Offset Festival – The Indie
With over 6 stages in a small field for only 4,000 music fans, Offset spoils you for choice. The camping set-up is not quite as impressive; it could only be described as a compound, with metal fencing leaving as much room for exploration as you would expect from HMP Belmarsh. Unlike prison residents, festival-goers can opt out of incarceration and the campsite at least provided extra motivation to escape and indulge in the weekend’s musical offerings.
Saturday Sept 5th
At noon, with Londoners arriving and others coming from further afield the country park was already buzzing with leather jackets, high cut denim shorts and those really irritating plastic coloured sun glasses that all global scenesters tend to wear. The main stage had a welcoming amount of empty space on the dry grass for sitting and eating, no one stirred when the Birmingham-based post-hardcore band Blakfish bounced onstage with their self-proclaimed ‘death pop’. Their nipple piercings, faded tattoos, dreads, vomiting, scaffold climbing and the “you can suck me off after the set” comments were amusingly juxtaposed with repeatedly cheesy harmonized vocals regarding supposedly profound reflections upon the world and all its woes. In their song ‘Ringo Starr, the 2nd Best Drummer in The Beatles’ they instigated an acapella chant. Clapping their hands they sung “It could be worse, we could be dead. I don’t know how we survive, all I know is we did”. Another of their songs shouts “all the kids that go to shows now go to clubs” – it’s not surprising if they are subjected to such uninspired lyrical content.
Later that afternoon (although not listed on the program) Hook and The Twin graced the main stage with drums, korg, guitar and samples. They knocked out tunes such as ‘Race for the Bone’ and ‘Bang Bang Cherry’. It was a shame that the crowd was so small and non-responsive. It would have been a better gig if they took a leaf out of Lightning Bolt’s book by bringing their drummer Marcus to the front of the stage.
After a browse of every food menu in the field including ‘Herman Ze German’s Famous Bratwurst’ it was time to return to the main stage to watch 2008 Offset guests KASMS. The sequined, hot panted, red-haired Rachel Callaghan hoarsely drawled through ‘Absent Without Leave’ the “dear mother I regret to tell you that I am not such a nice little gurrrl” line was reminiscent of Pixie Lott’s tainted-innocence themed hit song “Mama Do”. Callaghan has major label appeal that could be manipulated and targeted perfectly towards a young and unquestioning demographic. The dirty guitar-led songs should please an eager crowd of post-punk fans, especially their song ‘Male Bonding’ but because of the lack of musicianship between the 4-piece, the hard to please Offset kids stood there with turned up noses and pursed red lipsticked mouths. The sight of Callaghan doing press ups on stage was too much, she could have won hearts if her performance wasn’t so contrived.
By this point the need to consume was more important than the need to see another group of posey kids playing bad music. ‘Leon’s’ vegetarian cuisine offered up lashings of veggie delights including chickpea curry, lentils and roasted veg all stacked onto one plate. As the delicious dinner was going down Good Shoes hit the stage. With 21st century bands suffering from an increasingly shorter shelf life, their new songs could have gone down like a lead balloon in amongst the discerning din of the Offset crowd. They played their old favourites “Never Meant To Hurt You” and “All In My Head” to which there was a reaction of raucous moshing, one kid smashed his head, bleeding, he soldiered on with a tissue stuck to his face. Their new song “The Way My Heart Beats” was received with dancing and cheers all round.
Taking a break from the mainstage action was easy, you only had to walk for about two minutes before you were inundated with an influx of interesting bands playing the smaller tents. The Loud and Quiet tent hosted Sub Pop signed Male Bonding. Being signed to the prestigious Seattle label has big implications, and Male Bonding did not disappoint.
In amongst the foamy beer and toilet paper there was a fantastic eruption of noisy garage punk that along with Lovvers makes them one of the few current UK bands who can compete with the standard of lofi, noisy garage-punk that is coming out of LA at the moment.
Seeing a decent gig in a small tent was one of Offset’s strongest assets, the Loud & Quiet, Guitar Heroes and ECC stages all promoted the importance of intimacy between the band and the fans. The ‘Nuke Them All’ tent can’t be ignored either, it offered up DJ after DJ freshly picked from the East London club scene, they knew exactly how to get an afternoon rave party started.
After sweating it out inside ‘Nuke Them All’ it was time to return to the main stage where Bombay Bicycle Club were opening up. Jack Steadman’s sickly sweet Noah and The Whale-esque vocals would make the perfect soundtrack to a film involving candy-floss, cupcakes and ‘My Little Ponies’. However, as the sun set on the festival and the Offset crowd’s collective alcohol intake began to hit a warm fuzzy high point, people couldn’t help but find themselves relaxing into the unashamedly cutesy indie pop. Despite the saturation of introverted, lovesick lyrical content the band had a real charm. It takes a lot to woo the hardest of Doc Martined Hoxton heroes and heroines and even they seemed to be smiling and shoulder rubbing with one another. BBC were in fact a welcome break from the hardcore, post-punk and garage that had made up most of Saturday thus far.
Sunday Sept 6th
By Sunday the sight of thousands of intentionally ripped tights and set lists scrawled with sharpies onto bruised bare thighs had become a bit of a strain on even the most hardened Shoreditch resident’s eyes. It was a relief to step into The Clash tent to be greeted by the baggy t-shirt and jeans aesthetic of She Keeps Bees. There is no bullshit with this “indie soul blues 2 piece” from Brooklyn. With one electric guitar and a drum kit it’s raw to the bone and comes with additional commentary in between songs from the charismatic singer Jessica Larrabee, the main bee-keeper. Offset now know all about her schizophrenic mother, who she said she would “crawl into a hole with” after flinging her guitar down because it wasn’t doing what she wanted it to do. Her voice alone had enough soul to bring Cat Power to her knees. The compere took to the stage afterwards grinning with pride “They were mental, but they’re good aren’t they?” Indeed they are.
Next-door was the Guitar Heroes Tent where Bo Ningen played later that afternoon. Described as “Enlightenment Activists from the Far East Psychedelic Underground” the dizzy psychedelic guitar riffs, pummeling pacey drums, screeching quirk-centric vocal shouts and long black hair swishing from side to side without a bead of sweat in sight, made for mesmerizing listening and viewing. People’s jaws were dropping as the guitarist Kohhei took to the pole in the middle of the marquee, bare footedly climbing it like a drunken ape, he finished off by hanging upside down with his palms stretched out to greet his adoring crowd.
Post-show fans milled around the tent and somebody said to his band mates “Back to the drawing board boys” it looked and sounded like it came from one of The Horrors. Somebody else exclaimed, “Seeing that has made my weekend!” I couldn’t agree more.
Offset 2009 had good weather and a thoughtful selection of bands that kept the crowds happy, even if they weren’t smiling. With She Keeps Bees and Bo Ningen being the two highlights, nothing else compared thereafter. This and the fact that every face, haircut and outfit was beginning to merge into one giant monster that looked like it had spent hundreds of years in a charity shop studying fine art, smoking rollies, drinking coffee and listening to Sonic Youth was an obvious indicator that it was time to go home… until we’re ready to face it all over again next year.
Words: Harriet Pittard
Photo: Abbi London
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