08 July 2023 (gig)
12 July 2023
“I’m in love with her” my partner tells me after Brutus’ first song on the festival’s main stage. “You and everyone else”, I tell her. “She’s incredible.” If you’ve not seen the band, you won’t know what we mean. In short, the band's drummer, Stefanie Mannaerts is badass. She's a force with a one-hell-of-a-voice. And this is just the beginning of our first 2000 Trees...
For us, having been unable to make day one, catching Brutus was an ideal way to kickstart our festival. The band’s songs are beautifully intricate, and can be both light-touch and intense in just one move — a balance between comfort and unease exists neatly in the space of their sound. And it leaves a mark.
Mannaerts’ voice has a Bjork-esque rasp and intonation to it at times. It’s powerful and beautiful. Couple that with the rhythms she puts down on the drums and it was as amazing to watch as it was to listen to. At times, I could see her band members, Stijn Vanhoegaerden (guitar) and Peter Mulders (bass), watching on in as much awe as the rest of us.
Beyond Mannaerts’ playing, the songs really hit the mark. After listening to the band on Spotify before arriving, I wasn't entirely sold. But they make sense when you see them live and listen to the lyrics. Witnessing their delivery, and the phrasing of the parts in the songs, makes the whole thing resonate. Brutus' music is built around rhythm and complimentary melodies that weave in-and-out of one another. It’s actually quite beautiful and cinematic.
Brutus-gushing aside, the rest of the bill was plenty rich in diversity. At least in terms of musical styles, of course. For example, Texan metalcore outfit Kublai Khan TX were up next. And that was a totally different vibe. Think Downset, Biohazard, Hatebreed, and you’ll be getting close. Big riffs, big testosterone-addled energy, and guttural vocals that scream “No pain, no gain.”
I loved the band’s set, even if I was a little unsure about what I was watching. I mean, I grew up on metalcore / rap metal. Downset, Senser, Hed (PE) and One Minute Silence were staple bands in my world in the late ‘90s. But I’m unsure of the place for that sound today. I became even more unsure when the singer grunted the words “testicular fortitude” to the audience. Yeah…
But I didn’t turn my nose up. Especially as I knew shit-all about the band. They were damn powerful and riffy as hell. In fact, I’ve missed that sound. The crowd was different for this lot, too. It was unlike anywhere else in the festival. The pit was filled with insanely ripped, bare-chested men, beating down, while frontman Matt Honeycutt growled the words “No excuses, no mistakes. just results.” Who was I to argue with that? I’m always making excuses to avoid working out. I was pumped.
It’s also worth noting that the band tackles some intense themes, as was always the case with outfits of this type. Lyrics around police brutality, organised religion, social anxiety and violence against women are just some examples. I left feeling like I needed to hear and know more. Very interesting band. I just need to wrap my head around the term “testicular fortitude” first.
Feeling pretty revved-up — Kublai Khan TX did their job well — I strolled past the Axiom stage and heard autotuned vocals. It bothered me. I immediately walked away in dismay to get a beer. Then, after checking myself and reminding myself not to be a judgy, miserable git, I popped my head back in. And I’m glad I did.
Scottish band, The Xcerts were doing their thing. And they were doing it to a tent rammed with, what seemed like, die-hard fans. Having been around since 2001, I guess such fandom makes sense. But what didn’t make sense was the fact, once again, I knew nothing about them. I decided to educate myself and watch on.
As they ripped their way from song-to-song, I could see what people liked about them. I mean, I’m assuming it’s one of two or three things: hooks that stick, energy that is infectious, and general likeability. That really does count for something.
As I listened in, my mind was drawn to pop punk, emo stuff from the late 90s / early 00s (Hot Rod Circuit, Hey Mercedes, Hawthorne Heights etc). But the band’s "Scottishness" was more apparent in their sound than I first realised. I could hear Idlewild and Teenage Fanclub in there, for sure. But all that is underpinned by what they do and how they sound. You could see they loved what they do. And that's infectious. By the time I walked out, I dug it. And I told them so at the bar afterwards.
By this point, the sun was blazing and Dinosaur Pile Up had taken to the stage. And hey, here’s more evidence of me not-knowing-my-ass-from-my-elbow about the bands I saw at the festival that day: I had no idea this lot were British. From Leeds, in fact. But they were the perfect band for the moment — blue skies, sun out, good vibes. I wasn’t blown away by the songs so much as the energy and the atmosphere in which they delivered their material. And I’ve revisited their stuff since returning back to the comforts of a sofa, and I'm all in.
From there on, it all got a bit murky, resulting from cider consumption and a lack of impact from the headline outfits. Rival Schools were watchable, but it all felt a little tired to me. Solid band, just didn't hit the mark. Their fans loved it, though. As for Bullet for my Valentine (BFMV)… Well. I know they’re good at what they do. But I didn’t like them when they first came about and I didn’t really like them here. Like I say, they’re good. However, it’s all too much of a pastiche for me. Give me Metallica and Venom any day.
I hate ending on a negative. Especially as I know I was the one in the minority with BFMV and Rival Schools. The former had a huge crowd, and they seemed to be going down really well. And, regardless of anything else, their sound is beasty. It’s just not for me. But the festival is. I liked it a lot. Compact, but still with the feel of a “big” festival. Good food, and not a pint of Tuborg or Carling in sight.
Oh, and the people were top drawer, too. Smiles all over the shop. Ultimately, I think my partner and I peaked too soon with Brutus. When you catch a band that leaves its mark on you, which doesn’t come around too often, it’s hard to move onto the next thing.
Nevertheless, 2000 Trees pushed us to keep on listening and get over ourselves. And we did.