Deer Shed Festival 2017: Day 2 Roundup

By on Tuesday, 1st August 2017 at 2:00 pm
 

Words and photos by Martin Sharman, formerly Head Photographer at TGTF

A rain shower of ferocious but mercifully short intensity awoke all but the most persistent party heads at breakfast time. Saturday is the traditional time when the kids are raring to make a mess and have a party with the smorgasbord of stuff laid on for them, so off we go. There’s crafts galore: painting pots, making milk bottle faces, sewing ra-ra skirts, and creating robot faces out of cardboard boxes. For the little ones, there’s storytelling, and not just your average bedtime effort: this rendition of Bear Hunt ended up in a toddler foam party. Don’t try this at home, kids. Honestly, please don’t. For the older ones, the science tent is where it’s at. There’s countless electronic experiments to take part in, from making basic circuits on cardboard bases, to soldering more complex ones, to taking a screwdriver and a hammer to an enormous pile of obsolete consumer electronics. Music-wise, there was a competition to see who could sing the longest note (I had my eye on the top prize but had to settle for third with 42 seconds), and a multitude of analogue synth and beginners’ DJ classes. The racket from which, as you can imagine, makes the science tent quite an intense experience. Misophonics should steer clear.

Deer Shed 2017

The theme for this year was the Wilderwild, which introduced a completely new area of the festival, devoted to the natural world and humans’ place within it. There was all manner of wild pastimes to have a go at: a stall devoted to a love of hedgehogs, where you could make one out of a pine cone; an actual blacksmith where you could make your own horseshoe in case your steed had lost one; the seemingly innocuous but actually very messy chance to model clay; and a brilliant method of making fire from sticks, which actually works, but is a bit more involved than just rubbing a couple of twigs together. We made a dream catcher. We missed the den building and the live theatre so can only imagine their wondrous delights. In short, what a brilliant and appropriate addition to the festival and one can only hope it becomes a permanent fixture.

Bands-wise, October Drift were impressively active in their morning slot (Teenage Fanclub take note), their proggy songs suddenly jerking into life a bleary early crowd. The Big Moon were brilliant as always and continue the tradition of excellent lady-bands at Deer Shed. Roddy Woomble was the highlight of many people’s weekend with his off-kilter guitar pop.

Happyness at Deer Shed 2017

Stop the press for Happyness. Not satisfied by their performance on Friday night, they were pressed into service for another performance to substitute for a sadly absent booking. And in the flesh they were the best I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen them a lot. In this writer’s opinion, they are the best art-rock band in the country right now; their offering of surrealist, downtempo art-rock is utterly perfect – there was some involvement of the legs from a high-street window mannekin, and of course scalping Win Butler – they’ve added a keyboard player now but still there is no finer afternoon festival experience than the inscrutable minimalism that is Happyness. They don’t seem that happy but that’s how I end up when I see them. Well done.

The return of Ibibio Sound Machine is a glory to behold. Bringing a flash of African colour to the North Yorkshire countryside, their mere presence is a joyous, uplifting affair – add to that that they play a wonderful mashup of traditional African rhythms, funk, soul, and electro, and further still that singer Eno Williams wears shoulder pads so impressive you could serve Sunday lunch on them, and you have the recipe for a classic Deer Shed appearance. Tea time on Saturday is the musical crescendo of the festival for many: either kids for whom bed isn’t far away, or the parents that have to return to the tent to look after them. To experience such a blast of positivity and extroversion should be the way we all prepare for a decent night’s slumber.

[Those averse to a rant, or are in favour or Ms Kate Tempest should skip the next three paragraphs. You have been warned.]

The worst way to be woken from such repose would be by the awful racket that comes out of Kate Tempest’s mouth, so what better way to drown it out than another droning cacophony: that of a heavy rainstorm atop canvas? Which is exactly what happened. For the exact duration of her set – no shorter, no longer – the heavens gave the site a thorough drenching. Deer Shed themselves reviewed her performance as prophetic. How? Their review was written only the day after. Had anything she prophesied already come true? Did she predict the rain? Does a black cloud follow her around? Or maybe she’s prophetic in the more general sense of being a prophet: a modern-day Chicken Licken who’s come to tell us how awful we all are and how shit the world is. According to the festival, being subjected to “an apocalyptic epic poem about the pain and suffering inflicted on the most deprived members of society” is a fun way to spend a Saturday night, and apparently the pouring rain actually enhanced the experience. The sky is falling! Wicked, man! Blame the Tories!

It’s a truism that one person’s champion of the disenfranchised is another person’s dreary propagandist, and for this writer Kate Tempest falls firmly into the second category. So we have a situation exactly like Billy Bragg in 2015: at least half the festival have NOTHING TO SEE at what should be the climax of the entire weekend. Why Deer Shed should repeat the mistake of headlining a divisive, politically-charged, minimalist solo artist who’s made a career entirely out of invoking leftier-than-thou middle-class guilt at the exact time when everyone should be united in one big pillow of funky togetherness absolutely fails to compute. Moreover, Tempest is a hypocrite of the highest order – she moans about “the gulf that separates us” whilst by her own presence creating that very gulf; she quite shamelessly complains about “ugly words in public spaces” – I couldn’t think of a better way to describe her own perverse, monotone streams of consciousness. I come to festivals for respite from the turbulent political landscape, not to have it thrust before me. I come to festivals to experience beauty and optimism; hers is an ugly, hopeless world. Most importantly, I come to festivals to have fun, and Tempest is no fun at all. The triumphs of Darwin Deez, Johnny Marr and Richard Hawley are but mocking memories.

Apparently the reasoning for the Tempest booking is to attract more “young people” to the festival. Which is deeply patronising and didn’t work out anyway: every person I spoke to, of all ages and shoe sizes, could sum up their opinion of Tempest as “meh”. And is it just me, or are there already more children here than at every other festival in the land? Perhaps by young people they mean young adults, in which case I would have thought that that age have ample choice in the festival market, and to try and attract a group who the vast majority of your usual demographic are paying you good money to avoid, would be something of a mistake. The Big Chill tried that and look what happened to them. The “young adult” that I bumped into who was complaining about losing his block of hashish before promptly consuming most of a discarded and grassy cardboard plate of cold pasta with his bare hands could hardly be called Deer Shed’s target market. Stick to what, and who, you know.

At any rate, the potential disappointment for losing a Saturday headliner was tempered by the fact I didn’t have to get wet listening to them, and that the Obelisk stage actually worked this time. By which I mean the post-Tempest brilliance of Aelfen, who are secretly a heavy metal act disguised as a folk band – they started off innocuously enough, but by the end of their set the tent was rocking. Good stuff. Marc Riley took over for a bit, playing a predictable but nonetheless rewarding set of classic tunes: lots of ‘80s, some Prince, Bowie, et al.

And then – stop the press! – some actual DJing from Manchester-based collective Across the Tracks. Of course you never see real vinyl these days, but these guys were the next best thing, beatmatching like the experts they are, wrangling perfect mixes from the tabled Pioneers. For a while the tent was properly grooving and whooping to a very competent house music set, and finally there was a reason for the “Rave” definition that the programme had so tantalisingly promised. Deer Shed was finally letting its hair down, which is really all we ask of it.

As I left the Obelisk tent, the rain was falling. The ground was slippery mud. Tomorrow could be challenging.

Across the Tracks at Deer Shed

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