With The Strokes, Kasabian, Stone Temple Pilots...
The Strokes at OpenAir St Gallen festival

After weeks of rain, the summer has finally arrived in Switzerland just in time for the St Gallen Open Air. People are gripped by a collective good mood as they make their way to the festival site to get one of the camping spots with a view of the main stage. Unlike most festivals, St Gallen Open Air begins on Thursday evening and ends late afternoon on the Sunday. This year Scotland’s Frightened Rabbit open proceedings and capably justify the ever-growing buzz which surrounds them.

Despite having a discernibly Scottish sound, they never stray into the uncool territory of veterans Deacon Blue or the über accents of Glasvegas. And if they maintain this quality songwriting and performing, expect great things to come. While German-language indie popsters Sportfreunde Stiller are unlikely to be making waves on this side of the North Sea, their unplugged set is impressive, boasting strings, brass and backing vocalists. With football-themed lyrics and the sort of choruses which go down well in stadiums, they prove to be the perfect billing for a crowd clearly excited about Switzerland’s world cup hopes the next day.

On Friday things get properly under way on the mainstage, when [more] Scots rockers Biffy Clyro put in a respectable shift in the afternoon sun. They are followed by 30 Seconds From Mars, whose cliché-laden, designer-punk nonsense further swelled the hoards watching the Switzerland vs Honduras game in various tents. Although the Swiss fail to get through, it is not as depressing as watching the alternative on the main stage, complete with the “Switzerland make some fucking noise” mantra which was already so popular with the American acts last year.

However, a walk around the festival area quickly raises the spirits. Two small hills overlook the site and are covered with happy campers grilling sausages in make shift barbecues dug in the ground, while straw lines the floor of their tents a few inches away. If this were the UK, Health And Safety would have er, a field day. By contrast, at this year’s St Gallen the toughest measure taken by the organisers involves preventing people using shopping trolleys to transport their gear - camping and music zones are not separated - which makes the entrance look like a surreal supermarket.

After choosing a cheese fondue from a selection of food stalls which includes kebabs, schnitzel, bretzels, Indian, Mexican and chocolate-coated fruit, it is time to check out The Strokes. Although Julian Casablancas and Albert Hammond Jr attended a posh Swiss boarding school, the former’s stream-of-consciousness mumblings between songs are delivered in English, and he resembles a Vegas-era Elvis disguised as Joey Ramone.

Not that it matters, because The Strokes have a classic album in Is This It and are mercifully aware that this is what everyone wants to hear. Obligingly, they play most of its songs in the main set, maintaining the momentum and allowing people to move on when it comes to the other stuff left for the encore.

Saturday’s highlights come from across the border, with veteran German hip-hop act Fettes Brot drawing a huge crowd in the afternoon. Along with their peers Deichkind,they have evolved into consummate festival entertainers and are now a fully fledged music machine.

Also hailing from the Reich [Bavaria to be precise] are La Brass Banda, who are one of those wild cards which frequently prove to be the icing on the festival cake. Sporting Lederhosen tailored to look like surf shorts, they are true to their name, blasting out infectious ska on a combination of tuba, cornet and trombone. For good measure they include covers of Daft Punk’s All Around The World, Salt ‘n Pepper’s Push It and Reel 2 Reel’s I Like To Move It.

La Brass Banda are certainly be more entertaining than White Lies, who come across as the latest flatpack British indie band from the same factory which produced Editors and a many others.

At least Kasabian, who are arguably the most anticipated act, have entertainment value with a few good tunes under their belt, a bit like a Madchester Chas’n’Dave. When it comes to the two biggest crowed pleasers hits – Club Foot and LSF - it is impossible not to move. They are followed much later by 2 Many DJs, who met with approval of everyone who stayed around to watch them.

Punters are already leaving the festival site by Sunday lunchtime, which is a shame because one of the other gems proves to be Nive Nielsen from Greenland. It is rare to see somebody so genuinely delighted to have an audience. Backed by a full band her gentle, quirky country-tinged tunes receive a great response. Nielsen is due to play the Secret Garden Party and having signed to Rough Trade last year, there will hopefully be more opportunities to see her soon.

She proves to be the highpoint of the remaining line up which includes Ellie Goulding, German pop-reggae act Gentleman [who addresses the crowd in English with a Jamaican accent], the electro-indie of Big Pink and Billy Talent. Significantly, most of the highlights at this year’s St Gallen Open Air are provided by less famous acts Frightened Rabbit, La Brass Banda and Nive Nielsen, which is the mark of a good festival. That, a great vibe, good scran and sunshine all weekend. In the words of that Austrian twat with big muscles, “I’ll be back.’

Words by Olaf Furniss

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