To New York math-rock whizz-kids BATTLES we go. Playing Ireland just six weeks after their fourth Irish performance, one had to wonder whether Battles fatigue had set in. The band have been lugging around an identical setlist but this was their first festival performance here so maybe things would be different. There was certainly no fatigue as the densely-populated Pet Sounds tent displayed. In fact, Oxegen is an ideal place for a band like Battles to get beyond the alternative circuit. Their calling card ‘Atlas’ has done wonders for them and when the song is dropped during the set, cheers go up and hands start clapping. The introductory rumbling of bass is like an amplified heartbeat. The crowd sing the “Oh Wey Yo” hook and everybody’s jumping. From our position in the middle of tent, the only thing truly visible from the stage is John Stanier’s trademark high cymbal and the sea of hands in front of it. The sound is not carrying at all though and not even a switch in sides can help. It was the only downer on what seemed like a noodle-free short setlist.
The return of TRICKY at Pet Sounds is greeted by people who were once Tricky fans, curious to see a 2008 version of a Tricky live show and a pocket of people near the front waiting for the Aphex Twin. As expected, the majority of material was taken from new and excellent album Knowle West Boy. In 1995, he was joined in duet by Martina Topley-Bird. In 2008, It is Kira who plays the lead female part and it is very much a lead role. Resplendent in a red tracksuit, Kira performs many lead vocals on her lonesome while Tricky stares at the drum-riser and smokes copious amounts of cigarettes. That’s not to say he’s ignoring the audience. When it is his turn to use the mic, he strangles and shakes it like he’s holding a snake at arms length, pounding the stand off the ground. He’s poised like a puppet on strings. He cuts an intimidating figure but a captivating one. We get surprises in the form of ‘Black Steel’ and ‘Ponderosa’ while new song ‘Veronika’ sounds superb. Towards the end, a couple of nondescript songs allow the mind to wander and we’re not sure anyone around us is actually paying attention. All that yields as the closer ‘Joseph’ grabs everybody’s eyeballs and directs them onto Tricky. He repeatedly screams the line “She left me, now she’s gone / She left me, now she’s gone / She left me, now she’s gone“, as he wriggles around the stage, mic and stand with him as if possessed by voodoo.
The sound quality varies greatly over the course of the day, from the awful (Battles) to the pristine (BellX1). The quality of the audio from the main stage depends very much on where you’re positioned: in the right spot, it’s perfectly on the money, the wrong one and it’s a bass-heavy mush. Team State think we have it sussed for days 2 and 3 but we’re telling nobody.
The arrival of Richard D James or the APHEX TWIN onto the Pet Sounds Stage is a moment. The tent is heaving with expectation and it’s all let out as Richard, obscured by strobe lights, drops the first tune of his mammoth 100 minute DJ set to pure elation. Accompanied from the off by hardcore pornographic visuals and heavy old-school electro, the mass of people start to move as one. The excitement comes from not knowing what he will do. Will he play any of his own stuff? Will he take the piss? Evidently, shortly afterwards it appears, he is in fact taking the piss. Either that or really bad sound which has plagued the Pet Sounds stage so far. Richard is either panning a song from left to right speakers to disorientate and piss us off or the sound really is that troubled and it’s about to cut out. After about 10 minutes of this we get back on track with off-kilter electro. The visuals display some rather hilarious footage; from the TV show Monkey, a live audience feed, classic rock performances to strange films like The Executioner which features a man in a wheelchair getting strangled. Nice. Strangely, while the beats drift down rapidly from the stage, the crowd try and put some shape on things by shouting in unison “Whoomp! There it is! Whoomp! There it is! “. It’s odd and State hopes the person responsible is pleased.
As the set starts to take in harder beats, something amazing happens. In a surreal expression of hardcore mongedness, three gurners in AFX t-shirts appear and gurn at the audiences sporadically throughout the show (Youtube example). If heads weren’t chemically unbalanced before they certainly are now. From there on in, it’s jungle and drum & bass highlights including skewed snippets of the revered Squarepusher Breezeblock and a couple of tunes from Druqs including ’54 Cymru Beats’. The music starts to scare security and mild panic sets in as they block off access with security gates to many of the tent entrances, even though the tent is nowhere near capacity. They relent after 10/15 minutes and the skewed party continues until a shower of drum breaks slowly collapse signalling the end of a highly unusual but totally essential festival experience. Aphex, we salute your unorthodox ways.
Photos by James Goulden