In his nineties novel: Underworld, Don DeLillo describes a news cycle that is so pervasive “it doesn’t need TV or newspapers. It exists in people’s perceptions.” Faced with watching and hearing about one hundred and sixty or so thousand people, who I almost certainly wouldn’t get on with, choose between Sunak and Truss and sink lower that the partisan analogy of Pepsi or Coke, I decided to test whether it was too late for me to hop off the hamster wheel of disaster updates. I carried myself to Hackney for Visions Festival, to give myself to songs by other people, broaden my temporal framework, pick new punctuating moments, douche in the sonic cornfields, basically wonder around like Jeremy from Peep Show for a few hours and stop worrying about that which is already fucked.
It began upstairs in Oslo, Home Counties coyly came on stage, in matching garden shed dad attire. Unfolded from their parent’s nuwave record collection, their jaunty pop rock employs pauses to give the old anticipation high to their hooks: “he’s got stuff! Says he can drop off! Dealers en route!” There are so many spaces in between the music in fact that it creates a jolt-dance-stop-wait-dance motion in the audience. Harking back to the seventies, the bands raison d’etre is that simpler is better. They want Keynes back on the table and who the hell wouldn’t agree with that at this sweltering point in late capitalism? It’s music weighted in theory and would make Frederic Jameson – who wants to root all reality in theory and do away with practical advice – very proud indeed. They don’t look like they’ve worked a shit job before but authenticy has little value in the realm of good ideas and songs. For Back To The 70s mouths gape fish like along with the chorus – “come on and hit me with tax, double figure double figures”, it’s too early to chant, inhibitions must have their time in the sun, it is only 2.30pm. The verse’s grumble of diazapan and misogyny in the cupboards and it begins to feel like an image of the seventies handed to them: you know those patterned wallpapers, men with bellies, carpet in the kitchen, ewww, yuck, so much better now. It ends and if tremolo inflicted synth lines were small change my pockets would be full and I would have enough for a Rubicon.
On to Chat’s Palace for MRLEY. The Hackney art centre is endowed with small theatre charm: old paint on new paint, wooden bar, the bar in a different room to the performance, they ain’t half got some balls these actors! I mean what if the crowd thinks it’s shit and want to drink through it? MRLEY are tough enough for the task. The bass is locked out, can’t be heard and the sound man does his best to find the key while the band drive on, fueled by what the songs could be. Bodies fly into each other, long hair: up and down again on Black Midi tee-shirts. “Four fucking hours we spent practicing this one.” Pipes the guitarist.“Four good hours, might I add.” Retorted their topless singer, who must create a sims character with no charisma from time to time, to see how it feels to be someone else. No shortage of gumption or power chords. Thirty minutes of tidal compression and body collisions and they finish on My Side Of London, a love letter to south London and declaration of superiority to the mirroring north. I leave with my mind in scale motion, weighing MRLEY’s loose energy against Home Countie’s composed retro. Such deep thought requires fizzy pop.
Tarnations! At Paper Dress Vintage I am told Joyeria is full and it’s one in one out. Was the Rubicon worth it? Well I don’t know because I didn’t see Joyeria, but they’d have to be pretty great to beat a cold can of Guava.
Back to the Chat’s Palce for Sam Akpro. Three guitarists trigger me, I’ve seen The Brian Jonestown Massacre crowd melody out, I’ve heard the Warlocks drive four miles per hour around one round about with only three drooling chords in the back seats. In this regard Akpro and his band are therapeutic. It thunders and it shunts and it pushes, it is intelligently charged, it sifts through what can be done with strings pulled tight across wooden frames. The walls are wet and in the combustible temperature genres don’t stay in one beaker, the lid’s off. Grunge. shoegaze, jazz rock, guitar hero stuff, all slow cooked together until the drummer finally seizes his moment to hurdle centre stage and let fly his beer into the heated audience; the mad cook adding what he only knows to add after hours in the kitchen. I like Chat’s Palace and half of me wants to buy a season ticket and bump in to half friends attending a showing of Hamlet, but I must move on to see more of Visions.
Hackney Church opens up as the festival reveals it’s full expanse. For Those I Love appear, isolated, centre to a cast off drum kit; waiting for the evening’s union of Black Country New Road. Alone except for his purpose is the Irish David Balfe. His polemical tirades swoon and reveal no sharp edges in the final instance, instead opening up to flower in a Dublin accent. As Balfe barks in his confessional, snowballing style, projections overhead show intense repeat images of constructed scenes where trees grow inside terrace apartments and CGI cones pile high in pyramid fashion before flashing images of Balfe himself playing football appear. With songs about using cones as goal posts and picking up a sofa from the street to bring home I did begin to wonder if I should write a song about the time I got a sofa off Freecycle and had to carry it home. This pleasant stream of thought was interrupted by a punter who’d seen enough; “this is a bit intense, I’m gonna go watch Liam Gallagher’s son down the road.”
Finally to Oslo to finish on The Golden Dregs. Dressed in their Broadmoor whites, the band came and and went from the stage to behind the curtain, returning and going, like a tide trying to find its place amongst the great tangle of leads and instruments. Seven players finally faced the humbling truth: they would have to transmogrify from stage hands to musicians in front of the audience. Christ has it really been three years since the release of their second record Hope Is For The Hopeless? I thought to myself earlier that morning. Indeed it had and understandably the band wanted to open with something new, albeit completely new to the audience. A slow drawl over the snap of the beating heart that speaks in the rattle of a snare drum, like an eager but patient friend wanting the singer to open up. Before we can decide if we’ve seen something memorable and we can tell people we saw it live first, it’s into Congratulations. Three guitars wrap themselves around the croon in a song that is catchy but doesn’t actually have a chorus. And you will be wondering did the three guitars stir some panic in me? No because it turns out I just wrote that bit to fill out the earlier paragraph. It felt nice to be in the presence of a band with plenty of melody and self deprecation but still someone had put 50p in the dickhead at the front and a youngling hammered on about what I can only assume was the cure for cancer, as frontman and producer Ben Woods gently sung with impressive depth of voice over another slow number. Finally the rabbiting became too much and Woods took to a knee beside the mighty yapper until his female companion slapped a hand over his mouth. Masterfully done, a lesson in classroom management. A few moments in the set shimmered anew and with another record rumoured to be finished and ready for release I am excited to remember new melodies and put downs for the first time.
Visions Festival help put things into perspective: we are fucked, completely and utterly. The worship of money has been normalised and now we must watch while a festival of psychopaths decide who is best to break up the unions and in doing so run the country. However, at this point there really is no point in following the news cycle and Visions festival is as good a place as any to get away from the incessant positioning of those who will be Kings and Queens.
Review by Patrick Malone, Images taken from the Visions Festival 2022 guide