The 1-2-3-4 Festival in Shoreditch Park is only five years old. It was created back in 2007 by Sean McLusky, who is rather brilliantly/terribly described on the festivals website as “a permanent threat to conventionality”. McLuskys laudable intention was to showcase local bands, which means both that the line-up is genuinely eclectic and that the day retains a pleasantly low-key, shambolic feel. Drinks are expensive its a fiver a pint but queues were minimal, and there was a good range of high-quality food on offer. The sunshine brought out an odd mix of locals and near-nude Shoreditch hipsters which made for excellent people-watching and even better eavesdropping.
Things kicked off in the dance tent with East London boy-girl duo Visions Of Trees. Sara Atalars clear vocals cut through Joni Judens assured beats to create an oddly emotive electric sound. This is thoughtful dubstep shot through with pop influences bleak and brilliant. Atalar is beautiful and unspeakably cool she spent most of the set hooded, undulating to her own vocals, silhouetted against the backdrop. Excellent.
Singer-songwriter Gabriel Bruce marked the days low-point. Flanked on the main-stage by two scantily clad singers/backing-dancers Phoebe and Sedara apparently he was musically inoffensive but personally quite the opposite. Attempts at lyrical poetry and profound observation were greeted by the crowd with a healthy mix of amused skepticism and genuine irritation. It was a relief nay a revelation to go from Gabriel to greatness, in the shape of The Pre New, a startling band that packed a punch and performed with a real sense of urgency and anger. The lead singer, Jim Fry a rather rotund, middle-aged man in a snugly fitting diamond sweater and sensible corduroys performed with a viciousness and ferocity that should have been embarrassing, but instead was provocative, exciting and above all entertaining. Fry was joined on stage by a “clown from Paisley” a malevolent presence with a painted face who provided occasional bursts of spoken word poetry in a thick Scottish accent. It sounds terrible, it should have been terrible, but instead it was incredible, recalling the unrestrained anger of ’80s punk anthems but with a melancholic, modern twist. This is why small festivals like 1-2-3-4 are worth getting excited about.
Crocodiles and The Duke Spirit gave solid performances on the main stage, but were blown out of the water by cacophonous LA duo Deap Vally. Beginning the set by encouraging a crowd member to get naked “Props to you brother! Fuck yes!” Lindsey Troy and Julie Edwards tore through a set of future hits including Make My Own Money. These girls look good and sound better. On the second stage, post-punk girl group Savages were immaculately turned out in tight trousers and tailored shirts. These girls have cheek bones you could cut ham on (the wafer-thin kind) and a real sense of style, and the songs display definite potential Husbands is a great track and Jehnny Beth a charismatic front-woman. Crowds milled to the main stage for headliners The Buzzcocks, who didnt disappoint with a tight set and a willingness to perform the hits for which theyre remembered.
La Femme, Bleeding Heart Narrative and Spector all deserve a mention, as does the sound quality, which should have been better. But McLusky has something special here an unusual cross-section of alternative music set in the dystopian heartland of high-rise Shoreditch. A true threat to conventionality, indeed.