Summer festivals have traditionally involved long toilet queues, mud, lengthy walks between stages and general squalor. The Cross Central Festival, in its second year, is London’s civilised answer to all such gripes. It eschews mud for cobblestones, fields for a freight yard and tents for punters’ own beds. Better still, it has a fabulously eclectic bill.
In the weekend that saw their third album Supernature gallop to within a horse’s breath of James Blunt in the album charts, Goldfrapp were the suitably stylish headline choice for Day 1. With clubbing hours and no residents to placate, Alison’s gang were scheduled to take to the main stage at 12:30am. No early curfews here.
Before all that, it was necessary of course to amble around and see that which had not before been seen. Ludes, an energetic bunch from south of the river (Thames), have been round for a couple of years now. Formed at Camberwell Art College, their guitarist’s surname is McCool – and how cool is that? Their well-rehearsed – and mostly unreleased – songs, aired in a marqee setting, spoke volumes for their talent as they served up a party-friendly set of tunes that called to mind The Clash, The Strokes, The Kinks and even The Rolling Stones. So what if it was studied – from start to finish, front man Dave Ashby had the audience adoring him as he wandered amongst them singing before leaping back to stage to indulge in a sax parp here, a rock star pose there. If they’re not already signed, they soon will be.
Then it was time for something rather quieter and sweeter as The Magic Numbers took to the main stage – in reality, a tiny contraption that would scarcely warrant such a title at the major festivals. This quartet are so sweet that when clapped in the wrong places during songs, they thank the audience anyway and carry on. Current single Love Me Like You proved to be no less than an anthemic singalong, but reception to the whole set suggested that the public have already taken the band to their hearts in the few short weeks since their twinkling debut LP hit the shops.
As ever at festivals, there’s bound to be a clash somewhere – it is a lucky person indeed who sees everything they wanted to. Thus it proved for me as I sidestepped the hordes out to witness Lady Sovereign for T.Raumschmiere‘s equally packed set upstairs.
Hiedelberg’s Marco Haas, who essentially is T.Raumschmiere, seems to be Germany’s answer to Trent Reznor. A rake-thin, tattoed chain smoker, his visceral stage show included bounding up to a front of stage podium and throwing demonic shapes with his back to the audience, and attacking a synthesiser as though it had been particularly naughty. Backed by a rhythm section and visuals heavy on what seemed to be communist-era East German kitsch, Haas lent his screaming vocals to new tracks from Blitzkrieg Pop – the first of his albums to feature his voice. Older instrumental material, played earlier in the set, had the whole room following his example and expressing beats with bodies.
By the end of his set, The Bees were completing their main stage set, so we returned for Jamie Lidell. This Warp artist, particularly after the success of labelmates Maximo Park, has been riding a wave of hype for the last few months, and the room was packed to beyond overflowing. Quirky human beatbox treatment aplenty followed – for those, like me, not familiar with Lidell’s music, it wasn’t the best way to become acquainted with it, but those already familiar with the tracks appeared to be enjoying themselves.
Alison Goldfrapp had been warned about stretching her voice – a problem that had already caused some of Goldfrapp’s gigs to be cancelled in recent weeks. Following a gig in France the night before, the band were back in Blighty to witness Supernature make the leap from the pop fringes to mainstream success – and even Madonna has been reported as saying her next album “will sound a bit Goldfrappy”. Alison was obviously aware that now is her time – and she didn’t want to waste it.
So anxious were they to get going that their set began early, to some consternation from those who missed the start, and finished some 10 minutes after they were due to appear. But in that little time we were treated to the cream of the band’s beats-galore electropop, from Train, Strict Machine, Ride A White Horse and – of course – the top 5 single Ooh La La. With backing horse-alists, complete with tails, glitterball horse heads and sexy moves, Alison dominated the stage before the packed crowd, ill or not. An impossibly tight, dark suit seemed to corset her waistline thinner even than Kylie‘s. Atop this stick-thin figure was a luxuriant, curly mop of blonde hair. She looked fabulous – and the band sounded polished and confident.
A good few hours till dawn remained, the main stage in the company of James Lavelle (founder of the Mo’Wax label and UNKLE), and music continued at the other stages. Day 2 would be headlined by – of all people! – Grace Jones. Civilised, stylish, decadent and surprising, Cross Central 2005 was a festival revelation.