LIVE REVIEW: Long Division Festival 2012, Wakefield

I learned a few things at Long Division, the day festival that takes plays across several venues in Wakefield. I learned that often when it looks like a band has a really impressive, elaborately choreographed light show, it’s actually just the incessant flashes of white coming from the digital cameras and iPhones of the hoards of serious-looking folk with press passes. I learned that city-based festivals are better when the venues really are close together; ideally, on the same strip. And I learned that, whilst bands often look tired, wet, and moody when they’re playing festivals in rural fields, when they’re playing in the Merrie city, at the centre of a burgeoning scene – and early enough in the day that a good portion of their evening can be given over to dedicated drinking – they will look like they’re having the best time.

The first act we saw perhaps the only exception to that last part: The Twilight Sad, are loud and depressing Scottish five-piece (can a young Scot form any other type of band?), playing in the city’s Royal Theatre, a place that had held a hometown gig for their favourite sons the Cribs a few weeks prior. What was odd then is even odder now: the seats. And not much room to stand. And, save for a few tentative stretches upwards two songs in, everybody opted to stay sitting, whilst a tornado of distorted guitar ripped through the room accompanied by frontman James Graham howling in his now-familiar but no less exhilarating Glasgow brogue. The group maintained a good mix of that heavier drone rock from Forget the Night Ahead, the Jesus and Mary Chain-go-folk of their debut, and remind us of where they are on album three: dark electronic pop, exemplified by the spooky industrial onslaught of “Alphabet”.

Graham, whilst shy and retiring in his between-song patter, is the centre of every track, totally inhabiting the character of each which means that, on the likes of the searing “Reflection of a Television” and “And She Would Darken The Memory” he bellows, beats his chest, and shakes his head like a creature from Jacob’s Ladder, which influences a man sat in front of me to head bang in a way that looks more like a nervous twitch. Intense, to say the least.

With a start like that, I worried we might’ve peaked early. I was also in need of a little light relief. This Many Boyfriends, this is your moment.

The Jarman stamp of approval (Ryan is producing this Leeds lot’s first LP) doesn’t come lightly. The group are one of the most fun live bands I’ve seen in a long time, rattling through a group of well-crafted indie-pop gems, erring on the side of Postcard Record’s best without the cringy white boy funk, with a whole bunch of hip (but not gratuitous) references found throughout their lyrics. 6Music-playlisted “Young Lovers Go Pop!” gets the best response but the undoubted highlight was the finale of “That’s What Diaries Are For”, ending with the refrain of “Fan! Zines! Aren’t! Friends!”. In possession a pocketful of pop gems and genuine enthusiasm along with genuine bemusement about having attracted such a large, interested crowd, they’ll go far.

Afterwards, across town, we caught the last fifteen minutes of local lads (literally; they’re like the indie answer to One Direction, in age if nothing else) Runaround Kids living up to their name, having fun with some noisy, knockabout guitar stuff. The youth is evident in both the exuberance of their performance and the simplicity – and their singing voices, which could do with ageing a little further. All good fun, all the same.

Art Brut manage to top The Twilight Sad for odd surroundings as they take to the stage in an American West-themed bar, which is then incongruously slathered in patriotic Jubilee bunting. The best band in Britain (I did an (in-house) survey, okay) leap on stage and the weirdly charismatic Eddie Argos regales us with tales of young love, Axl Rose, modern art and his little brother, whilst using his mic lead as a skipping rope. Ludicrous amounts of fun.

We finished the day off, in the weirdest place so far: an over-priced cocktail lounge. Not only that, but the performance here wasn’t even taking place in the over-priced cocktail lounge, but in the car park round back. It was cold. And we could see a drunk man weeing through the slats of the fence which backed the stage. Luckily, for the most part, Louise Distras demanded our attention, whether it was from her confrontational lyrics – railing against social injustice as much as small-town boredom – or simply her throat-shredding delivery. She’s been compared a lot to Billy Bragg, which isn’t completely lazy, but also isn’t completely right. Bragg was never this angry or vocal, and Ms Distras has good reason to be.

And that was that; five venues, five bands. It just so happens that, whilst Long Division does work a lot better than most festivals, it almost works too well: this many good bands in this short a space of time, you’re band to miss out on twice as many as you see. But when the bands look to be having this much fun, and you catch yourself mirroring their delight, it’s hard to have regrets. Same again next year?

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