Music, culture and general-weirdness

It’s about 10.30 on a Saturday night in the wilds of rural Hertfordshire and unfolding before us is exactly the sort of ceremony that city folk must imagine goes on in these parts all the time.

A bloody great celestial chariot is racing about, complete with four Trojan huskies and a slightly scary woman barking orders from the back. There’s a bloke on stilts being trailed around by numerous druid acolytes, and a topless lass painted blue and being carried around in a cage.

They’re all terribly keen that we ‘join’ them (well, apart from the semi-nude lady, sadly, as lots of chaps avidly taking photos would be more than happy to join her – she just snarls a lot) and eventually make their way to an ominous grey triangular obelisk which suddenly emits beams of light skywards, starts smoking then begins to crack open…

Welcome to Standon Calling, a music, culture and general-weirdness weekend in mid-August which manages to be wildly different every year. This is primarily due to the annual theme, which doesn’t just inform the dressing-up on Saturday, but infects the whole event like a Trojan (virus, not chariot-puller) on your hard drive, if they were fun.

This year’s theme is Gods and Monsters, which leads to some curious interpretations costume-wise: several punters dressed as Monster Munch characters, various Sesame Street creatures, two rival Loch Ness Monsters, another blue-painted woman dressed as that six-armed Hindu deity, a bloke in an enormous ram-head costume which blocks half the stage and a few people dressed as rioters (monsters) and cleaner-uppers (gods).

“I didn’t know what ‘fancy dress’ meant,” says Born Ruffians frontman Luke Lalonde, midway through their corking set on the Twisted Licks stage. “I thought it meant ‘smart’, but everyone looks fucked up…”

They mix up the acts and stages nicely at Standon: no genre apartheid here. So legendary punk-poet John Cooper Clarke precedes Lalonde’s outfit in that same (usually music) tent, while over on the main stage Indian folk-rockers The Raghu Dixit Project manage to turn a big empty space into a jumping moshpit.

Other musical highlights include the awesome Chrome Hoof and their very apt enormous onstage creatures, the ever-excellent Battles, a frenetic Saul Williams, more spoken-word/hip-hop action from Sound of Rum, fine sets from Edinburgh indie-folkers Broken Records and US singer-songwriter John Grant, and DJ kicks from Dan le Sac and Herve.

Shame Spiritualized pulled out, as Lamb were left in the Saturday night headline slot, which is hardly their spiritual home, but that’s one small gripe. If you can’t find something to occupy yourself at Standon Calling, you’re a hard man/woman/god/monster to please.

Words by Si Hawkins

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