A rather focal point in the run up to this years Truck Festival was how it would compare to Truck of old. After a somewhat monumental fuck up in the financing of last year’s event, the new organisers declared that they’d be taking this year’s festival ‘back to its roots’, that Truck 15 would run for just two days, the capacity would be reduced, and the infamous Barn Stage would return. As a one time attendee (my first Truck was last year), I had yet to experience Truck retro style, and as such, speculation as to how closely the new management would stick to Truck’s origins was rather lost on me. Nonetheless, I’d enjoyed last year immensely, and arrived on site equipped with pretty high expectations.
After a quick tent pitch, and a ‘hilarious’ incident involving lack of I.D. and a resultant young-persons wristband, we walk to the 2nd stage in time to watch The Grinding Young. Characteristically eccentric, frontman Ollie is wearing a suit jacket with a stuffed bird attached (which he later takes off before being attacked with a plastic meat cleaver by the bands keyboardist). Witty lyrics and majestic guitars are accompanied by jarring harmonies that manage to sum up the whole ethos of the band. Inexplicably – or perhaps not, considering how ute used to end their gigs – the set ends with a blow up sex doll being thrust into the crowd.
Over on the main stage Alphabet Backwards showcase new material from their forthcoming album Little Victories, which, based on today’s performance, looks to be as sunny and upbeat as old favourites ‘Polar Bears’ and set closer ‘Elton John’, the outrageous synth riff of which is discernibly stuck in my head all weekend.
Back at the 2nd stage, Kill Murray who are fast establishing themselves as one of the best live acts in Oxford at the moment, play a brilliantly tight set of material from recent EP A Drug To Shake You Up, alongside a whole host of new tracks. Live, the grunge in their sounds comes through more than the synth, though electro-based ‘Miracle Man’ provides a set highlight, before they finish with majestic debut single, ‘Laser’. Michelle Stodart, by comparison, seems almost tedious. Certainly, there’s nothing offensive or unlikeable about her music, it’s perfectly pleasant acoustic folk, there’s just nothing that particularly stands out about any of it. The lack of any vocal harmony means her voice loses that certain quality that made it interesting in The Magic Numbers.
We venture into the Barn Stage (for the first time) to see Dead Jerichos (for the last time) as they play their final show. The sound quality in the venue isn’t great, and what on record sounds punchy and aggressive, live, just comes across as dull and drony. The crowd seem to agree with me, and thins out noticeably as the set progresses, and after about 10 minutes, we give up and leave as well. Whilst walking back to the tent, we stop and watch a bit of Boat To Row, who, with a plethora of different instruments, play a harmony fuelled set of earnest folk, in the vein of (though rather better than), stadium folk cliché Mumford and Sons.
Back at the main stage, and Federation of the Disco Pimp are in full swing, with a set of, what I can only describe as reggae-disco-ska-funk, it’s rather overblown, and a bit cheesy, but nevertheless fun, they’re also the first band to properly get people dancing. No one is dancing to Fixers however, except perhaps frontman Jack – though that’s possibly because he’s too inebriated to stand up properly. This in mind, the set is remarkably coherent, if rather short, and certainly provides a talking point for the rest of the weekend. New single ‘Pink Light’ makes an appearance, alongside old favourites, ‘Crystals’, ‘Swimmhaus Johannesburg’, and the instantly recognisable ‘Iron Deer Dream’.
Over at the barn, Spring Offensive are cementing their status as kings of the Oxford music scene. They take to the stage to ‘A Stutter and a Start’, their arrival cheered by a massive, adoring crowd, before launching straight into new song ‘Ridgefield’, who’s intricate rhythms, resonant vocals and beautiful harmonies encompass everything that makes Spring Offensive brilliant. Throughout the set, lead singer Lucas gestures to the audience with an air of a priest addressing his congregation, and in turn they watch, enraptured. All too quickly it’s over, and with the magnificent building ‘52 miles’ still ringing in our ears as we walk over to the 2nd stage to catch the end of Theme Park, who’ve perfected an energetic mix of staccato guitars, high vocals and upbeat rhythms.
By contrast, Villagers on the main stage are beautifully relaxed, Conor O’Brien’s delicate, wavering vocals and clever, twisting lyrics provide the perfect sound track to the sun that’s setting in front of the stage. Quite how musically accomplished they are as a band is evident through the lilting melodies and subtle building layers of ‘Becoming A Jackal’, the slow peaks and unassuming descents of ‘Grateful Song’, and later, in final track ‘Ship of Promises’ with it’s driving guitar, coherent harmonies and huge, drawn out ending. It seems vaguely ridiculous that a band this good should be playing under Tim Minchin, a comedian who’s about as funny as stabbing yourself in the eye with a pencil.
Needless to say, we give him a miss, and instead go back to the tent for more clothes, on the way passing by Little Comets, who’ve got the whole of the 2nd stage singing along to their melodic, angular art-pop.
Later, Mystery Jets close the Friday, with a set that’s somewhat marred by the fact that they’re neither good nor big enough to swing another festival headline slot. As such, they’re making the most of it this time, chart friendly singles ‘Young Love’ and of course ‘Two Doors Down’ yielding massive crowd reactions, and set closer ‘Veiled In Grey’ sounding almost anthemic, at odds with their usual vapid indie-pop jangle.