Bushstock... Shepherd's delight
Bushstock 2013 round-up: Dutch Uncles, Marika Hackman, Serafina Steer and more!
Published on June 12th, 2013 | Theo Gorst
In amongst the Uxbridge Road, four venues are situated, each acting as a haven from the urban bustle outside. Now in its third year as a festival, London’s Bushstock naturally leans towards the folk-orientated due to its association with organisers Bears Den and Mumford and Sons associates Communion Records. Indeed, there’s a natural purity to many of the acts performing that juxtaposes the metropolitan flurry of activity outside.
Nowhere is this juxtaposition more pronounced than in St Stephen’s Church, the first of the four venues to open. An air of excitement hangs around the church yard as the festivalgoers congregate, sipping Pimm’s and filing into the main building to fill the rows of pews for first act Rosie Carney. Striking in both voice and age (Carney is only 16), the Irish-based singer/songwriter confidently makes her way through a set of tender acoustic numbers, alternating between strumming and fingerpicking with panache.
Lyrically, however, Carney seems somewhat reliant on the hackneyed, incorporating tropes of self-discovery similar to those employed by Marcus Mumford and co. Notions of finding “what you have been looking for”, guessing what “lies ahead” and having your heart stolen” are all addressed within the tracks, and the inclusion of such all-encompassing phrases often means that very little is actually said. In spite of this, Carney is clearly an exciting talent, and the rapturous applause she receives from those in attendance is testament to such.
Whereas Carney’s voice is light and airy, drifting in amongst the rafters, Annie Eve possesses a more sombre and troubled air. Brooding double bass, a slide guitar and sweet backing vocals act as a background for Eve to strum her acoustic guitar and sorrowfully mumble lyrics of regret. The lack of clarity within the vocals adds to the tangible sense of distress and for the most part helps create a convincing act. When problems do arise with Eve’s act, they center around her backing band. While the slide guitar adds an ‘after hours’ elegance to her half-hour set, uninventive and repetitive drumming leads the link from verse to chorus to seem contrived.
While criticisms deriving from similarities to Mumford and Sons – a band who have had an undeniably large impact on Bushstock – may seem redundant, it’s the acts who employ a different formula to the anthemia of nu-folk that make for the more exciting live prospects. An example of such comes from Serafina Steer; her willful ethereality is unlikely to gain commercial success, but the lush dreaminess constructed through her harp invites the listener into an enthralling world. Her peculiar, jarred vocal style demands the attention of those in attendance and, once the crowd is rapt, her idiosyncratic talents reveal themselves as she marries modern imagery with an archaic sonic pallet.
“Ballad of Brick Lane” works as a song revolving around a location, yet swiftly delves into ruminations on a relationship. Changing pace and themes with aplomb, obvious comparisons exist between Steer and Joanna Newsom, indeed the way in which the Londoner refuses to compromise her art will hopefully lead to exposure on the level enjoyed by the latter.
Further down the road inside the sophisticated interior of the Defector’s Weld pub, Marika Hackman takes to the stage to play an ominous solo set. Hackman has a self-proclaimed Kurt Cobain influence, and indeed the dark introversion of Nirvana tracks like “Polly” is present in Hackman’s catalogue too. There’s a sinister strength to Hackman’s songwriting that sets her apart from the lightness of other acts, and even more incongruous to the Communion gang are Stockport quintet Dutch Uncles, who headline the Ginglik stage. Coming on after Post War Years, a band whose set provided an amalgamation of danceable textures yet failed to completely ignite the audience, Dutch Uncles come across as a particularly accomplished live act.
Conveniently for a band imbued with rhythms so precise they border on the scientific, the members share a terrific chemistry. This allows the intricacies of songs like “Fester” to fully flourish as members Duncan Wallis and Pete Broadhead share a xylophone, manoeuvering through time signature and key changes with ease. Having toured their latest LP Out Of Touch in the Wild for the majority of the year, it’s clear that the band are now a highly polished outfit when on the road. Prize cuts from their recent record such as “Bellio” and “Flexxin” perfectly compliment old favourites like “The Ink” and “Cadenza”, showing not only how uniquely provocative the band’s back catalogue is but also how each of their records marks a further development.
Due to its organisers, Bushstock incorporates multiple artists who use a specific formula now associated with chart success. However, when showcasing acts distinct from the crowd, as it often does, the festival works much like the area in which it is situated, as an amalgam of diversity.
For more information, please visit the official Bushstock website.