Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset
30 August - 2 September
Situated in the peaceful surroundings of the Larmer Tree Gardens, End of the Road has gained a reputation for being something of a quaint affair, the polar opposite of the stereotypical UK festival of wellies, pints and chips.
Though the Dorset festival is small in size – each stage is never more than a 10 minute walk away – don’t let this and its friendly demeanour fool you into underestimating the quality of the event or the size of its bookings. This year’s scoop was Vampire Weekend’s live comeback after a four-year hiatus and in terms of titans of the industry, St Vincent was on board to deliver her pop theatrics on the main stage, washed with saturated colours and sparkling visuals.
Dressed in orange latex and matching suede thigh-high boots, Annie Clark embodied the vision of a rock star with a series of brightly coloured guitars on rotation (think hot pink and fluorescent yellow) throughout her show. Tracks from her 2017 album, like title track Masseduction, drew the loudest crowd singalongs, with wailing guitars piercing the night air against a glitzy background of lights lined like strips of diamantes. Most notably, her tailored rendition of New York saw the singer nervously address the track to Dorset, being one of the few moments she deviated away from her precise, robotic movements to interact with the crowd centre stage.
In a contrast to St Vincent’s art rock theatrics, pop outsider Tirzah held down an afternoon slot at the Big Top Tent with a stripped-back performance of experimental R&B that transfixed the audience with its simplicity. Dressed in a hoodie and jeans, Tirzah held the 200-strong crowd in the palm of her hand with her voice as Coby Sey’s swelling sonics flourished amidst the pauses, reconstructing the emotional clarity that defines the recently released LP Devotion. James Holden & the Animal Spirits – an electronic highlight on a line-up dominated by guitar acts – hypnotised the audience in his Saturday night slot with his mesmerising instrumentations and rainbow-hued visuals.
Over at the Tipi Tent, Snail Mail’s vocals were drawn out to convey the coarse edge of her emotions. She delivered lyrics like, “In the end you could waste your whole life anyway / I want better for you” with an anguished, defiant stare. The same space also hosted the incredibly fun antics of post-punk outfit Snapped Ankles. Dressed as woodwoses (mythical wild men, FYI), the troupe of folkloric creatures carried their cymbals into the crowd, reeling their mix of fuzzy guitars, bleeps and propulsive drums into the audience. Utterly daft but riveting, the performance was one that felt slightly surreal amongst the rest of the festival’s bookings, but perhaps appropriate considering End of the Road’s bucolic location.
Elsewhere, Protomartyr’s caustic sounds thrummed in the Big Top Tent; and hot off the release of their sophomore album, Joy as an Act of Resistance, furious Bristol outfit IDLES caused a righteous commotion. Set to storm the UK Albums Chart in the same week, the five-piece attracted the longest tent queues of the entire festival. The band took aim at the class system, toxic masculinity and patriarchal structures in a live-wire set that was steeped in politics but retained touches of levity and humour – particularly with the appearance of Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, who briefly jammed with the Bristol band, all smiles onstage.
Though the festival retains it charming image, End of the Road certainly knows how to create an impact. Moments of political anger, bright eccentricities and experimental sonics – all smuggled into the family-friendly festival in the Dorset gardens.