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Unexciting news: Kings of Leon, Snow Patrol and Katy Perry set for T in the Park

T in the Park

Yes, T in the Park today announced the first three acts on its 2009 line-up:

Kings of Leon, Snow Patrol and Katy Perry.

It’s all a matter of taste of course, but by any standards this is a paltry way to raise the curtain on Scotland’s biggest music festival.

Kings of Leon may now be one of the biggest indie-pop bands in the world, but 2009 will be their fifth appearance in something like seven years.

Equally, the boring-as-watching-cement-dry Snow Patrol are no strangers to Balado.

As for Katy Perry, well that’s just a sly marketing gimmick to rope in the teenyboppers. Right?

The question is this: does this mean that any or all of this tiresome trio will be headlining the main stage? If so, why couldn’t T in the Park organizers DF Concerts have aimed a bit higher? Rage Against the Machine were an inspired choice last year.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be too quick to judge. There are plenty more announcements to come. I just hope they weren’t aiming to start the revelation process with a PR bang, because this is a low-decibel whimper.

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T in the Park: Sunday roving report

So much for Saturday. Sunday was all set to be the great day, with the clouds clearing and a glut of exciting bands to enjoy. The only problem was how to take it all in…

After a brief sojourn in the Media Village that proved uneventful (no ‘celebs’ to watch being slobbered over by the Daily Record), we take a walk in the sun to hear one of the more promising of the early starters in the Pet Sounds tent. Don’t be fooled by the name: 1990s are all about the 60s. There is a pre-LSD innocence to their guitar-bass-drums pop simplicity – and even in the way Jackie McKeown shakes his head like a young Paul McCartney. The fans at the front love every fresh-faced second of it, but some neutrals are left checking their watches.

An early afternoon lull in the programme allows refreshments and time to draw breath before the line-up really holds sway. Fed and watered, I follow the muso gang to Battles in the Pet Sounds. I thought Mirrored was an interesting record, but it didn’t completely win me over. That same effect of admiring indifference prevails today. They are all jaw-droppingly talented musicians, and the songs build and build like a gathering storm, but at the back of your mind you can’t help thinking it’s just all a bit pretentious.

YeasayerAnyone barred entry to Vampire Weekend’s stowed-out show could have done a lot worse than take a walk to the Futures Tent for fellow New Yorkers Yeasayer. Singer Chris Keating endears himself by saying that the few hundred fans present are worth a 10,000-strong Main Stage crowd, and despite a few disparaging whisperings about their live reputation, Yeasayer are phenomenal. ‘2080’ and ‘Sunrise’ are spine-tingling at such close quarters.

Straight over to the infamous Slam Tent, and after 15 minutes of filler techno and a further ten minutes of uncharacteristically mellow pop tunes, the crowd welcomes French dance wizards Justice, the DJs with the rock band image. The twin banks of fake Marshall amps and the illuminated cross all feed into the image: imagine if Daft Punk took off their space helmets and upped the glitch factor.  “Got any eccies mate?” asks a bug-eyed face in passing. Justice bang out highlights from last year’s Cross album, meshing ‘Genesis’ into ‘Phantom Pt I’, followed by crowdpleasers ‘DVNO’ and ‘D.A.N.C.E’. The answer to the preceding question was ‘no’ by the way, and judging by the fact that I seem to be alone in my lack, I decide it’s time to move on.

Stumbling through the masses outside the Slam Tent, I pass a motorbike display show. They’re jumping up ramps and then landing on the other side, and people are actually missing bands to watch this. I keep moving, as the sun disappears behind a bank of grey and the Pet Sounds Tent beckons once again, with its promise of some passionate American indie.

Justice, somewhere behind that pillarUp on stage Matt Berninger, in his usual black shirt/black jeans combo, is leading The National through a beguiling set of their world-weary, heart-broken paeans. It takes a good three songs for them to get into gear, but once they let loose with the eerie majesty of ‘Mistaken For Strangers’, the set takes a steep trajectory towards the sublime, with ‘Fake Empire’ and ‘Squalor Victoria’ the highlights. As he waves goodbye to the T crowd, Berninger looks genuinely moved by the experience.

By this point it had been a long weekend, but a further dilemma remained, the oldest dilemma in the history of festival going: which headliner? REM? Saw them headline here five years ago. Primal Scream? Tempting, but their recent output has been so-so. Aphex Twin? Love to, but can’t handle any more Slam Tent insanity tonight.

So I decided to sample the most talked-about band of the day (in our circle at least): the Brian Jonestown Massacre. A last-minute realisation that a Formula One boss and his misguided rock dream might not be the best headliner for the Pet Sounds Arena resulted in a promotion from the early afternoon for the BJM. And while their heady sonic brew is intoxicating, the small crowd shrinks further during the set. We are asked four times who the band on stage are by curious passers-by. Not that BJM particularly care, especially tambourine man Joel Gion, who resorts to a hissy tirade after being drenched by a thrown pint. As we leave for the bus, he’s still at it: “Is that all you got? Can you spit that far you fucking fag?” Nothing like a bit of aggro to round off a summer festival.

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T in the Park: Saturday roving report

Eddy Grant opens the Main Stage

With memories of a litter-strewn airstrip and 80,000 dancing, drinking, singing, colliding, wretching, cavorting, exposing, stumbling, pissing people fading as fast as my sunburn, it’s time I posted my second annual T in the Park roving report…

Straight off the trusty shuttle bus – via the bar, of course – we decide to sample some sounds, so off to the Main Stage.

The sight of a 60-year-old man playing guitar with his crotch and posterior makes for uncomfortably embarrassing viewing. But Eddy Grant compensates for this rockstar faux-pas with a grin-inducing clutch of reggae hits. ‘Electric Avenue’ may be the crowdpleaser, but it’s the off-beat reggae grooves like ‘I Don’t Wanna Dance’ that get the early afternoon crowd bobbing on the spot.

Grant can still put on a sprightly show, but he was clearly surprised by the reception: “I don’t know how you have so much energy. It must be the oats!” No Eddy, we suspect it’s something less wholesome.

One lager later and with the early afternoon proving unsurprisingly bereft of must-sees, it was time for a casual mosey on down to the T Break tent. Haight Ashbury, the Glasgow band named after the San Francisco hipster area, were obviously aiming to recreate something of that whole 60s vibe with their steel guitar and wispy hair. But their moody, plodding indie was just too morose for this phase of the festivities.

Blinking in the intermittent sunshine, I then find myself wandering past the main stage as Kate Nash does her spoken/uh-oh/Topshop-angst thing far away on stage. With her set-up resembling a submarine school disco, it was kinda appropriate, if not satisfying, that the music that billowed over our heads sounded like a carefully orchestrated fart in the bath.

Which only left one option: Will Young. A swift appraisal of his Pet Sounds Arena set revealed a surprisingly enthusiastic crowd of onlookers singing along to his soppy hits. The standard-issue R’n’B backing band didn’t look the least bit embarrassed by having to play with the Pop Idol warbler, but one song was really all we needed to hear. Such high hormone levels in such a confined space cannot be good for the health.

MGMTA bit later and with a full tent, the stage is set for a triumphant show by MGMT. Bandanas and sunglasses play into their exotic prog-rock allure, and ‘Electric Feel’ injects some energy into a sluggish start, but just when they’re about to assail us with readymade anthem ‘Time To Pretend’, the low-end of the soundsystem audibly explodes. The crowd stay on-side for the remainder, but this could have been so much better.

With one and a half album’s worth of recorded music in the can, The Twilight Sad are a strange choice for the T Break tent. But instead of acting all complacent and ‘T broke’, the band are in typically uncompromising form: a few new songs are tantalising, but ‘Cold Days From the Birdhouse’ is one of those shut-eye, unforgettable festival moments.

My only trip to the terminally uninspiring Radio 1/NME Stage is inspired by The Raconteurs. On the back of Consolers of the Lonely, they are a band gleefully indulging in their American-ness, with bluegrass fiddle on ‘Old Enough’, stadium rawk on ‘Salute Your Salution’ and Detroit pop classicism on ‘Many Shades of Black’. It’s unfair to lay all their success at the winklepickers of Jack White of course, but his scintillating talents upgrade many an average song tonight.

Rage Against The MachineWith the poor, misguided ones herded towards the Kaiser Chiefs, the enlightened among the hoards swarm to the Main Stage for one of the most exciting T headliners of recent years: Rage Against the Machine. And they were rewarded with an awesome band on awesome form. De La Rocha’s defiant posturing and Morello’s jaw-dropping guitar playing belie the passage of time that’s elapsed since their 90s heyday, and blistering tracks like ‘Guerilla Radio’, ‘Know Your Enemy’ and, of course, ‘Killing In The Name’, inspire scenes of bodily carnage from where I’m standing a few yards from the front. De La Rocha’s anti-Bush rant (“When I said George Bush should be assassinated, I meant he should be tried as a war criminal and hung as a war criminal!”) is the only respite in a scintillating show.

I stumble towards the Edinburgh bus queue tired, cold, drunk and mud-splattered. The journey home is going to be rough, and the random girl who sits next to me and asks – constantly – if I unerstaun her wasted ramblings isn’t helping.

Versions of these reviews were written for The Skinny

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Interview: Hot Chip

the world's most unlikeliest pop group?

This is a feature I wrote back in February for The Skinny, the week before Hot Chip released their third album. It all came together too late to tie in with the album release, so here it is on the eve of their T in the Park set…

Interviews with Hot Chip often begin with the writer grappling with the futile task of defining this most indefinable of bands. They will often indulge in a stream of made-up micro-genres: ‘lo-fi disco’, ‘future-pop’, ‘Fisher Price funk’, even. I realise I have just unwittingly perpetuated this trend, but for Hot Chip’s Felix Martin, all it means is that “people haven’t really been listening to the music, they’re too ready to just try and sum it up in one word.” But, he hastens to add, “I don’t get upset about it.”

What does concern Martin – whose role in Hot Chip is to “run the drum machines and laptops that contain the beats that drive the band forward” – is that it’s likely his band’s divergent sound probably lessens their impact on the charts: “We’re quite confusing. And it’s not particularly intentional on our behalf. It probably makes it harder for us to sell records! That’s just how we are.”

Despite Martin’s reservations, Hot Chip have already tasted crossover success with ‘Over and Over’, the eccentric groove that many declared the song of 2006. With major label backing on both sides of the Atlantic, could this quintet of late-20s, intellectual, studious record collectors by day / prolific remixers, in-demand DJs and synth rockers by night, become the most unlikely pop success of the year?

We’re talking a week before the release of the album that looks set to do it, Made In The Dark. It’s probably their most “confusing” record to date, but only in the sense that it takes several listens before the Pollock-esque sensory-splatter of sounds, beats and styles coalesces into their best collection of songs to date. “We never sit down and try and make an indie-pop record or a hip-hop track,” Martin explains. “We wouldn’t trust ourselves to do that, it wouldn’t be possible for us to do that. It’s not a really considered thing the way we go about putting music together, it’s on an off-the-cuff basis.”

This blind-sightedly experimental approach is exemplified in the title Made In The Dark. “It’s quite an ambiguous title isn’t it?” Martin ventures. “The song was written before the album came along and we just decided that the phrase was open-ended enough to not become irritating in a few years. I like it. The more I’ve heard it and thought about it the better I think it is.”

The embryonic form of Hot Chip began through the teenage affinity between vocalists/noisemongers Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard, who met at the same London comprehensive that gave the world Four Tet and Burial. What we now know as Hot Chip was kick-started in 2000 with the additions of Owen Clarke, Al Doyle and Felix Martin into the unconventional, synth-heavy collective. After numerous self-financed EPs they released their debut long-player Coming On Strong on the indie label Moshi Moshi in 2004 to muted critical acclaim. But their evident talent soon attracted bigger fish, and they signed deals with the DFA in America and EMI in Britain. Two years on, follow-up The Warning was stronger and more ambitious, mixing an ear for the dancefloor with a real soul sensibility.

Despite their international profile, Hot Chip still favour a lo-tech approach, scouring charity shops for old percussive junk and using Goddard’s bedroom for recording. With Made In The Dark they did book some studio time, but only for a handful of tracks, as Martin recalls: “It wasn’t a glamourous studio with lots of posh, snobby people coming in. It was just a room in East London where we got our sound engineer to help us set up our equipment as we would when we play live and tried to capture the sound of that. The songs ‘One Pure Thought’, ‘Out At the Pictures’ and ‘Hold On’ were recorded in that way. A lot of the other ones were just recorded in Joe’s bedroom.”

And is Joe’s bedroom spacious enough to accommodate his sleeping arrangements and a multi-instrumental recording set-up? “He’s got an average-sized bedroom actually,” Martin laughs. “I’m not sure how long his girlfriend’s gonna put up with it. He used to have a very small bedroom that was a bit of a broom cupboard really but that was a few years ago. We’ve moved on since then.”

With both Made In The Dark and the single ‘Ready For The Floor’ hitting the UK top ten in the past month, Hot Chip certainly have moved on, continuing their mastery of the commercial/critical tightrope. Is this important to Martin and his bandmates? “The most important thing for me is that we can come to Scotland or Australia or Brazil and have a crowd of people that want to come and see us play. That’s the thing that makes me happiest. It’s always nice to have a nice review or be offered an award but for me it’s always better to have people directly responding to the music and getting excited.”

While the band themselves may be soaking up the adulation, their employers EMI have been mired in financial crisis, culminating in 2,000 staff redundancies the week before we speak. What does Martin think of the record industry’s current strife? “I think they’ll have to do something, whether they just become a smaller industry that doesn’t make as much money. The revenue that you make from music has changed so much, it’s more focused on live music and record sales have obviously gone down. There’s not as much money to be made for the record labels, but as an artist you can still make a living out of touring, but it’s pretty tough for people like EMI.”

Hot Chip live in New YorkAnd in such rapidly changing times would Hot Chip consider following Radiohead’s lead and offering a pay-what-you-choose download? “Yeah I think we would think about doing something like that but we’re not particularly technically or commercially minded people so we wouldn’t be able to set anything like that up ourselves. We’d need someone from outside to help us do that. We want to concentrate on making music really and not think too much about selling records.”

If touring is where the money’s at, then the festival season is a lucrative time of year. Since I spoke to Martin, Hot Chip have been confirmed as one of the highlights of a stellar T in the Park line-up, which will delight those who have witnessed their hypnotic live shows, where their recordings undergo radical transformation. And Martin can promise that your frantic scrabbling for a ticket will be amply rewarded: “We definitely work really hard at it. It’s really important to us because a lot of the musicians that we like and respect have also been excellent live musicians and we’d never want it to be a small part of what we do. It’s always central to our musical development.”

Hot Chip play the Pet Sounds Arena at T in the Park on Sunday 13 July

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