Disturbing, cathartic and uncertain all at the same time
What would have been a disarmingly gentle beginning to most festivals was serendipity at Larmer Tree Gardens; though other routes were available, the moreish but temperate crones of Friendship – Philadelphia’s answer to Silver Jews – bled dreamily into harmonious Sylvie, feather-light Katy Kirby (barring a sweet-not-saccharine cover of The Mountain Goats’ ‘No Children’) and the start of Cass McCombs’ reverently anti-hits set (barring ‘Bum Bum Bum’). One more matcha and this will be a wellness retreat.
But the post-rain fug in End Of The Road’s Big Top tent was enough to ward off the most meditative demon, as the bad aftershave of raspberry ripple vape formed its own layer in the atmosphere. In rumination’s place comes horror score screeches, a soft and disturbing whistle to welcome Singaporean songwriter Nat Ćmiel – alias Yeule – to what could be biggest festival set to date, on the eve of releasing their new track ‘Inferno’. A strange amalgam of orchestral weightiness and hyper-pop intricacy follows – the line between them both shoegaze and anything but.
This weight of confusion doesn’t shift with a backing track doing much of the heavy lifting, but there’s still something intricate at play. We’ve been told that it’s one of the first times – if not the first time (it’s not easy to fact-check in the middle of a field so we’re hedging our bets) – that this band has played together, and the roughness is emphasised by the drummer waving their sticks in the air as drum sounds play. But it’s hard not to smile. SASAMI on guitar is captivating, and Yeule bounds between them both tattooed wrist-to-neck with all the makings of a Polachek-style popstar.
Green lights chase them around the stage like a high production game of whack-a-mole during ‘Flowers are Dead’, with the trappings of K-pop slickness and momentary dance routines. But ‘Pixel Affection’ marks the sea-change: haze descends on the stage, almost silencing the theatre, transforming a series of distractions into the bridge between day and night. Even pitched down, ‘Don’t Be So Hard On Your Own Beauty’ is a highlight – the crowd a picture of flailing arms and therapeutic tears. Ćmiel fluctuates between emo-rock and what sounds like breathing exercises. We don’t know exactly what it is, and, by the looks of it, neither do they. But nobody wants to be anywhere else.
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