Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset
3 - 6 September
A family of peacocks wait patiently for Mac DeMarco to take to the stage.
Parakeets brawl while Palma Violets play the best of 2012 in the background. A Roman temple, host to detailed diorama of the festival site (including a dinky set of portaloos), shimmers as dragonflies from the nearby pond flit.
What better place than this to host three days (and a night) of festival debauchery? Well, if you hadn’t guessed already, End of the Road isn’t quite like that.
Instead of the usual scenes of depravity you might associate with a UK festival, there’s polite, cheery crowds, beautiful food, and a woodland full of art and comedy. We’re more than excited to get out on the grounds on Friday morning, and it’s been recommended by the EOTR veterans we’re camping with that we should head straight into said woods to take in the scene. It’s leafy, laidback, and lovely. Fairy lights and origami birds dot the thick trees around and, instantly, you feel at home.
As if by magic, the Garden Stage is parked just outside. We catch Ought there proving that UK teens will mosh to anything, even the desolate, thoughtful sounds of the Montreal underground. Vocalist Tim Beeler rolls his eyes back into his head and revels in the scene below – but we can’t help but wonder if this sort of crowd surge was the band’s intention when constructing their songs’ sociopolitical slants. But what do you expect? It’s a bloody music festival, you bore, and there are two lunatic girls dressed up as old ladies in the moshpit to distract you anyway.
Over to The Woods stage where we arrive just in time to catch the too-high voice of an eight year old proudly chanting “tastebuds on my cock, so I can taste up inside your butt!”, lyrics from the very filthiest song of an all-round filthy King Khan and the BBQ Show set. This is pretty indicative of the vibe, and the mid-afternoon crowd love it, the deviants.
Next, METZ in the Big Top, a gorgeous indoor stage sprinkled with stars and an inexplicable but beautiful papier-mache elephant suspended from the ceiling. Unfortunately, METZ never really takes off. Offbeat drumming and bass breakdowns make the set hard to pin down, and what should be a raucous outpouring of bile feels oddly sterile.
No matter – back over to Garden to see a white-face-painted Fuzz give everyone a lovely bit of whiplash. Ty Segall takes centre stage on drums, leading a set that sends the first quarter of the crowd into a frenzy. Two girls with pink hair and glittery faces head bang next to me, a tiny girl with a child’s wristband on flings herself around, and the two girls/old women from Ought are back, this time donning sailor hats and swigging wine in the centre of the friendly pit that forms. Its wonderful vibes all round.
Tonight’s headliner is Tame Impala. Everything is so smooth, so precise, that you could forget you’re listening live – that is, until Parker’s surprisingly Aussie accent asks the crowd, “how ya going?” There’s a good spread of old and new here – fresh one Eventually becomes a chantable classic, Lonerism stomper Elephant appears, and there’s a couple off Innerspeaker too. It’s a classy set, but we do wish there was a bit more off-piste madness.
While blipping around the festival site the next day we stumble into the Big Top just in time to catch a girl in a Wonder Woman costume singing about not needing love because she’s got a firearm. It’s Dolores Haze, and it’s an ideal head-clearer after stomping around the Disco Ship the night before.
After taking in a disappointingly karaoke-style set from Du Blonde, we see Girlpool deliver a show with an icy precision that’s full of glowering intensity. While the tracks are dispatched so matter-of-factly it smarts, their famed onstage camaraderie helps take some of the sting out.
Drinks are up next, and the live version of their LP, Hermits on Holiday, is a hard sell. Cate Le Bon bites back a laugh as half the field clears, and to be fair, for the uninitiated, it is a bit of a racket. We, however, heartily enjoy ourselves in the newly roomy front row, especially reveling in the confusion written all over the newly recruited drummer and bassist’s faces.
After drifting through Euros Child (charming) and Mark Lanegan (chilling), we settle again in the Big Top for a searing set from Sleaford Mods. We’ve heard they shoot for the jugular live, and, as predicted, lyrics about Jobseeker’s queues, the grim despondency of UK towns, and Nick fucking Clegg are snapped up ravenously by a baying crowd.
It’s day three and a half and the Big Top smells like death. The Black Tambourines don’t seem to mind though, merrily treading old ground with their brand of surf-punk. Outside, the first sun breaks through the clouds at Hinds. The four Madrid-based pals inject energy, sarcastic humour and RyanAir-bashing into a sparky set that has more than one person behind me whispering about how very cool the whole thing is.
Alvvays are similarly received onstage, and soon their pinpoint precise songwriting skills have the filled field smiling into the sun. Molly Rankin puts in an amazing performance considering a five-day long viral infection preceding their set. “You’re so supportive!” she calls into the crowd.
Mac DeMarco is Another One (haha…) that likes a chat. His band do too, so soon there are bro-bants flying around the Garden stage and DeMarco himself flinging himself into his loyal followers’ waiting arms. There are some rockier tunes (including a Steely Dan cover) to puncture that spacious sound DeMarco has stretched across two records, but the disconnect between what is at its core sentimental balladry, and the reaction earned from a legion of fevered Mac-a-likes, is starkly apparent.
We finish off the weekend with a few songs of strange-pop from Laura Marling who, wrapped up in an enormous scarf, resembles an enormous Walnut Whip. She sounds great: strong, considered, and more confident than when we caught her earlier in the year.
As we traipse to the car park for one last Dorset-based snooze in the boot (don’t ask) we feel calm, collected and, weirdly, rested. End of the Road captures a covetable mix of aesthetic, atmosphere and artful curation, and we feel that if it keeps its lineups much like this one, people across the land will already be dropping their deposits on next year’s edition.