Split Festival (Sunday) - Ashbrook Sports Club, Sunderland
Whilst probably not the only place in Sunderland where you can go to the bar and order two Swedish Blondes, Split Festival, the brainchild of local lads The Futureheads, does have some unique features. For one, it’s probably the only time of year you’ll catch checkered-rucksack wearing, floppy-haired emo kids and a 70-year-old man in an Audi gilet both standing at the bottom of a giant 40ft inflatable slide looking yearningly upwards.
‘Machine funk kraut-a-delia – it’s rather lovely!’ Andrew Weatherall once said of trans-Pennine electronic duo Warm Digits. A child on the front row, atop his father’s shoulders, pummels the air with agreement and reckless abandon. There’s still something of a bedroom intimacy about their live shows, Andrew Hodson thumping away on his drum kit like he’s just had a blinding row with his parents about washing the family car with rocks, whilst Steve Jefferis scrubs at his guitar and gazes curiously into the screen of his MacBook, balancing a camcorder on the edge of his setup that projects Instagram-tinted images of himself playing onto the screen behind.
Bathing appropriately in all their Mercury-nominated glory, Field Music are up next, and the Brewis brothers enroll in their usual multi-instrument game of musical chairs with a noticeable spring in their step. After a quick dash outside to try some of the exotic food choices – there’s everything from a Caribbean BBQ to British Tapas, whatever that is – it’s back undercover for some 90s nostalgia. Despite the near-Arctic temperatures, St. Etienne provide a warm set of old and new synthpop that has several indie-boy-avec-tote-bag types in the audience thrusting around; the remainder, in true Northern style, catcall every time Sarah Cracknell starts dancing.
After a sound check that my plus-one emphatically describes as ‘sonic terrorism’, Future of the Left manage to numb the crowd’s minds with some ‘we don’t care if this is a residential area’ sound levels. ‘If there are any Metallica fans in the audience, this is a keyboard,’ frontman Andy "Falco" Falkous jokes before ditching his guitar and pummeling the keys of the onstage Roland Juno-60 synthesizer with the ferocity of an MDMA-ridden squirrel. The set is not without its share of onstage tomfoolery. There’s a quick slanging match with a few bold fourteen year olds on the front row, and midway through there’s a technical fault, and the band take to cracking on stage jokes: ‘I gave Stevie Wonder a cheese grater for his birthday. He said it was the most violent book he's ever read.’ The groans from the audience hang in the air for a moment, until a drum count in interrupts and madness once again ensues.
Having played their first ever gig here some ten years ago, every return to the Ashbrooke Sports Club is something of a sentimental one for The Futureheads. Opening with an acapella version of Richard Thompson’s ‘Beeswing’, taken from their recent concept album Rant, the band flit between acoustic and electric performances, even including a rendition of local anthem ‘The Old Dun Cow’ which still has people emitting elongated screams of ‘MACINTYRE’ on the Metro home almost an hour later. You can take a band out of Sunderland…