Review of Summer Sundae 2012

With London's hosting of the Olympics many festivals have had to step outside of their comfort zone. Some, Glastonbury being the largest example, have simply decided to call it a year, whilst others have rescheduled in an attempt to lessen the impact of a decline in audience before the consideration of economic factors. Although not directly affected by the Olympics' timetable, 2012's edition of Summer Sundae found itself amongst an unusually congested weekend of activities including Green Man, Strummer Of Love and the nearby Beacons Festival, and its organisers decided the best course of action was a step back and a slight left turn.

Summer Sundae

Immediately apparent upon entry of the gates of Leicester's De Montford Hall was that the festival's ground was somewhat scaled down; the third and fourth stages were much smaller, and the main stage brought closer to the site's entrance to reduce the size of the open area in front of it. Despite this, it was soon evident that most areas were less populated than usual, particularly in the indoor stage situated inside De Montford Hall itself, where such scaling back was impossible. Also noticeable upon entrance was the festival's 'theme', with the site being given a 'safari' make-over that was less overbearing and cringe-worthy than might have been expected; its understated décor perhaps a wise decision with little more than a dozen attendees dressing for the occasion.

With such self-imposed constraints, coupled with a ticket price down on last year with the usual heavy concessions for children which drive its family-friendly atmosphere, it would seem inevitable that the quality of the festival's line-up, often suspect at the top-end already, would be affected similarly. Fortunately however, 2012 proved to be one of its strongest yet.

Despite being, for the most part, a beautiful weekend with temperatures in the 25-30 degree range, most of the musical treats were to be found indoors, particularly on the final day of the festival. Returnees to the hall after three years, Her Name Is Calla, highlighted a slow progression that has seen Tom Morris' collective morph from yearning post-rock to a blurred marriage of neo-classical and baroque-pop that contains within traces of Talk Talk and early Silver Mt Zion fused in an atmosphere not dissimilar to some of the more restrained efforts of Kayo Dot or Zelienople's recent 'The World Is A House On Fire'. De Montford Hall is a perfect venue for them; allowing each note to ring out without forsaking clarity as unsettling visuals gape across the century-old auditorium.

This is also true for the melancholic balladry of Ed Harcourt, who possesses a certain regality befitting the venue, but less so for Japandroids and The Twilight Sad. Other festival appearances have assured their ability to translate their sonic squalls for a larger crowd, but, in a room barely half-full, there is a distinct lack of energy coming from one side of the band/fan divide and, although there is nothing wrong with either performance per se, neither live up to their high standards. This is particularly disappointing in the case of The Twilight Sad, for whom it is a farewell show for additional live musician (and for their last album member in earnest) Dok.

With such scorching heat and a wealth of other distractions, perhaps such an occurrence is inevitable. One of Summer Sundae's biggest attractions is the wealth of cuisine on site, with Caribbean jerk chicken, South Indian curry and Mexican street food all on offer alongside a range of cocktails and real ales. Helpful, as the smaller outdoor tent becomes so hot and dusty it can sometimes feel like the festival's theme has come to life, especially during the performance of Jake Bugg. He is, by now, capable of commanding the attention of the main 'Lion's Den' tent but, fit-to-bursting, his set in 'The Watering Hole' is something special, leaning more to up-tempo folk than his earlier work but still wrought with an introspective heart.

He is one of the highlights of the festival, and perhaps now the media darling of the East Midlands music scene, whilst fellow Nottingham troupe Dog Is Dead show they could soon well take that mantle, not wilting in a late afternoon outdoor set in which a lot of references to Topman radio-playlist rock (Fleet Foxes, Vampire Weekend, Mystery Jets et al) are shoehorned behind genuinely catchy song-writing. They may not yet have found their own voice, but they definitely sing the right words.

The city's other act of note over the weekend, The Petebox, is similarly pleasing, building a jenga tower of looped beat-boxing and vocal melodies, half recognisable and half original. He casts a shadow over Speech Debelle, whose youthful promise has unfortunately not resulted in progression from 2009's Mercury Prize winning 'Speech Therapy' full-length. It is left to Adam Ant & The Good The Mad And The Ugly Posse to raise spirits with a perfect mix of old favourites and newer, admittedly poorer, material before tUne-yArDs' primitive tribalism. She is 2012's answer to the legendary performance of Monotonix in 2010; something so vital and completely against the grain that it is almost on another plateau, her delirious maelstrom of howls, shrieks and African percussion half whipping the audience into a frenzy and half leaving it utterly bewildered.

Overall Summer Sundae showed the best way to fend against outside pressures is not to expand nor dissolve but to consolidate, to focus on core strengths rather than bend in reference to the strengths of others, and was all the better for it.

Jordan Dowling

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