“Truck? What’s Truck?” That’s largely been the response to tales of our whereabouts on 19th and 20th July. With the number of festivals filling the music calendar at saturation point, you could be forgiven for knowing nothing about this harmonious little gathering on a farm in the picture-book lovely Oxfordshire village of Steventon.
Truck isn’t your usual cookie-cutter festival. Started as an alternative to the likes of Glasto and Reading and Leeds, which have become corporate, homogenised, money-spinning beasts, Truck has no more than about 5,000 punters across its two days and is refreshingly free of hipsters and try-hards.
At Truck the vibe is laidback and inclusive. It’s not about wearing the right clothes and being seen, but about kicking back and enjoying the atmosphere. There’s no fancy exclusive VIP area: backstage is functional. Instead, everyone mingles. The artists roam the site and pick up beers at the bar with the normal folk. A bohemian air, Truck is all about the people.
Typically claiming the third weekend in July, this year the two-dayer kicks off its Saturday with the bouncing reggae rhythms of Oxford six-piece Marvellous Medicine, making their Truck debut on the festival‘s Market Stage. One of the things that’s great about Truck is that it’s a showcase for the area’s local scene at the same time as bringing in acts both small and big from further afield.
It’s a proper all-round arena: the same stage sees singer-songwriter Foy Vance performing gentle sing-along acoustic numbers immediately after fast and heavy punk duo The Bots tear up the tent. More on these boys later, but first back to Friday and The Barn stage, which plays host to Japanese psychedelic noise rockers Bo Ningen, via Kingston-Upon-Thames’s own alt-rock three-piece Arcane Roots. Diverse is definitely the word.
Bo Ningen is arguably the festival’s first barnstormer, literally, given that this four-piece is playing on a stage erected inside a working barn. Set against a corrugated steel roof, and with the scent of manure easing its way up the nostrils, watching these psych-punk wraiths perform is a surreal experience. A mix of haunting sounds, hypnotic, pounding drumbeats, spectral wails and screeches and winking strobes ultimately climaxes in a clamouring finale that mesmerises and enthrals.
With every act, bar the day’s headliners, allotted a half-hour performance slot, it’s nothing if not fair. You can power through the bands and stick with sets you might otherwise leave, meaning you get a great snapshot of a carefully edited set list designed to show each band at its best.
Nineties chart favourites Ash take to the Truck Stage at 8.45pm, delighting the crowd with a medley of their hits - they’ve more than you remember - before experimental symphonic rock act Spiritualized take the baton for a spectacular light show and an hour’s worth of absorbing opuses. This band knows festivals and plays a pitch-perfect set to a crowd that appreciates their longevity and experience.
When Californian sibling duo The Bots (we said we’d come back to them) take to the stage, they muster an infectious energy. People from outside the tent file in and there are heads nodding right the way to the back of the assembled throng. 'Northern Lights' is a raw, heavy, sludgy, doom metal-inspired track, while the surprising 'Dinosaurs' shows that these up-and-coming young brothers can do more than just metal, as 20-year-old Mikaiah straps on an acoustic guitar and courageously sings a slow-paced melody. 'Desperate' is punchier, offbeat with funk and reggae strains, coming to a deceptively calm end. And then they launch straight into the fast-and-furious next one, all rock guitar and epic drumming with an electro heart.
Truck is unique. Mellow, friendly and under-crowded, it’s like the best village fête you’ve ever been to. Complete with a diverse selection of bands, this is how festivals should be. You can’t help but hope Truck never gets big.
Words and photos: Kim Francis
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