BBC 6 Music Festival 2016 (Various Artists)
14 February 2016
Editor James Beeson beats the Valentines’ Day blues by heading to Bristol’s Motion to check out Foals headline BBC 6 Music Festival 2016
Now in it’s third year, BBC 6 Music Festival is arguably on its way to becoming a mainstay of the British festival circuit, despite being held at a time of year more associated with coats and scarves than Raybans and flower-necklaces. After being held on Tyneside in 2015 and Manchester in its year of conception, it was more than welcome to see the alternative music station bring it’s flagship event to the oft neglected South-West for 2016. Spread over four venues and three days across the city, as well as being broadcast live on the digital radio channel, this year promised to be the best year of the festival yet. I headed to Motion on Sunday to check out the best the BBC had to offer.
First up on Sunday afternoon is well-travelled folk-singer songwriter Frank Turner and his band The Sleeping Souls. Adorning the stage in their traditional white shirted get up, Turner and co. rattle off a polished 45-minute set disrupted only by a minor technical problem that results in Turner’s mic not working for the opening verse of Love, Ire & Song track ‘Long Live The Queen.’ The performance is slick, if unspectacular, with the band sticking mostly to their shinier, smoother, new material from Turner’s last two records. He dedicates ‘The Way I Tend to Be’ to his girlfriend, joking about the fact that he somehow managed to book a gig on his first Valentines’ Day of their relationship, as well as paying tribute to the members of Viola Beach killed in a car crash in Sweden that morning. The set is mostly a hit with the crowd, but lacks a little in character and depth, perhaps suffering from the perils of being first on stage at the rather early hour of 5pm.
Next up, after a frustratingly lengthy hour break, are American synthpop act POLIÇA. Metronomic R&B beats and ethereal vocals characterize singer Channy Leaneagh and her band’s set, which captivates and dazzles but fails to totally win-over the on-looking audience. It’s a harmonic and strangely soothing experience, and one that the Minnesota-based band is almost able to pull off to spectacular effect. Leaneagh’s voice wobbles on the funky ‘Melting Block’, but this only serves to increase the hyponotic, otherworldly nature of the track. There’s enough here to suggest Poliça have what it takes to hit the next level, and anticipation for the four-piece’s third album, United Crushers, set to be released on March 4, is only likely to be heightened by this performance.
After a quick jaunt to grab a bite to eat, I decided to head over to room two to catch the laid-back trappings of Kurt Vile and his band, The Violators. Vile’s drawling, lazy, sometimes psychedelic; othertimes folky brand of indie-rock is spectacularly performed with charm and gusto. The former War on Drugs guitarist is hardly your archetypal front-man; introverted and awkward, with a gangly frame and long shoulder length curly hair, but he and his band blow the audience away with their skuzzy rifts and powerfully raw baselines. The set’s highlights include single ‘Pretty Pimpin’’ and banjo-featuring ‘I’m an Outlaw’ off Vile’s new album B’lieve I’m Going Down, as well as meandering ten-minute folk epic ‘Wakin On a Pretty Day.’ Vile tells the crowd he and the band have flown in especially for the set, and they certainly delivered an exceptional performance; a real highlight.
Rounding off the night, and indeed the festival, are Oxford indie rock sensations and soon-to-be Reading Festival headliners, Foals. Yannis Philippakis, dressed in an Indian inspired patterned-jacket and sporting his usual immaculate facial hair, cuts an impressive figure as the band launch into the meaty guitar rifts of ‘Snake Oil.’ “What’s up Bristol?” asks Philippakis, “Happy Valentines’ Day!” The band then turn things up a notch, diving into ‘Olympic Airways’, and the crowd respond accordingly; transforming into a chaotic frenzy of limbs and sweat that only intensifies during ‘My Number’ and ‘Mountain At My Gates.’ There is a brief despite in the form of the hauntingly majestic ‘Spanish Sahara’, taken from the band’s second LP Total Life Forever, but this is swiftly followed by a return to pandemonium in the form of ‘Red Socks Pugie.’ The set builds to a stunning crescendo with ‘Inhaler’ and What Went Down’, both of which manifest an almost primal and tribal atmosphere in the audience, such is the force and sheer passion with which they are performed. ‘Two Steps, Twice’ sees off the festival in fitting fashion; with mass youthful exuberance and inch-perfect delivery. Foals show themselves to be worthy headliners and are now surely cemented as one of the most exciting and bold British live acts this century.
On this evidence, BBC 6 Music Festival is a treasure that fully-deserves its status as one of the best new showcases of indie and alternative music on the British festival circuit, and long may it continue.