2000 Trees Review (The Serious One)

2000 Trees is a festival that, for me at least, is all about freedom and going back to basics. The whole vibe is one of letting people get away from the hassle of Brexit-Britain and just bun it all off in a field for a few days. Take your beer wherever you want, eat burritos for every meal and watch some good bands make a lot of noise. It’s a place that encourages silliness (read more about that here), friendliness and fishbowls full of Bloody Mary, and those are three things I always want in my life. It’s a highlight of every festival season and 2016 was no different. Thursday

Thursday night was all about Xtra Mile, a label that’s very tied to the festival, with all of the three of the fan camps, Turner, Marwood and Reuben, being in tribute to Xtra Mile bands. This year the label had been given the Axiom to do as they wished on Thursday and they packed it out from start to finish. Ben Marwood in particular played a mid-afternoon set that ended being a highlight of the weekend. Marwood was a 2000 Trees staple who would each year return to a larger and more enthusiastic crowd, most recently playing the second stage, The Cave, in 2014 and pretty much packing it out. However he had to take the rest of 2014, 2015 and much of 2016 off because of illness and this was one of his first shows back. He ran threw his classic sing-a-longs and nobody forgot the words, finishing with a duet of The District Sleeps Alone Tonight with Frank Turner. It was wonderful to see him back on a stage and seeing him enjoy the crowd response brought a little tear to the eye.

Beans On Toast climbs the tent and delivers a standout performance on the Thursday

Other highlights of the first day included Beans On Toast, who really comes into his own at festivals seen as he (sort of) started playing properly to get into them for free, And So I Watch You From Afar, who smashed The Cave with their balance of intricacy and crushing heaviness, and Frank Turner’s headline set (otherwise known as the worst kept secret of all time). The Axiom was, obviously, packed deep outside the canvas and pretty much every word was hollered back at him (or slurred, considering most people, myself included, had been drinking since 10am). His main stage headline in 2013 was a springboard in his jump from cult favourite to bona fide arena filler, so it was nice to see him back.

Friday

Friday in comparison was a bit of a slow start, which was understandable given the hangovers of the Thursday arrivers and the need for the Friday arrivers to do boring stuff like put up a tent so they could sleep (lame-o’s). The first massive crowd of the day was for Lande of The Muncie Girls, who played a special Forest Session in the early afternoon, and packed in perhaps the most people I’ve ever seen between those trees. Stripped back the tracks sounded absolutely gorgeous. Her warm guitar tone and soft delivery washed over the crowd and really let the story telling and lyrical poignancy of Muncie’s wonderful new album, From Caplan To Belsize, really shine through. Later on The Axion they smashed a full band performance and proved they’ve got a bite to go with their gentler side.

Muncie Girls perform on The Axiom Stage

The Main Stage really took off in the mid-afternoon with an excellent back to back of Brawlers and The Smith Street Band. Brawlers instantly looked at home on a main stage, and the powerful hooks of their new ‘The Black EP’ went down a treat. Lead singer Harry Johns had previously walked out with a massive smile on his face and two cans of beer. He sculled one and lobbed the other into the crowd, which really emphasised the beauty of Brawlers. Namely that this is what any of us would do if we were on a main stage; have a fucking good time. The Smith Street Band were slightly hindered by lead singer Wil Wagner being confined to a bar stool, they joke as an equivalent of the Dave Grohl throne, due to a leg injury, as Wil is a contagious force of energy on stage. However even sat down his passion was evident and the band still sounded incredible. Given that they travelled from Australia with Wil’s leg like this it also added into the general feeling you get whenever you watch Smith Street; that making music like this is important and means the world to them. That you don't have to surrender. It was a resolutely brilliant performance and in a year or two they could definitely return as headliners of The Axiom (or perhaps even The Cave).

Wil Wagner of The Smith Street Band performs from his bar stool on the main stage

Saturday evening then brought perhaps the most memorable performance of the weekend in Idles, who absolutely destroyed the Neu Stage whilst seeming to be in a constant state of war. If you haven’t heard of them, they’re a five piece post-punk band from Bristol and they’re equal parts brilliant and terrifying. Lead singer Joe Talbot bounced around the stage like a boxer with a hunger in his eyes, but it was hard to tell if it was to give or take a punch. He barked his stark, bleak lyrics that were half poetry, half political slogans, whilst antagonising his bandmates and smashing his own personal cymbal (I assume there’s a story around why he doesn’t use the drummers). It was one of the rawest and most captivating performances I’ve seen in a long time, and also produced what was undoubtedly the quote of the weekend; “whether you’re a loony lefty or a Tory, let’s take a moment to all come together… via fighting”.

We closed Friday out with Moose Blood, who gave a very accomplished set closing out The Axiom, and then Twin Atlantic headlining the main stage. Honestly, the new Twin Atlantic sound doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest, but their first two EP’s are stunning and it’s incredible to think that five years ago they were touring those in tiny Cardiff bars. And in the same way Frank Turner used his 2013 headline to move on to bigger things, this could be a similar moment for Twin Atlantic, because they really sounded and performed like headliners.

Saturday Damien from The St Pierre Snake Invasion crowdsurfs on the Main Stage on Saturday

Saturday morning was a struggle, but one that was quickly alleviated by a fishbowl full of Bloody Mary and hardcore music. Saturday hardcore seems to be a consistent 2000 Trees tactic. I remember being shocked out of my stupor on the same day in 2014 by The St Pierre Snake Invasion and HECK (then Baby Godzilla) opening up The Cave, and both bands returned this year in the same order on the Main Stage. St. Pierre began by throwing a bottle of whiskey into the crowd and telling us to finish it. Lead singer Damien Sayell soon followed to make sure we did. He ended up doing half the show from the crowd, starting pits, crowd-surfing and, at one point, dry heaving on the floor. HECK followed suit and pulled their usual trick of playing anywhere other than the stage. They spent half their time in the crowd and sound booth, sounded insanely big, and even threw in a few classics like Powerboat Disaster from the Baby Godzilla days.

Baby Godzilla perform from the middle of the crowd

Other highlights of the Saturday included Creeper, who justified their spot on the Main Stage with an accomplished and theatrical set that made them seem like they’d been a band for ten years, not two. Recreations then delivered a crowd pleasing mid-afternoon set on the Neu Stage. For me Sam Duckworth is still trying to nail down his post-Get Cape Wear Cape Fly sound, but he’s an engaging performer and the Get Cape moment of the set produced a memorable sing along. Jamie Lenman also smashed his sub-headline set on The Axiom, proving once again that there are few in the scene who can match his musicianship.

Refused close the main stage on Saturday

Despite the other excellent acts, the entirety of Saturday did feel like it was building to something however, and that something was Swedish, left-wing and loud. It’s a mark of how much 2000 Trees has grown that they can now bag Refused, a band who’s return was one of the biggest stories of Coachella a few years ago, to close it all out. Lead singer Dennis Lyxzén, resplendent in a bright red suit, owned the stage the moment he stepped on it and the crowd reaction was incredible. For 90 minutes the whole standing area was moving, with thousands of people releasing the pent-up anger from weeks of the most ridiculous political bullshit in living memory. Dennis alluded to this in a speech about why he felt it was important for Refused to continue, and, perhaps feeding off the crowd’s frustrations, they delivered one of the best headline performances I’ve ever seen. They played a few songs from new album ‘Freedom’, Elektra in particular went down well, but stuck largely to their masterpiece, ‘The Shape Of Punk To Come’. When New Noise dropped I simultaneously had never felt more alive nor more like I was about to die. Someone carried a gazebo into the crowd and there was a massive circle pit under it. Refused may be fucking dead, but they’re still sick.

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2000 Trees delivered in a spectacular fashion for their tenth year, with standout performances coming from all areas of the punk, alternative and hardcore scenes. It wasn’t without issue, there was inappropriate groping of female crowd members during Moose Blood’s set – credit to the band who immediately addressed this – and the decision to give Itch two sets, one solo and one with The King Blues, given the accusations of abuse against him was unfortunate. However 2000 Trees is obviously not alone in having these issues and is generally more receptive to recognising them than most festivals, so hopefully they will take them on board and continue to improve for their 11th year in 2017.