This once tiny festival in the middle of Derbyshire has expanded ten-fold. It’s now a three-day spectacular (four if you count GLC on Thursday night [I’m not]) which sells out every year. When it rains it’s miserable but when the sun shines, as it did for half the festival, it’s a great big party in Nowheresville.
Date: 1-3 August, 2014
Venue: Pikehall, Derbyshire
When you arrive at a festival after a horrific car journey – even when your address is in the same bloody county – the last thing you expect to see is Razorlight’s Johnny Borrell playing modern jazz. But that’s exactly what your reviewer was met wth upon arrival at Y Not 2014. Yup, Mr Razorlight himself was playing disjointed pissy jazz with the band Zazou. The Allotment Tent – 4th largest on the pecking order this year- was of cause rammed with punters eager to see the now hirsute Johnny. But it’s not too easy on the ears. Razorlight’s return should be enough Borrell for anyone; he doesn’t need to dip his fingers into avant garde whimsy.
From that oddity, day one of Y Not – Derbyshire’s biggest ‘small’ festival set in the Peak District miles from civilisation – is more plain sailing.
Bowie-does-dance-funk oddballs Night Engine set up a dancing comp in the festival’s Quarry Stage – basically their biggest tent – while Superfood bolster their rising reputation on the main outdoor stage with a set that highlights their guitar-led super-pop.
Circa Waves – Liverpool’s newest excellent exports – perform a not too dissimilar set of Kooksian joy-pop in the Quarry Stage to a crowd that’s bulging out into the rain which has now engulfed the festival.
Yes it’s wet and dull. After blanket sunshine throughout June and July, August heralds an onset of inclement weather, not that anyone is particularly bothered. With a roller disco, Helter Skelter, Dodgems and other fair ground rides, plus bars and other interesting tents to discover – including a tortoise-shaped shelter – no one is moaning about the rain.
In the Giant Squid tent, the alternative rock stage, the Whoahnows display a well-honed set of indie rock, Freeze the Atlantic – a mixture of Reuben and Hundred Reasons – are excellent, while Ireland’s Fight Like Apes demonstrate how to fuse electronica with hardcore rock.
Elsewhere Yuck are full of jangly shoegazing goodness on the main stage, Tom Vek’s superb minimalistic pop is a treat on the Quarry Stage while the appearance of Razorlight has most people flocking to the main stage. Hairy, besuited and back to front one of the most influential bands of the noughties, Borrell leads the crowd through a jamboree of old indie classics including Golden Touch and America.
To finish day one, pop-noir savants White Lies’ brooding meloncholy is lit up with a spectacular intergalactic light show. Their gloomy if impressive set is ideal for the weather.
On Saturday, the weather looks bleak at first, with people sheltering in the tents to keep dry as the festival threatens to turn into a mud bath. But then out comes the sun, and stays put for the remainder of the weekend.
Ironically, Nordic Giants couldn’t be more darker. The duo enter the Giant Squid with naked torsos and black headdresses, and sit either side of a flickering TV screen. They then play the soundtrack to four short films, each entirely different to the last. It’s cinematic, engaging and utterly captivating. Jaws drop as their heavy synth-rock syncs perfectly with the films. Amazing stuff.
From there things are more prosaic but nonetheless entertaining. Best Friends pack the Quarry Tent with their spiky, skewed punk, while Catfish and The Bottlemen sound like festival veterans with a masterful display on the main stage. Lead singer Van McCann can’t hide his delight at the sizeable crowd that have gathered to hear their post-Libs dirty rock n roll. “There’s an electric storm on its way”, he tells us. Twice. But he’s no meteorologist, and their set is a blissful blast in the sunshine.
Swim Deep are more chilled. Their shoegazing B-Town wooziness is perfect for the early evening sunshine slot on the main stage, while Saint Raymond’s bright and cheerful slinky-pop is a hit in the Quarry.
Back on the main stage and it’s the moment the 30-somethings amongst the crowd have been waiting for. It’s Shed Seven, still living off the crumbs of their back catalogue which stretches back more than 20 years, but still rousingly good entertainment. Sing songs break out and grown men huddle together for Going For Gold and Chasing Rainbows, while Disco Down bounces with zeal and their cover of The Boss’s Born To Run provokes another sing along amongst the 40-somethings. Long live The Sheds.
The Fratelli’s aren’t happy. Beer cans and plastic cups are launched stagewards much to the chagrin of singer Jon Fratelli. However, they carry on regardless but struggle to shift the crowd too boisterously until Chelsea Dagger is aired, and the place goes nuts.
Over in the Quarry things are going terribly wrong for British Sea Power. Not only is the crowd on the quiet side – and low in numbers in relation to the average throughout the day – but they make a complete hash of Machineries of Joy, with lead singer Yan looking totally perplexed as the timing goes skewith.
Then, for some unknown reason, guitarist Noble kicks over a set of lights which blows a fuse and leaves the tent in almost complete darkness, save for the foliage which is lit with LED lights. Lighting restored, the band continue. Yan jumps off stage and enters the crowd. Nothing new there. But as he tries to climb back onto the stage, security assume he’s a punter and grapple with him. This infuriates both band and fans. Eventually allowed back on stage, Noble then decides to do the same thing during set closer Spirit of St Louis. Then, remarkably, as he tries to return to the stage security wrestle with him, too! He ain’t happy. A couple of fans enter the area between stage and crowd and one fan even gets on stage and sits down in protest!
With their two massive bears prowling through the audience, it’s a chaotic show. Musically, they’ve been better. But top that for entertainment.
Dizzie Rascal couldn’t. His set on the main stage was, in all fairness, a fan-humping, zeitgeist fist-pump of a success if you’re aged 16-23, but The Blackout’s noise-rock in the Giant Squid lends a better ending to proceedings. Bonkers sounded good, he can have that.
On the final day it’s not surprising that many Y Notters are a hungover mess. Some an extremely colourful hungover mess after a paint fight outside the huge Y Not sign earlier in the day. So with people blurry-eyed and knackered, they relax in the sun, listening to the jazzy, funky sounds of King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boys, Chloe Howl’s lush Welsh pop and the Sunshine Underground’s Balearic beats.
Even in the Quarry, Eliza and the Bear chug out sepia, angular indie, while Luke Sital Singh washes people’s weary minds with his acoustic laments.
But wait. Sunday may be the day of rest, but try telling that to Nottingham’s Baby Godzilla. It’s 5:30. It’s a hazy, sunny day, but inside the Giant Squid, Baby Godzilla sound like Beelzebub’s offsprings. Hardcore rock forms a circle pit, while both the singer and guitarist throttle their axes within the crowd, on the speaker stacks and, in the singer’s case, on the actual roof of the tent! Yes, he scales the venue, perching himself on the tent as if it’s one massive rock hammock, still snarling down his mic. Absolutely amazing scenes.
In The Allotment Tent, the youngest band of the weekend, Sheffield’s fresh-faced Red Faces, are gaining a lot of love for their Busted-does-early-Beatles sound. They may be young, their singer is just 14, but they sound like experts at this rock ‘n’ roll lark.
Back on the main stage, Palma Violets’ ramshackle punk rock goes down a treat, with Best of Friends one of the anthems of the weekend, and De La Soul re-start the party all over again, bringing their fine blend of R n B and hip-hop to the masses, pitting the two sides of the crowd against each other and generally being excellent. Three is the Magic number is scandalously discarded from the set but it doesn’t matter, the party didn’t miss it too much.
With the tent for Newton Faulkner spilling out yards into the open air and therefore totally gridlocked, it’s over in the Saloon Bar where the penultimate act is to be found. It’s Mark Dean Ellen, The Yodelling Mix Master, essentially two bluegrass good ol’ boys who yodel and turn this secluded part of Derbyshire into a backstreet bar in Austin, Texas. The crowd – by this time drunk again – yee-haw and demand more, with chants of “Best band of the weekend la la la la…”. Quality stuff, and proof positive that it’s sometimes the smaller stages where the major enjoyment can be found.
Bringing the festival – and this mammoth review – to a close is Frank Turner with his Sleeping Souls band. Recently Turner has been on the road with members of said band and his former band Million Dead with hardcore supergroup, Mongol Horde, but it was back to the acoustic-punk and patriotic panache which rounded off the festival with some aplomb.
Fresh, small and loud is Y Not’s motto. Fresh? After three days including mud and straw maybe not. Small? It’s expanded far beyond what the organisers could ever have dreamed of back in its formative years and loud? Oh yeah, it’s loud, they got that spot on.