Offset Festival

Hainhault Forest, September 5th - 6th 2009

Featured Artists: The Futureheads  The Ghost of a Thousand  The Horrors  Wild Beasts 

Staying on your feet suddenly becomes difficult when Tom Lacey, The Ghost of a Thousand’s lead singer, decides to pick up his mic stand and set it down less than ten feet away from you, right in the middle of the viciously swaying crowd gathered in the hardcore tent. Even more difficult when you’re preoccupied with taking wildly out-of-focus photographs of the whole thing.

It’s nearly the end of Sunday night and we’ve more or less been camped out in the Hardcore tent for the whole weekend. This isn’t great for impartiality I admit, but ‘there’s no such thing as objective journalism - so don’t bother to look for it here.’

We arrived on Saturday morning about an hour or so later than planned and, after getting our passes, headed over to the campsite. It’s located in a field a few hundred yards behind the main site, enclosed by tall steel security fences, which would at various times throughout the weekend get pushed over by drunks, for fun. Inside the campsite there are grids spray-painted on the grass showing where you’re meant to pitch your tent, and where you’re not. “Anywhere between the white lines,” the security guy said. This was to keep walkways clear throughout the site, but technically the walkways are between white lines, so it would be fine for you to pitch your tent there.

After getting everything set up we headed over to the main site, and this meant getting through ‘checkpoint charlie’. Security is tight at the gate - empty your pockets, open your bags, get patted down. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be too bad but after trying to pick a pocketful of coins up off a table with a reasonable lip around the edge, I learned you should either pack light or dump everything in your bag.

By the time we’d got in, Blakfish were near the end of their set on the main stage and the guitarist had clambered up the lighting rig at the side. After shimmying over a little and dangling his legs like a child on the monkey bars - classic rock n roll - he got back down. They finished with ‘Ringo Starr, 2nd best drummer in the Beatles,’ dropping their instruments and singing the last couple of lines over and over. The singer made his way into the crowd and sung back at the stage with a few others who knew the words. It was an impressive set and they obviously wanted to be the ones to kick-start the weekend.

Most of the rest of the day we spent milling around, seeing the other stages, stalls, and stands, drinking weak Carlsberg, eating chapatis laced with the driest, hottest spices, and drinking yet more weak Carlsberg. I only knew a handful of bands over the entire weekend, and that meant I was free to wander around and dip into the different tents to see what was going on - and there were more than a few bands that caught my eye.

I’m not a die-hard hardcore fan, so the fact that I kept gravitating towards that stage is probably a testament to the strength of the line-up. I watched the emotionally charged singer of Attack! Vipers! scream his lungs out while the band made leaps from punk rock to post-rock in the background. Rinoa’s epic, drawn-out, mammoth, wall of noise easily placed them as one of the crowd favourites, and I’ll definitely be hoping to see them live again soon. But this was soon followed by the disappointment of hanging around for Dead Swans, to be told after about fifteen minutes that they’d pulled out, or got lost, or just not turned up. These things happen I guess.

The whole weekend’s line-up is an eclectic mix of styles, sounds, and genres, but stumbling into the Guitar Hero New Bands tent at 5pm I think made everyone question their sanity. Lekiddo - Lord of the Lobsters. It was like watching Mr Motivator dancing to ‘Under the Sea’ from The Little Mermaid while singing the Streets’ ‘Don’t Mug Yourself’. At this hour it might be quite tame but you put him on past midnight and I’m certain he’d push a few people over the edge. They’d be murmuring about ‘bad trips’ and bashing their heads against the giant wooden masts propping the tent up. Still, he seemed as happy as a man who could shit gold coins - maybe because some of the puzzled looks had turned into genuine glee, and there were soon outbreaks of lobster dancing everywhere.

Up on the main stage were Pulled Apart By Horses. They powered through their set much in the same fashion as Blakfish, preying on weekend fun like a bunch of kamikaze 9-5’ers on a Friday night. Although they don’t blow me away on CD, their bold, fuck-all set including ‘I Punched a Lion in the Throat’, and ‘E=MC Hammer’ was impressive because they bound around the stage with reckless energy and at times have a pretty menacing sound. Another band I’d hope to see again in future.

By 8pm, the sun is barely visible and the sky has become a moody backdrop against the warmly glowing lights of the main stage. It’s the kind of time when everyone starts to go a little crazy, like during a full moon, or a Michael Jackson concert. We’d just been to see the Plight thunder through their gruff, swaggering rock n roll and had headed out to see The Futureheads. In a way, the Futureheads are the cool side of the Offset pillow. They’re probably the biggest name here, and they offer one of the very few mass sing-alongs of the weekend, with their inevitable cover of ‘Hounds of Love’. They’re truly at ease on stage, telling jokes, segregating the crowd and directing them to sing the complementing parts of Kate Bush’s classic. I’ve seen them a couple of times now and they’ve always gone down well. In a weekend packed full of shouting and screaming, pretence, irreverence, and the absurd, the Futureheads are almost like a warm hug.

After watching Devil Sold His Soul play a decent but otherwise rather uninspiring set, we sat, drank rum and went to see some of the DJs. But being relatively ignorant about the names on the line-up sheet we’d been handed when we got our passes, and then finding the music not all that enthralling, it wasn’t long before we headed back to camp to settle down for the night, and perhaps to make a dent in the crate. It was here that we heard the Dead Swans had turned up in the end and played after Devil Sold His Soul - ain’t that a kick in the teeth.

I woke up the next morning thinking it’d be nice to have freshly ground coffee and a big sausage and egg bap for breakfast. So we did. It’s not the kind of thing you come to expect from a festival but something Offset have surpassed themselves with. In fact, I’d go again just for the food. Admittedly at the campsite there’s a standard burger van serving barely recognisable brownish stuff inside barely recognisable whitish stuff, but that’s mainly to cater for the wild-eyed drunks late at night, and once you get to the main site there’s Ghanaian, Indian, Mexican, French, organic, and vegetarian food waiting for you.

Much in the same vein as Saturday, we hovered around the hardcore tent and the main stage on Sunday, like lost children afraid to wander. It’s here that I saw Outcry Collective, one of the biggest surprises of the weekend for me. I almost nonchalantly wrote them off because I thought they carried themselves with the swagger of a less deserving band, the kind with more bravado than talent. But then they start churning out these hooky southern hardcore one-stringers, and the singer tells disarming stories about someone opening the festival toilet door to be greeted with the sight of him squeezing out a number two. I’ve since bought their album, Articles, and I can’t recommend it enough if you like your music halfway between cock-sure and vicious. Second best band of the weekend.

Over in the completely packed out Clash Live stage, Wild Beasts fill the air with their delicate, buoyant music. A swelling wave of bodies with crests of the tallest heads mean, from where I’m standing, the four boys’ shoulders are just about visible, and I can see them gently bobbing to the rhythm of ‘All the King’s Men’. Wild Beasts can catch you off guard - they use simple, cleverly layered melodies over exceptionally dark and often sexually-charged lyrics. It’s not a combination you often find with bands carrying this many fans, but it shows they know what they’re doing. They have a great buzz about them at the moment, and it’s a wonder they’re not playing the main stage. I’m actually glad they aren’t though, because even right at the back it feels intimate. I stick around long enough to hear the hauntingly mellow ‘His Grinning Skull’ before heading back to what I should probably refer to as ‘home’ to see the latter half of Rolo Tomassi’s set.

Rolo Tomassi, to me, sound like a possessed Gameboy but they draw probably the biggest crowd the Hardcore tent has seen all weekend. And while there’s no denying they are an incredibly inventive and very talented young band, I can’t help but think that the attraction here is Eva Spence, like Princess Leia at a Star Wars convention. Because, let’s be honest, the stage has been a bit of a sausage-fest all weekend. Regardless, Eva can growl with the best of them, and I have to admit they put on a good show. (Boy, I hope she reads this.)

Not long after the crowd has dispersed and seemingly gone to watch the Horrors, The Ghost of a Thousand begin their set to a nearly half empty tent. That can’t be a nice prospect for a headlining band but if the Ghost of a Thousand were affected by it, it certainly didn’t show. Instead, everyone pushes forward and the band burst into the ear-splitting ‘Moved as Mountains, Dreamt of by the Sea’. Forty minutes later, Tom Lacey’s fresh white t-shirt and jeans are a mess of muddy handprints, facepaint and sweat - the result of spending most of the set in front of the stage, rather than on it. New songs like ‘Bright Lights,’ and ‘Running on Empty’ are greeted with as much noise and applause as old favourites like ‘Black Art Number One,’ and ‘Bored of Math’. It’s truly one of the best shows I’ve ever seen in my life, let alone at Offset.

Listening to the tail-end of The Horrors’  set from the rum stand by the side of the main stage, everything just sounds a bit lifeless. I suppose it’s the contrast of having spent most of the day under a tarpaulin where everyone’s leaping around and screaming like apes on hot coal. Still, to me, the Horrors seem like they’ve been debilitated by being so irreverent and cool, as if they’re doomed to a life on the stage when all they want is to go home and eat spaghetti-ohs. Regardless, they were the weekend headliners and, understandably, they draw a large crowd.

Back at the campsite, amongst the midnight revelry, a group of thirty or so miscreants had decided to start up a mobile ‘tent party’. This entailed pinpointing the largest tents, sneaking up to them going “ssshhhhh”, unzipping the flaps, and then running in shouting “TENT PAR-TY, TENT PAR-TY,” in perfect 3/4 timing. In a bigger campsite these ‘tent par-ties’ would have been harder to find than the infamous Route 36 in La Paz, precisely because they only lasted one bar of the song before a change of venue, but here you can see them a hundred yards off - not that I had a big enough tent to accommodate one of these parties mind.

This was the second year Offset has graced Hainault Country Forest Park. Their stated aim was to join the dots between new music and their inspiration, and I think they did just that - with enough known bands to sell tickets and pull a crowd, and enough high quality new bands to surprise you when you turn up, this is a festival worth checking out. I’ll certainly be going next year, and maybe I’ll even look round the other tents.

Posted on 17 September 2009 by Ash Carter

Tags: The Horrors  The Ghost of a Thousand  The Futureheads  Wild Beasts  Rolo Tomassi  Outcry Collective  Devil Sold His Soul  Pulled Apart By Horses  Lekiddo - Lord of the Lobsters  Dead Swans  Rinoa  Attack! Vipers!  Blakfish 

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