‘Can you festival?’
“No I can’t”
Well, that’s not strictly true. I used to be a festival animal. A creature built for the long haul, the endurance required surprising my own flakey manner. I would watch every band that was on my checklist diligently, cursing any crossover in the schedule. The second Sideways Festival has come at a time where I’m worn down by age and repeated festival going. As a punter or a musician or as a ‘music biz person’ (ouch!), I’ve been to so many festivals and seen all the bands I could ever want to. Festival going has become something else. Now I like to take in the experience of the event rather than any particular band – having a good time with friends has become the main purpose.
The fact that Sideways corresponds with Euro 2016 is unfortunate, especially when my beloved Italy are playing. So my start to Sideways is waylaid by the Italy vs Sweden snorefest. The football was poor, but as an ardent Azzurri convert every fibre of my being has been invested in the game, I leave for Sideways drained. Kiki Pau were an early starter and due to the football I missed their show. Rumors of a new song from the band – with Steely Dan overtones no less – was greeted enthusiastically by trusted sources. The prospect of rain hung heavy over the festival, so much in fact that Friday’s headliner set by PJ Harvey was moved forward to a 7pm start. For me this wasn’t the only thing that hung heavy on Friday.
Now I like to take in the experience of the event rather than any particular band – having a good time with friends has become the main purpose.
The EU referendum campaign in Britain has been in full swing for weeks now, so for those who’d like to leave the EU versus those who would like to remain, a day of reckoning is fast approaching. As a UK citizen (by passport only nowadays), I’ve watched in horror as the debate has been a large mud sling focussing on immigration and some openly racist campaigning. UKIP’s Nigel Farage unveils a poster with echo’s of concentration camp cleansing, it’s a nadir for British political history, but what happened next is much darker. The Thursday before Sideways, Labour MP Jo Cox is savagely murdered in the streets of her Batley and Spen constituency by a neo nazi sympathizer shouting ‘Britain First’ (also the name of a far right political group engaging in anti-Muslim activities). The shockwaves are palpable and bring into focus an open sore that’s been festering amongst the British population. Talking about immigration. It also makes me painfully aware that in Finland we’re dealing with similar attitudes, and as an immigrant myself, my place in this society is being questioned everyday. Cox’s murder leaves me with a sombre mind, I care for my former home and hate to see how England has opened up wounds about race and identity that we’d all thought the country had moved on from (at least on some basic level). The Brexit campaign has only intensified the gaze on the secret bigot who might just be your neighbour. That Jo Cox’s death happens mere days after the tragedy of Orlando and leaves one feeling that a certain sensibility is under attack, those hateful extremists have finally taken over the asylum.
Can you hear me?
As I’m watching PJ Harvey from a fair distance singing Let England Shake, I do wonder if Polly is in favour of Brexit. Sovereignty and the countryside seem to be important to her, as do other old English values. War is a reoccurring theme. As her band enter the stage with brass and drums in military fashion, it ups the potential that this could be something special. Sadly, by the third song, from my distant viewpoint (screens would have been nice) I’m struggling to connect with the show or hear it in any meaningful way – the surrounding chatter easily drowning out the sounds from the stage. Moving the show forward is working against Harvey and her band. A lot of people have just arrived and hearing a new album heavy set as opposed to playing a few hit songs early to warm up the crowd creates a listless atmosphere. I give up after 45 minutes. So many people on stage, so little noise. As I head to watch Ty Segall, the first real drops of rain hit.
As I’m watching PJ Harvey from a fair distance singing Let England Shake, I do wonder if Polly is in favour of Brexit. Sovereignty and the countryside seem to be important to her, as do other old English values. War is a reoccurring theme.
Sideways got me excited when they announced Ty Segall and The Muggers were going to play. I can still recall the thrill of watching Ty the last time he visited Finland at the now defunkt Kuudes Aisti festival a few years ago. With his Muggers in tow (featuring King Tuff and Mikal Cronin in a six piece set up), Ty manages to top the intensity of that first show. The set is heavy with tracks from his very good and recent Emotional Mugger album, but he squeezes in a few oldies – a stand out being Manipulator‘s Feel. Over waves of noise, Ty coaxes dynamism and groove from his band, who deliver a deliriously riotous performance. As the rain comes down in buckets, Ty Segall re-energises me and for a moment, I’m that festival animal again, revelling in the thrill of it all.
A sojourn to the B-Side Bar for their rather crispy seitan burger gives me the required fuel to stay a little longer, despite being very wet. Norway’s Susanne Sundfør is on the Park Stage. I enjoyed Susanne’s breakthrough album 10 Songs, and she brings some of that album’s minimal brooding to Sideways. But Sundfør knows her Scandinavian pop shapes very well and brightens the evening with sounds and songs that drink heavily from an ABBA well. Yes, it’s disco, sort of. And it’s welcome. Displaying poise and ability over various instruments, Sundfør could easily perform her music as yet another electronic vehicle, but thankfully she imbues with the organic and her show is all the better for it. The balancing act of introspective and body pumping beat is a tricky one to entertain, but people are smiling and Sundfør’s set brings some respite from the falling rain.
Ty Segall re-energises me and for a moment, I’m that festival animal again, revelling in the thrill of it all.
Friday has lifted my spirits. Seeing so many old friends, having chats about music, football and life, coupled with a relaxed atmosphere means Sideways day one really felt like a success.
As I enter Sideways on Saturday, I’m already soaked to the skin. The five minute walk from a tram stop to the festival area has done it for me. I’m one of the first people on site and can watch the various stages of a rain and windswept organization struggling against the elements. The Teurastamo district where Sideways is held is an old slaughter house converted into offices, restaurant’s, radio stations, creative hubs. It’s an emerging area in Helsinki and as a location for Sideways, performs an admirable place to hold the festival even under such trying conditions. There are places of shelter. At 2pm stalls and restaurants are just opening, I make my way to the Kellohalli restaurant for some warmth – my legs in particular have taken the brunt of the rain and I feel like I’ve just gone ten rounds with the Whale from Moby Dick, and yes you can call me Ahab. Over a soundtrack of Queens 1980’s hits, the coffee is welcome and warming.
my legs in particular have taken the brunt of the rain and I feel like I’ve just gone ten rounds with the Whale from Moby Dick, and yes you can call me Ahab.
The reason I’ve arrived so early is that Black Twig, a band I work with, are kicking off the day on the main stage. The weather is playing havoc with schedules and challenging technical necessities. At the main Sideways stage, the rain has stopped mercifully, and three people with huge brooms are brushing waves of water off the front of the stage. Meanwhile, despite the prospect of getting really wet, a decent early show crowd appear. I get very nervous when a band I work with plays festivals. I worry about audience attendance and if the band are happy with everything – situations that are out of my control basically. Black Twig‘s latest album, Blaze On A Plain, all though well received abroad, hasn’t really been trumpeted at home like previous releases. Still, the band have a good slot today, and this does highlight Sideways’ commitment to domestic talent. The circumstances are not ideal, but Black Twig pull off an excellent performance. Aki Pohjankyrö and Janne Vainikainen play duelling guitars that reminds me that this band are the closest Finland’s got to producing the magic and tone of prime Television. The last notes of Black Twig’s set is a cue for the skies to open up and bring more rain.
After The Flood
I manage to catch five minutes of Have You Ever Seen The Jane Fonda Aerobic VHS?, but they don’t play the one song I love. Meanwhile the elements are seriously discouraging, my glasses affording me as clear a view as if my head had been dunked in mukus. Echo Is Your Love suffer from my rainy impenetrable gaze: yes, they sound great, but this wind and rain is now proving impossible to induce feelings of ‘enjoyment’ as regards any performance.
I scramble back to Kellohalli, the barman fixes me a coffee and I chat with friends. I return to the main Sideways stage to catch Iisa play, but am informed that all main stage gigs are cancelled for the day due to the near gale force winds hammering the area. Bummer in the Summer. Some more hanging around by the main stage ensures I’m once again soaked to the skin and I return again to Kellohalli to watch some Football. Belgium vs Republic Of Ireland. Sun certainly isn’t shining on the Irish this day, as Belgium rediscover their mojo and inflict a serious thrashing.
Death by social media
By this time I feel weather beaten. I decide to bid farewell to Sideways 2016 and head home and watch Cristiano Ronaldo disappoint himself. Judging from social media updates from Saturday night’s Sideways, I missed the surprise appearance of the reformed Lush (I was unfortunate enough to catch them first time round). Peaches with a lot of vaginal cream (probably/possibly), Maria Balls, Circle, Mykki Blanco, Hopeajärvi and lots more. Those were the raves online as I sat watching Euro 2016 from the wet free comfort of my sofa. To be honest, I didn’t feel like I’d missed much.
But Sideways 2016 could have been a humbling experience. Fullsteam who put on the event did a great job of keeping the program alive on Saturday. You got your money’s worth despite some drop-outs. And there is something astounding about looking at this beautiful, well dressed and predominantly white, over-privileged audience defying the odds and righteously having a blast despite the weather. Sideways, like Flow Festival, on some surface level prides itself with dealing with an imported cool. Yes, you’re in Finland, but this doesn’t feel Finnish. And for all the faux analysis that could bring, this wasn’t a bad place to be and meet friends. This was all fine. In fact, I’m already looking forward to a sunnier atmosphere next year.
Sideways – like Flow Festival– on some surface level, prides itself with dealing with an imported cool.
Thanks to Fullsteam for the use of photos.