End Of The Road is a festival that has come to have a reputation that is unparalleled; here, in the wooded forests of Dorset, a mystic yearly gathering takes place.
A music festival not just characterised by the deluge of amazing artists adorning the quartet of stages, but by a charming feel, a thoroughly pleasant atmosphere and a range of goings on that simply couldn’t happen at another festival. The range on offer every year is stunning, and you know what? The toilets are exemplary.
Whilst it’s easy to get lost in the magic that comes with a comedy stage in a woodland glade, campfire marshmallows and echelons of children being pushed around in fairy-lit wagons, the pull of the festival has always come down predominantly to a lineup that sees the bigwigs of the experimental, pop and indie music world working together in powerful synergy.
From the titanic headline set of St Vincent on a grandiose mainstage to an intimate interview-come-live trance mix from James Holden deep in the forest, the music on offer at End Of The Road lifts it high above the rest of the UK’s current crop of festivals. There’s something joyous about smaller festivals that makes them eternally more attractive than the larger ones; and for my money its their ability to make newer bands the 10pm main stage headliner.
Over the years, End Of The Road has dealt out headline slots to Tame Impala, Joanna Newsom and Beach House all donning that slot in recent years, and whilst headliners aren’t everything, you can’t deny that a sharp St Vincent performance or a glorious Vampire Weekend triumph is all the more sweet when it's the night’s centrepiece.
The latter especially, powered through a greatest hits set that powered through some of the most fun indie pop jams of the last ten years in typical cheeky fashion. An electric version of ‘Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa’ was followed by the band’s confirmation that their first album in five years is done and ready to go, and with that, Koenig and co. conquered the Saturday headline slot.
On the fringe, however, things get a bit more exciting; Sudanese rock band The Scorpios meld more traditional music with driving garage rock, whilst Jeff Tweedy’s tender solo set melted hearts site-wide, and Omar Souleyman main stage conquest was the most enjoyable moment of the weekend as he powered through his pummelling brand of Syrian wedding music.
However, the weekend’s two highest points came during the subheadline performances on the main stage on both Friday and Sunday. First, Fat White Family’s stomping garage rock bastardised all notions of End Of The Road as a quaint little festival, as Lias, Saul and the rest romped through sickeningly good versions of ‘Touch The Leather’, ‘I Am Mark E. Smith’ and ‘Auto Neutron’, as well as a couple of romping new numbers that sounded particularly like Beefheart on Buckfast.
Ezra Furman’s Sunday night set was staggeringly beautiful and at times, frighteningly intense. A storming version of gypsy-punk banger ‘Walk On In Darkness’, was among the highlights, with tracks like campy alt-pop non-hits ‘Lousy Connection’ and ‘I Lost My Innocence To A Boy Named Vincent’ and energetic cabaret lightning strikes like ‘Love You So Bad’ and ‘Suck The Blood From My Wound’ other summits for Furman’s Herculean set. A cover of the Smashing Pumpkins signalled the close of a beautiful performance, and we all left with a tear in my eye.
It’s hard to sit and pick out highlights, from a festival with a lineup so disparate, wherein every need can be tailored. London swamp monster rock outfit Snapped Ankles remain one of the UK’s most delightful live acts, as they bound through an astounding set that really does invite you to ‘Come Play The Trees’, while the lo fi R&B of Tirzah was a woozy Friday delight.
Shame’s main stage performance was staggering as the band powered through their debut album to one of the weekend’s biggest crowds at 6pm on a Saturday, Idles’ punk rock sandstorm was a jovial celebration of their stellar sophomore, and Amyl and the Sniffers’ rabid garage punk gave us a high that poppers never could.
End Of The Road is a very special festival, and the lineup is always spot on – and whilst new festivals crop up every year, with their relative merits and failings, it’s rare to stumble upon a festival you can camp at that continually curates perfection. And, the toilets are really, really, fucking clean. See you all next year.
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Words: Cal Cashin
Photo Credit: Burak Cingi / via
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