As far as festivals go, Summer Sundae’s a savvy one, sharing its loyalties between all ages and tastes, by bringing back old favourites and capturing burgeoning stars with good credentials. Now in its 12th year, it’s also managed an elusive booking – the sun – which guarantees it is a chilled-out, smiling-faced affair, nailing the event as an essential date not just for the East Midlands, but the festival calendar as a whole.
Friday begins well with Nottingham’s Kappa Gamma, whose mathy guitars and touches of Maccabees vocals surely make them ones to watch. Next up is the powerful Canadian folk guitar of Dan Mangan, charming with percussive flurries at his quieter moments, and powering with emotion at the louder. Meanwhile, Datarock bring a modicum of thrusting and alpha male guitars to a style-heavy performance, peppered with sing-a-long favourites Fa Fa Fa and Computer Love. But it’s Ghostpoet who’s the star of the day, gracing us with a lightness of touch in his atmospheres, which makes for a surprisingly accessible 45 minutes. He’s duly rewarded by a considerable crowd, who may not have been familiar with his Mercury Music Prize-nominated album, Peanut Butter Blues And Melancholy Jam. Obaro Ejimiwe’s expressive spoken word, moody loops and basslines chill the spine, with Liines’ post punk guitars and Us Against Whatever Ever’s dark muted techno proving the standouts of a standout set.
It seems we’ve reached a point where the 90s and early 00s are now sufficiently old enough to cover, and Clean Bandit do just that in the shape of a joyous steel drummed version of Dario G‘s Synchyme. Later, another tip for the top, Bastille, pull the same trick, with City High‘s What Would You Do? But cover shocks aside, it’s Asian Dub Foundation who really surprise with their political undertones about multiculturalism and immigration, that chime well with an inclusive Leicester crowd. Mixing banghra beats with guitars, they roll out a long list of hits most people probably didn’t know they knew – until now. The age barrier-less nature of the band preps everyone so well that Katy B, at first, struggles to match their participatory heights. But she shows why she’s worthy of the critical plaudits, building broad respect from the crowd throughout her set with a melange of dubstep, house and r’n'b. An appropriately upbeat end for a festival Friday, Katy On A Mission and Lights On are a fresh take on the UK dance scene – part of the reason why mainstream success has been afforded to other artists like Magnetic Man.
Savages – an androgynous all-girl post punk four piece from London – bracingly start Saturday’s proceedings with Karen O-esque yelps, razor sharp riffs and tight drumming. Shortly after, Dog Is Dead are sounding more full and competent in their jazz take on indie twee than 12 months previously. And as the temperature soars, the tents swelter, but Cashier No 9 have no problem expanding their crowd with heaps of joyous percussion from To The Death Of Fun. There’s time for a rare slice of heavy from locals, Buenos Aires, before the appearance of Brooklynites Friends, who are achingly aloof – perhaps a little too aloof for sun worshippers lounging on the grass. Nevertheless Samantha Urbani’s possessively worded, seductive vocals sizzle in the heat. The bubbling bongos of Mind Control and the lo-fi funk guitars of I’m His Girl and Friend Crush are the pick of the bunch.
The small real ale tent earmarked for Jake Bugg causes huge overspill, but we catch Lightning Bolt, which sends pints flying. In stark contrast, Speech Debelle is in the tent next door with a small crowd. There’s a feeling the former Mercury Music Prize nominee epitomises the flip side that recognition from the prize can bring. Her spoken word charms, but you feel she needed another album behind her before breaking through, to properly fulfil that promise.
It’s a nostalgia trip for Adam Ant And The Good, The Mad And The Lovely Posse, with Prince Charming and Stand And Deliver among the hits played, with a touch of T Rex thrown in for good measure. While past times are the order of the day on the main stage – Ocean Colour Scene playing a greatest hits set to a big crowd – it’s indoors where the lights really shine. Merrill Garbus is the weekend’s most talented performer, deftly working the life out of her loop pedal, with tribal vocal effects and tales from her patch. She proves why tUnE-yArDs‘ Whokill was one of the standout records of 2011, mixing brazen sexual lines with a smile, and vicious rhythm creations from a central point of the stage. Death In Vegas bleed ears during the late night set, choosing stripped down and heavier versions respectively of Dirge and Aisha, which alludes to the confidence they have in the breadth of the rest of their material to stand out on its own. That cocksureness is fully justified as the lights go up.
Sunday starts off with atmospheric post-rock sounds of local band, Maybeshewill, building drum rhythms, glockenspiels and melancholic strings that brings Mogwai to mind. After mixed reviews of Deer Tick‘s most recent album, Divine Providence, a brief dose of their country-tinged alt-rock dampens the atmosphere too much for the rising temperatures. In contrast, later, Norwegian quintet Team Me take to the stage as part of the European Talent Exchange Programme, which shares new talent across the continent’s festivals. Few know who they are, but few seem to care, as their merging of Passion Pit-esque vocals and dreamy, Sigur Rós-style innocent keyboards – together with a helping of giant multicoloured balloons – utterly charm a field of onlookers.
Heavy on the reverb riding a wave of recognition after album, Celebration Rock, Japandroids, take to the indoor stage. Brian King and David Prowse aren’t short on gusto, showing why their energy renders them a must-see. They’re followed shortly by The Twilight Sad, where James Graham’s quirky, charismatic lead vocals transfix and conjure emotions, among the persistent kraut-influenced guitars and hollow drums. Reverend and The Makers might think they’re the party starters, but it’s Django Django who bring the real goods. With harmonies as good as The Beach Boys, stomping drums and mesmerising electronics, they earn a mass of moving feet.
As night falls, Public Image Limited‘s John Lydon declares, “Hello Leicester – we’re a little short of a full council aren’t we?” He spends the set mildly disappointed by the fact his demographic is no longer the rowdy crowd he once knew, but he’s perhaps forgotten his own, utterly butterly taste for the mainstream. But the former Sex Pistols frontman needn’t worry about his aptitude, as his acerbic tongue makes it easy to see why PiL are still generating great critical acclaim even now.
If there’s one criticism of the entire weekend’s organisation, it’s the decision to schedule Stay+ and Gold Panda on stage post-PiL, as both acts are denied the crowds they deserve. After all, this isn’t a Glastonbury or a Bestival where revellers squeeze every last drop out of the last night – most head home with families or to catch work the next morning. And this means many miss the euphoric synths of Stay+ and the twinkling, glitchy beats and turntablism of Gold Panda.
With so many musical highlights over the weekend, it would’ve been nice to see Summer Sundae go out with the bang it so richly deserves, instead of a quietly deflating whoosh.