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FESTIVAL REVIEW: Truck Festival 2023

If you like consistently strong line-ups filled to the brim of the best and the newest indie-rock around then look no further than Oxford’s very own Truck Festival.

As this year’s line-up featured headliners Two Door Cinema Club, Alt-J, and Royal Blood, it’s fair to say British indie-rock is still thriving, and this weekend was a completely muddy celebration of that.

Beginning our festival was female rock group Cherym, blasting out their new single Taking Up Sports will undoubtedly sort out many a hangover. The Derry girls got the crowd singing and even a few people even dancing. As the crowd grew from start to finish, we think they gained a few fans. 9/10

If that wasn’t enough energy for you, Lambrini Girls rocked the stage to ramp up the energy a few more revs with their brand of rock ‘n’ roll. Phoebe Lunny’s energy was unmatched as she rampaged through the crowd, and it was as punk as it gets. “Fuck J.K Rowling” probably wasn’t a chant you’d expect to be hearing first thing at the festival, but punk music is always unpredictable! 9/10

On a slightly more alternative route, Heavy Lungs played one of their few appearances this summer at Truck, blasting hits both old and new ahead of their new record All Gas No Brakes out this September. The Bristolians were loud. Maybe the loudest band of the festival, and probably security’s least favourite band! In spite of a break midway through the set as someone got accidentally knocked out in the huge circle pit that broke out, the band smashed it, and the crowd was very, very bouncy – what more could you want from a half hour gig! 10/10

Now, the polar opposite in British Eurovision entry Mae Muller, who worked through some ‘Love Island bangers’, for lack of a better term. Every song seemed to be about boys and heartbreak with a fairly forgettable pop backdrop. Muller’s stage presence was strong and the crowd thoroughly enjoyed her but sadly the music didn’t follow. However, a sing along to I Wrote a Song was a bit of fun. 5/10

Indie-rock legends The Vaccines followed next to a packed-out crowd, proving that this band could easily headline any medium-sized indie fest in the UK. The band essentially played their greatest hits set prizing mainly from their iconic debut What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? So, every song was a success. The band did lack stage presence at times as lead singer Justin Hayward-Young ambled around the stage, seemingly not as into the music as everyone else. However, the band played well, but perhaps lacked the passion you need to emphasise for a great gig. 6.5/10

Headliners Two Door Cinema Club were the first of the three headliners to take the stage over the weekend. With their back catalogue, it’s pretty hard for them to play a bad set. As always, the band were fairly reserved and are evidently a group of introverts, but their music speaks for themselves. Similar to The Vaccines, the band knew what the crowd wanted to hear and Tourist History is essentially that, so they played a whopping 10 songs from it. The crowd lapped up every single one of them it. The set was accompanied with some cool visuals, but nothing exactly groundbreaking. Surprisingly, the band opted not to do an encore, but when the set came to an end on Something Good Can Work, the crowd left pretty happy. On the other hand, it was pretty much the same set as their previous Truck headline set four years previous, regardless it was still a lot of fun. 7.5/10

As many a sore head arose on Saturday, the downpour began. An irritating light downpour of rain which seemingly didn’t stop for two days, but that did not stop people from attending the brilliant Oxford Symphony Orchestra who annually open the main stage on Saturday at Truck Festival.

People were moshing, bouncing, raving and circle pitting… to an orchestra. Yes. It’s bizarre, but it’s also always one of the best sets every year of Truck. As the orchestra play classics from the likes of ABBA to Queen, mixed in with some famous classical numbers, you are guaranteed a fun time. The charming Robert conducts the orchestra whilst being ever popular with crowd, turns out Robert also has a few big names up his sleeve as he brought out Clean Bandit to join them on stage at midday on a rainy Saturday in Oxford. Much to the crowd’s delight, the group accompanied by the orchestra played through hits Rather Be and Symphony, with Clean Bandit violinist Grace Chatto revealing that Robert taught her violin growing up. It was a wonderful heartwarming set, and it was clearly the set of the weekend. 10/10

A few hours later, post-punk outfit Courting burst onto the market stage opening with a blast, starting with hits Grand National and Tennis. The band only have a small catalogue as they are placed very much in the new band category, but every song through their half hour or so set went down exceptionally with the crowd. Lead singer Sean Murphy-O’Neill’s energy was unmatched, and the band finished very strong. Well worth a watch. 9.5/10

Established indie crowd favourite Circa Waves took to the main stage next as they worked their way through a plethora of hits. Fresh off the release of their fifth album Never Going Under, tracks from the record felt as if they had been around for years, which speaks to the success of the LP. The band had to work pretty hard to liven the atmosphere up around the festival as it was very wet and muddy, and it didn’t seem as if they were quite up to it as the less hardcore fans seemingly came and went before the set was up, although the fans at the front were evidently loving it. 7/10

Up next, UK pop sensation Maisie Peters took a crowd of screaming teenagers for her Truck slot. Peters has a good stage presence and clearly has a passion for her performance as vocally, she didn’t miss a note. Tracks such as Cate’s Brother and Psycho were fun in a live capacity, but in a similar vein to Circa Waves, she struggled to keep the casual fan stood in the crowd for fourty-five mins during a very muddy set. Her accent was also very confusing as she seemingly kept changing from American to English. 7/10

One of the best bands of this generation came next in the form of Alt-J, celebrating 10 years of their Mercury award-winning debut An Awesome Wave. The trio have always been the type of band to come, play their songs, and leave gracefully so when going to an Alt-J show, you don’t really go into it with the mindset of having a party, because the band do not encourage crowd anticipation. That aside, as you’d expect, the songs sounded fantastic. Particular highlights were Taro, Bloodflood, and Something Good from An Awesome Wave. Newer songs from last year’s The Dream were played well by the band but not necessarily known by the crowd. For instance, when the encore came, Alt-J chose to play Hard Drive Gold from The Dream, a good song, but due to it not being a crowd favourite, it slightly killed the atmosphere, but of course Left Hand Free and Breezeblocks brought the atmosphere right back up for a big old finale to a muddy old day. 8/10

Come Sunday, the rain was showing vague signs that it was starting to leave, with glimpses of sun being followed by gloomy clouds, but the rain seemingly was inevitable.

The best way to start any day at a festival is Mr Motivator. He gets around most the UK festival circuit and always draws a big crowd. For those who don’t know, Mr. Motivator is essentially a low-level dancer and high-level motivational speaker and always brings the good vibes, and on a rainy Sunday morning, it’s exactly what Truck Fest needed. The dodgy dancing was on point, but so were the smiles. Mr Motivator will always be a 10! 10/10

On a dancey but less of a fitness motive, Antony Szmierek graced the Nest Stage with his brand of lo-fi rap. Sziemierek played to a growing crowd with thought provoking lyrics, groovy rhythms and pretty much the perfect playlist for a Sunday afternoon where everyone was feeling slightly worse for wear, it was hard to fault. Working Classic was a definitive highlight with the nostalgic emotion provoked during that track being doubled live. All in all, the perfect act for the occasion. 10/10

On the main stage now, and indie rock outfit (with a hint of alternative) Pale Waves played to a decent sized crowd. All was going well until lead singer Heather Baron-Gracie spotted a handmade banner in the crowd which said something the lines of “I will correct you Heather”, which was either a really poor attempt at humour, or someone just being plain disgusting, either way it was homophobic and out of order due to Baron-Gracie’s open lesbian sexuality. Naturally, Heather took issue with the comment, making digs at the culprit; and bringing an LGBTQIA+ flag onto the stage was the perfect response. The band marched on and if anything, this fuelled their performance even further, although naturally there was a slight sour atmosphere in the air. Musically, the band were solid, with There’s A Honey and She’s My Religion gaining the best crowd reaction. 9/10

Royal Blood had the task of carrying the Sunday headline slot with a weary, weather-beaten crowd to work with. With their punctual riffs and barbaric drums, the pair treated the audience to a rip raw set packed full of bangers from their borderline-legendary self-titled 2014 debut through to their newest single in the form of Mountains at Midnight which already seemed very familiar with the crowd. Whilst older tracks such as Come on Over and How Did We Get So Dark? had no issues with getting the crowd moving. Having obliterated the audience’s eardrums with just a bass and drums, they had their set rounded off with a mesmerising firework show to aptly round off the weekend. They left a crowd keen for more, dazzled by the visual and sonic show on offer, capping off a brilliant weekend, despite the weather’s best efforts to ruin it. 9/10

Overall, Truck has delivered yet again! Potentially for 2024, the festival could experiment with a more imaginative line-up, however when you’ve got a winning formula that keeps the festival selling out every summer, it’s hard to argue that anything should change when all the bands keep on delivering. Bring on next year!

Written By: Joe Loughran