Boardmasters Festival 2016 – Newquay (Live Review)

Boardmasters is a festival predominantly aimed at teenagers, and there’s no escaping that fact. But although the three days were set to a juvenile atmosphere of liquor, glitter face-paint and dramatics, the core dynamic of eclectic live music still shone through if you were daring enough to venture to a myriad of stages.

Day One:

Opening the festival and launching the Main stage were Auction for the Promise Club, a Cornish delicacy that are a must-see on our local circuit. Clearly overwhelmed by the consciousness of inhabiting a vast stage though, the trio didn’t quite pull off the forceful performance that they usually do. Still, it was a moment of gratified joy to see them standing upon a leading stage like the stars that they could be.

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Festival clichés were soon administered upon the Main stage likewise. Nahko and Medicine for the People gave a hearty performance that had the growing crowd up and dancing mindlessly; but the forged pious and spiritual ramblings that constituted songs didn’t sit so well with me. If I wanted to be preached at then I wouldn’t slam the door in the face of every Jehovah’s Witness who darkens my home. However, the music served a purpose, and it woke up the sleepy faces who were rapidly turning up. Onwards and upwards!

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Reconnoitring away from the Main stage, it became apparent very quickly that there were some organisation issues at this year’s festival. The Land of Saints stage played host to number of different acts who warranted an audience, but received the dribs and drabs of crowd members who weren’t lounging around at the Main stage. One such act were the atmospheric indie four-piece Holy Esque who ignored the size of the crowd and played on heartily like the professionals that they are. In a 30-minute performance they managed to set the bar outrageously high for following acts, and their cathartic sounds of depth and meaning were left ringing throughout the tent for the remainder of the weekend.

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Another intriguing act to grace the Land of Saints stage were Formation, a band who weren’t afraid to edge down a darkened and experimental route, merging dance with rock. With vocals mirroring those of Prince, the group launched into a set which had the audience both leaping about and feeling pretty dumbfounded at the same time. They’re supporting Faithless this month, so they’re clearly going somewhere, and a curious part of me wants so desperately to follow.

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Hilarity was also a feature on day one, and my amusement arose when heavy-metal Cornish legends Kernuyck were opened by a backing track from Kelly Clarkson. Whoever chose the in-between music either had no awareness of what was to come, or possessed a wicked sense of humour. Regardless of that though, the trio blew out the pegs holding up the Netloft tent and delivered a punchy set that transpired to be one of the best of the weekend. The group are a clear-cut example of the high calibre of bands that our county has to offer, and even if you’re not a metal fan then I urge you to check them out.

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On the other end of the spectrum however were Blossoms. Absolute Radio herald them as being one of the most exciting bands of the year, but I can firmly disagree. Their song-writing skills may be clever – they’re able to write memorable rifts, combined with quotable lyrics – but their live energy is a fabrication of non-existent hype. They’re born to play upon the festival stages at this moment in time, but if they’re still around in a couple of years then I’ll be truly surprised.

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An unexpected highlight was vigorously tossed out to the audience from Catfish and the Bottlemen. Considering their avid popularity on Radio 1 I expected an overvalued set of indie drivel, but what we received was a frontman who deserved the applause that he so graciously accepted. Not only was Van McCann an effervescent ball of energy though, but he also performed with a hunger and meaning for his music, and he appeared as somebody who’s in the industry for the right reasons. I can see why they’re a popular band at present, and I’m not ashamed to admit that their performance resulted in me buying some of their music.

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Another notable frontman was Maximo Park’s own Paul Smith who catapulted his band onto an impressive platform because of his exhaustive energy, which saw him bouncing and bounding around the stage in a dramatic way that only he can. This became tedious rather quickly when I realised that this was the only real factor of material that the band possessed, but it certainly made way for a memorable experience nonetheless.

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Closing the first night on the Land of Saints stage were Wolf Alice, and my initial excitement was shortly shattered after being faced by a frontwoman who was both lacking in personality and the ability to sing live. Fortunately, the remainder of the band picked up the slack in disposition and energy, yet it was a lamenting experience to hear Ellie Rowsell strain her way through songs that so reliably reside upon my iPod. Their set left me begging one question: How on earth have they made it so far?

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Day Two:

The second day was set to an entirely different tune, and a vast majority of my time was spent admiring the local quality that swamped the BBC Introducing Netloft stage. One of these worthy performances came from the fiery two-piece WAXX, who merged psychedelic vibes with the fury of a larger band and, once again, proved themselves to be an exhilarating roller-coaster of a group who not only play quality music, but also physically perform it.

A soulful performer also graced the Netloft stage, and she goes by the name of Olive Haigh. Armed with her autoharp, the ethereal enchantress cast a heavy web of atmosphere across the tent and used her voice like another instrument as she floated through her set.

Another act of likeable worth were Eliza and the Bear, whose folky sounds went down a treat in the blaring heat of the sunshine on the Main stage. Their music is made to be performed upon a festival stage, so the audience singing along to their blasé tunes was one of the more stereotypical festival moments that donned the weekend. But they were still a highlight of the day.

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A token female pop-star also paraded across the Main stage. Dressed in a down-to-earth manner and smiling like her face was contorted, Foxes gave her all to the audience and bequeathed an energy of likability, regardless of her questionable lack of quality songs.  The artist may not be the most gifted with crafting stand-out songs of substance, but her glistening stage-presence was a breath of fresh air in comparison to some of the egos that inundated the festival.

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One such ego was possessed by Ricky Wilson of The Kaiser Chiefs, who left a bitter zest in my mouth from his smarmy manifestation. Admittedly, one couldn’t his question his talent as an animated frontman, and it was nostalgic to hear tracks like Everyday I love You Less and Less and Oh My God. But I found his presence to bore qualities of someone who has had one too many first class flights. The stage dive was calculated, the audience interaction was predictable and the reality is that I would have enjoyed their performance a lot more eight years ago, before time inflated their frontman’s self-worth. I longed to see The Kaiser Chiefs, not The Ricky Wilson show.

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The evening portion of the day was slow, surreal and not the scene of someone primarily uninterested in dance music; yet there were still some natural curiosities to be observed. Johnny Borrell has evolved quite remarkably since his Razorlight days. Equipped with a banjo, drained eyes and his band Zazou, the artist played a set that not only intrigued me, but also quite unnerved me. The hillbilly sound projected was admittedly quite appealing and fresh, but it was hard to tell whether I was witnessing something quite special or Borrell’s mental breakdown. Yet whatever it was, I enjoyed it.

The remainder of the evening belonged to the likes of Deadmau5 and Example who undoubtedly blasted the eardrums off of the alcohol-fuelled audience. For most it was the Saturday night to end all Saturday nights. But for me, it was home time.

Day Three:

Acts with a mystical layer of hysteria were the name of the game on Sunday, and one band who so quickly disillusioned my wellbeing were VANT, who possessed all the live energy of a weighted, inanimate object. Considering that the band are currently a big deal in the world of Radio 1, this lack of animation both confused and exasperated me. How on earth can bands of this calibre be succeeding in the industry?

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Yet, a surprising act of expressive mindfulness soon pacified my bubbling resentment, and The Magic Numbers had nothing but melodic harmonies for the audience of the Main stage. They may have been old-timers in comparison to the surrounding groups, but their collective years made way for a performance of passionate depth and intelligible songs, which showed up the current overrated Radio 1 inhabitants.

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Coasts is another of these currently popular indie/pop acts with no real depth. Admittedly, the songs that they played were perfromed well – they sounded like they do on record -but there was so real depth or struggle behind them, and they demonstrated why modern music is such a temporary field.

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Another disappointment arose when TIGERCUB took to the Land of Saints stage. Usually their performances are a grunge-soaked detonation of passion and fury. But unfortunately, their Boardmasters set possessed absolutely none of the feverous flair that rates them so high in my estimations. Not only was frontman Jamie Hall’s heart not fully in the performance, but his inflated arrogance was highly distasteful and took away from the calibre of the penmanship of their songs. I don’t know what went wrong, but I hope it’s not going to become a regular convention.

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The grunge continued on the Netloft stage, and my performance of the weekend came from the uncontained three-piece Tinned Fruit. Not only did the band perform with a fierce devotion to their craft, but they did so in a manner set to inspire passion, commitment and amiability. Their set ticked every-last-box that a garage-rock band should adhere to, and the exhausting energy that they were displacing was nothing less than perfection. If you missed out on their performance of raw and intense outbursts then I pity you.

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But as far as pitying goes, I felt quite sorrowful for the future of the music industry when Ratboy swanned upon the stage with his band of equally as undeveloped miscreants. There was nothing likeable about the 20-year-old. His music is penned for those with less than two brain cells to rub together, and his attitude smelt fouler than the depths of any London sewer. Anyone who is catapulted into fame at such a young age is bound to have a few ego demons to conquer, but his immature display merely resembled a childish temper tantrum. I am far from impressed.

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As far as impress goes however, another act worthy mention are Wolf Note who so chaotically demolished the Netloft tent with a sweat-fuelled set of strength. The duo gave the best performance that I’ve ever seen them deliver, and passionate drummer Liam Jolly even broken his drumsticks in a moment of intensity. Isn’t that what rock is all about?

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Boardmasters was coming to a close; the litter was covering the ground like a layer of dew, and the bags on everyone’s eyes told a thousand stories that would never be mentioned again. Yet there was still one act left to grace the Main stage.

Headlining the event, and closing the mixed weekend was the seemingly non-offensive James Bay, and it would be a lie to say that I was eager for his performance. Yet the combination of his beaming face and the passion that he poured into his songs very nearly converted me to his cause. He was the ideal contender to close the event, and his slow, but heartily performed tracks made way for the perfect Sunday night. There was no magnified ego, no grandstanding or showing off, just a genuinely charming and modest musician doing what he loves – and isn’t that what live music is all about?

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Words by Keira Trethowan
Photographs by Craig Taylor-Broad