If you wander the streets of the York suburb of Acomb on a summer’s evening, there’s a faint chance you’ll catch the sound of distant music drifting across the rooftops like the ghost of youth cultures past. The source is York Racecourse, where one-off concerts sometimes see the likes of McFly, Madness and – on one unusually enjoyable occasion – Blondie treating the masses to misty-eyed nostalgia trips in the waning sun.
On May 4, 2014, this template was noisily torn apart by the decidedly forward-facing YO1 Festival, which pitched its myriad marquees on the racecourse with its booking policy firmly in the here and now (the fact that hip-hop legends De La Soul made an appearance is the exception that proves the rule). All was quiet at the outset, with just a few stray strains of sound-checking brass hanging in the air and crew members busily prowling the site.
The reverie was uproariously and quite joyously broken by one of York’s best current rock exports, Bull. This bright-eyed gang of grunge devotees meld Pixies/Pumpkins riffing with vocal harmonies straight out of a ‘Destroy all Angels’-era Ash track to create pop-rock gold. Add some boisterous post-Arctics indie-rock urgency into the mix and it isn’t hard to see why people are getting excited about this band.
Next up on the Please Please You stage (which, along with the Bison Coffee stage, will be our home for the bulk of this review), slacker-pop three-piece JUNK jangled their way through a sun-dappled set of garage gems. The pared down vocal interplay between front-duo Estella and Sam liltingly carried along lyrics concerning casual drinking, relationships and young adulthood, while drummer Dan’s pleasingly kitsch beats compounded the set’s retro vibe.
Following JUNK’s set we managed to catch the tail end of Dead Bird on the Bison Coffee stage. There was a touch of Patti Smith in the slow, irresistible build-up at the heart of the music’s structure, with looped guitars shimmering like the peel of church bells over the soft rattle of percussion (which prominently included actual bells). Absorbing, melancholy and well worth a listen.
Entirely more straight and to the point are alt-rock duo …And The Hangnails (pictured), who’ve just about perfected their high-octane blend of DFA1979 drums; hoarse, drawled vocal yowls; and chunky riffing on a Sleigh Bells scale, interspersed with technical guitar fills. The pair played a flawless set, which took a turn for the Hendrixian when frontman Martyn Fillingham used his mic stand as a guitar slide to transition seamlessly from one song to another – even the most studiedly nonplussed musos in the tent simply could not have denied the raw coolness of this moment.
Sacrificing the closing minutes of …And The Hangnails’ set (no small matter), we sidled off to the Bison Coffee stage once again to catch a spot of September Girls . The joy of said act is that you never really know what to expect at one of their shows, with all of their sets being partially – and some almost entirely – based on improvisation. This reviewer’s favourite type of Neuschlaufen turned up today, with guitarist John Tuffen using various gadgets to project dark sonic futurescapes onto the solid repeating bass grooves of Ash Sagar and driving drumbeats of Laurence Huntington.
Next up on stage, solo act The Mouse OutfitAKA Danny Barton, known for his work as lead guitarist with Jonjo Feather, The Federals, Burning Fences and White Firs. Throughout his output, Barton impresses with his masterful guitar playing, which has always lent the acts he’s played with a degree of noisy rock’n’roll professionalism. In Wolf Solent, the noise is stripped back and Dan’s ear for a melody comes to the fore. The end result is a set of songs that sound a little like a mellowed out, introspective Dandy Warhols, with backing tracks written by Beck.
All the way from Dublin, La Petite Mortprovided one of the highlights of the festival. Their aesthetic and sound brilliantly blended 1950s retro with new-wave goth, while the drummer’s relentless abuse of her floor tom lent the whole set a darkly ritualistic quality. With interweaving guitars reminiscent of ‘Weekend in the City’-era Bloc Party, B-movie synth organ and artful instrumental discords over-layered with smooth four-part harmonies, September Girls created a distinctive noise that allowed them to stand head-and-shoulders above the majority of the acts performing at the festival.
Forsaking our favoured regions of the festival site for a short time, we visited YO1 Festival’s biggest marquee, the Nightvision stage to catch super-talented hip-hop group Asio’s Eyes, who provided the perfect soundtrack to a lazy May afternoon with their mellowed out, lyrically dexterous sound. The set was laid back, with mellifluous live trumpet and sax underpinning fast yet relaxed rapping to create moments which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Jurassic 5 album. A brief mid-set foray into funk was a real crowd pleaser.
For the next few hours we’d be based at the Bison Coffee stage for a string of notable local bands. We just managed to catch the end of Muttley Crew’s trademark psychedelic indie jangle, before their perennial partners in crime Menace Beach took the stage with their own take on the genre: close harmonies, reverb-drenched wig-outs and surrealist lyrics with tribal rhythms and lurching bass. We recommend you catch both acts in the UK before their inevitable departure to more mystical climes.
Drone-rocker Muttley made quite a stir a few years back with his excellent LP ‘Contrarians’. Now playing as part of a group in the form of The Federals, his darkly scuzzy compositions have been augmented with powerful violin bass, relentless drums and noisy lead guitar. The result is an even more hypnotic experience, with frontman Si’s dystopian vocal drones riding a crescendo of noise, while rhythms and grooves roll on incessantly.
At this point we headed back to the Please Please You stage (via some excellent food from the Chaat Cart) to catch Leeds grunge-poppers Menace Beach. With three guitars layered over bass and drums, this band creates an incredibly rich sound. Impressively well rehearsed yet loose enough to fit their genre, they blasted through a set of prospective pop-rock hits which oozed with great hooks and harmonies. Highly recommended!
We were now well and truly towards the business end of proceedings, and with dusk gathering over the racecourse, bonafide hip-hop legends De La Soul took to the Nightvision stage to a rapturous reception. Their set was jocular, engaging and predictably ice cool, with the trio regularly breaking off mid-song to variously cajole and compliment the audience. The set peaked with a raucous rendition of Gorillaz/De La Soul hit ‘Dare’: the “I was there” moment of the festival.
Meanwhile on the Bison Coffee stage, reformed garage-rock fivesome The Federals blasted us back to the mid-noughties, when this precocious York act seemed a safe bet for underground stardom. With all the rough-around-the-edges guitar sounds, sneered vocal delivery and potent stage presence of old, they took the audience on a trip down memory lane with a set of cult classics.
We finished our YO1 Festival where we started it, at the Please Please You stage, where Yorkshire alt-rock titans Pulled Apart by Horses were set to bring the curtain down on a magnificent day of music. They did so in typically awesome fashion, blasting out a mixture of old hits including ‘V.E.N.O.M’ and ‘Meat Balloon’ and some brand new tracks. PABH’s hard-riffing style, laced with post-punk avant-gardism, provided the perfect soundtrack for the final frenetic fling of the festival as sozzled madness descended over the arena.
All told, this was a significant step forward for YO1 Festival, with a strong musical programme catering for disparate tastes, great food and drink options and a decent atmosphere for a one-day festival. We’ll be back for more next year!