The 1234 Shoreditch Festival: Various Artists – Live Review

The 1234 Shoreditch – Live Review
Shoreditch Park, London
Saturday 1st September 2012

The ever popular 1234 Shoreditch festival had a stellar lineup this year. Louder Than War’s Kevin Robinson was there for us, read on for his report.

Entrepreneur and “permanent threat to conventionality” Sean McLusky was promoting club nights across the capital long before Hitler moustaches, mullets and ironic DJ’s playing power ballads descended on Shoreditch. From renovating old snooker halls and derelict cinemas into successful entertainment venues, to organising a Future Rock & Roll festival on The Queen’s driveway during the Golden Jubilee, it’s over a decade since he inaugurated the Sonic Mook Experiment in a then neglected and run-down area of East London. Now, there’s 1234, lauded for its eclecticism and debauchery and a regular fixture in London’s live music calendar since 2007 when the main attractions were Har Mar Superstar and the drummer from The Strokes. It’s not exactly the full-scale festival experience you may be familiar with from the big corporates, with Shoreditch Park being a relatively nondescript playing field in the shadow of the former Gainsborough Studios. However, with tickets at £20 or less for a line-up of over 50 bands, it is remarkable value for money. Best of all, unlike virtually every other outdoor event this summer, there are no OAP’s performing Hey sodding Jude.

Holograms emerge into the sweaty confines of a mid-afternoon Artrocker tent with one of the albums of the year tucked neatly under their belts and promptly hurl themselves into ‘ABC City’. The singer sneers at us from within a leather jacket with the Suicide logo scrawled across the back, in a manner which suggests he knows he could have you in a fight if he wanted. They blast out toughened up renditions of songs that are significantly more abrasive than their recorded versions. Outside on the main stage, Taiwanese-born musician Alex Zhang Hungtai is yelping and crooning his way through his back catalogue of work as Dirty Beaches. Much like John Maus, there’s an Elvis covering Suicide (yes, them again) vibe, all distorted rockabilly snarls over hypnotic loops and stuttering drum machines. Then Crocodiles (see above), a relatively conventional band on a bill like this, attempt to liven things up with a spirited take on ‘Bodies’ by The Sex Pistols. Frankly though, hard-rocking thrillseekers are lapping up the arrival of mighty noise terrorists Black Moth considerably more. Across the park, the dance stage is being kicked into life with electronic wizardry from Young Montana?, Lapalux and FaltyDL.

Bo Ningen are nothing less than extraordinary. To stand beneath these self-proclaimed “enlightenment activists” is to expose yourself to a demonic whirlwind of dense, psych-rock riffage that literally spills over you. They sound like, I dunno, Royal Trux jamming with Steppenwolf on a Melt-Banana / Godflesh medley. They look like four rake-thin, bellbottomed individuals with flailing, waist-length black hair who appear to be not so much playing their guitars as attempting to wrestle every last gasp of life out of them. Just as they lock into one spellbinding groove which threatens to last forever (and you sort of wish it would), the tempo inexplicably shifts, and they plough headlong into another disorientating, acid-drenched cacophony. The drums pound thick in the muddy mix like a muffled techno beat whilst vocals echo from all around and guitars are swung at arm’s length over the audience in a menacing manner. Beer is thrown and Shoreditch goes justifiably ape-shit for them. It’s a genuinely exhilarating spectacle, and hands-down the most mesmerising set of the day. Left breathless, we consider our minds well and truly blown.

Savages, although excellent, are sadly one of the remaining bands who will suffer in comparison. You’ll have read about them. A lot, probably. You’ll be aware that the two songs which make up their dazzling debut single are, like some post-punk potion, constructed from the best bits of Siouxsie’s ‘Love In A Void’, Wire’s ’12XU’ and Magazine’s ‘The Light Pours Out Of Me’. As the photo pit predictably explodes in a blinding flash of white light, there’s a sense of urgency about them today, and they seem tighter and even more focused than when we encountered them at Field Day three months ago.

As The Buzzcocks waste no time in tearing into ‘Boredom’, it’s slightly bemusing that they’re consistently overlooked in ‘Best Of’ lists and in Olympic opening ceremonies. After all, as thrashy and aggressive in pace as they are, at the heart of their discography lies a succession of youthful-sounding pop songs that at least equal those of Madness or The Pet Shop Boys. Whilst not the first independent release, the ‘Spiral Scratch’ EP was a revolutionary DIY record that changed perceptions of how music could be made, and virtually invented indie as we know it. As “original innovators” on the bill they sail through the hits – ‘Autonomy’, ‘Promises’, ‘Orgasm Addict’ and a terrific rendition of dub-disco oddity ‘Why Can’t I Touch It?’.

With crowds dispersing rapidly, it seems a bizarre decision to put Iceage on last, particularly when their singer is doubled over, tossing mic stands aside, leering over monitors and growling away as if he were fronting a doom-metal band. It still seems a bizarre decision when, less than 40 minutes later, their set judders to an abrupt halt and ‘How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?’ is played over the PA. But was it actually any good? Erm, we think so. As we walk back through the debris to the park exit, with Bo Ningen’s warped freak-outs still rattling through our scorched minds, it’s a suitably balmy end to a peculiar London summer of highs and lows.

All words by Kevin Robinson. More articles by Kevin can be found here. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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Kevin Robinson gained a formidable reputation as a DJ in numerous indie club nights since the 90’s, and been a correspondent and reviewer for several music publications. He lives in London and currently presents new music programmes for the John Peel inspired Dandelion Radio, and Shoreditch Radio. Twitter: @kevinrobinsondj


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