Last week I attended the Future London conference, a collaborative event held by WIRED and London First. It aimed to celebrate Britain’s capital as a world-leading, future-forward city. The event featured a packed programme of very high quality speakers, mostly from the tech sector and other influential Londoners, renowned in their fields and at the forefront of change.
Overall it was very interesting and information packed day. Most real value came from the speakers who outlined a vision for future societal and consumer developments in technology and how these may or may not change our way of life and how we do business. If their predictions are to come to fruition the future of our capital will be an equally exciting and turbulent place. Here are my highlights from the day.
Leading Future London
The conference was opened with an eye catching talk by Rohan Silver, Senior Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister. Rohan gave three examples of historical events in the capital (the rebuild of the City of London following the Great Fire of 1666, Leo Slizard’s neutron eureka moment on Southampton Row and Whitechapel’s anti-fascist protesters in 1936) and used these to illustrate three key features of London’s culture, bottom-up innovation, openness to outside ideas and solidarity / community.
London’s culture is one of bottom-up innovation, openness to outside ideas and solidarity / community
Building on this idea of historical characteristics and their relevance to today, IDEO’s Design Director, Tom Hulme identified the Great Exhibition of 1851 as being a signifier of London’s long history of being ahead of the game in the arena of technological development. Pinpointing the foreign influence in The Great Exhibition he He talked of London’s unique cultural diversity and showcased Twitter Tongues an app that calculated upwards of 66 languages in common use in London during the summer of 2012.
Secondly he highlighted tools / building blocks as being crucial to any development. He used examples of how children in Ethiopia have been doing amazing things with laptops (with absolutely no training) as a result of the One Laptop Per Child initiative.
Finally he spoke of how craft was integral also. He showed examples of silly and funny websites built by kids but explained how these, albeit on the face of it, of little use, were muscle building exercises and those same kids are going on to use those skills to create innovative products that will benefit society. He finished by illustrating how London’s approach to this is on the right track. A Google trend analysis of the word “Make” showed the word’s use has been steadily on the rise since 2010.
Developing Future London
The next session was on planning and development in Future London. This was kicked off by Ian Lindsay, Land and Property Director at Crossrail who posited that property development and transportation are inextricably linked in modern cities with Crossrail promising to be the next chapter in London’s development story. He set about this by providing glossy examples of how Crossrail is being designed to both integrate with and catalyse new property development in and around it’s stations. He stated that this will be achieved through development planning as part of the station building projects and financial stimulus to promote development projects around the new links.
Sometimes it is best to start again and think outside of the box
His main pitch was that sometimes it is best to start again and think outside of the box. He claimed Heathrow loses £15 billion in potential income each year due to lack of capacity and a building project of this scale could easily be recouped within a generation as a result of that additional income. Also by using innovative architecture and design techniques the whole thing could be the most efficient and profitable airport the world has ever seen and the building project could potentiality revitalize Britain’s maritime and ship building infrastructure. He then finished by positing an alternative future for the old Heahtrow location as an Eco-City, a regeneration project to rival the scale of development the East of London (Canary Wharf) has seen in recent decades.
Security in Future London
One that will be pivotal to the future of the city is the security of it’s inhabitants. First up was Martin Hewitt, Deputy Assistant Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police who identified the challenges faced in maintaining London’s security in the coming decades. He started by highlighting the shallow nature of opinions around security using the example of how in 2011 London’s policing was seen as at an all time low following the phone hacking scandal and the riots, and then in 2012 following a successful Olympics it had a moment of glory. He outlined how this black and white approach to the security services could be unhelpful.
The rate of change in technological developments presents enormous challenges for security in the capital
He then went on to describe how the rate of change in technological developments presents enormous challenges for security in the capital. Cyber enabled serious and organised criminality is fast paced and hard to police adequately. But developments were being made, particularly in relation to terrorism and the new prevent agenda where tech is being used to identify and prevent the radicalization on potential terrorists at source.
Dovetailing nicely with this was the presentation of Facewatch an initiative set up in 2010 by Simon Gordon as an attempt to reduce petty crime in his family’s London wine bar – the famous Gordon’s Wine Bar. Facewatch attempts to provide a technological platform to enable community driven assitance to police in both the reporting of and resolution of crime incidence report. It utilises the Internet to bridge the gap between CCTV and the Police by facilitating the provision of a complete online evidential pack including images, moving CCTV footage and witness statements. By empowering individuals to take greater responsibility for reporting their crime incidence and joining up communities and information sharing it has the potential to improve conviction rates, improve victim support, speed reporting and reduce overheads on the Police.
Nigel used his own City’s case study to outline some ways London can utilise community initiatives and technological developments to enable and empower engaged citizens to take more ownership of and share data about their built environment. He cited a pilot project launched by Ne Urban Mechanic’s to develop an iPhone app that through motion detection automatically identified and reported pot hole occurrences and locations to the city authority.
He stated that to foster the development of these kinds of initiatives organisations will need to, create a safe space to innovate, focus on people’s needs, engage party’s to manage risk and increase resources, pilot quickly and manage the projects like you would product development.
Russell started by speaking generally about cities and then onto showcase how the GDS is transforming the way Government engages with UK citizens through its improved use of digital platforms.
He stated that cities are about densely packed diversity and that to get ahead London needed to focus on its structural and cultural edge. He used a nice example of how young designers will always grow up and try to create the things they were inspired by as children. In America it was The Jetsons, and everyone there is obsessed with screens. But in Britain we had Thunderbirds, models, and so we have developed a culture of making things. That is something that sets us apart and we can use to our advantage.
He then showcased the new Gov.uk website, a new project led by the GDI which is about simplifying the point of contact between citizens and their Government services. It is about bringing learning’s from the UX industry into the Government’s digital presence, creating simpler transactional service offerings digitally and equally about learning how to integrate agile design and development methodologies in the context of a large beurocratic system. And about time too!
Industry in Future London
The morning session drew to a close with a series of presentations by UK based company’s responsible for some of the best innovations happening in the realms of product development currently. The stand out one here was absolutely Sugru, a new self-setting rubber invented by the sickeningly young and talented Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh while she was at university. Sugru can be used for fixing, modifying and improving just about anything you can imagine and I have already put some to use in my home!
Incubating and Accelerating StartUps in Future London
The afternoon session was dominated by sessions on the growth of the start up community in East London, now commonly known as Tech City.
First up was a panel on Incubators and Accelerators which was largely an opportunity for many of the current players in this space (Google, Microsoft etc.) to wax lyrical about the number and quality of accelerators now to be found in Tech City and the uptake of young entrepreneurs in these schemes. The panel was hosted by Olivia Solon, Associate Editor, WIRED.co.uk and featured Eze Vidra, Head of Campus, Google, Bindi Karia – VC/Emerging Business Lead, Microsoft UK, Stefan Glaenzer – Cofounder, White Bear Yard and Simon Devonshire, Director, Wayra Europe. There were some words of caution though with some doubts raised regarding the similarities to the .com bubble (which of course mightily burst). These were largely dismissed however with panel members highlighting that it was many of the same people involved now who were involved in that crash and had learnt form those prior mistakes. In addition whereas previously it was seen as a business opportunity to cash in on, now the tech companies are seeing it a loss making exercise purely with the intention of increasing platform innovation, take-up and skills development. All responsibility for investment and survival is on the entrepreneurs and there is an awareness and acceptance that many will fail during the process. The aim is to find and harness the success stories not make a quick buck.
In a similar vein more panel sessions followed on the rise and provision of shred working spaces in London and a session on why a start up would choose London as its base over other cities for its start up location. Interesting themes about the value of shared working in fostering learning and creativity and the advantages London has due to it’s infrastructure and diversity.
Mapping Future London
The day closed with two exceptional talks, the first on data mapping by Ben Cerveny, Founder of Bloom and VURB.
Ben’s presentation was frenetic and an extremely interesting vision of how the city will develop and be mapped in the future. He spoke of the features of cities and what they are made up. He outlined how all of the changes that happened to the physical nature of the city (e.g. the industrial revolution) are now happening in the software level of the city. These are creating new perspectives on the identity of the city the result of which is that the cloud will maintain a data model of the city, fed by sensors and citizen input. Citizens will be able to change this model and write it back into the physical city through the use of technological tools such as, sensor networks, dynamic infrastructural services (e.g. adaptive redistribution of resources) and collaborative modeling. The logical conclusion of which is that we will observe and alter our environment through the use of instruments (means of communication and identification / dynamic configurations of network provisioned software), which will enable the computational comprehension of and alteration of the environment.
The Big Picture
The conference was concluded with a parting shot by writer and technologist, Ben Hammersley. He offered a sobering warning of the impending apocalypse facing all of humanity.
He started by speaking of how capitalist society worships the lone hero. At each turning point we wait for the Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg to come with a big idea and guide us all into the light. But this is outdated. Those in the tech sector are currently living in a bubble, a bubble of wealth and progress. But we live in a society of great equality. Literally sandwiched between the financial and tech districts is the poorest borough in the UK. Those who have wealth will say that is the natural order of things, those who are without will say it is because of politics, but like climate change, the argument of why is now irrelevant, the question of what to do is the only one that matters.
The crunch on natural resources and spiraling inequality means it is going to get crazy soon. And it is only by abandoning our faith in the lone hero and acknowledging our connected nature that we will survive.
So at the end of a day of talk of startups and tech development he asks us to remember that entrepreneurship is not about solo endeavor, not one person in the room made their own fortune, everything anyone does is dependent on the support of their community and civilized system around them. It is not about being better than anyone else, but it is about coming together to develop solutions for the good of all, for the good of our neighbours and it is only if we keep this in mind that we will stand any chance of coming through the turbulent times ahead.
A talk, which for this blogger, was a fitting end to the day’s proceedings.
Comebacks are a risky business. It’s rare they work out as hoped. Very few succeed in matching the level they once did and all too many end up sullying the legacy they had worked so hard to create. Just ask Michael Schumacher.
Still, comebacks seem to have been in vogue in recent years. Blur, Pulp and The Stone Roses immediately jump to mind. But selling out the reunion gig is only half the story. Riding the crest of a jubilant wave at hearing old classics is the easy part. It’s when it comes to penning the new material and coping with the weight of expectation that most are found out.
So given their career long commitment to staying underground and avoiding rock clichés it came as a surprise that Montreal’s post-rock heavyweights Godspeed You! Black Emperor decided to do just that in 2010 after nearly 8 years apart. A resoundingly successful ATP curation followed and you could be forgiven for thinking that would be that. But no, never one’s to follow the conventional path GY!BE finished the reunion tour, got back into the studio, produced a work as good as anything they have done before and are back on the road once more. Tonight is the second of two headlining performances at The Forum, a venue whose size and decorative style could not be more fitting for the orchestral experience of these Canadian misfits.
Mladic is undoubtedly as good as anything GY!BE has ever released and tonight it is played with an energy and togetherness that can only be the result of a band who are full of fire and passion for what they are doing.
Opening with ‘Mladic’ the lead track from their still hot-off-the-presses long player ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!’ there is a heightened sense of anticipation from the assembled congregation (yes with Godspeed it is a congregation). In trademark style the members (there are eight in attendance tonight) shuffle and move about as the opening drone of bowed and sustained notes slowly build. Eventually they settle, guitarist David Bryant facing back as quasi-conductor, and in perfect unison the sound explodes into a series of exquisitely heavy riffs that assault every sense. ‘Mladic’ is undoubtedly as good as anything GY!BE has ever released and tonight it is played with an energy and togetherness that can only be the result of a band who are full of fire and passion for what they are doing.
The projected train track visuals acting as perfect metaphor for the thundering locomotion at hand.
Next up is the ever popular ‘Moya’ from their 1999 long player ‘Slow Riot for New Zerø Kanada’. Its melancholic string swells gliding effortlessly into subtle picked guitars to a visual background of flickering sepia coloured dandelion fields and calm seas. The dynamics are sublime and without any noticeable transition it is not long before another intense acceleration is consuming all before it, the projected train track visuals acting as perfect metaphor for the thundering locomotion at hand.
We are treated to five songs overall but these last just under two hours. It is astounding how such a length of time can pass so fluently and with such sustained captivation, the ebb and flow of the compositions hypnotizing all present into the rhythms and reverberations of the music.
In their own inimitable way Godspeed are taking post-rock by the scruff of the neck and exposing it to a new and informed audience on their own, highly integral, terms.
The set closes with ‘Blaise Bailey Finnegan III’, a choice that is met with much approval from every corner of the room. Its gradual intro overlaid with an earmark political sample, ascends towards a frenetic crescendo of distorted guitars and screaming strings. There is of course no encore. What else would you expect?
And as a throng of fans clamour for the merchandise (it’s not like you can buy it on the internet), it is clear that what we have seen here tonight is no swan song. No, it is the second coming of a band that simply refuses to be pigeon holed and who have returned from their hiatus to discover the form of their careers. In their own inimitable way Godspeed are taking post-rock by the scruff of the neck and exposing it to a new and informed audience on their own, highly integral, terms. And a privilege it is to witness too.
On Thursday evening the great and the good of the UK music industry descended on this small corner of Camden for a quintessentially English affair, the Mercury Music Prize. Well tonight the scene couldn’t be more different as the same venue hosts an East Coast psychedelic takeover courtesy of the ever-experimental Animal Collective. Boffin-chic indie, this is not.
The night opens with Prince Rama the brainchild of Brooklyn sisters Taraka and Nimai Larsonx. Signed to Animal Collective’s own label their hallucinatory drama school theatrics and mystical genre mash-ups result in a deranged amalgam that is a fair indication of the distorted synesthesia expected to follow.
Boffin-chic indie, this is not.
A half empty hall quickly fills as the house lights dim to mark the arrival of the main event. Back as a four piece and premiering their first full studio album since 2009’s acclaimed ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion’, it’s clear Animal Collective are raising the stakes on this tour. This is confirmed by the impressive stage decoration. The band is surrounded by giant inflatables forming a surreal toothy mouth, which is in turn bathed in retro animated and live action projections. The outcome is a colourful and hypnotic visual that suitably compliments the demented fairground ride melody of opener ‘Rosie Oh’.
As the band race through their opening few songs, the cohesiveness of it all is immediately striking. Within three songs we have been treated to the vocal talents of three quarters of the band with Lennox, Portner and Dibb all taking centre stage. Equally the transition from song to song with barely a break in sound provides a momentum and intensity that is both absorbing and inspiring.
The cheer is perhaps born from relief, as this crowd appears to have invested less time in the new material than is necessary to get maximum enjoyment from the show.
But alas, something seems to be missing. Playing almost the whole new album in its entirety leaves the atmosphere somewhat flat. A noticeable cheer rises when six tracks in we are offered our first taste of known material in the form Merriweather’s ‘Lion in a Coma’. The cheer is perhaps born from relief, as this crowd appears to have invested less time in the new material than is necessary to get maximum enjoyment from the show. This is a shame because the new works merits better than being played to an obviously hit-hungry audience. The epic ‘New Town Burnout’ segueing seamlessly into the Super Furry-esque mayhem of ‘Monkey Riches’, a notable high point.
Inevitably the crowd eventually gets its wish with the closing numbers ‘Brother Sport’ and ‘Peacebone’. It may have taken over 45 minutes to arrive but the party finally lands and the turnaround is immediate. The venue bursts into life as a few thousand rapturously pogo their way through the songs they clearly came to hear. And they are not disappointed by the encore either with firm favourite ‘My Girls’ achieving the rousing high water mark expected from this eagerly anticipated appearance.
For all of their famed musical discordance, Animal Collective remain dedicated to the musical storytelling of the album format and are willing to live with the difficulties that can bring.
By the time the band leave us with the final chords of the awesome ‘Amanita‘ ringing in our ears the overriding feeling is that they have won the day… but only just.
In a week that has brought the future of the album back to the front of the musical agenda Animal Collective have nailed their flag to the mast on the side of the in-threat medium with their approach to this tour. For all of their famed musical discordance, tonight they have proven they remain dedicated to the musical storytelling of the album format and are willing to live with the difficulties that can bring in a changing musical landscape. For their sake, hopefully next time their audience will have found their way onto the journey too.
This review was originally published on Clash Music on 9th October 2012
Anyone affiliated with Radiohead is going to be watched intently when they wander into territory new. And sure as you’d expect, Ultraista, the latest project from Radiohead producer and oft credited “sixth member” Nigel Godrich, are attracting a level of hype befitting their originator’s lofty musical credentials.
Tonight marks the London debut of this heavyweight three piece. Comprised of Godrich himself, one man musical explosion Joey Waronker (Beck, R.E.M., Smashing Pumpkins) and the captivating Laura Bettinson (Femme, Dimbleby & Capper) there is a strange mix of the new and the familiar permeating the air in this small corner of Dalston.
It is difficult not to be drawn into the inevitable comparisons. The band will have to get used to this, as it is both inescapable and on the basis of this opening, justified.
Opening with the impressive “Bad Insect” it is difficult not to be drawn into the inevitable comparisons. The band will have to get used to this, as it is both inescapable and on the basis of this opening, justified. However much you try to be objective you just can’t avoid noticing the same click clack rhythms and chamber like synthesizers that have become a mainstay of Radiohead’s sound. But these are not identified as a stick to beat with. If anything their recognition serves only to provide proof that Godrich is as much an architect of this sound as has long been assumed and has every right to be experimenting with it as he chooses.
It is fair to say therefore that Ultraista have a legitimate ownership of the music they are making. Far from being derivative it is more a logical evolution and dare I say, exciting progression to see it expanded into such fresh and unapologetically Pop filled horizons. Admittedly most of the ‘Pop’ comes from Bettinson, infectious visually as she moves amongst the spectrum light filled projections, it is largely her delicate feminine vocal that pulls the songs out from their kraut-electro routes and into the glitter-filled light of the mainstream.
The performance is an assured and confident one and the pre-released mini singles “Small Talk” and “Static Light” live up to every expectation. In fact the only real disappointment is that the mini singles do seem to be the high watermarks and there is a noticeable disparity between them and the album tracks played here.
This should be taken in context though and neatly brings us full circle to those same unavoidable problems of association identified earlier. It is a strange conundrum for the band that they will inevitably garner greater interest and exposure as a result of the elevated affiliations of their members. In that respect Ultraista has a definitive head start on the competition. But it may equally prove to be a limiting factor in what the band can realistically achieve with the heavy weight of expectation blinkering the sizable microscope they will be under.
This is a band with no agenda and nothing to prove. They are formed purely through the love for their work and it is with this backdrop their music should be read.
It is therefore pleasing to see that Ultraista do not seem to carry this weight with them. Preparing for their final track, the aptly titled “Easier”, Bettinson and Godrich take the opportunity to say some thank-yous. Stumbling through them like embarrassed Oscar winners you can sense a genuine innocence and joy around the stage. This is a band with no agenda and nothing to prove. They are formed purely through the love for their work and it is with this backdrop their music should be read.
On one level Ultraista find themselves under a glass ceiling of their respective pasts. But on another level what they are doing is very special indeed. They are taking a music, which, let’s face it, has for so long been synonymous with a dry and critical seriousness, and they are expressing it with a warm affection and carefree sensibility. If you join them in this mindset, as a hundred or so faithful did tonight, Ultraista deliver on every level.
As some of you may know one of my many day jobs is managing the digital presence of think tank and strategic advisory firm SustainAbility. Earlier in the year I designed and built the website for their flagship project – The Regeneration Roadmap - the aim of which is to provide a way forward for achieving sustainable development within the next generation, focusing in particular on ways the private sector can improve sustainability strategy, increase credibility and deliver results at greater speed and scale.
It is a huge ambition and engaging the right people in the right way will be key to it’s success. Online platforms can play a significant role here: today there are fewer barriers than ever in mobilising people from all backgrounds and geographies to shape and get behind a campaign. From video blogging and social discussion forums to idea generation and crowd sourcing websites, the options available are seemingly endless. But where do you start?
I reviewed a wide range of recent and ongoing web campaigns, and discovered some great examples of online engagement which others may find useful. I’ve picked five to share with you here: some are from the sustainability field and others are not, but hopefully they will all serve as a source of inspiration for your own sustainability initiatives.
Counterspill was set up to act as a counter balance to what the site’s founders perceived to be one-sided reporting of energy news and disasters – but this goes far beyond a reactionary blog.
The website utilises an intuitive and interactive geographic map and timeline to highlight the location and frequency of energy disasters and events. These visualisations employ mixed media content (video, imagery, text) and beautifully-crafted infographics to really bring the stories to life. Visitors to the site are invited to take action by sharing the resource across their networks, and signing up to be kept abreast of news stories as they break.
The end result is a site that goes a step beyond just reporting an alternative point of view. A simple architecture and clever presentation offer visitors an at-a-glance understanding of the big picture complemented by highly detailed source material.
- Visualisations / infographics
- Video diaries
Time Warner Cable’s Connect a Million Minds is a five-year philanthropic initiative to address America’s declining proficiency in science, technology, engineering and math.
The website blends pledging and proximity networking to engage users effectively. A “fulfilment wall” showcases examples of community projects, and users are invited to post their own experiences. There is a “connectory” which allows users to search for facilities and resources in their local area to help them organise their own projects, and eligible applicants can request support. The campaign is given life through a series of relevant blog articles, and users are invited to pledge their support and involvement in campaigns across their social networks.
By connecting visitors to local resources and information this project succeeds in making its campaign relevant and accessible.
Climates Dots is an initiative by 350.org created to highlight how seemingly-unconnected natural disasters are all linked to climate change, by literally ‘connecting the dots’. The campaign called on communities across the globe to hold rallies on 5th May 2012, with a focus on those areas most affected by climate change. At each rally someone would hold up a large physical dot enabling the campaigners to create a physical map of climate change effects globally.
The website is inviting, intuitive and engaging, offering a host of different ways for people to get involved. Visitors are invited to hold their own “Dot” events, and the website provides an event toolkit and online support resource containing activity ideas, printable materials, media guides, and presentations to get organisers started.
This call to action is supported by visual infographics, video diaries from current organisers, and blogs from past events, which together help build up a compelling picture of the community and the campaign.
Climate Dots is a great example of how the digital sharing of tools, resources and support can be used to mobilise otherwise passive visitors to take action in the ‘real’ world, and to build truly global communities.
- Visualisations / infographics
- Offline events supported by online toolkits
- Video diaries
ItGetsBetter.org is a place where young people who are lesbian, gay, bi, or trans can see how love and happiness can be a reality in their future. Set up as a response to a number of teens taking their own lives after being bullied at school, it’s a place where people can share their stories and connect with a support network of others facing the same life challenges.
The main aspect of the site is a series of highly personal video diaries of teens sharing their own experiences, and friends and families pledging their support. This video content is user generated, and anyone can upload their own video diary for showcase on the site. Site visitors are also invited to “Take the Pledge” that they will respect others’ individuality and speak out against intolerance where they find it. The site is a model example of successful social media integration with communities active across Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and more.
The It Gets Better project is a best practice example of how video content can be harnessed to provide a deeply online personal experience. Through user generated content and social networking the project has empowered its visitors to connect and get access to valuable support and guidance.
- Video diaries
- Social networking
- Online pledging
Greenpeace has launched an innovative crowdsourcing campaign to fund the construction of its new Rainbow Warrior. The campaign centres around an immersive experiential website which allows users to explore the new ship’s blueprints and gain an understanding of the make-up and functionality of its component parts. This is further brought to life through video diaries of campaigners detailing their experiences on the old Rainbow Warrior, together with a time-lapse film of construction on the new build.
Users are encouraged to contribute by buying a component for the ship through an online shop. Contributors receive a certificate of ownership for the component they purchase, and their name will appear on a dedication wall to be installed on the ship.
Greenpeace have leveraged the concept of crowd sourcing in a pitch-perfect way, giving supporters a sense of involvement and ownership over the input they have in fundraising for the new venture.
- Crowd sourcing
- Immersive online environments
- Video diaries
In October I’ll be writing a follow-up to this post, where I’ll be looking at lessons we can learn about effective online engagement strategy from campaigns like these. In the meantime if you come across any other great examples please leave a comment below.
This review was originally published in edited form in Clash Music on 22nd August 2012
In a year devoid of a Glastonbury the smaller festivals come under a larger spotlight than usual. Green Man is no exception and this independent festival, celebrating it’s tenth year, has delivered an enviable line up for 2012’s version.
Friday starts with Toy, a hyped London outfit making waves across the music press. They seem out of place at this festival, their dark primal scream dirge better suited to an underground city club than the rolling fields of Wales. There are, however, enough points of quality within the set to suggest these will be ones to watch in the future.
Next up is Errors bringing their uniquely post-electro sound to proceedings. It has been an interesting year for the Scottish four-piece adapting to the loss of a member and touring their third studio album ‘Have Some Faith in Magic’. It is a typically solid set but with early EP lead Mr Milk still gaining the biggest reaction you do feel more work is required if these boys are to rise up out of the midday slots.
Continuing in the Far Out stage are Lower Dens the psych-folk brainchild of Baltimore based Jana Hunter. It is a nice change of pace as songs with traditional folk structures are realised with chugging beats and swirling echoed synths. Comparisons with Baltimore neighbours Beach House are inevitable but stand out track ‘Alphabet Song’ illustrates this quartet have more than enough quality to justify a look.
The tent bound part of Friday concludes with electronic pop duo Junior Boys. Unfortunately they fail to prove they are more than just a band with one good song as 2007’s In the Morning only really delivers the sort of punch one would hope for at 10pm on a Friday night.
It is no matter though as thoughts have already turned to Friday’s headliner the wonderfully indefatigable Mogwai. The Green Man main stage with its amphitheatre like hill surroundings is ideally suited for such a spectacle and Mogwai live up to expectations. It is a less ferocious set than usual but no less impactful with set mainstays ‘I’m Jim Morrison I’m Dead’ and ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’ offering up moments of emotive genius for the assembled masses. It is a wonderful end to an exceptionally high quality day both in terms of music and general atmosphere.
The Green Man main stage with its amphitheatre like hill surroundings is ideally suited for such a spectacle and Mogwai live up to expectations
Saturday is met with a fuzzy head and a late start following the excitement of Friday’s festivities and there is no better way to ease into the day than the delectable sound of Dark Dark Dark. Swaying between the atmospheric balladry of early Elbow and the playful and sprightly ditties of Regina Spektor they conjure a relaxed atmosphere to the now sun kissed site.
In a change to the advertised billing Van Morrison plays third from the top of the main stage. It’s business as usual for the somewhat out of place mega-star who arrives and leaves in a conspicuously grandiose tour bus. The older members of the crowd are clearly enjoying his performance though and there is a now a real sense of togetherness and joy that permeates every part of the festival.
Saturday evening is ushered in by multi-instrumental maestro Yann Tiersen. Those who know him as “the man who did the Amelie soundtrack” would perhaps be disappointed to see him line up with a band of skinny indie kids surrounded by racks of analog synthesizers but those who follow the enigmatic Frenchman know this is the real Yann. Playing selected songs from his last two albums he put’s in a set worthy of its billing with a haunting and virtuoso violin solo arguably proving the musical high point of the day.
And so the stage is set for festival headliners Metronomy. The dynamic of audience has changed somewhat as the main stage is filled with youngsters all eager to witness a band who with the release of 2011’s ‘The English Riviera’ are at the top of their game. It’s clear this is a big night for Metronomy, so often found in the daytime slots of big festivals it is a treat to see and hear them at such close proximity and with such a crystal sound. This is not lost on the band either. Looking fantastic and playing everything anyone in the audience could ever have requested they deliver a festival defining performance that catalyses the Saturday night atmosphere into an electricity set to last on into Sunday and beyond.
Looking fantastic Metronomy deliver a festival defining performance that catalyses the Saturday night atmosphere into an electricity set to last on into Sunday and beyond
There is no mistaking what the main event of daytime Sunday is as The Far Out stage is filled to capacity for art rock newcomers Alt-J. It has been a fairly meteoric rise for this Cambridge quartet bursting into the top 20 with their debut album barely a couple of months ago. They justify the interest though displaying an impressive array of influences, genres and an exhibition of ensemble singing few bands could ever hope to match. Add to this the fact that they look about 12 and you can only feel big things are in store. Keep on your radar.
It all turns a bit noisy then as Islet and Three Trapped Tigers bring their equally raucous yet distinctly sounds to the afternoon. Islet are an interesting mix, psychedelic synths and chanting vocals underpinned by frenzied percussion solos. Guitarist Alex Williams steals the show equally as mesmerising hitting a single floor tom as he is jamming his guitar with a metal bolt. Three Trapped Tigers similarly proves to be a one-man show with guitarist Matt Calvert producing an authoritative display of guitar and effects control. Unfortunately not every aspect of the set was at this same level but with influences being drawn from as wide as Aphex Twin and 65 Days of Static there is promise that with time and refinement good things will come.
The math-rock theme of Sunday continues with the creative and experimental tUnE-yArDs, before sunset falls to the sound of The Walkmen. There is a real feeling of festival togetherness as they roll out a collection of songs suitable to ears both young and old. Crowd favourite ‘The Rat’ is met with a chorus of singing and dancing that even the sticky mud can’t contain.
Green Man is a national treasure of English folk tradition
And so we come to a close with Sunday’s headliner Feist. The former Broken Social Scene vocalist is resplendent under the festival lights and opts for a softer and dreamier closing set than expected. Her delicate and seductive purr is more than fitting though and proves to be the perfect lead up to the now traditional, ritual of burning the giant Green Man bonfire.
So how does Green Man fare overall? It has indeed come a long way from its humble 300 capacity beginning but incredibly has managed to retain its free spirited folk fare feel. From buggy pulling Mum’s to wizard bearded hippies to excitable and energetic groups of kids this festival has something for everyone that even the lamentable Welsh valley weather can’t dampen. It may not have the scale of Glastonbury or the line up of Reading and Leeds or even the hipster appeal of Secret Garden Party but Green Man is a national treasure of English folk tradition and one that will hopefully be here for many summers to come.
At first glance there appears to be a hint of irony about Regina Spektor’s UK return. There are after all, few less frugal settings to showcase an album entitled “What We Saw From The Cheap Seats” than the Royal Albert Hall. Yet for New York’s anti-folk darling it couldn’t be more fitting. Blessed with an unmatched ability to combine the grandiose with the mundane and loaded with a back catalogue that can draw both tears and laughter, there is a sense of belonging that accompanies this career landmark performance.
Effortlessly conjuring an intimacy and inclusiveness more akin to the back street bars of her formative East Village tonight’s set comprises the majority of her most recent work. Everything hangs together beautifully as songs like the immediately classic “Small Town Moon” and full blooded ballad “How” chime in perfect unison with the now established fan favourites from 2009’s “Far” and 2006’s Begin to Hope.
There is a sense of belonging that accompanies this career landmark performance
There is a consistency to the sound, each song markedly individual but all bound together by a common thread, that unique blend of wistful beauty and jaunty playfulness she has made her own. Albeit predictable it is nevertheless captivating and a combination that allows the purity and subtlety of her infectious personality to shine through.
The result is an almost religious fervor and the assembled congregation is rewarded for their loyalty with an encore of undoubted classics culminating in the timeless “Samson”. Delivered with trademark vocal elegance and poetic artistry Regina’s triumph over this great hall is absolute. And as she leaves humbly declaring, “It’s been a pleasure to play for you,” the truth is that the pleasure was all ours.