2016 is the fourth year of Reading’s Are You Listening? festival and this year felt like the busiest and best yet. Artrocker were there looking after things at the Oakford Social Club, one of nine venues around the town centre ranging from unstoppable stalwart of the local scene, the Rising Sun Arts Centre (this year celebrating an incredible 25 years of staunchly independent Art-heroism) to St Laurence’s, the impressive Norman church, smack, bang in the middle of town and temporarily kitted out with a bar for the day. We settled in at The Oakford and asked Deb and Keith to head out together into the town to see what they could find…
Are You Listening? is like a compact and bijou Great Escape festival, but without the ridiculous queues. Local bands were well represented and mixed in with a great choice of out-of-town crowd pleasers, like AK/DK and Big Deal. It was well attended right from the 2pm start (except for a strange spot in the evening when everyone local must have gone home for their tea, or something) but never so busy that you couldn’t get in.
We pick up wristbands quickly and easily enough and our programme soon looks like the usual ‘festival bingo card’, all felt tip rings all over it with question marks marking potential clashes… you know the kind of thing.
Starting at The Bowery District, we see post-punk garage band Kill Committee. There are hints of The Wedding Present and possibly Echo & the Bunnymen in here somewhere, with deep Dave Gahan/Harry McVeigh style vocals. Not all their songs quite hang together, but when they do they sound great.
Considering we thought we’d spend all day hearing obscure PRINCE songs in between acts, it’s noticeable a day or two later that Jazz Morley‘s version of “Nothing Compares To You” at RYND was the only tune from the artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as we heard all day.
At the Purple Turtle are the impressive Vinyl Staircase (with an especially impressive bass player), playing tight psych tunes. Yep, ‘tight’ and ‘psych’ – words that don’t often come together. The four teenagers from Surrey are making a fuzzy, mathy, youthful noise and can apparently count Wolf Alice among their fans.
Glassed at Oakford Social Club play a set of nice sounding electronics, but presented a bit too seriously and without the gusto we are expecting later in the day from AK/DK. Hey, they’re new at this, though. Let it brew a while, do it more and they’ll be really on to something. (Keith)
Back at the Oakford Social Club, US-style new-wave punk-rock band Big Zero are definitely for fans of Weezer. The 3-piece keep things simple, sharp and cool in matching red outfits. They could always do with more of the catchy choruses, but you can’t fault their energy and showmanship.
The turnout for this is the biggest of the daytime at this venue and by the end of their set, the place is buzzing in that breathless over-excited way you just don’t see every day. The atmosphere in the room went up a gear right here, at this point, and stayed that way into the night.
Up next on the Artrocker stage were some proper favourites of ours; The Saint Pierre Snake Invasion. If you haven’t seen this lot yet, you’re just being bloody lazy. Hard, loud, tight and all that you would want from a genuinely good Punk/Rock band – even tuneful! – but with the big added extra that these are the smartest, most sarcastic, switched on and outspoken bunch out there.
Tonight, there is a great dynamic to watch – a band being egged on by an expanding audience they weren’t quite expecting! There’s no knowing how many people in this room came because they know already and how many just discovered TSPSI by accident today, but the crowd visibly grew and came alive as the set went on and, by the end, the band had completely nailed this. Great stuff!
Big news: At The Bowery District we discover that Big Jeff is here, cementing Are You Listening? as a must-attend festival for all discerning festival goers!
It’s Black Honey next and at least one of us has now digested enough Black Honey tunes to be able to sing along when they eventually appear on our tellies and at the festivals in the summertime. Everyone is going to love those twanging guitars and everyone will be happy singing along to these tunes as this year rolls on. They sound like Amy Winehouse fronting The Wytches. What’s to not like?
Flitting between venues we find a human statue. I’m not really a human statue spotter, but this one is a particularly good one!
At St Laurence Church, Vienna Ditto mix atmospheric electronics, pared-back stabs of guitar and graceful, sophisticated vocals. The sound in the church isn’t great – it sounds like it’s being played through a phone – so it’s hard to tell if it’s meant to be this stripped back, but whether it is or isn’t, Vienna Ditto sound great and we’ll certainly be seeing them again soon.
Shouty, hollering exciting three-way vocals and crashing guitar riffs coming from The Oakford… that’ll be Superglu, then! This is Ben ‘out of’ Dingus Khan stripped down a little bit, tightened up a little bit and apparently bringing half his family along for the ride – and it’s great!
We only catch the last song from Misty Miller at The Bowery District, which is regretful as that one song is ace. *makes note-to-self to get there earlier next time*
Highlight of the day is AK/DK at the Purple Turtle. Energetic, chaotic and totally delightful, if you’re a fan of Battles and Factory Floor, then these guys are a must-see. There’s an abundance of synths, banks of keyboards, double drummers and a lot of improvisation and humour. They’re engaging and interact with their audience, which makes for a totally absorbing experience.
Back at the Oakford Social Club Keith neatly summed up INHEAVEN in a single word – rousing, then he added a few more: rousing guitar driven tunes that sounded like my Bloody Valentine but with catchier choruses you can shout along to.
At this point we have to admit something… we know Big Deal were great, but we can’t remember how great now, because the day has very much taken it’s toll.
So, what do we reckon? 65 miles, 2 hours on two trains and two tubes: is that too far for a one-day festival? No, definitely not this time.
The day was a heap of fun, and there wasn’t a bad band in sight. We saw 12 bands for 12 pounds, making Are You Listening? the festival bargain of the year. While we’re on the subject of money, as if just being plain good value wasn’t enough, the whole shebang raises thousands of pounds for Mencap so, next time you’re at a festival and getting that feeling you’re being ripped off left, right and centre remember: there are other ways and Are You Listening? is one of them.