the melodic content of the songs wasn’t what I would usually look for, the band are clearly incredibly good at what they do but personally, I wasn’t overly taken by this live performance.
Whilst talking to megababe Joe Green (EMP!RE) I flippantly quipped “this is as close to Bad Brains as we’re gonna get” and we both laughed. This quite literally, is as close to Bad Brains as we were ever going to get. I had missed Ho99o9 the first chance I had to see them, back in 2017 whilst they were touring with The Dillinger Escape Plan, i’m sort of glad I did because I don’t think any support band were really going to shine very brightly given that kind of pressure. It was time to redeem myself and give this a good try.
A genuinely earnest blend of modern hip hop sounds as well as modern hardcore punk sounds. Just how Bad Brains used to mix dub/reggae with hardcore punk of the late 80s, Ho99o9 were combining the two sounds that most accurately reflected what was important to them in the current era. Adorned in a Hi-Vis standard issue British Police jacket vocalist Eaddy brought the electricity and carnage to the stage, climbing all and everything and generally keeping the security on their toes. As the set drew to a close, they quite literally ended with ‘Attitude’ by the aforementioned Bad Brains, I ran from the back of the tent to the front and this is going down as top 5 moments of the entire festival for me.
A band well renowned for their incredibly emotive and raw music, vocalist Jeremy has for a very long time been held up as one of the most frank and honest lyricists in the genre for many years. To see it live was always going to be an honour and I wasn’t proven wrong.
The band’s latest offering ‘Stage Four’ an album dealing largely with the loss of family due to cancer clearly resonates with lots of people, understandably so. Hearing this music live is a wholly different experience to listening to it on record, despite the need to maintain composure on stage whilst holding the atmosphere in their hands, the band were quite clearly affected by playing these songs, even if it was the hundredth time they had done it. This was a cathartic and healing experience for a lot of the people in attendance and hopefully the band themselves. A definite highlight and a welcomed booking of some familiar faces on a day of bands I largely didn’t know anything about.
Beans on Toast
The name itself beckons, I would say. Last day of the festival and walking through the re-entry tent I was drawn to what sort of sounded like spoken word down on the mainstage, but turned out rather to be lazily sang vocals over quite poorly mixed acoustic guitar. I should clarify, that isn’t meant as an insult. For one man to stand on a stage THAT big and play for that many people entirely on his own absolutely demands respect regardless of the circumstances. Lyrically, there was a lot of very funny but similarly thought provoking content regarding the digital age of Amazon’s Alexa as well as chicken farming, but I think mostly this was a chance for lots of festival goers to relax and listen to something perhaps not as heavy or intense as much of the festivals other offerings. Not my favourite set of the weekend, but definitely memorable and well placed on the bill.
Enter Shikari (acoustic)
This was, to me, the definition of uncomfortable. The same quaint and beautiful Forest I had so thoroughly enjoyed on the Thursday was now completely overrun and I probably should have expected no less, what with Enter Shikari, arguably the most commercially popular band to EVER play 2000 Trees performing an acoustic set around the tea time mark of the last day.
A lone Rou Reynolds walked out onto the stage with just his laptop and acoustic guitar opening with ‘Stalemate’, a very beautiful piece of music indeed. Self aware of his own nerves and perhaps, inexperience performing acoustic sets, Rou joked that he would spend the entire set tuning and play 3 songs over the course of 1 hour, it certainly felt like that at time but his stage banter was pretty good and his interaction with the audience was heartwarming. He even brought a very young fan on stage and sat him on the monitor to enjoy the set from the best seat in the house.
Unfortunately, the set left a lot to be desired. Whilst the audience we graced with a wonderful cover of ‘Heroes’ originally by David Bowie, prefaced with a powerful message about his impact on the world of creative art and individuality in general, as well as a beautiful rendition of ‘Live Outside’ from latest Shikari album ‘The Spark’.
But every single person in the crowd was hoping Rou would play ‘Adieu’ from the band’s 2007 debut ‘Take to the Skies’, alas it wasn’t in the setlist. This was most definitely a genuine disappointment to say the least. ‘Adieu’ was a track held closely in the hearts of people all over the world for it’s incredibly beautiful poetry and pertinent mantra “Home could be anywhere, when I am holding you”. Quite honestly, one of the few perfect love songs to have ever been written. Hopefully one day in the future i’ll get to see Rou Reynolds do another acoustic set and that will find its way into the performance but I can’t pretend I didn’t enjoy this Forest Session set regardless and it definitely prefaced the band’s headlining performance later that night.
I only caught the last 3 songs of this set but it is necessary to mention just how much the 2000 Trees audience quite clearly adore and respect these guys. From what I can tell, The Xcerts have performed at Trees for many years now and it is clearly building a strong relationship between them and the regulars of the festival. A touching tribute to recently deceased Frightened Rabbit vocalist Scott Hutchinson and a life affirming message to be grateful for the good and the bad and take chances where we can, definitely meant a great deal to a lot of people watching, I tremendously respect these guys for that.
One of the sets I was most excited for all weekend long. The Ipswitch based 5 piece emo/alt rock band took to the stage and conducted themselves during their soundcheck with a wonderful combination of irritatingly playing over one another as if they were an underground band playing in a pub but also a professionalism that was quite amusing. Whilst checking their monitor levels you saw all 5 of the members raise their fingers in their air to gesture to the engineer to raise the levels of each individual instrument in their personal monitors, it made me chuckle seeing all of them instinctively and immediately put their hands in the air, then down, then back up again. This setlist was quite genuinely perfect, missing only ‘Yoke’ from their debut LP ‘I Wish I Could Stay Here’, every song you needed to hear, you were about to hear. Some of this stuff is pretty emotionally heavy and personally speaking, inexplicably linked with a much easier yet sadder time in my life, which most certainly came flooding back in waves during this set. A soundtrack for self loathing most of the time, Basement hit the audience with fan favourites such as ‘Pine’ and ‘Spoiled’ that, if you care to pay attention to the words, quite profoundly force one to observe their own behaviour and history, perhaps. My first time seeing Basement was in Plymouth at The Hub, a dimly lit affair where the band weren’t at all spotlighted on stage and were barely visible, so to see them in glaring sunshine was an interesting contrast. This set was important. This was special. Also shout out to vocalist Andrew’s dancing, it will never cease to bring me joy.
And here we are, the finale. The last time I saw Enter Shikari would have been around the age of 14, almost a decade later I was still as excited and giddy about the impending experience. The first noteworthy thing was the stage design, featuring these 4 cubic pillars of what appeared to be glass, as well as ‘The Spark’ (a hand designed synthesizer, though possibly a MIDI controller) taking centre stage. Furthermore, quadraphonic sound was being used, which I definitely wasn’t expecting to see at a modest sized festival which didn’t even utilise delay speakers. The audience seemed to know the names of the band’s guitar techs and stagehands, a genuinely rare and quite endearing thing to witness. The band entered onto the stage and opened with ‘The Sights’ from their latest record, a fanfare of sing alongs and dancing to kick off the performance.
Things quickly change gear as they go back nearly 10 years and hit us with ‘Juggernauts’, a song that remains lyrically relevant still to this day, for better or worse. It is evident that amongst this crowd there are many casual music fans who are really getting off on the more EDM centric elements of the songs, perhaps giving them an excuse to mosh or dance in a way more commonly seen at raves and other festivals. This becomes increasingly aware for elitists like myself when the band finally lay down some 2007 bangers, including ‘Anything Can Happen in the Next Half Hour’ and ‘Mothership’, both of which were the highlight of the set for me personally, along with newer song ‘Airfield’, a very beautiful and powerful piece of music that hears this crowd of thousands singing “You’re down on your luck, you’re down but that don’t mean you’re out” which, brought me to tears, a wonderful moment of unity in a country that is perhaps more known for it’s division.
The band’s ‘Quickfire Medley’ heard them compile 4 of their most lethally energetic and movement inducing tracks throughout their discography; ‘Sorry You’re Not a Winner’, ‘Sssnakepit’, ‘Meltdown’ and absolute fan favourite, ‘The Jester’. Encoring with the slightly more accessible and pop based tracks ‘Redshift’ and ‘Live Outside’. Shikari further proved their ability to craft a setlist to meet the requirements for a memorable night of live music. Something I hadn’t seen before was the way their set actually ended however, exiting the stage and then a dance remix of ‘The Sights’ being played for about 3 or 4 minutes to sort of, lul the audience out of their excitement before the house lights went up and the festival famous Silent Disco began.
So that’s the bands, all examples of a team of bookers who know what they’re doing quite evidently, if you’re thing is alternative music of course. In terms of the festival ground themselves, they were as expected, strikingly similar to ArcTanGent and in terms of layout and staff on site, certain sound engineers were notably hired by the company behind the two festivals for both events, creating a level of consistent quality, which I liked. 2000 Trees is significantly larger than it’s sister festival but with that comes the occasional loss of feeling like you belong to an exclusive club, also bound to happen when bands like Twin Atlantic are booked to headline one of the nights, inviting a wealth of fans who perhaps wouldn’t be so interested in seeing Turnstile or Conjurer but there again, it is the festival’s musical diversity exemplified through it’s line up that draws such an audience, i’m sure. The festival’s “cashless” system started out as something I was convinced would be a huge pain in the ass, in an endearing attempt to weed out drug dealing (pardon the pun) it seemed like something I really didn’t have the energy to get on board with but in actuality, it worked out pretty well for me at least and I didn’t find myself complaining about it whatsoever. Though of course, i’d prefer to just use cash and get things done a tad quicker. In terms of vending there were some stands I recognised from a few different festivals, the regular donut stand, the mini pancakes stand and so on, y’know; the classics. Whilst it’s always going to be overpriced because it’s a festival, it was pretty good quality, excluding the cheese toastie stand, they genuinely made me vomit. A lot.
That’s mostly semantic and of course the main talking point should and always will be the music. If you’ve not been to 2000 Trees, it is perhaps not the kind of festival I would recommend blindly attending if you haven’t got an inherent interest in these sort of bands however, if there is even one or two groups playing that you’re a fan of, definitely pick yourself up a ticket for 2019’s instalment, it won’t be regretted!