It’s a pleasing size, Standon Calling - a bit like your favourite patisserie. Other festivals may wow you with grander, more expensive, more exhausting menus, but here there’s a less intimidating selection of enticing things all within easy reach of each other. And a bunch of darn cool sci-fi bars and obelisks too, fitting in with this year’s ‘Future’ theme. Which makes the site feel like an old film set, rather than a park in Hertfordshire. It’s a seriously fun fest set-up.
Clash arrives on Saturday – fancy dress day – so there are Flash Gordons and Thunderbirds and Transformers meandering about, as if we’re up the road at Elstree. But then spectacularly, like an expensive American rock video, a burst of dirty guitar coincides with a mighty gust of wind from the general direction of the main stage, which actually turns out to be the south London post-punks Shame, actively beckoning this hefty crowd toward the stage then blowing them away again. The sound of these suburbs.
We’re personally not too fussed by this year’s headliners, in truth – Ezra, Faith and Ferry - but there’s a mighty wad of other stuff going on, and one Saturday evening hour sums up the savvily- curated but wildly differing Standon sounds.
After Shame’s energising abrasiveness it’s the genuinely gifted Gengahr over on the Laundry Meadows stage, with their exotic and melodic strumming, as if on a one-band mission to fill the hole left by the broken-up Maccabees and on-a-break Bombay Bicycle Club. Good mission.
Then over at Starbase Standon – a stage and bar impressively decked out to resemble a big old Battlestar Galactica-type thing – is Akala, who many random fest-goers may have come across via documentaries, activism, even Shakespeare. He crams in a huge crowd here with socially-conscious raps and accompanying visuals, Fritz Lang’s still-striking Metropolis a suitable clip for this year’s theme. Ah, punters: the summer festival circuit can be a headfuck for jet-setting bands.
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Nelson Can are the big breakthrough indie act from Denmark over the last 18 months, and enticed well over 6,000 to their stage at Roskilde a few weeks back. On the Laundry Meadows stage here on Saturday afternoon it was more like 100 - which obviously would be pretty sweet for most bands. “That’s good too,” agrees Selina the singer, as we get chatting to the ‘Can over a Pad Thai later that evening. “It keeps your feet on the ground.” Indeed.
So which sci-fi characters would they have come as, if not performing?
Selina (vocals): “Neo from The Matrix, easy choice for a Dane. We all wear black clothes every day anyway. And the shades: got ‘em.”
Signe (bass): “I would probably be that idiot who turns up in a Harry Potter costume because I misunderstood the theme. For some reason I tend to do that.” Maria (drums): “An ewok from Star Wars, because it looks cute and harmless, but they are fierce warriors.”
Another day, another planet, and after a whole month of Tatooine-like heat, Sunday is a bit of a stinker weather-wise. Still, Standon’s traditional last-day parade goes ahead: nothing stops the dog show. That’s one of the unique things about this weekend: you may wander into the cosy little People’s Frontroom tent, say, and find some spacey jazz fusion not to your taste, but there will no doubt be at least one absolutely corking canine knocking about too. Life is always better when you’ve got something to stroke.
Back at Laundry Meadows, Queen Zee are an acquired taste, too. Shouty peroxide types doing Nirvana riffs in uniform-style cobber watched by confused people in coats, this has an air of the rebellious corner of a school fete, run by an irresponsible teacher who doesn’t care because he’s leaving to go traveling anyway.
Having said that, Queen Zee do issue a public service announcement, to the parents in their audience. “This is not a family friendly song,” warns the singer. “This song is about disappointing sex. I'd like to dedicate it to Marmozets.” Who are on later.
Providing some higher-brow sounds over at the big space-ship stage, meanwhile, are Josephine and the Artizans. The name suggests quirky uke-rocking types, but then on walk an opera singer, violinist and a couple of MCs. Rapera? “It’s a fusion of classical music and hip-hop,” she says. “We call it hip-hopera.” Actually that is better, yeah. Let’s talk about distance. Most gigs are massively enhanced by getting in amongst it towards the front, and there should be a rule that you can’t slag a band’s show if you didn’t bother.
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For the Bootleg Beatles, however, the sweet spot is actually a fair bit further back, so you can see them just fine but aren’t quite HD on the faces, and thus in your flashback fantasies Standon’s main stage could be Shea Stadium (but with a tractor in the background).
On the other hand, discovering someone new is the real joy of an outdoor fest like this, where you can just wander between stages like a commitment-free bloody legend. What with the forecast of thunderstorms the site is a lot less busy on Sunday, but the excellent Emma McGrath packs and rocks the BBC Introducing tent with her accomplished emoshe-but-edgy rock-pop. Apart from one oblivious old guy in a chair right in the middle, who’s reading a book.
The Laundry Meadows stage has been the winner for Clash this weekend, and a couple of Sunday- evening outfits put the tin hat on this perkily powerful line-up. Well, maybe ‘power’ isn’t really the word for Her’s, who bring to mind those avant-garde duos from the 70s and 80s, but funkier: an awkward thin bloke in dungarees, and his much jauntier mate dancing like Carlton from Fresh Prince. They do look like they might be on day release from somewhere, admittedly.
Sunday’s highlight though is the British/Icelandic band/project Dream Wife, who we’ll pigeonhole as Blondie vs The Breeders vs Harley Quinn (a DC movie that might actually be worth watching). “I’m gonna fuck you up! Gonna cut you up! Gonna fuck you up!” hollers the disconcertingly wild-grinning Rakel Mjöll, while the bloke in front of me with young daughter on shoulders looks around nervously, like, ‘this is appropriate, right?’ There are worse role-models, mate.
That rain has begun to sink in, so we slope off earlier than intended Sunday night, but not before catching a good chunk of Gaz Coombes on the main stage. With the ageless Supergrasser in fine weather-transcending form and three floral-dressed lolly-sucking backing singers stage front, this is pretty much your perfect festival set-up, to keep those umbrellas bouncing.
Is that ‘Moving’ we hear, as we do the always melancholic clamber up the hill, to the festival exit? Moving indeed.
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Words: Si Hawkins
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