Small but perfectly formed: the wonders of Y Not? festival

The Horrors, The Cribs and Mystery Jets headlined a sodden but sensational Y Not? festival. Now that she’s dried off, Robyn Strachan can report back…


Y Not

THE rain came down in biblical proportions and turned the rolling hills of the Peak District into a particularly musical swamp. I was stood in the midst of an electrical storm, cheesecloth dress reduced to a soggy mass, and clutching a pint of local cider that must have been at least half rainwater.

“Give it up, love,” urged the kagoul-ed indie fans stood dripping in front of the Big Gin stage. “They’re not coming on.”

But lo! When Faris Badwan slunk onto the stage, a lanky figure topped off with a tangle of hair, the still-sizeable crowd cheered as if the weather didn’t exist.

This sums up both the charm and the ethos of the independent, welcoming Y Not? festival. Situated in the wilderness of Derbyshire, Y Not? has grown in recent years to feature headline acts disproportionate to its intimate size.

Without the pretention that the cliché of ‘boutique’ brings with it, the festival is infectiously friendly; without any bells and whistles, the festival attracts people who know their way around a record shop as well as they know their way around a party. Which, as it transpires, is very well indeed.

FRIDAY saw thunder and lightning, but it also saw some excellent and frequently inspirational performances from a plethora of diverse and innovative acts.

Huskies, in using BBC Introducing as a platform for their dreamy, sun-kissed pop sound, showed how talent isn’t limited by age and experience.

Dexters were a far brasher, more visceral presence, with a snappy back-story: “we promised a bouncer we’d name our band after him!”, remarked a grinning member to me.

The Virginmarys, while undoubtedly a talented bunch, peddle a particular brand of metal-inspired rock that I either failed or refused to identify with – a band to recommend to the less blinkered!

With their unique blend of folk and hip-hop, the engaging collective Dizraeli and the Small Gods broke down genre boundaries for a liberating and immersive sonic experience. Fronted by the staccato flow of the charismatic Dizraeli, they deserve more mainstream success than their diverse sound will likely achieve.

Public Service Broadcasting were predictably brilliant, although having to miss Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip brought a whisky-tinged tear to the eye of I, the closet dance kid.

Rumours had been flying around site all day as to the identity of the secret special guests, ranging from the wishful to the plain ridiculous – it was, in fact, Reverend and the Makers, who brought their abrasive, electro-infused stomp to a field of muddy and delighted revellers. With hard-hitters such as ‘Heavyweight Champion of the World’ on offer, and the crowd in full voice, this was one of the most memorable and joyous sets at Y Not?.

Mystery Jets, although in possession of some cracking indie-pop tunes, suffered from the vagaries of the weather and so were taken off halfway through their set; this probably did them an injustice as the part of the set they played was solid, if not exceptional.

However, in the strangest of ways the moody setting only enhanced The Horrors’ set; lights hitting rods of water lent a surreal visual to proceedings and the atmospheric songs taken from the excellent ‘Skying’, ‘Primary Colours’ and ‘Strange House’ kept pace with the wildness of the surroundings in both force and scope. Although not the most charismatic of frontmen, Badwan has a certain dangerous energy to him and the musicianship of the band was second-to-none.

dizraeli and the small gods

Dizraeli and the Small Gods

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A MODERN interpretation of traditional genre saw self-proclaimed ‘gypsy-party-punk-folk’ act Naymedici shatter any conception of a sleepy saturday morning with energy, verve and a real love towards the folk music that they so thrillingly cut-and-paste from.

Fiction, as taut and claustrophobic as any live band on the scene, showed that their percussive live set, driven by distorted, primal vocals, has the potential to develop into a true festival favourite. In rejecting many of the indie-pop conventions that define both their genre and their contemporaries, this is a group whose queasiness and fractured approach act as an asset.

Pylo played a set that suffered from lack of diversity; a pick and mix of slow, yelped songs may have had heart and soul in isolation, but when played together the result was rather over-indulgent.

By contrast, the always excellent Sky Larkin brought both lo-fi enthusiasm and an easy charm to the stage, proving that melodic, guitar-driven indie-rock is neither a dying genre nor impossible to sing along to. Katie Harkin’s voice revels in its quirks, with her unique and tuneful warmth proving the base for an immensely likeable band.

From the snippets caught of their sets, Drenge and Swim Deep can only grow in reputation as solid live acts, although both groups could benefit from widening their scope, both sonically and lyrically.

One of the highlights of the day, and secreted away in the Saloon Bar, was Joe Brown: matching wit and a devilish charisma with the voice of a tattooed angel, his stripped back and intimate set changed a disparate and muddy crowd, for half an hour, into the best kind of gang.

As a sensory experience his polar opposite was probably 65daysofstatic, although this was not to their detriment as their instrumental and sonically intense set was nothing short of magnificent. Playing on the Big Gin stage and shy and considered in person, the live experience proved transformative as the group mixed elements from a diaspora of genres to create one of the most unusual and immersive sets at the festival.

Psychedelically inspired and dense in sound, Temples proved hypnotic, with their slightly repetitive crooning soundtracking the natural transition of afternoon to evening. Influenced heavily by the hedonistic excesses of the 60s, their sound could be described as a commercial reinterpretation of a dreamscape, and drew a sizeable crowd.

An even-bigger and vociferous crowd had succumbed to the temptations of The 1975, for reasons unknown. The intense popularity of this band seems a mystery, for their bland, predictable guitar lines, cod-retro aesthetic and intense apathy towards good lyrics (‘We’ve got one thing in common, it’s this tongue of mine’ is one of the least sexy things written about sex, possibly, in the history of the world) has spawned a group that the public seem to adore, if the legions of screaming girls packing the Quarry Tent are anything to go by. Baffling.

Far more straightforward, and infinitely more compelling, was the sonic diversity showcased in The Cribs’ acerbic headline set. With five albums’ worth of excellent material to choose from, from the shrieked two-part harmonies of ‘Another Number’ to the dissonance and anger of the Lee Ranaldo collaboration ‘Be Safe’, the Jarman brothers cemented themselves at the forefront of alternative music in 2013, their longevity all but secured. Greater than the sum of their parts, and cultivating a deliberate sloppiness and ramshackle ethos, this band thrives on lyrical maturity, a willingness to experiment and diversify, and a cult-like fanbase who wholly commit to the group’s approach.

Ross Jarman tweeted afterwards ‘I could try to explain how amazing @Y_Not_Festival was last night, but I just can’t. One of the best Cribs shows ever’, which seems a fair judgement. The Jarmans are king; long may they reign.

The Cribs

The Cribs

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SUNDAY brought with it hangovers and more patchy weather, yet the music was as diverse as ever; Y Not?, you are far too predictable in your multi-faceted approach!

China Rats take a fairly basic indie-pop template and refine it to create a singalong sound with broad appeal; it’s perfect for the XFM crowd and, when combined with the boy-band aesthetic of the poster-ready members, means that the group are primed for mainstream success.

The grungier stylings of Dolomite Minor meant that, in conjunction with their sleepy reworking of Americana, they were a far more exciting prospect.

The Temperance Movement derive their sound from a strong set of musical influences, however their rock and roll reinterpretation was decidedly retro and felt derivative at times. Why their frontman decided to mask his heavy, characterful Glaswegian accent with a Deep South drawl is anyone’s guess.

Although he may benefit from eschewing some of the more obviously commercial aspects to his persona, Lewis Watson was as adorable as he is obviously talented and has the potential to develop into an appealing, acoustic and enduring singer-songwriter.

Led by the striking Mitzy Bryan and her amazing hairstyle (‘do, hello!), The Joy Formidable played with intent and dynamism to prove that belting it out can sometimes trample all over the virtues of subtlety and make a throw rug of its pelt. Aggressive, forceful, bold – you couldn’t help but to enjoy it.

The faucets had well and truly been turned back on by the time of The Enemy’s victorious, singalong set, with anthems such as the visceral ‘We’ll Live and Die in These Towns’ hollered back by an enraptured crowd who welcomed the group as old friends. A small bloke clad in a resolutely untrendy jacket, frontman Tom Clarke hides a true powerhouse of a singing voice behind an unassuming façade, with a note-perfect cover of James’ ‘Sit Down’ proving that those who judge a book by its cover should stick to lisping along to auto-tune in overpriced nightclubs. They might not be the most fashionable of bands, but The Enemy are the live act that many people need but very few deserve.

The Darkness, on the other hand, proved baffling. Are they hair-metal? Are they parody? Are they, god forbid, being wholly sincere? The stripey leotard of Justin Hawkins must have been cutting off any circulation to his crotch, but the crowd loved it.

Your humble reporter, on the other hand, took solace in the far gentler environment of the Why Not clothing tent and the secret gem that was a private acoustic performance by the incredible Keira Lawlor. Her song ‘Darkness’ bore no resemblance to the falsetto strut of main stage proceedings but belied a maturity far beyond someone with only one indie-label album under her belt; Suzanne Vega, or a raspier Billy Bragg, would be a fair comparison. And so, exhausted by my trip down the rabbit hole into musical wonderland, I crawled back to my tent which promptly collapsed under the onslaught of the weather…

The Darkness

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THE festival’s name of Y Not? is really asking a rhetorical question to which the music aficionado must answer back ‘hell yeah!’. For this festival veteran, it was one of the best thought-out and most exciting events I have ever been to, with its attention to detail and real connection to the music on offer proving second to none.

‘Small, fresh, loud’ as its motto proclaims? Before the inevitable return next year, I want to see ‘amazing’ added to the list.

Many thanks to Francesca and everyone at Y Not?