End Of The Road Festival

by Rob Scott

A used needle. Communism. Public masturbation. Self-defecation. Cult worship. A stolen pair of shoes.

Don’t worry, this isn’t the opening line of that angst-ridden beat poem I’ve been arduously working on. Not this time. Nor is it a check-list of the things to expect during the hectic nights out of the forthcoming Freshers’ Week. Although I wouldn’t be too surprised if some of them cropped up. No. These are just some of the elements of two loosely intertwining experiences I had at 2015’s End Of The Road Festival.

Of course, if I were to list the essential elements of End Of The Road Festival as a whole it would be far more serene… Peacocks. Sunshine. Real ales. Bonfires. Parrots. Pottery classes. Clean toilets.

I wouldn’t want to put you off. It’s tenth anniversary was always going to be perfect. Held in the  idyllic Larmer Tree Gardens, just on the Wiltshire/Dorset border, it boasted the best lineup of indie and alternative bands of any festival in the country: Sufjan Stevens, The War On Drugs, Future Islands, Tame Impala, Laura Marling, Mac Demarco, Metz, Jessica Pratt, My Morning Jacket, Django Django and Low. It really is the best festival in the UK, hands down.

But every idealisation has its darkside, every idyll has its illicit underbelly; and sleaze, depravity, and vice are inevitably more interesting. This brings me to Fat White Family: easily the most disgusting, sickening, but potentially most exciting band in the UK.

They’re the kind of band that if your mum saw live, she would cry. When I saw them earlier this summer in Denmark, lead singer Lias Saoudi, skeleton-thin and slimed with sweat, took little time in exposing his genitals and having a fiddle…Other previous live show antics include throwing a fresh pigs head at an audience member, covering themselves in butter and once or twice Lias has smeared his own faeces on his face. They’re also unapologetic communists and hard drug users. If Teresa May thinks she should ban Tyler, The Creator from the UK for saying some rude words, just wait until she hears about these guys.

When Fat White Family took to the stage Lias proudly boasted the tourniquet still gripping his spindly arm. The crowd were wild before even the first note was played. But what impressed me most about this performance was not their shocking antics, but that beneath all the controversy and provocation, they proved themselves a genuinely great band. Is It Raining In Your Mouth?, an anthem to, amongst other things, fellatio in a car, sounds like Velvet Underground but with even more drugs, played with a devastating energy that far exceeds that of the studio recording. While no genitals were exposed and no bowels were opened, they still reeked of illicit depravity. An especially uncomfortable moment came when Lias plunged a hand down the front of his pants, moaning the refrain to Cream Of The Young. I don’t want to think too hard about the lyrics are about.

The next day, headlining the Garden Stage, was American indie’s rising cult hero, Mac Demarco. Him and his band oozed goofy charm and good humour as they played through an unforgettable set of Mac’s instantly recognisable jangly pop rock. They’re as irresistible as Fat White Family, but in the complete opposite sense. Indeed, only last month Fat White Family posted a typically unsavoury Facebook status threatening to join ISIS if Mac didn’t quit music… I’m sure they were joking… The tracks from his new mini-LP translate perfectly to a live setting, but it was his ‘hits’: Salad Days, The Stars Keep On Calling My Name, and most definitely Together, which had the whole crowd dancing and singing along.

Perhaps the biggest surprise, and strangest experience of the festival, came during the late night set of Spanish lo-fi girl-rock band, Hinds. Mac Demarco made his way on stage, only to immediately jump off and crowd surf for the remainder of the show. In a way, I felt sorry for Hinds, as Mac’s mere presence completely overshadowed their genuinely fun performance. Just as Fat White Family turn well-behaved festival-goers into sweaty slimy beasts, Mac turns them into wild partiers.

The crowd surged, climbed and pushed each other over just to get a touch of him. Girls took their tops off, guys clambered onstage and one particularly excited fan stole a helpless Mac’s shoes and socks. It is bizarre, but admittedly fun, how much worship and adoration he provokes. I found myself in a compromising position when, as Mac was crowd-surfing above me, his shirt pulled up to his head, those lifting him suddenly tripped, and Mac’s unquestionably chubby belly enveloped my mouth and nose, his weight kind of crushing my head.

For a second, as I fought for air, I thought it might have been the end of me. I panicked. But as my life flashed before my eyes, with great music filling my ears, cold beer rushing through my veins, and good people all around me, I realised that there are far worse ways to go.