Thanks to the immense number of fields that now host an annual music bash (where do all the cows go? How do the supermarkets still have milk?), choosing which summer music festival to go to is always a tough decision.
But, for a change, why not turn your back on jazzed up corporate showcases with predictable line ups, head off to a festival where the only two acts you know are an immensely famous jazz band and a much less famous psyche rock band, where all the profits go to local charity, and maybe even cycle some of the way there? Sounds mental? Well, this is an Alice in Wonderland-themed festival after all… and making it through the crazy world of Doune the Rabbit Hole is a memorable adventure.
Arriving just before nine p.m., the trippy scene already set by a gorgeous milky pink sky cycle from Dunblane train station to Doune Castle, the tent is pitched in a lush field landmarked by tall pines and leafy oak trees. A whole load of heavy psyche rock (prog is a dirty word apparently!) booms from beyond the castle walls, yurts are everywhere, headbands gleam in the sunset, and all the ingredients are there for an intimate 60’s-70’s style festival experience.
But if the vibes are retro, the acts on the three stages certainly aren’t. In fact, there’s not one main theme or genre tying any of the artists together, apart from most of them aren’t massively famous; in turn making the festival an exciting mixed bag of “discovery, discovery, discovery!” (as was written down the side of one of the largest vans in the campsite.)
Discovered by the Mercury Prize Nominee panel, Polar Bear are one of the few famous bands in the line up, and take to the main stage later on. With an afro so huge NASA could use it to simulate a planet, drummer Seb Rochford introduces the five piece who launch into warped pieces of music, which actually all make sense as they’re all based around tuneful riffs. Leafcuter John provides some unusual and clever live sampling, mangling ballons and PS2 controllers, lending an electronic twist to the jazz expertise. It’s the lead saxophonist Pete Wareham who steals the show however, delivering some epic (and sometimes ridiculous) solos, whilst sporting a junky leather jacket and oozing an immense aura of cool. If the strokes ever needed a saxophonist, it would be him. Polar Bear complete their set, leaving half the audience in awe of their experimental and tuneful noise, and half the audience slightly confused, but there’s no doubt how talented the collective are.
If Polar Bear froze everyone to the spot listening intently, it takes some Jamaican sunshine from Glasgow reggae crew Mungo’s Hi-Fi to loosen up everyone’s limbs.
Whilst the bass is booming with them at the main stage, in the main Yurt a band called Trumpets of Death summon the spirit of Joy Division with some clever lyrics and cool industrial melodies. Playing along to drum loops with an icy use of synths make them stand out more from your average indie band, and they draw quite a good crowd considering there is banging reggae attracting most folk just around the corner.
Once Asazi Space Funk Explosion step on the same stage though, it seems the whole yurt is packed with every single person at the festival – plus their cousins. Lapping up the attention, the band launch into massive party grooves, focusing on solid funky riffs from the bass, jumping African rhythms from the immense set of drums they have on stage, and melody from a huge African xylophone style instrument , and a funky wah guitarist. It’s a crime they had to stop early because of council intervention, but thank the party Shamans they went on two songs longer after they were told to stop because everyone just wanted them to jam on the juju all night long. So, an early finish on Friday, but such a promising first step into Wonderland…Bring on the Jabberwocky.