The attendance at Blissfields has increased continually since its conception in 2001, a fact due in no small part to its consistently eclectic, if not entirely discerning, musical line-ups. Vanguards of modern British music like Tricky and Super Furry Animals have played here, as did Wolf Alice and Laura Marling in their formative years, but an unfortunate preponderance of Radio Friendly Unit Shifters have also been invited to perform at the Hampshire festival, ensuring that it always attracts both music fans and veritable non-fans alike.
This year, whilst the topless, guileless and sunburnt congregated in the shade by the main stage, the most exciting acts were often to be found elsewhere and playing to criminally sparse crowds. One such modest spectacle was Puma Blue, whose singer and songwriter Jacob Allen recently spoke to Gigwise when he played at the iconic Montréal Jazz Festival. Returning to England in his streetwise sartorials, Allen is producing the sort of jazz ballads that should be making him far more popular with the country’s metropolitan youth than Ryan La La Gosling. It’s Chet Baker with faltering falsettos and a 21st century sensibility in the lyrics and instrumentals, and it was the understated highlight of the festival’s smaller stages.
Local band Drug Store Romeos could also have depended on more kindness from strangers; possibly the youngest band at Blissfields, their merging of back bedroom melodies and off-kilter jazz rhythms nonetheless produced one of the most distinctive sounds of the weekend. And Palm Honey also weren’t ones to miss, although again this only partly subjective opinion was held by the few, not the many. Singer Joseph Mumford was sporting a Kraftwerk t-shirt on the day, and it’s the Electronic Wave introduced on this year’s EP that has made it their best to date; with extended improvisations, their performance of ‘I Can Try’ built on a steady crescendo that took the band shinnying away from their humble congregation of onlookers.
But it’s far from unobserved that as the enthusiasm for guitar bands goes gently into that good night, grime artists have continued to rise to prominence at England’s festivals. Blissfields didn’t buck the trend, and Lady Leshurr’s Queen’s Speeches were received with a fervour not even the most enthusiastic monarchists could ever summon for the Windsor family. Elizabeth II can’t understand the ephemeral Will of The People, but at least Lady Leshurr knows we all want to be in her snapchat story! Hark! she might even have revived an absolute monarchy, choreographing hundreds of her adoring proletariat into synchronised dance moves and an anachronistic Mannequin Challenge.
“We’re 808INK from South London.” This was how another hip-hop act introduced themselves from the lower deck of a double decker bus early that morning, albeit to a comparatively hushed reception. You could take this as an exaggerated microcosm of the rap group’s career to date, as 808INK have released 3 albums since 2013 that have never got the recognition they’ve deserved. Their records all exemplify the experimental sampling and honest lyricism that escapes most of the parasitic youtube videos that continue to emerge under the increasingly fitting moniker of Grime, and their live performance was a shameless, non-stop blaze through the capital’s most original hip-hop tracks that gave the impression they weren’t at all bothered by who wasn’t watching.
But as I found myself repeatedly enjoying the performances in which I was most uncomfortably lonesome, I had to admit that I was probably looking for a very different experience than most of the people who had come here. Indeed, Blissfields is rather unique in how its endless rota of DJs and drum n’ bass artists take the music long into the early hours of the morning, and much of the time the atmosphere is more like a rural nightclub than a music festival. But within the broad sweep of electronic artists performing this year, it was of course The Cinematic Orchestra that impressed above all others. Quite daringly, their set was predominantly made up of songs from their sophomore release, Every Day, which gave the nu jazz group plenty of scope for various complex rhythm changes that dared the crowd to dance along so linearly. But an acoustic rendition of To Build A Home and another brazenly melancholy, forthcoming release called Reveal showed that the band weren’t entirely ashamed of moving a few hearts as well.
It could be interesting to see Saturday headliners Metronomy given the Turing test by Harrison Ford; they were certainly replicants in their synchronised dance moves, white vêtements and symmetrical stage set-up, and they barely seemed to take a human breath as they shimmied and shook their way through an almost non-stop set. It was no disappointment that they were mainly taking songs off last year’s Summer 08, as this has been their coolest record to date, and its bizarre vocal exchanges and glitchy synths all added to the sci-fi spectacle of their live performance. And as night descended on Blissfields’ main stage, and football chants and pumping fists all harmonised with the ubiquitous riff of 'The Look', I suppose it served as a reminder of how these days the best music to hand doesn’t always elude recognition.