Sunday, June 17, 2007

Wireless Festival Report

London's 02 Wireless Festival (God forbid that we should forget the '02' prefix) strikes me as a fine example of the corporate explosion in music festivals over the last ten years. In an 'I can remember when it all were fields round here' way, I can remember when we only had Glastonbury, Reading and the lamented Phoenix festivals. Then came T in the Park, V and now we have Connect, Latitude, End of The Road, All Tomorrow's Parties and sundry other events. Some come with more independent spirit than others - All Tomorrow's Parties has succeeded by virtue of its esoteric artist-curated line-ups and holiday centre accommodation, whereas Wireless works as a series of one-day events rather than a festival as such. Corporate sponsorship is everywhere, restricting the beer and food on offer and naming every single stage. It won't be long before every band on the bill is brought to the event by a separate multinational.

It's not only down to this that the event is so lacking in atmosphere though. The programming this year has been bizarre. Sometimes this is a good thing - Daft Punk are no longer at their commercial peak, and LCD Soundsystem and CSS are brave choices of Main Stage acts. It's gratifying that this bill does indeed pack out Hyde Park on a partially rain drenched day. Beyond this, though, the programmers are trying too hard. Every act on the main stage today, with the notable exception of dire folk rapper Plan B, deploys four-to-the-floor rhythms and the conventions of house and electro music. Today's line-up seems like a rather joyless exercise in nostalgia. Metronomy are bafflingly poor - a synthesiser and guitar group clearly modelled on Hot Chip, but without Alexis and Joe's warmth, melodic invention and broad understanding of musical history. New Young Pony Club might be hip to the groove, but their songs are charmless and shouty. There's not even a hint of a tune, or even a memorable riff. What's more baffling is that these acts would have worked so much better in one of the smaller tents - second stage headliners Klaxons are timed neatly to clash with LCD Soundsystem, which is infuriating.

Over on the XFM stage, Shy Child are essentially the synth-revival version of The White Stripes - a vigorous and accomplished drummer bashing the hell out of a skeletal kit and electronic percussion, combined with surprisingly intricate riffing on that most uncool of instruments - the keytar. They have energy and spirit, and they are remarkably tight - but the yelping vocals become monotonous and tiresome by the end. They'll need to develop their schtik (as indeed The White Stripes have done surprisingly well) if they are to have any kind of longevity.

On the Tuborg-sponsored stage, Husky Rescue (all the way from Helsinkini!) provide some much needed variety, with their strange and occasionally compelling blend of shoegazing indie-pop, country, folk and electronica. It's very self-consciously atmospheric, and they are very much the sort of band that might come with a press release describing them as 'cinematic'. Dressed sharply, they are also rather boring to look at, although their singer eventually sheds the nonchalant look to reveal how much she is clearly enjoying herself. At their best, they are infectious and enchanting, although they really need to do more with their somewhat lumbering rhythm section.

I found myself quite enjoying CSS back on the main stage, rather limited and one dimensional as they undoubtedly are. They are an indie disco band, but they do indeed get people dancing (particularly girls it would appear), and their music has a roughshod, insouciant appeal. There's no denying that they have a certain coolness about them, and energetic frontwoman Lovefoxx is, well, foxxy. Any more than an hour of this relentless backbeat stuff though and I would start to go insane.

LCD Soundsystem put in the finest of the non-headline performances, although their set is plagued by horrendous sound problems. With the amount of money pouring into this event, the kind of balance and sound cut-out issues that occurred here just shouldn't happen. James Murphy is clearly agitated by it all, and compensates for the problems by constantly giving signals and directions, to band and soundmen alike, which is quite fascinating to watch. Murphy has a very peculiar gait, mostly looking as if he's at risk of falling over, and his half-spoken vocals are invigorated in live performance. LCD are the only band on this supporting bill who achieve something concrete through the minmalist aesthetic, at least in part because Murphy knows that music has the power to engage the brain and heart as well as the feet. Recent single 'All My Friends' with its pounding one-chord riff bears the clear influence of Steve Reich and Terry Riley, whilst 'Time To Get Away' and 'Us V Them' are brilliantly groovy. Best of all are rapid and demented versions of 'Daft Punk Is Playing At My House' and 'North American Scum', the latter of which really seems to energise the audience. Genuine enthusiasm infuses this music with party spirit, and the willingness of all to just clatter some percussion for the sake of it is thrilling. 'Sound of Silver' is one of the albums from earlier this year that I keep returning to - this set brings into relief exactly why that is.

Daft Punk were simply mind blowing. Whilst bits of the 'Human After All' album showed a band at risk of repeating themselves (both ad infinitum within individual tracks and through recycling older ideas), this performance was ceaselessly inventive and fantastically entertaining. Clad in robot helmets for the duration of the set, and concealed within a pyramid-shaped space-craft, the band maintained their enigmatic stance whilst playing a simultaneously creative and crowd pleasing set. There were only three short pauses in an otherwise continuous set that achieved, everything good dance music should - it was relentless, sensorily confounding, playful, energetic and defiantly basic. They never simply replayed the tracks as they were originally recorded - instead cutting up elements from different tracks and layering them over each other. The clever splicing of the vocal from 'One More Time' with the head-spinning 80s metal riff from 'Aerodynamic' was a particular highlight. They orchestrated the whole performance with admirable precision, both thematically (opening with 'Robot Rock' and closing with 'Human After All') and theatrically. They gradually added new elements to the simple but highly effective light show, and the performance created a cumulative impact through a series of brilliantly engineered synaesthetic crescendos. With some justification, the crowd go completely mental, and it's been a while since I've been pushed and shoved with such vigour. They encore with a brilliant medley of their side-projects, with little snippets of 'Together' and 'Music Sounds Better With You'. I had little notion of what to expect from a Daft Punk live show, but this show has elevated them in my estimations.

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