6 September 2011
Articles | Live | Reviews

In The Woods Festival, Kent

Micachu and DELS among the highlights of a truly special weekend

Words Steph Kretowicz
Photography Joshua Lawrence

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Allowing for the New Age spiritualism and Anglo-Saxon paganism of yore, In the Woods Festival and its unpublishable location in Kent is a messy amalgam of influences both aural and alcoholic. Here ‘sampling’ isn’t a dirty word and the internet still gets its own way — if the open air computer stations, with power cables growing out of trees, are anything to go by. At the same time, the booze flows freely and lines for the bar are short due to the focus on a mere 500-strong communal experience shrouded in secrecy.

Within an Arcadian paradise of oaks, fairy lights and port-a-potties, is a line-up of diverse and interrelated acts from a specific corner of the UK’s musical mind-map. Elan Tamara goes from a keyboard, autoharp and exoticised take on Reich-like minimalism at one end of the afternoon, to supporting the fly-in-fly-out set of hip hop MC DELS three hours later. Micachu & the Shapes’ keyboardist Raisa Khan has a hand in the DELS line-up too, while all three aforementioned acts can lay claim to working, collaborating and probably hanging out with producer Kwes. Mercury Prize-nominated The Invisible’s Dave Okumu is seen anticipating a late-night DJ set relaxing in the fields. That’s just outside the natural amphitheatre of the Quarry Stage, which is to be ceremoniously opened by experimental libertarians Clout! at 3pm. If their four-page MySpace manifesto is anything to go by, they share a similar attitude to stylistic hybrids, spanning a universe of influences, with In the Woods hosts Laurel Collective — something along the lines of: “DIY musicians [who] encourage you to make music”. As Clout! embrace sampling and a musical patchwork of electro genre-hopping, even saccharine folk duo Peter and Kerry employ some glitchy elements in their cheeky musical love letters.

The multi-faceted prog rock of Three Trapped Tigers — resembling some of the shimmering elements of Battles’ math — is mirrored by the refracted afternoon light of the woodlands tree canopy overhead. The application of demented guitar-based experimentalism with the restraint of jazz training offers a less affecting, though equally enjoyable, take on their contemporaries, while one can’t help but a bit bummed about missing Anna Calvi in the same setting the year before.

As a native Australian with a mind’s eye accent that recognises a clear distinction between the words ‘bomb’ and ‘bum’, I don’t pick up on the running in-joke over the ‘bomb hole’ landmarks dotting the area (read: ‘Meet you up the bomb hole,’ ‘the bomb hole is dirty’ etc.), providing exhausted personnel and their two-way radios endless amusement for the duration. These same people wisely sequenced the line up, carrying the days’ billing through a cycle of high energy at the Quarry Stage to the downtempo at a smaller Laurel Stage. It worked for the most part, except when the rousing vigour of Man Like Me was cut off at its frenzied peak. By this stage the emotional climax of a heavily soused audience was frustrated by unlucky folk songstress Lucy Rose to follow.

Following the manic instrumentals of Laurel Collective and ∆ (Alt-J) —whose oddball composition and distinctive vocals contradict the implied pretension of a band name founded on a MacBook-only ‘Symbol’ option  —the local lagers are finished for headliners Micachu & the Shapes. After a significant break from touring, the Guildhall School three-piece happily mix old and new material, while matching the relaxed woodland vibe with casual dress — as opposed to their usual uniform of oversized, screen printed t-shirts. They are arguably the band to bring the compound eclecticism of the day’s R&B, classical and pop music combinations to the indie rock surface with tracks like ‘Lips’ and ‘Wrong’ thrown in with the renewed frenetic energy of new songs like ‘Never’. The sardonic humour of the mundane that has always been evident in lead singer Mica Levi’s lyrics continues with a setlist of titles including ‘Nowhere’, ‘You Know’ and ‘Nothing’  — the irony being that their berserk musical compositions are anything but dull.

A late bed time of floating in and out of consciousness is due in large part to a torn ligament caused by an ill-considered woodlands trek past the ‘No Entry’ signs, along some all night revelry nearby and a lovely rendition of Seal’s ‘Kiss from a Rose’ around the bonfire’s dying embers around 6am. The next morning we set up camp in the more spacious St John Ambulance tent for treatment of a swollen ankle and head injury, before lining up for breakfast in view of the gnawed hog spines terrorising the vegetarian stall beside it. A burnt palate indicates something was eaten the night before, while the name of the random teenager who has attached himself to the entourage, later performing a wonderful rendition of ‘Fur Elise’ on the communal piano, is another puzzle.

With the ‘all clear’ from paramedics and a quick bacon and sausage muffin now secured, a painful drive home on an injured clutch foot can do little to dull the thrill of being part of one of the most enjoyable parties of the year. I still can’t believe my luck.

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