Dan Holloway reports from Y Not the UK’s Indie-est festival
I am not a fan of Noah and The Whale. I just want to make that clear. They’re not all that bad live, but neither are they good enough to convert me. Or induce me to make bad puns about their fate in 5 years’ time. And the fact they were headlining certainly wasn’t the reason my wife and I ended up in a mud-drenched field in the Derbyshire hills for the UK’s Indie-est festival, Y Not.
The main thing we knew about Y Not as we pitched up in the mist and mud was that it had been nominated for best toilets on last year’s festival circuit. There are worse reasons for picking a micro-festival (4,000 capacity) to attend. Especially when you want some reassurance that the inch-thick brown swill on the plastic floor really is mud.
It was mud that dominated this year’s festival. London synth-pop performer Esser summed up the feel of the day. After observing “there’s a guy covered in mud trying to hump an inflatable whale” (I knew Noah were there for a reason), he dedicated his appropriately-monikered track “long arms” to “a mud-covered guy wrestling a sailor”. And by his last song he was no longer bothering with lyrics, but had given in and was coaxing more sailors to tackle the troupe of 200+pound mud-men wearing the remnants of tutus.
Fortunately there was music to go with the mud. Spread across two venues, a “main stage”, and the Quarry Tent (which gets its name from the fact the first festival was held in a local quarry when someone’s parents cancelled their holiday and a last minute venue had to be found for a covert house party). The two were rather slickly scheduled so that there would always be music on one whilst the other was changing round. Unfortunately the mud put paid to that piece of planning when several of the acts’ tour buses failed to negotiate narrow lanes strewn with cars abandoned by their frustrated owners.
Some of the music in the smaller venue (which the rain ensured packed as much of a crowd as the main stage – to the dismay of a stallholder selling rather delicate jewellery, alongside what I could swear was a pot of Chuppa Chups) was really rather good. Rugosa Nevada, for example, maintained a distinctive melodic yet grungy sound across a really wide repertoire for such a new band, and Cara Roxanne delivered a delightful (and endearingly nervous) folk rock set.
And on the main stage things were particularly bright. With Jonah and co headlining, and the festival’s home-made approach I’d braced myself for several variations on a folksy theme (and I wasn’t heartened by the Lancashire Hotpots, with their risqué versions of campfire classics), so I was so ecstatic when local band Max Raptor took the stage and hammered out their set, sounding for all the world like the Buzzcocks at their angriest best.
Hammersmith combo Tellison, a slightly lighter shade of guitar band, left us in no doubt who they were (“we’re Tellison” they interjected after every song, clearly as chuffed as a festival-goer getting back to their tent to discover a pack of fresh boxers to be there, going on to remind us several times that they were “touring with Johnny Foreigner in the autumn”). Fortunately their enthusiasm was matched by talent. They need to work on widening their repertoire a little, and sculpting a set, but that will come, and they’ll be a cracking support for Johnny Foreigner.
Before he embarked upon his alternative career as a mud-wrestling MC, Esser showed he actually has quite a flair for music as well. Once you get over the fact he looks like a member of Curiosity Killed the Cat, his music is actually just what you need to brighten a dull afternoon (his appearance even coincide with that of the sun). It’s the kind of breezy, poppy London sound you’d imagine Lily Allen might make if she had a bit more talent, only the layered synth in the background gives it a satisfyingly present but not too intrusive edge.
Bombay Bicycle Club are probably already too big to properly be called Indie. They seem to have been everywhere this year, but it was still a treat to see this London combo in the flesh. Their energy was just what we needed to keep us going as we fidgeted around waiting for the reason we came, The Boxer Rebellion. I won’t repeat what I said about this amazing band last time. They’re the best band in the UK. Full stop.
So what does the UK’s most Indie festival have to offer? Well, it has dancing bananas and inflatable whales (though the latter are probably in shorter supply when there’s a different line-up). It has a fancy dress day, which this year was nautically-themed, and an Indie spirit that meant despite the rain a good quarter of the people we saw had dressed for the occasion (from the far-sighted types who adapted umbrellas to make jellyfish costumes) to the more sunshine-dependent whose cardboard destroyers were, er, destroyed. And I haven’t seen that many mud-wrestling sailors outside of the burlesques of Amsterdam.
It did also, it has to be said, have very nice toilets.