Are You Listening? Festival (various venues across Reading, 23 April '16) // Words: Saam Das
Undoubtedly in the shadow of August's Reading Festival weekend, but never overshadowed, Are You Listening? returned to Reading town centre in arguably its best and biggest edition to date. Following a speedy wristband pick up, I waddled over to Reading's Purple Turtle to catch Moonbow, a musical side project of sorts from artist Eleanor Hardwick. We actually recommended Moonbow in our 2015 preview, without ever managing to catch them. Our loss, as Hardwick et al's hypnotic offerings proved.
I then rushed over to catch the majority of Allman Brown's set at a cramped Milk, but my eagerness was not shared by nearly enough of the punters, who were quite happy to talk through the music. And yet Brown succeeded in charming many of them with both affable inter-song patter and his rich, emotive acoustica.
Back at the Purple Turtle, I found Esther Joy Lane in full flow - a striking presence, even in jeans and a t-shirt, with her powerful vocals and warped electronica at the forefront. Following the conclusion of Lane's performance, I'd scheduled in a meal break but such is the close proximity of most of the Are You Listening? venues, I also squeezed in the debut gig of London duo Beau Dame at RYND. Their mish-mash of old and new was perhaps a tad avant-garde for the late afternoon crowd, but their confidence signals them as an act to keep an eye on.
While I was munching away on my limited edition Zinger Stacker at a popular fried chicken outlet, I was weighing up the choice of seeing either Eddie Prové or The Amazons - two of my pre-festival picks. I chose the latter in the end, and I chose wisely. The Amazons' delivered a triumphant hometown set, complete with several moshpits, bolstered by fan favourites such as 'Something In The Water' and 'Junk Food Forever'.
Taking a change of pace, Bloodflower took to the enrapturing setting of St Laurence Church - a majestic new addition to the series of venues on the Are You Listening? Festival map. Their kaleidoscopic synth-pop anthems got the early evening audience moving, as did Lovestarrs over at the Purple Turtle. With Sarah McIntosh interacting with the crowd at almost every opportunity, their set had the most jovial atmosphere of the festival, aided by bouncy pop tunes such as 'Barflies' and 'Get Your Sexy On'.
St Laurence Church had filled up considerably by the time NZCA Lines kicked off, completing a set that had me and most of the congregation doing plenty of on-the-spot dancing. Having last seen Michael Lovett's outfit perform live at The Social in London in 2011, it was impressive to see them command the rather larger surroundings with such consummate ease. Similarly, my final band of the festival, Palace looked thoroughly comfortable on The Bowery District stage, albeit to a relatively small (but importantly, receptive) audience.
At just £15, with few queues and plenty of top notch acts, Are You Listening? is not only easily one of the best value festivals in the UK - it's simply one of the best festivals in the UK. And it supports Reading Mencap too. Hopefully the festival will be back next year, and hopefully see you there.
Find more info at areyoulistening.org.uk.