This is a bit extremely late appearing I know (I started writing this 3 months ago), but what you going to do? Nothing, so deal with it.
LED was actually the first festival I’ve ever been to that isn’t Glastonbury, and I must say, there’s a pretty major difference. For one thing, LED was in the middle of London (Victoria Park), compared to the middle of Somerset countryside (Worthy Farm), and also, LED is tiny compared to Glasto. Really small. Now that isn’t really fair to LED, as Glastonbury is virtually the largest festival going, spanning a vast area with many many stages and such. But it was quite striking to me, particularly as there weren’t many people about when we (me, Kris, and his ma) arrived.
Still, DJ Zinc put on a decent sounding drum and bass set to the sparse ‘masses’; it must have been frustrating for him that the festival folk of London didn’t feel driven to turn up to see what he was up to. Next, Sub Focus played a set of similar style, but with a significantly larger crowd, which made all the difference to the atmosphere. Also, he had an MC (thats a ‘Master of Ceremonies’, acronym fans) who got said crowd going very well, though he did look humorously similar to Roy from the IT Crowd. Rhythmic motion was in evidence from the people.
Though DJ’s dominated proceedings, there were also a few live acts, of which we saw parts. Die Antwoord are a bizarre hip hop trio from South Africa, who dressed in Pokemon jumpsuits and rapped more or less incomprehensibly whilst bouncing up and down lots. At one point, ‘Ninja’ stripped down to his Pink-Floyd boxers and thrust his package vigorously at the crowd. The only word I could make out was ‘Fokk’ (or ‘Fokken’) many many times. They were ridiculous, and quite entertaining for this reason (more on them later). Also on the main stage were Friendly Fires, who sadly didn’t make as much impact on me as the excellent rainbow above the stage. I blame minor dampness and distance from the stage (and that it was a really vivid rainbow, arching right above the arch of the stage) Alas.
Then back to the second stage tent o’ DJs. (There were in fact only two stages, which seemed a little minor, particularly when they were in sight of each other. Then again, I’ve surely been spoiled by Glastonbury…) Shy FX, (the Original Nuttah), played a set which included plenty of good old fashioned jungle, which inspired grooves to be got on. And later, Annie Mac (off the wireless) played a long set of mainly electro, with bits and pieces of drum and bass, dubstep, and some chartish stuff. She did a fine job of building up to drops, and then dropping them, and played a fair few choons. Problem was, it was all a bit samey, in both musical content and DJing style, which meant the set felt like it was going around in circles after a while. Would have been great if split into 20 minute or so chunks, but for an hour and a half, what she was doing was a little too repetitive. And not in a good Neu!-like or Oneida-like way. And when Aphex Twin lay just around the corner, I would have liked her to get on with it a bit.
The problem with LED was that it generally felt more like an attempt to get your money than entertain you. Firstly, the ‘and many more’ listed at the end of Saturdays announced line-up just disappeared a few days before the festival, rather than turning into more acts, leaving the line-up a bit slim, and a sour taste in the mouth. And to find out when those acts where playing, you had to shell out £5 for a piece of laminated card. Food was highly priced (and wasn’t worth it by some stretch), and drinks were available only in cans, for £4.00 a go! £4.00 for canned Budweiser/Gaymers does not inspire good cheer, or indeed drunkenness, unless you are a rich idiot.
And on that note, the festival also seemed to be unfortunately overstocked with douchebags (just look at the pictures on the festival website, if you can navigate their website: http://www.ledfestival.net/thankyou/ ). Who do they think they are? I’m not sure, but they certainly detracted from, rather than added to, the festival for me. Bloody people eh? The Berlin crowd 2 weeks later certainly beat them (apart from Germans smoking much more), although it will have helped that I couldn’t understand any irritating chatter they may have been making. The LED crowd dressed more annoyingly too. This might make me sound like a grouchy old man, but nevertheless, I couldn’t silence my inner douchebag radar at LED, and the only conclusion is that there were just too many tools about. Shame.
But none of any of those various problems really mattered at all after a certain point. That point was when Aphex Twin, yes APHEX TWIN came onstage in the tent. Me and Kris had positioned ourselves more or less at the front barrier, so we had a perfect position to see Richard D James walk onstage, and to hear the massive wave of excitement spread throughout the crowd. Shouts of disbelief (“its actually aphex fucking twin!”) were heard, and all stared intently at the Cornish Ginger behind his big desk of tricks (we were even close enough to be able to make out his features through the darkness; Mr D. James seems to prefer to stay in the shadows). Expensive beer and festival arseholes were instantly forgotten as a dark distorted robot voice intoned a stretched out: “AAAA——FFFFF—–EEEEE——XXXXX——-TTTTWWWIIIINNNN……”
Bit of background for anybody I’m confusing here. Aphex Twin (actual name Richard D. James) is extremely highly regarded in the field of electronic music, and for good reason: to quote Anchorman, he’s “kind of a big deal”. He’s a particularly big deal in terms of live performances too, as he only seems to play about 2 or 3 shows a year (and these have a reputatuion for being overwhelmingly amazing). All the more reason for everybody to be extremely excited about seeing him.
Turns out this legendary status is fully deserved. The show was incredible, one of those ones that leave you standing around in front of the stage speechless afterwards. The music was largely unrecognisable to me (apart from a rejigged ‘Tha’), so it could have been new, unreleased Aphex material (he claims to have 6 albums of it hanging around), old tracks I don’t know, or other people’s music. It may even have been created entirely on the fly with whatever equipment he had on his table; most likely, its a mix of all these. It doesn’t matter. But the effect was that rather than reacting to a favourite song being played, or someone mixing songs particularly well (as with other DJ sets that day), the set was an hour and a half of constantly flowing music (you couldn’t hear the joints between different tracks), with very little outside context to shape the impression it made on you. Apart from the context of it being played by Aphex Twin of course…
I’m not going to dry and describe the whole set, not least because I can’t remember it all in detail, but I can tell you that things got more and more intense as the set progressed (the video above is quite good at giving an impression of the set’s development). He started unexpectedly with some distorted dubstep, moved into general techno areas for a long while, drifted into Ambient Works sort of territory for a bit (‘Tha’ popped up), and for the last… I don’t know how long, he played increasingly pummeling breakcore/madness/gabba-like stuff. These genres may all be wrong, as I haven’t really got a clue about it and everything was all merged together. But I can tell you with certainty that it all worked, and that the set got more and more powerful until by the end it was simply overwhelming.
The lighting also helped with this; various coloured lasers moving in complex patterns, strobing, all sorts of other well timed bright flashes and glows. Again, hard to describe, but the video below should give some reasonable idea of how they were, as well as the wildness of the later parts of the show. Alongside the excellent lighting, AFX had camera men filming members of the audience, whose faces were then projected onto screens to be distorted and messed around with. These effects included overlaying various grinning faces of Mr D. James onto people’s faces, creating an odd competition down in the front rows to try and ‘be’ AFX for the screens (Me and Kris made it a few times!). All these images and effects and lights worked excellently with the music, and made the set all the more impressive. A definite good thing, since Aphex himself is not a fist-pumping, crowd-revving stage performer by any stretch: he barely even looked up at the crowd, preferring to stare intently at his music making equipment, remaining still in the heart of the maelstrom.
I can only remember 2 deviations from this; he gave the audience a double thumbs up at the end, after he had abruptly cut off the sonic madness, and before walking casually offstage. The other time was when Die Antwoord came onstage to dance around like lunatics dressed in colourful jumpsuits and shout a bit. During a particularly fast and pounding section, Aphex built up the music in a way that very obviously led to a big drop, but then paused it at the climax for a second just before the drop came, causing Antwoord’s ‘Ninja’ to ferociously headband to silence, so he looked like an idiot (but not deliberately, which is his usual thing). James looked at him with a prankster’s grin, pleased at having caught him out, before continuing; he’s not lost his taste for taking the piss, clearly.
Of course, it would have been ridiculous to see Mr. Twin bouncing around and telling us to ‘make some noise’, not to mention unnecessary. There was plenty enough going on already, enough to completely immerse you and at times make it impossible to do anything but move to the beat and stare at the frantic lights. To quote the title of a Swans song: “No Words/No Thoughts”.
Aphex Twin’s set was everything me and Kris expected and hoped for. It was incredible, overwhelming, like nothing else. It was so impressive that Leftfield, technically the headliners of the festival, made very little impact on us at all, and we left after about 15 minutes. You just can’t follow Aphex Twin. The rest of the festival, as mentioned, was a mixed bag, and without a good general atmosphere, but hey: I was treating it as an Aphex Twin gig in my mind, and thats what I got. And I was not disappointed. Not by a long shot.