Did you know that this year was the 15th 2000trees Festival? Other than on the official mercy, it’s not something that’s been publicised all that much, though it’s not like it would be. For a festival that only seems to get markedly bigger every single year, an anniversary might as well just be an arbitrary number on what’s long been one of the best-loved events on the UK’s summer calendar.
So much so that the pre-show is effectively an event in its own right. Yes, even outside of the main lineup, and sequestered in the small wooded glade of the Forest Stage, no expense has been spared in getting things off to a roaring start. The stage itself is a key piece of the quintessential 2000trees experience—it’s arguably the image first evoked by the name—and to see bands who would otherwise tread some far bigger board (a couple of whom are doing so this very weekend) makes arriving as an early bird feel a lot more tempting.
Even more so when you consider that these are some of the standouts from last year, a billing that anyone recognising SNAYX from just their new band status and a solid but even debut EP might find slightly puzzling. But they can definitely pull through, in striking a good balance between juddering dance-punk and barbed-bassed looming that’ll also lay claim to the first handful of pits of the weekend. They’re pretty domineering visually too—frontman Charlie in his blue tracksuit prowling the front of the stage; bassist Ollie as a font of charisma with his gurning and angular playing style; and drummer Lainey who presses forth on sheer force alone. Throw in an interpolation of the Vengaboys’ We Like To Party, and it’s not hard to see where the trail of turned heads SNAYX are currently leaving is coming from.
As for Delaire The Liar, they’ve been on a bit of a tacit tear for a little while now, though you’d be hard-pressed to say today’s showing is up their among their best. They’ll recognisably dig into post-hardcore’s dark flamboyance, but it mostly comes through in fits and spurts, to where they aren’t always the most visually arresting band. The songs are absolutely there though, in terms of both scope and enormous volume. Maybe it’s a relative lack of material, but between their melodic richness and a knack for understated moments of flow and depth, there’s something to dig into that really should’ve clicked on a wider level at this stage. Because even on an ‘off’ day (and even that’s a reach), that unwavering constant can’t be dismissed.
It’s a bit of a weird case when their new band Unpeople debuts in less than 24 hours, but for Press To MECO’s final show, they’re clearly aiming for a big, meaningful close rather than a rush to the finish line. As they should—practically since inception, they’ve been one of the most criminally undervalued band in British alt-rock—and in what’s an above-all highlight of how consistently solid their riff-smithery always was, it’s exactly the send-off they deserve. Admittedly, their heaviest instrumental moments and most effervescent harmonies have dissipated slightly, but it’s more a case of regular live bumps than anything too extreme. They still triumph regardless, all tight melodies and enormo-riffs that turn a low-key ending into the high note that’s deserved to ride into the night onto.
The technical difficulties leading up to Saint Agnes’ set feel like a tough ordeal to work through; considering Jon James Tufnell chucks his guitar down and unceremoniously exits the second the final song is over, it might’ve boiled over a bit too much. There’s also the sense that they mightn’t have been fully resolved, though that could also be consequence of how immense their grind is. Theirs is a sound that plays up its loudest, most volatile impulses live, a blend of garage-rock, punk and grunge finished with industrial and metallic edging that allows Kitty A. Austin to play a more stalking, ‘unsettling’ role when she wants to. It’s entirely performative, of course, but there’s something there that’s fun nonetheless. The roaring energy and wall of noise are easy bedfellows, and the matching green and black colour scheme against the forest backdrop just adds that bit of aesthetic pleasure to the mix. So yeah, there might be some pushback from the elements working against them, but at least Saint Agnes get there in the end.
Considering they’ve got nothing close to the flair of the acts preceding them (or even succeeding), it can feel a bit of a weird mix that Tigercub are among. They aren’t a flair-filled band to start with, especially after their last album, and it can appear all the more conspicuous. Like, the way Jamie Stephen Hall is stock-still and staring into the middle distance most of the time just hits so immediately; he might pick up towards the end to match the energy of bassist Jimi Wheelwright who’s been going from the start, but the most you’ll get is a hair flick and mild amble around. And it’s a shame, because Tigercub fall into a pocket of meaty, muscular riff-rock that truly finds it feet live. They skew heaviest towards their newest material and allow the grooves to really sizzle and peel, and it sounds phenomenal in the way it courses through every available inch of space. The Perfume Of Decay has been a big grower anyway, but the live stage is where the appeal crystallises into something great. Just get the presentation and the sound secured together more tightly, and we’ll be properly in business.
It should go without saying that Holding Absence are bigger than this, right? After all, they’re playing the Main Stage in a matter of days, and fairly high up too; this is effectively a side-set for them. But if there’s one thing that’s become abundantly clear about Holding Absence, it’s that laurels are by no means there to be rested on. When Celebration Song smashes through the still air with its gold-standard opening salvo “I’m alive!”, it’s indicative of the apex of modern post-hardcore that no one in the right mind would voluntarily climb down from. It should come as no surprise given their tour of smaller venues this year, but Holding Absence’s ability to make a tiny stage carry an arena-grade reverence is unparalleled. Even on what’s ostensibly a ‘deep cuts’ showcase (Lucas Woodland makes a point to note that their two sets this weekend are basically nothing alike), there’s enough fuel for the baying crowd to get their most riled-up yet. And because Holding Absence’s catalogue is comprised of almost exclusively anthems these days, and they play so tightly and powerfully at all times, it’s always going to land flawlessly. Betting against them now, in any way, shape or form, is legitimately idiotic.
Afterwards, the shoulder-to-shoulder throng has loosened up slightly, though there’s no need to panic that Bob Vylan are being thrown in as just an encore. Quite the opposite actually; they’ve got a very willing fanbase that’s present tonight, and as the act straying furthest from the stylistic norm, they clearly aim to play with that as much as possible. So, in the exact way an act big on extolling the benefits of physical and mental health would, the set begins with a session of stretching and meditation, though the looming drums and general atmosphere don’t feel quite as calm. Rather, it’s the lead-up to the fire and ferocity that’s most often Bob Vylan’s style, of which there’s no shortage of here.
Might as well throw spontaneity into the mix too, when their early cuts are chosen through random presets for mainman Bobby to have his way with. Theirs is a particular blend of punk and hip-hop that are almost one-to-one in how they’re played—vicious, and adherent to no regulations or rubric but their own. The independent spirit is perhaps most encapsulated by Take That—one of the more full-on hip-hop tracks where the wit and range of targets all constitute the attack—but the fact the set is just allowed to run its own course says plenty on its own. Add on a genuine skill for heaviness in sound and an execution that’s as punk as it gets, and the popularity of Bob Vylan comes into sharp focus. Genre is basically a courtesy in alternative music as it is, and this pretty much cements that as the way to go moving forward. This is all Bob Vylan’s doing, all off their own back with their own ideas, and they’re flying higher than ever now because of it.
Words by Luke Nuttall