Expectations are appropriately higher for the Forbidden Fruit festival’s second time around the block: its debut was not without teething problems, but this year’s event is happily a smoother-running affair, with no repeat of the epic bar queues of 2011. The ‘no re-entry’ policy is, however, still present and correct and the cause of many a grumble – whatever the economic or practical reasoning, something as effectively draconian as trapping the punters on-site is always going to taint the vibe of a festival. Weather-wise, the gods aren’t shining on Kilmainham either – at least not for the first two days, characterised as they are by grey skies and good old rain.
The musical line-up is an eclectic mix, and after sampling the go-to festival vibe merchants Hypnotic Brass Ensemble – who are providing a brass-infused hoedown on the Main Stage – State starts the weekend proper with Bear In Heaven. Touring behind second album I Love You, It’s Cool, the Brooklyn trio’s swirling, loud psych/electro/rock sound really hits home forcefully on The Undergrowth Stage. The new material has a dense feel to it and an absorbing rhythmic undertow, while oldie ‘Lovesick Teenagers’ is a grand, goth-tinged anthem.
The Field’s set on the Main Stage is something of a damp squib, unfortunately. His trademark approach – hypnotic loops and pulsating techno rhythms – calls for the immersive environment that a tent would provide, but out in the open air it’s sunk by ropey sound quality, with almost non-existent low-end. Axel Wilner mostly goes for tracks from his latest album Looping State Of Mind, but despite the live instrumentation it’s no more than pleasantly distracting.
Factory Floor are a different story. Making full use of the lighting set up in the Undergrowth Stage, their set is a dark, strobe-heavy beast of controlled chaos. There’s a fascinating symmetry to the silhouetted trio: drummer Gabriel Gurnsey is pushed to front-left, his magnetic intensity emphasising the kinetic rhythmic pulse that anchors the trio. To the back of the stage Dominic Butler creates all manner of strangulated electronic textures and unholy effects; while Nik Void stands to the right, turned inward towards Gurnsey with her gaze fixated on her guitar, from which she draws out shards of noise with a violin bow. Their combination of post-industrial, krautrock and techno influences is visceral and trance-inducing – while the newer material indicates that the trio are heading further down the road of askew dancefloor subversions.
A quick visit to the Lighthouse Stage sees Toby Kaar rounding off his set to a packed tent with the fantastic ‘Bread’. From there it’s on to the Main Stage for Holy Fuck. As a band formed with the purpose of making electronic or techno-influenced music with live instruments, the Canadians are ideal fodder for festivals. However, despite their ear for insistent hooks their music is also quite intricately constructed and multi-layered. At times during their set you wish they’d create some momentum, but instead it kind of periodically threatens to soar before turning back in on itself. Overall it’s enjoyable stuff though.
Friendly Fires do seem to have become one of those perennial festival stalwarts, with their dance-punk sound lent further force by singer Ed McFarlane’s legit dance moves. They have their work cut out on the Main Stage though: the rain is by now pouring down, and the band are also dogged by sound problems (with the vocals in particular suffering). Even aside from that though, the worry is that – as with other festival favourites of yore (we’re looking at you, CSS) – the initial attraction is starting to wear off a bit. Never the most ground-breaking of bands, Friendly Fires’ more recent material lacks the hooks or conviction that first sold the band to audiences.
State’s first port of call on Day Two is Lower Dens at the Lighthouse Stage. The Baltimore four-piece have toured with Deerhunter, and you can definitely see similarities in their approach – Lower Dens move between textured, psychedelic rushes of noise, engrossing jams and woozy balladry. They’re also surprisingly muscular live, and the soaring stand-out is ‘Brains’ – a song that matches its emotive potency with a turbulent, ebbing-and-flowing instrumental backdrop.
Probably the most anticipated performer of the weekend is Grimes, aka Claire Boucher, whose latest album Visions has caused something of a music press frenzy. Boucher has spoken before about her initial discomfort with playing live, but right from the opening bars of the eerily seductive ‘Vanessa’ she looks to be in her element. Bouncing between two keyboards, the singer’s enthusiasm and charisma is infectious, while the twisting, restless melodic flourishes that characterise Visions are more forceful and convincing in this setting. The superb ‘Oblivion’ and ‘Genesis’ are rapturously received by the full-to-capacity tent, and most leave more-than-satisfied – this is possibly the performance of the weekend.
The Atlas Sound live experience continues to feature Bradford Cox in folkie troubadour mode, and in all honesty it’s not an ideal representation of his talents. While it’s pleasant enough to hear an acoustic version of ‘Walkabout’ or wracked, contemplative fare like ‘Terra Incognita’, it all gets a bit placid and samey-sounding over a whole set; one longs for the abrasive soundscapes or the more immersive, full-bodied elements of the Atlas Sound back catalogue, of which there are plenty.
A quick sample of The Rapture on the Main Stage is enough to remind State of what a great song ‘Pieces Of The People We Love’ is, but Cloud Nothings are calling from The Lighthouse Stage so off we go. The Cleveland band’s latest album Attack On Memory saw them move from their lo-fi indie origins to a much more muscular, coiled and aggressive sound that nods to emo influences. Songs like ‘No Sentiment’ and ‘No Future, No Past’ are delivered here with heads-down intensity and remarkable tightness, while ‘Fall In’ nods to the more jaunty previous songwriting of main-man Dylan Baldi.
4AD-signed duo Purity Ring have a visually appealing stage set-up, with a lamp-shade-shaped sampler that changed colour when triggered with drumsticks. Such flourishes are matched by the vibrancy of their music, which is all bright neon synths, glam/goth vibes and infectious vocal hooks. The sublime ‘Ungirthed’ may well be the song of the weekend. Com Truise’s set on the Lighthouse Stage is another that hits the spot nicely, his sound joining the dots between chillwave and interstellar synth drift on tunes like the gorgeous ‘Sundriped’.
State chooses to go 50-50 between New Order and Modeselektor on Sunday night. New Order surprise us, slightly. With no Peter Hook involved, memories of undignified press squabbling fresh in the mind, not to mention the fact that their festival sets were getting very tired when they last left the circuit (which really doesn’t seem like all that long ago), it could have been a sorry affair. However, Barney and co. have freshened things up by adding some of the lesser-played songs in their back catalogue – such as the exuberant ‘Age Of Consent’ or Technique classic ‘Round and Round’. It’s still a bit odd to hear Hooky’s distinctive basslines replicated by someone else, but we’re happy. Modeselektor, meanwhile, bring the night to a scintillating close with a perfect set that mixes the throbbing ‘Pretentious Friends’ with classics like ‘Kill Bill Vol 4’ and ‘Let Your Love Grow’.
Monday begins with Julia Holter’s set at the Lighthouse Stage. Rich, nuanced, and spacious, it’s probably a bit early in the day for her cerebral sound, but the crowd are attentive and it occasionally comes together gloriously as with Ekstasis opener ‘Marienbad’. To our delight, State arrive at the Main Stage just as Field Music are playing one of their finest songs, the majestic ‘In Context’ from their much-underrated Tones Of Town album. Indeed, the band in general are far too unsung: combining smart lyrical themes, sophisticated song structures and earworm melodies. The sunshine has finally arrived as well, so they are playing to a pretty big gathering among whom should surely be some new converts.
Liars’ set at the Undergrowth Stage is something of an anti-climax, unfortunately. The trio play plenty of material from new album WIXIW, which is still being digested slowly – it’s slow-burning, atmospheric, gritty stuff, infused with tension and menace. ‘No. 1 Against The Rush’, however, is seriously weak by their standards, and the set is lacking in the kind of explosive power they’re capable of. Bit more time needed with the new record, perhaps.
Real Estate are a band perfect for soundtracking summer days, so it’s something of a pity they’re in a tent. Oh well. The melodic guitar interplay and vintage hooks that were a feature of Days are present and correct so nobody’s complaining. The bittersweet, soothing tones of ‘Green Aisles’ are particularly resplendent, creating a hypnotic lattice over which the vocal melody chimes. Later on the same stage however, someone drops the ball big-time during Mazzy Star’s set by rendering Hope Sandoval’s vocals all-but-inaudible.
It’s left to Chromatics to round off Forbidden Fruit 2012 for State. We would be lying if he tried to give a coherent account of the set. However, the airy anthemics of ‘Kill For Love’ and a rapturously-received cover of Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ make for two memorable moments in a performance that was by all accounts a resounding success. And by and large, so was Forbidden Fruit itself. It will be interesting to see if the organisers continue to tweak the festival, but for now it looks to be holding its own in an uncertain field.
Grimes’ photo by Paulo Goncalves. See more here.