I saw a couple of great acts at the John Peel Tent. Part of the magic of this experience was that I saw these bands on the vague recommendations by random people. And the random people came good.
Being impressionable, I followed friends up there when some M.I.A. person was on there. She turns out to be an English-Sri Lankan rapper who performs with another rapper to backing tapes. And she rocks, being almost the perfect act with her combination of politicised lyrics, good time partyness, and attractive young woman perkiness. Nice visuals as well - maps of London, stone throwing kids in PLO scarves, etc. Right on.
I bought her album "Arular" in Bristol and have been listening to it continuously since then. It did trigger the same kind of thoughts I always have about hip hop - basically, are rappers an over-indulged shower of wasters when the real musical powers in hip hop are the producers? An interesting question in this case, but one leading to no definitive answer. The crunchy beats that back the rapping are very impressive in this case, but I don't think they'd amount to much without M.I.A. doing her stuff on top of it.
I wonder is this the grime music that the young people like?
I am not a fan of Coldplay. Therefore, I did not go to see them on Saturday night, but instead trekked to the John Peel Tent for The Go! Team (or The Fishm, as they like to be called). This mixed-race mixed-gender outfit come from Brighton, and had a great picture of themselves in the programme. They turn out to be a perfect festival band, playing good-time music that's fun to dance to. A friend asserted that they are a bit like The Beta Band. Well they're not *that* like them, but I can see where he is coming from. There's a similar kind of willingness to pull in musical sources from all over the shop, a similar commitment to dance rhythms, and similar air of indie kids playing with rap. The Go! Team are a bit more pop, though. and I love the pop. I got swept along by the way they get the crowd to join in with their songs, and loved being able to shout "Go! Team!" at them during 'Huddle Formation'.
They were a bit plagued by the sound (this is the New Bands Tent, after all), losing the vocals for one track. I was amused to watch their perky singer doing her stuff on stage without any sound from her reaching us. They did leave the stage for a bit while the engineers fixed things, and then came back and did loads of their best songs again. Hurrah!
Overall though, the sound in the John Peel Tent compares favourably with that on the Go! Team's album (the appropriately named "Thunder, Lightning, Strike"), which sounds like it was recorded over a bad phone line from Kathmandhu for 50p.
The final exciting band I saw in the tent were called Dresden Dolls. Some guy I bought magic beans from said they were good, and they have a German-ish name. While waiting for them to come on, I realised that something strange was happening... there were a surprisingly large number of Goths in the audience. And when the band came on, it was like the Goths had landed. The Dolls (as they call themselves) are a man and a woman. She dresses like a Weimar-era strumpet and plays keyboards set to sound like a piano. He is dressed almost like a harlequin and drums in a clown-like manner. His playing style was also reminiscent of the mentalist drummer from some lamer Australian band I saw in a local venue once. There was very theatrical quality to their performances... in the opening song the singer was singing one of those songs to a rubbish lover, while the drummer was being the lover, mocking her earnest entreaties.
When I say Dresden Dolls were Goth, I mean of course in the early 1980s artistic sense. There was nothing metallic or industrial about them. Since the festival I've looked at their entertaining if Flash- and image-heavy web-site, and they have an entire section of hate mail they received from Nine Inch Nails fans after they opened for the Reznorites on some tour. "YOPU R SUCH A GAY BAND TAHT I BET TRENT DIDNT PICK YOPUTO BE TEH SUPORT ON HIS TOPUR" is a typical comment.
I liked Dresden Dolls... I liked their playfulness, theatricality, and sense of artifice. The woman has a way with words too. And I like their cover of 'War Pigs', which rocked in the way that only a voice-piano-drums combo can. They also did a nice cover version of Jacques Brel standard 'In The Port Of Amsterdam'. What's that song all about? There's this old drunken sailor in a pub in Amsterdam, and he is drunk, is that it?
'Coin Operated Boy' is maybe the most striking of Dresden Dolls' own songs, conjuring up a wonderful image of clockwork sex toys.
The dreadlocked roadie guy still calls the shots at the John Peel Tent, and he liked the Dresden Dolls.