For those of us still trying to find our way out of the Glastonbury site over a month on, Standon Calling could be just the answer. Set in the green environs of Standon Lordship, a mere 40 minutes north of London, the festival accommodates less than three thousand people yet boasts a weekend far more innovative than the majority of events vying for attention this year.
For a start, it’s themed. Sure, so’s Bestival, but whilst they’ll be saddled with Orcs and Warhammer fans getting way too into role, Standon’s attendees get to don smoking jackets and faded ballgowns, deerstalker hats and arm-length black lace gloves, noirish glamour and flagrant criminality colliding under this year’s title ‘Murder On The Standon Express’. Whilst packing might entail a touch more thought than the usual boots/ waterproofs/ vodka triplet, you’ll want to fit in when you’re strolling down Baker Street, gingerly awaiting a shave in Sweeney Todd’s barber shop, solving a murder or stealing works of art.
Weirdly, it’s rarely the headliners that people remember from festivals so much as the little details: Latitude’s coloured sheep, the boat to get into the Reading Festival, the Guardian Guide lanyards draped from every neck at Glastonbury, the fucking queues at The Great Escape… And Standon Calling? Well, they’re just showing off. Sneaky drinks placed outside tents each morning, no advertising to blight the eyeline, a resident performing arts company lurking in the shadows, a 16th century manor looming behind, secret areas that open overnight (a previous year had a whole secret stage in an adjacent field, revealed at midnight on the Saturday), free radios issued to every guest (they have their own radio station too…) and, of course, a swimming pool. The latter might seem a trifling thing to those unversed with festivals, but trust us: at most events the mud around the water taps begins to look like prime bathing territory by the third day.
To be honest, the aesthetics alone could sell this event, even were we merely gathering to stare at an empty stage. Which makes the bill that they have assembled all the more impressive, its sheer eclecticism a stark rejoinder to the rather landfill aspect of too many lineups this year. Cuban legends Buena Vista Social Club headline, along with New Yorkers Liars and the Tetris fever-dream of Etienne de Crecy‘s astounding Beats ‘n Cubes live show, whilst Efterklang‘s charming blur of glitched electronica and epic orchestral flair is set to lend a touch of grandiosity to rural Hertfordshire.
Elsewhere there’s the likes of These New Puritans, Gabby Young And Other Animals, Metronomy, British Sea Power, Joe Gideon And The Shark and Alice Russell, as well as a rash of hyped new things such as Gold Panda and Esben And The Witch. Really though picking out individual names seems foolish: it’s the overall strangeness of the lineup, its sheer variety and meshing of genres that should appeal, if for nothing else than the assurance that you won’t just spend eight hours staring at prefab’d white males churning out major chords under soporific rhymes, to melodies you already know and hate. Just go and look at the bill, and if most of the names on the list mean nothing to you, take heart: previous years have featured Florence And The Machine, Mumford And Sons and Friendly Fires when no-one knew who they were either.
And if all this doesn’t convince you, maybe the festival’s many plaudits will: it seems impossible to find a bad review for last year’s event, described as 2009’s ‘best boutique festival’ by a number of esteemed voices. Yet, inexplicably, at the time of writing there arestill tickets available. What this says about us as a race is too terrifying to even consider, but needless to say it’s a situation that demands rectifying before some deity or another opts to punish us for our foolishness. Perhaps by making us go to Reading instead.