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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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Interview: Ratatat

Stroud (left) and Mast

Ratatat may still be a lesser-known name on this side of the Atlantic, but it’s a name you’re unlikely to forget after a first introduction. That introduction may have arrived via a whimsical purchase of their 2004 self-titled debut, or 2006’s superior follow-up Classics, or their warm-up show for CSS at last year’s Triptych. Perhaps this is your introduction, as they’re set to release LP3 (that’ll be their third album then). Wherever your starting point though, it’s difficult to harness exactly what it is that makes their music so infectious. Their distinctive blend of pumping electro, multi-layered slide guitar and programmed beats defies genre-fication, but I asked Evan Mast, the producer/synth half of the Brooklyn band, to define it anyway. Predictably, all he gave me was this: “We don’t define it. We just make the music that we want to hear.”

Despite the perceived reticence, Mast is brimming with pride over LP3 – which expands the Ratatat formula yet further with more textured beats, more stylistic pilfering, a harpsichord here, a mellotron there – as he recalls its creation: “The process of making the record was such a great experience. We were in this big house full of instruments for 40 days and 40 nights just making tons of music, discovering so many new sounds and exploring so many different ideas. We’d make songs all day and then cook these amazing dinners and drink some beer and listen to the tracks at night. All the songs are attached to good memories, so it makes me happy to listen to them.”

Despite often being tagged as an electronic act, Mast and his Ratatat partner Mike Stroud are first and foremost instrumental musicians, and parts of LP3 come across like some post-modern rock concerto. It’s tempting to surmise the kind of classical education that fellow New Yorkers like Vampire Weekend have been touting, but Mast reveals that his teaching wasn’t quite so: “I took guitar lessons for about two years when I was around 11 or 12. My teacher was an old blues guitarist by the name of Robert Reese. He was a big guy with greasy Jerri Curled hair and his day job was working at the Ford car factory. He played a big hollow-bodied guitar and he mainly taught me how to improvise blues stuff. Occasionally I read up on music theory but I don’t have much patience for it.”

Mast doesn’t have much patience for lyrics either. The only words on Ratatat’s first album came in the fleeting form of rap samples [both Mast and Stroud are big hip hop fans, as you can hear on their two official mixtapes, available as free downloads from their website]. On Classics the verbal input was reduced to a cat’s howl on ‘Wildcat’, and LP3 is entirely instrumental. “I don’t have much of a voice and I find that words are often a very clumsy medium for communication. I don’t think I was ever really happy with the music I was making until I realized that I could do it without words.”

Ratatat playing at Summercase in 2007, photographed by meHaving witnessed Ratatat live once so far, I can guarantee that nothing you hear on record will prepare you for just how good they are live. Stroud is a wickedly talented guitarist, and partial to shameless Hendrix-style showboating; Mast grooves away on bass, while extra member Jacob Morris on keyboards pulls focus by headbanging a truly astounding afro. Do people often react with surprise to Ratatat shows? “We get all kinds of reactions when we play live but yes, some people seem to expect us to just do a DJ set or something like that. We just try to keep ourselves entertained and hope the audience will follow suit.”

With an opening night set at The Edge Festival on the horizon, I tell Mast that the venue, Cabaret Voltaire, is a small, sweaty, subterranean club.

“Sounds perfect,” he says.

A version of this article appears in this month’s Skinny.

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