Split Festival: 2011 Review

on Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Split Festival (17-18 Sept '11, Ashbrooke Sports Club, Sunderland) // Words: Emily Solan

Now in its third year, it shames to me admit that this is my first year at Split. But forgiving me for that, the line-up for this year’s Split was possibly the best ever. Combining not only the best local talent with some brilliant artists from far and wide, they’ve also managed to think of everything including the best local food and activities for the kids too.

Managing to arrive in the nick of time to catch Spector, a band who give off the air of being an indie girls’ wet dream. Sounding like a combination between every good element of 80s music and The Killers, if 'Never Fade Away' doesn’t become a massive hit, and these boys are not the best thing since sliced bread by this time next year, I’ll eat my hat.

Taking to the stage next were the intriguing B>E>A>K. Catching them live was certainly an experience (whether I’ll repeat it is another thing altogether), and one that went down incredibly well with the Sunderland crowd if the number of fans in bird masks was anything to go by. The band revelled in the rapturous reaction of the crowd, playing up every element of their on stage antics.

After a brief dash around the site itself, stopping by the wonderful food tent, my arrival back at the main stage was greeted with the ever-excellent Dutch Uncles. The band triumphantly ran through their distinct brand in indie pop, with some natty dancing to match, despite having to compensate for the stage delays.

Little Comets, swiftly followed, and had what seemed to be the entirety of Sunderland’s teenage population bopping along to their jangly indie pop and fantastic percussion. The boys possibly had the best crowd reaction of the entire night, especially in the case of 'One Night In October', if the number of foot tramplings I received is anything to go by. A band that can only get better at every stage, and perhaps the most thrilling band of the weekend.

Lad rock renegades The Rifles are one of my favourite bands, with the new single 'Tangled Up In Love' being a particular highlight in the set. Sounding like Paul Weller’s bastard children, the band rattled through a mix of new and old material, with personal highlights being the delightfully warning 'She’s Got Standards' and the rabble rousing closer 'Romeo And Julie', giving Split’s crowd the chance to prove they were well and truly up for it.

STREAM: The Rifles - Tangled Up In Love

Eel Pie Islanders Mystery Jets stuck to firm favourites from 'Twenty One' and 'Serotonin', only dropping one new song into their set - with the largest sing-along of the night for 'Two Doors Down'. They were treated like the biggest band in the world, not least when effortlessly cool bassist Kai Fish managed to drop his Sunderland roots into conversation, and sent them into a sea of frenzy on his descent to the barrier, becoming almost invisible in the throngs of hands that reach out for him. The new album can’t come soon enough.

It’s difficult to see where The Drums west-coast sunshine pop fits in with Sunderland, especially on a cold night in September on a cricket pitch, but tonight worked. Supporting recent second album 'Portamento' (lit up in lights on the stage in case anyone forgot), the old favourites like 'Best Friend' and 'Me And The Moon' proved most popular. With a full live band the songs really came to life, but there’s only so long you can watch someone dance around on stage, soundtracked by inoffensive jangle pop.

That may be doing The Drums a disservice, as new tracks 'Money' and 'Days' went down really well with the crowd. Yet, be it due to running out of time, or moving away from the surf pop sound, but not playing possibly their most famous track 'Let’s Go Surfing' didn’t seem to go down well with the fans. In my eyes they made up for it with brilliant renditions of 'Down By The Water', 'Book Of Stories' and newbie 'I Need A Doctor', but you can’t please everyone it seems.

STREAM: The Drums - I Need a Doctor

Sunday night was a whole different kettle of fish. A gruelling shift at work pre-Split may have made me miss a large proportion of the day’s musical delights, including Hyde & Beast and Dinosaur Pile-Up, in catching two of the bands I certainly didn’t miss all the drama.

Hometown heroes Frankie & The Heartstrings played a blinder of a set to the masses, although it was somewhat soured by the band having the plug pulled midway (supposedly a "temporary power cut") through a phenomenal rendition of 'Fragile'. This failed to overshadow the perfect mix of singles, new tracks (one never before played live) and album tracks, as the band were joined on vocals by the entire crowd. Give these boys a Pyramid Stage slot and they’ll own the world.

STREAM: Frankie & The Heartstrings - Fragile

Watching The Charlatans headline taught me two things: firstly, I know far too little of the bands’ back catalogue and secondly, The Charlatans are probably one of the most exciting live bands around. While Saturday’s headliners The Drums may have been all posturing and dancing, Tim Burgess blows them put of the water, with more energy and appeal of a front man half his age.

While some (ironically) may only have known 'The Only One I Know', the majority of the crowd that appear to have arrived by way of the nineties were well and truly enjoying the every note that came from the stage. Particular highlights included 'North Country Boy', 'One To Another' and Tim Burgess' massive grin.

The Charlatans brought a delightful end to a fantastic Split Festival weekend, and the festivals’ largest year yet, here’s hoping it will continue to rise and became a staple of the fantastic North East music scene.

Find out more on Split Festival at splitfestival.com.

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