What To Expect From… 2000trees Festival 2023

Main Stage

The running observation of 2000trees’ headliners is that they’re often the lineup’s weakest link, and this year’s crop make it hard to dispute that once again. Still, they aren’t so much ‘bad’ as somewhat underwhelming; Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes probably fare the best as one of the most reliable live acts the UK scene has at its disposal, even if we’re far enough removed from anything new to really get the blood pumping. Meanwhile, Bullet For My Valentine might be one of British metal’s top-end names, but their star has fallen considerably over their last few albums, and Soft Play have done basically nothing for the past five years, to where the festival posters have had to make a point that they were formerly known as Slaves to form some kind of recognisable bridge. Surely you agree, true headline-worthy material there…

Thankfully, there’s a dramatic spike upwards everywhere else. This is 2000trees after all, the festival that regularly sports the best, most eclectic lineup as far as UK rock and alternative circles go, and here, it’s really no different. Just from the key players in top-shelf Britrock, there’s plenty to go on with a dual-header of Skindred and Hundred Reasons, the former renowned for an insane live show and an unmatched party-metal attitude, and the latter having just returned with one of their best albums this year to embolden a pack of massive alt-rock anthems even further. In that same vein, Deaf Havana and Holding Absence have reputations that speak for themselves, while Hell Is For Heroes arrive as yet another stalwart of 2000s post-hardcore that feels right at home in these Cheltenham fields.

At the same time, the distinction once again comes from acts given this huge pedestal that they typically wouldn’t be afforded at other festivals. Particularly on the heavier end, The St. Pierre Snake Invasion and Ithaca are both by no means mainstream-ready, and yet here’s a pair of UK hardcore’s most challenging, captivating names allowed a true reach. It’s the same with Heriot and their dense, metallic destructiveness, or forward-thinking punk from High Vis, Witch Fever and Loose Articles, or dynamic, progressive genre-fusions from Brutus and Love Is Noise. It’s where the maxim of 2000trees being so much more than just its headliners is more applicable than with really any other festival on the market. There are risky bookings here you won’t see anyone else making, and yet they feel all the more brilliant when stacked high with such confidence.

But of course, the accessible stuff is ready to go in earnest too. This is a music festival after all, where the bread-and-butter of massive anthems and singalongs does still need to be adhered to. There’s a pretty stacked crowd to choose from here too, mostly standing out in The Wonder Years’ towering, intelligent emo; Joyce Manor’s frenetic punk rushes; and the fast-rising star of UK post-punk coming from Kid Kapichi. As for some more down-the-middle rock fare, Dinosaur Pile-Up and Dead Poet Society cover those bases nicely, as does some additional glam from LostAlone, yet another returner riding the updraft of a great new album with hopefully equal results live. As for the rest, Bob Vylan’s fiercely independent and punk-oriented hip-hop fills a niche all of its own, while Bilk, Gaffa Tape Sandy and Beach Riot dole out a suite of indie-rock that you’ll likely be hearing plenty more about very soon. Oh, and Electric Six are playing too, if hearing Danger! High Voltage! and Gay Bar padded out by objectively lesser songs for 45 minutes is your idea of a fun Saturday afternoon.

The Axiom

If you’re looking for 2000trees’ broadest spectrum of sounds this year, look no further than The Axiom and its lineup that fills in pretty much every corner of this festival’s rubric. Headlining are two prongs of longstanding emo forerunners in American Football and Rival Schools, joined by Eagles Of Death Metal for a complete 180, but in totally unserious garage-rock, still a decent amount of fun. The rest is similarly hard to group together in any meaningful way, other than a dominating factor of grassroots acts bursting with potential and appeal. The indie- and alt-punk side of things is a good place to start, with such heavy hitters as Martha and Prince Daddy & The Hyena being exceptionally reliable, and Microwave, Militarie Gun, New Pagans, THICK and Pet Needs all bearing hallmarks of real quality. Crucially, there’s also diversity there too; each of those bands brings their own flavour while still fitting under such a watertight umbrella, which really does matter a lot.

You can also box together the vast array of homegrown talent on offer that encompasses UK rock’s wide spectrum of scenes and sounds. For big, undeniably accessible alt-rock, The Xcerts are as safe a bet as they come (with Beauty School honestly not being too far behind); conversely, No Devotion bring a rippling, pseudo-gothic atmosphere that’s a lot more meditative sonically, but still hits those real heights. Indie-rock finds some bigger players taking the reins too, in the form of The Joy Formidable and Black Honey, but it’s in the heavier names where the shine starts to show most of all. Between the ever-rising post-metal of Loathe, the maelstrom of anticipation around returning post-hardcore heroes Casey, and the gnashing hardcore of Giver, there’s not a lot to complain about. Top it off with Empire State Bastard—the vaunted grindcore side-project of Mike Vennart and Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil that’s been getting tongues wagging all year—and it’s a good time to be a fan of getting your head caved in.

The rest feel more like stragglers than easy inclusions in any specific camp, but that’s not to say they’re bad. Far from it in the cases of Narrow Head’s earth-shaking grunge and Origami Angel’s taut, sparkling emo-pop, both of which have reached new heights for themselves just this year. There’s just an inherent strength present in, really, all of these acts—Ways Away in melodic emo; Big Spring in grunge; Projector in post-punk; Telltale in alt-pop; and Big Special in their own brand of half-spoken punk-poetry.

The Cave

Home of the most consistently heavy contingent of this year’s lineup is The Cave, packed to the gills with bumper names across the worlds of metal, punk and hardcore. Just from the topping names, you’d get that impression—The Bronx and Cancer Bats have been among the most reliable presences in hardcore for donkey’s years, and Pitchshifter represent true genre innovators (namely in industrial metal) still on a tear, with a bevy of special guests promised to join them in the headlining festivities. Though on top of those three, may we also direct your attention to Chelsea Grin, arguably the heaviest act to ever have graced a 2000trees stage, to prove how their ever-widening net-casting abilities keep wrangling up surprises.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the heavies though, of which this is a deep selection. Between Svalbard and Employed To Serve alone, you’ve got hardcore interwoven with black-metal and prog respectively, belonging to some of the most exciting names the UK scene has served up this century. Hardcore also comes in the form of raw bludgeonings from Kublai Khan TX and inflections of hip-hop and jazz from ZULU, plus the metal-inspired beatdown of Cage Fight, and some abject brutality from Going Off that’s bound to be rising up the ladder soon.

As for metal, the selection is arguably even more wider. Graphic Nature are the ones to watch, in the midst of festival season in which their guttural, chains-and-sawblades nu-metal is dominating, with 2000trees likely to be no different. They’re joined in full force by recently-returned Brit-metalcorers The Hurt Process; Paledusk, with their knife’s-edge electro-metal; metalcore enormity from Profiler; and BLACKGOLD, aiming to prove whether or not they’re rap-metal shtick is as fun live as it should be on record.

Wrapping things up is the healthy dose of melody, largely circling around the punk and post-hardcore veins. Dream State really need no introduction in that case, back with a refreshed roster to hit those soaring heights they once claimed for themselves a few years back. Following in their footsteps are Lake Malice, arguably the new band when it comes to fresh, screaming post-hardcore raucousness, while Modern Error have comfortably filled a hard-edged niche within that sound for a while now, to much acclaim. In punk, Heart Attack Man and One Step Closer make approaches towards emo and melodic hardcore ready to take on these big festival stages, and Koyo look set for a proper breakthrough in rougher pop-punk circles, with this inevitably being a fine early lap before their new album drops in September. Finally, Fleshwater and RXPTRS bring a hard rock / alt-metal sound with a lot of likability to it; Jim Lockey & The Solemn Sun return as perennial ‘trees favourites with their moody, atmospheric folk-rock; and And So I Watch You From Afar’s hulking post-rock is something different entirely, though just as liable to find its audience with no bother.

The NEU Stage

Typically holding 2000trees’ healthiest contingent of risers and smaller acts, this year’s NEU lineup isn’t shaking up that notion, but seriously doesn’t need to. Saying that, those topping it might pale a bit compared to others elsewhere (even below them on this very stage); there’s nothing too objectionable, but noise-rock from Bad Nerves, post-punk from Crows and punk from Chubby And The Gang don’t necessarily scream out ‘headliners’. There’s an argument to be made that an act like As Everything Unfolds are more than capable of taking that slot, on the basis of how well soaring post-hardcore tends to fit the rubric well, on top of recently releasing their best album to date.

At the same time though, it’s not hard to recognise that these are pretty much all smaller acts, though the potential to do great things is there in spades. Lambrini Girls have already wowed with their biting, buoyant punk; Sugar Horse’s boundless prog-metal has amassed a lot of steam; Enola Gay bring a noise-rock and hip-hop spirit to some already devastating post-punk; The Chisel are chipping away at a notoriously steadfast end of punk fairly dab-handedly; and Carsick are fresh off a debut EP placing them among some of indie’s coolest risers. On top of that are the acts for whom the buzz has become unavoidable throughout 2023, like The Oozes’ spit-flecked punk, Clarence’s genre bending indie-rap-rock, and the punch-to-the-face punk of BEX.

And yet, even then, there’s plenty to get through, and plenty for whom the opportunities to do huge things are likely to invite themselves very soon. Chiefly among them, Reminders bring a sun-kissed indie-punk vibe that tends to draw in the numbers, while Sprints and Gurriers are on the cusp of joining the next wave of post-punk faves, and Dead Pony’s down-the-middle rock is an easy sell to practically anyone. Shoutout to Unpeople too, who’ll be rising from the ashes of the soon-to-be-departing Press To MECO and undoubtedly continuing to show why that band deserved so much better than they got. They’re a handy bridge between tangible hype in view and the acts yet to get on the ladder, but aren’t lacking the means of doing so. After all, 2000trees is known for spotlighting quality bands early on, and that certainly seems to be the case here. Among the nebulous branching paths of indie-rock, indie-punk and post-punk, an ample crop of Exit Child, Public Body, Carpark, sounds mint, Hypothetics, Motherhood and congratulations can be found, each seeking to burrow into their own niche in a way those scenes could desperately do with more of. Meanwhile, Mallavora and Kite Thief present a hard rock orientation that still fits with the grassroots atmosphere of it all, and Safire strikes as the newest in a wave of alt-pop soloists seemingly with a bright future already on the cards.

The Forest Stage

After its makeover into more of a proper stage last year, the Forest Stage has taken something of a turn overall. While you’ll still find a lot of similar features—a lot of solo artists and more stripped-back performances that likely wouldn’t suit anywhere else here—there’s definitely been a widening of the goalposts of what it encompasses. Though it does need to be stressed, they’re almost strictly additions rather than replacements. Sure, you’ll get fewer intimate sets from those elsewhere on the bill, but now they’re more repurposed into something else. Appearances from Deaf Havana, Jamie Lenman and Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly are the sort you’d find in previous years—as is a showing from Electric Six frontman Dick Valentine, as well as The Wonder Years’ Dan Campbell under his Aaron West And The Roaring Twenties moniker—but Owen as an offshoot of American Football and Cancer Bats adopting their Bat Sabbath moniker are definite variations on the theme, though not bad ones at all. And besides, the Forest remains home to the early-bird lineup, this year featuring pre-Main Stage warmups for Bob Vylan and Holding Absence, the final bow of Press To MECO giving their last performance, and further appearances from Tigercub, Saint Agnes, Delaire The Liar and SNAYX.

Elsewhere though, the unpredictability has been drastically upped, and made a lot more exciting. The transition has taken place for this to be the proving grounds for the alternative-leaning pop and electronic acts, of which there’s a lot being brought in. And that’s definitely a good thing, not only for extending some already flexible boundaries, but also drilling into a different breed of creative spark that bears the same independent spirit. You’ll find that on the pop front from Cody Frost, Delilah Bon, July Jones and Lozeak, alongside hip-hop from Kneecap, Frozemode and Tom The Mail Man; electronica from Lynks and NOISY; and even trap-metal from Mimi Barks.

Furthermore, unpredictably can stem even more deeply into the usual ‘trees fare. After all, if this is to be treated like more than just a side-stage now, there are certain liberties that can be taken with its acts. So while there’s still a solid crop of singer-songwriters in Hannah Grae, Guise, Hannah Rose Platt and Beetlebug, the focus on emo and indie-rock still in-keeping with the general mood doesn’t go unnoticed. On that front, Lakes, Suds and Toodles & The Hectic Pity feel like wonderful inclusions, along with Haunt The Woods’ sprawling folk-rock and garage-rock from Prima Queen and Arxx. There’s even room for blues from Ayron Jones and Funke And The Two Tone Baby, or pop-rock from Kelsy Karter & The Heroines, or whatever the hell De Staat are going to bring to a stage like this. And, of course, you’ve got to have a couple of fun novelties, represented by the hoary folk-metal of The Scratch, and Tony Hawk’s own favourite skate-punk cover band The 900.

2000trees Festival takes place on 5th-8th July at Upcote Farm. For more information, visit 2000trees.co.uk.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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