FESTIVAL REVIEW: 2000trees Festival 2023 – Friday

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Mallavora performing at 2000trees Festival 2023
Mallavora (Credit: Jez Pennington)

It’ll always be heartening to see how, regardless of their size or the fact they’re on at 10:30am, an act at 2000trees will tend to pull a reasonable crowd. Such is the case for Mallavora, whose handing out of attendance stickers is proof positive of their gratitude today. Still, they could perhaps use some tightening to ensure more comes from this than just an encouraging start. Theirs is a flavour of metal that has decent reach but not a lot of oomph behind it, although the tendency to fall into a groove like on Imposter does benefit them overall. As does vocalist Jess Douek’s clear passion when speaks on her disability before Disorder, a perspective that shockingly few artists have, and to see her fly that flag so prominently is not nothing. With a bit more work done to the music, Mallavora could really be hitting some heights.

Beauty School performing at 2000trees Festival 2023
Beauty School (Credit: Mac Praed)

The last couple of years have done wonders for Beauty School’s profile, to where they feel like card-carrying members of British emo’s upper ranks after a remarkably short run. They’ve fast-tracked through any awkward teething stages to become the genuine article, great songs and all. Seriously, Take It Slow, Monster and Pawn Shop Jewels is one hell of an opening trio for what’s ostensibly still a new band; the melodies are strident and crisp, laced with the twiddlier accents and Joe Cabrera’s tremendous pipes to pop out all the shinier. It’s still a bit wild how seasoned they’ve become in such a short space of time, but the results ultimately speak for themselves. Here, they’re speaking at one hell of a volume.

RXPTRS performing at 2000trees Festival 2023
RXPTRS (Credit: Gareth Bull)

Whereas RXPTRS’ music on record is a decent-if-shallow punk / hard rock blend, on the live stage, the appeal is far easier to catch. They’re the bread-and-butter of a rock festival overall, scorching and hoary and unashamedly soaring, and boasting a pretty astounding supply of kinetic energy from frontman Simon Roach. Although some of the stageplay is a little ‘by-the-numbers metal’, RXPTRS aren’t hamstrung by it, not with a frankly insane vocal range from Roach and an impressively dense sound. Even if precisely none of this is new or innovative, a hard-and-fast strike is all RXPTRS need to get there.

It goes without saying that the ecosystem of 2000trees bookings doesn’t tend to correlate with that of the wider festival world. Its independence is well-known, and just because a band places highly here doesn’t indicate similar on other bills. All of that is to say, don’t expect The St. Pierre Snake Invasion to be infiltrating the Reading & Leeds Main Stages any time soon, even though it’d be extremely cool if they did. They show a pretty stellar aptitude for it too, where even if it’s not shaking the rafters like their 2019 appearance did, they’re giving it a good go nonetheless. It’s unfortunate that some dodgy stage mixing sands back some of their more erratic mathcore edges, but if there’s one band who’ll plough through with aplomb, it really is The St. Pierre Snake Invasion. They’re up for the task, clearly; Damien Sayell has lost none of his flagrence or spasming energy in the transition to the open air, nor does any confidence or steadfastness feel diminished in his advice for ‘weirdo musicians’—make creation its own reward, and don’t compromise your art for anyone. And Sayell would know; it’s taken him and his band to some pretty tremendous heights.

BLACKGOLD performing at 2000trees Festival 2023
BLACKGOLD (Credit: Jez Pennington)

Okay, so…is BLACKGOLD’s music good? No. Is it any better live? Well…kind of? To be honest, having the visual component automatically makes it more compelling, with each member in their coordinating outfits and masks of—wouldn’t you know it?—black and gold, even down to the crew in their own shades and bandanas. And although their one-dimensional nu-metal is pretty impossible to escape entirely, the lease of life that some extra groove and bounce brings is ultimately invaluable. But when that’s the only trick they’ve got and they cycle through it pretty quickly, you’re not left with much more to go off. Sure, frontman Spookz is energetic, and sure, a Cypress Hill cover comes from the tiniest bit out of leftfield, but it isn’t freshening up what amounts to nu-metal building blocks moved around slightly each time. For as cool as BLACKGOLD may once have seemed when looked upon from a distance, they sure aren’t doing much to try and maintain that.

Heart Attack Man performing at 2000trees Festival 2023
Heart Attack Man (Credit: Joe Singh)

Even if Heart Attack Man aren’t standing out with bells and whistles, they’re getting their heads down to leave an impression. In what’s evocative of the heyday of The Story So Far, it’s the hard-bitten pop-punk and emo energy that drives them, even across their new cuts which slot into their general oeuvre much more cleanly live. Because, at the end of the day, it’s impossible to deny how explosive the hook of Freak Of Nature is, or how songs like C4 and Stick Up are brimming with festival readiness. All of that, plus an impressively deep catalogue to pull from elsewhere, exemplifies just how reliably Heart Attack Man do what they do.

Lakes performing at 2000trees Festival 2023
Lakes (Credit: Jez Pennington)

On a day loaded with metal and hardcore, it’s nice to take the opportunities for a palette-cleansing oasis of calm when they present themselves. And so, nestled among the trees, Lakes sound overflowing with organic emo warmth and nature isjust so right here. It’s the feel that really makes this set too, in how the rich timbres of trumpet and glockenspiel spill over into clarion guitars, without ever feeling sluggish or stymied by its own bliss. And although onstage antics are kept to a minimum, the physical size of the band packing this small stage is, in itself, captivating to watch in its moving parts. Look, there’s never going to be a huge spectacle to discuss with Lakes, but there doesn’t need to be, not with sets like this at their disposal. They just tap into a sweet spot that so few others can.

Militarie Gun performing at 2000trees Festival 2023
Militarie Gun (Credit: Jez Pennington)

As Militarie Gun themselves say as soon as they step onstage, they’ve had a turbulent few days. The extent to which isn’t divulged by them, but they’ve been left understaffed with fill-in members (on bass is Waylon Trim, who reportedly learned the entirety of his parts the night before), at what is the most crucial juncture their career has met yet. Their debut Life Under The Gun is such a great punk album, and when they’re physically unable to play too much from it, that does sting a bit. But there’s perseverance in motion here; this isn’t a write-off by any means, nor does it feel like a wasted effort. It’s still a fine performance on all fronts, as Ian Shelton shows off his lack of compunctions about how to be a hardcore frontman in what’s effectively an indie-rock band. That definitely takes the greatest hold live in how clear and pristine the guitars and bass sound, belied by Vince Nguyen’s great pace and urgency on the drums. And even when they’re digging through the weeds just to fill the setlist—even down to inclusions from old seven-inches—the spark of a band really trying to salvage greatness from an unfortunate situation prevails. Even if they’re not totally there today, there’s no doubt Militarie Gun are capable of it.

It’s not a shock that ZULU can pack a tent; not in the slightest. As one of the most talked-about hardcore bands of the year, it’s the least you’d expect, which they respond to by the equally-expected decimation of every body in attendance. This is where ZULU’s star really begins to rocket, as they lean mostly into the pool of hardcore and powerviolence for prime cuts of mosh fodder, with their hip-hop and R&B stylings as mostly interludes. And while these are incredibly brief blows that they deal—the whole set only lasts, like, 20 minutes—they get a lot done, between blistering drumming and crushing bass on From Tha Gods To Earth, to Anaiah Lei’s laps and bounds across the stage, to breaks of encouragement to marginalised and black members of the crowd to chase their musical dreams and not wait for validation from their peers. It’s how the importance of ZULU simply hits differently live, on top of a cratering display of what modern hardcore can be at its least restrained.

Brutus performing at 2000trees Festival 2023
Brutus (Credit: Jez Pennington)

Although Brutus are no strangers to the 2000trees Main Stage, it’s still such a joy to see them up there. They’re one of those bands for whom sheer, uninhibited creativity makes it so easy to root for, and to see them get the opportunity to build their wall of sound in front of a sizable, enraptured crowd is a wonderful start. And of course, they’re excellent all on their own. Their post-rock storm never loses its freshness or verve for creativity, all wrapped around a technical complexity that yields Stefanie Mannaerts as a true titan in her field. Drums up front and perpendicular with her bandmates, she’s the true commander here, in both vocals and percussion that remain confoundingly huge at all times. By the time it reaches its crest with Sugar Dragon, Brutus are on a high that’s practically unbeatable.

Kublai Khan TX performing at 2000trees Festival 2023
Kublai Khan TX (Credit: Gareth Bull)

In the business of a pure, simple head-caving, few are more accomplished at that on this year’s lineup than Kublai Khan TX. It’s beatdown-core where every wham, hammer-drop moment is just as impactful as the last, and without a lick of ingenuity to speak of. Though in all fairness, you don’t come to this for something new. You come to be bellowed at by a bull of a man who’ll inspire as much putting and two-stepping as the situation requires, and Matt Honeycutt is exactly at. When he’s not throwing out his weird little aphorisms—“Who’s a big chief? Who’s a warrior leader?” he asks at one point—he’s the tried-and-true hardcore man-mountain leading one of the most reliable onslaughts of metallic hardcore you could possibly want. And it never gets old, not with as much conviction as Kublai Khan TX bring.

The Xcerts performing at 2000trees Festival 2023
The Xcerts (Credit: Gareth Bull)

Throughout The Xcerts’ set, Murray Macleod mentions a handful of times the online backlash the band’s new material has received, and claims of their upcoming album being “career suicide”. And it’s easy to see both sides of the argument—on one hand, there is a legitimate claim to be made that the new singles have been really lacking; on the other though, it’s not like The Xcerts have ever given any cause for alarm before. Regardless of how bad some of their newer material might be—yes, Gimme is still a bit rubbish, but they thankfully get it out the way first—it’s nothing close to indicative of The Xcerts’ majority. When they follow up with Shaking In The Water and Daydream, that’s the kind of Britrock perfection their illustrious reputation is built on.

Even if there’s never a complete lull in crowd enthusiasm, those are the moments where The Xcerts easily feel the most at home. You can tell just by looking at them, where Macleod and bassist Jordan Smith are similing positively radiantly, and honestly, how could they not be? The warmth of the atmosphere is unmistakable, as the pre-recorded saxophone on Drive Me Wild sounds glorious, and the rippling singalong for Aberdeen 1987 yields about as intimate results as is possible in a thousands-strong tent. The mood is quite simply unmatched, and effervescent in a way that, within their scene, only The Xcerts feel capable of. Even when they close with another new one Ache—and end up performing it twice, at that—any sourness or negativity has washed away entirely. That’s the effect The Xcerts have.

As Everything Unfolds performing at 2000trees Festival 2023
As Everything Unfolds (Credit: Gareth Bull)

If ‘Most Improved Band’ were a thing, As Everything Unfolds would be damn close to running away with it. What was once another drop in the post-hardcore bucket has morphed into a true genre juggernaut, with the pulling power to really justify their enormous ambitions. And this does sound enormous, as the swirling maelstrom is exactly as expansive and well-arranged as its recorded counterparts. Similarly, Charlie Rolfe is a fantastic vocalist, plucking screams out of nowhere and completely riding the uptick of heaviness on songs like Hiding From Myself. Even if some complaints of being too slick aren’t unfounded, the height at which As Everything Unfolds soar over them renders them moot in the long run. And besides, when you drop an anthem like Ultraviolet as your opener, you aren’t giving yourself much room to falter, are you?

Empire State Bastard performing at 2000trees Festival 2023
Empire State Bastard (Credit: Joe Singh)

If the idea of Mike Vennart and Simon Neil coming together for a grindcore-adjacent project doesn’t fascinate you, there might be something wrong. Thankfully, a burly crowd for Empire State Bastard are clearly in the right frame of mind, and ready to have it blown by just how alien this can all feel nowadays. You’ve got Simon Neil—frontman of Biffy Clyro, arguably the biggest alt-rock band in the UK—doubled over and unleashing bowels-of-hell screams over a caustic industrial backdrop. You’ve got what’s undoubtedly the most feral of any musical identity its two main men have ever been involved in. You’ve the discordant thrills of a project with no need for a rulebook unfurling in real time. It’s frankly astonishing at times, but also a riotous display of creative freedom that seldom feels equable to much else. Clearly Neil’s drive to be an abject weirdo in his music hasn’t been dulled by mainstream acclaim; with his scraggly hair and short-shorts, he in no way casts the silhouette of a distinguished arena-rocker. But that’s also the avenue of subversion that Empire State Bastard are right at home in, and long may they continue to build their glorious monument to creative individuality there.

Cancer Bats performing at 2000trees Festival 2023
Cancer Bats (Credit: Gareth Bull)

Just like with The Bronx the night before, getting Cancer Bats to headline your festival stage is an insta-win button that everyone’s fully aware of by now. Not that that’s a bad thing, even in the slightest. It’s a similar reliability on their part that gets them there, and the irresistible weight and want for rock ‘n’ roll in its purest form that’ll never not be their best feature. Also, they’ve got a bottomless supply of piledriver riffs among some of the most rambunctious and vibrant hardcore hits known to man; it just writes itself, doesn’t it? The way the likes of Pnemonia Hawk or Bricks & Mortar chug along still feels like an actual steam train right in your unaware wake, aided by a mix that, once again, blesses its top-billed patrons with the exact firepower they need. And of course, there’s Liam Cormier bounding around up front, the sort of guy who could say it was the best day of his life every day, and you’d have no reason to dispute him. In other words, it’s the Cancer Bats formula on full display, and it’s one not even close to growing stale.

Bullet For My Valentine performing at 2000trees Festival 2023
Bullet For My Valentine (Credit: Joe Singh)

So, it wouldn’t be an unfair assessment to say that Bullet For My Valentine are past it when it comes to festival headlining. While they were once in the conversation to prospectively top Download, a lot of time has passed since, and their material for the past decade or so just hasn’t resonated. The chance to dominate their home turf has effectively been ousted, so to see them closing 2000trees’ Friday is certainly interesting. Is it a case of some latent greatness this current incarnation has that just hasn’t shown itself to the public yet? Or how about Bullet For My Valentine being thrown a bone in a year without a stellar headlining crop as it is?

Well, while you could give a blow-by-blow account of all the odds stacked against them, it’s worth remembering that Bullet have always been a quality metal act on the live front. Maybe not as they once were, but they certainly know how to get all eyes on them—a big, shiny, well-oiled machine of a headline show. And y’know what? That’s absolutely fine, or at least it is when they get properly down to business. There isn’t really a palpable buzz until the opening kicks of Your Betrayal three songs in, and newer material is unsurprisingly met with the side-eyes it’s always had. But the savvy in Bullet clearly knows that, so stacking the set with predominantly old favourites is such an easy—and effective—workaround. And they can still sound great too; even away from a reintroduced Hearts Burst Into Fire, 4 Words (To Choke Upon) or The Last Fight or especially Tears Don’t Fall hit with weapons-grade nostalgia.

But it’s easily Liam Cormier’s appearance that spikes interest the most, in which he and Matt Tuck have a mini-reunion of their old band AxeWound to perform their song Cold, in what might be the most off-script that Bullet have gone in years. Indeed, Cormier’s presence of having way too much fun does highlight a quasi-workmanlike attitude to performance that Bullet have these days. Any flash or vibrancy comes from their stage setup; the band themselves remain pretty still throughout. Furthermore, you can tell they’re sequestered in their own metal bubble that this festival mightn’t otherwise accommodate; when Tuck declares “I think we’re one of the heaviest bands that have been at this thing,” the incredulous scoffs can be audibly heard. But even so, it’s an expected outcome of a set like this. This is uncharted territory for Bullet, and they’re stepping to the plate with an attitude that might soar elsewhere, but only gets them so far here. Still, it’s all emblematic of so many of their live shows in recent years, where, despite the criticism and the comments, the magnitude of their legacy is reinforced time after time. Fun of this variety still wholeheartedly has a place.

Words by Luke Nuttall

Photos by Jez Pennington (Website|Twitter|Instagram), Joe Singh (Website|Twitter|Instagram), Gareth Bull (Website|Twitter|Instagram) and Mac Praed (Website|Twitter|Instagram)

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