Best kept secret in the UK festival calendar

Festivals like Standon Calling, we’re told, don’t and can’t endure. A ‘not for profit’ weekender run by a bunch of mates, ostensibly for an extended bunch of mates, bereft of corporate sponsorship is on a hiding to nothing - so they say. But whaddya know? 10 years on from its beginnings as a humble BBQ and Standon Calling is bigger and ballsier than ever, coaxing twice the number it did last year into its delightful leafy bowl set against Hertforshire’s rolling hills and Standstead’s cacophonous flightpath. Insiders tell us that the festival gets a considerable leg-up by siting itself in what is essentially - swimming pool and all - Mum and Dad’s backyard, staffed we’re told almost exclusively by crews of volunteers.

But any savings made by the promoters are evidently passed directly on to the paying punters, ploughed one assumes straight back into its mouthwatering line up and slick but unobtrusive production. The campsites are spacious, bars are well staffed and the sound on both Main Stage and Twisted Licks tent is rich and boisterous throughout the entire weekend. Headliners Liars and Etienne de Crecy both pack phenomenal sonic punch for a rural event of this size. And both turn in sensational sets to complement it. Closing out Friday, Liars are as stratospheric as they are sinister ‘Scarecrows on a Killer Slant’’s “You should be careful” refrain sounding especially menacing in the open air. Whilst de Crecy, though too frequently defaulting to rather tired sounding acid driven filter house dazzles with his eye-popping “Beats’n’ Cubes” show. Starting though it does like Tron chasing Pac-Man round a noughts and crosses board, after a perfectly paced hour or so, it’s climaxing with an pulsating 3D throb that has everyone gasping and sighing like toddlers at some electro enhanced fireworks night. ‘Orchestre Buena Vista Social Club’ round things off on Sunday with an intoxicating masterclass in soft shuffle subtlety; balmy enough to ward off the chilly night drawing in and so irresistibly groovy as to coax the very last reserves of energy from everyone’s knackered knees.

The strength of Standon’s line up though lies not just in its canny headliners but in a bill that errs unrepentantly on quality rather than quantity. And with little to no overlap between acts and barely a two minute walk between its three stages it’s possible to catch virtually every single act. Perfect conditions then for unearthing the odd rough diamond. Clash’s notable discoveries include Norwegian alt-rockers The Megaphonic Thrift who’ve clearly been mainlining mid-period Sonic Youth yet make lush boy/girl harmonies and rush upon rush of wailing guitars feel like the freshest thing in the world. Then there’s Harry’s Gym on Sunday who possess an elegance that betrays their toe-curling name and conjure the kind of hypnotic, billowing, electro-rock, it seems only Scandinavians can.

Plenty of old hands are on call to clean up come sundown though. Metronomy V2.0 have ditched a few of the natty dance routines, swapped the push-on, chest plate, poundshop light show for a beat synced pre-programmed one and traded their original bassist for an all live rhythm section. The tweaks pay off though with the re-fried gay disco of ‘Holiday’ and an super quirky ’’Heartbreaker’ sounding all the more muscular and fest friendly for it.

Veterans British Sea Power pull the Twisted Licks tent’s biggest crowd on Saturday night with a customarily accomplished showing. They’re light years from the scratchy irritants of old and yet for all the polish and punch, these songs have lost none of their intensity and authenticity. The sense is that as much as swooping, majestic anthems like ‘Waving Flags’ and a charging ‘No Lucifer’ are textbook festival fodder, it’s BSP’s wired austerity and 1000 yard stares that, tractor beam-like, consistently captivate big crowds.

All credit too to the organisers for snaring a handful of the summer’s “must-see” bands. Bo Ningen and Factory Floor back to back on Friday afternoon are a delicious proposition as supping on the first cold lager of the day, Clash takes a moment to consider colleagues still labouring away at desks not 20miles away. Bo Ningen charge through a relentless blast of pulverising kraut and pounding death disco, whilst Factory Floor reveal themselves to be one of the UK’s finest operational live bands; dazzling and terrifying with a brutally purposeful set that mixes tar thick, gut wrenching analogue keys, sheet metal guitars and gloomy, metronomic abstraction to quite breathtaking effect.

It’s by night however that Standon Calling really comes alive. Most festivals’ promise of late night entertainment consists of little more than one of those vile wine stalls pumping out Kaiser Chiefs till 2Am but Standon boasts not one, but two fully licensed, blisteringly loud all night venues. Admittedly, queueing for nigh on an hour to get into Camp Alcatraz, (part prison, part Ibizan terrace party, part, well, cowshed) is a bit of a vibe killer, but once inside it’s well worth the wait. Hannah Holland and Tim Fannuci tear through it on Saturday night, Fanucci holds a heaving dance floor right the way through til the 6AM chuck out with an anthem heavy set one suspects he’s been honing to perfection for some time. Tensnake’s ubiquitous ‘Coma Cat’ rounds things off and proceedings take on a delirious balearic vibe as the morning sun cracks the haze above the old shed’s smoke and lazers. One wonders though if Space or DC10 have ever seen sunrise over a dancefloor populated by boggle eyed Sherlock Holmes and Scooby Doos though: the dregs of Saturday’s ‘Murder on the Standon Express’ fancy dress theme.

A few extra toilet blocks and food stalls wouldn’t go amiss and the grim faced security guards roaming the Twisted Licks tent looking for confrontation like bored teenagers kicking their heels down the local shopping arcade is a depressing and unnecessary spectacle at such a patently peaceful party. But Standon Calling has got so much right here. A line up so far ahead of the curve it’s practically disappearing over the horizon, yet an atmosphere pleasingly devoid of hipster snootiness and cynicism; welcoming to families, Mum & Dad and weekend ravers alike. This may be the tipping point but it would be a shame to see Standon Calling lose its mantle as the best kept secret in the UK festival calendar.

Words by Jim Brackpool
Photo by James Kendall

View a photo gallery from the Standon Calling 2010 festival.

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