Live Report: End Of The Road Festival 2019

Live Report: End Of The Road Festival 2019

An embarrassment of musical riches in Wiltshire...

There are very few things that you can hang your hat on these days; the world is in flux. Politics is in flux. The weather is in flux. Southampton Football Club are in flux. In my life and yours, there are very few certainties about. The changeable and volatile lurks always.

It is a point of constant reassurance then, that every single year, in the final week of August, the final clutches of Summer can be enjoyed immensely in a field in Wiltshire. End of the Road is the best festival in the UK, and attendance is mandatory for all who like their music eclectic and their countryside beautiful.

Last year I found myself at the Wiltshire festival, strolling with ease between all the hidden surprises the festival has on offer; the peacocks, the art installations, the open-mic piano stage; but this year I arrive determined to see as much fantastic music as possible.

It is Saturday lunchtime. The rain pitter patters atop thirty thousand tents. The queue for the oat-milk coffee stand stretches around the block, orderly, and the Big Top is bulging at the seams as half the site itch to overcome the one-in-one-out policy to see Contortions-lite future stars Squid.

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At the other end of the field, though, a shamefully small crowd are gathering to witness tenor sax virtuoso Nubya Garcia. There is an embarrassment of riches at End of the Road, but I feel like I’ve definitely got the better end of the bargain as I sit in damp grass in awe of Garcia’s playing. She pivots from complex solo to beautiful motif, leading a highly capable band down euphoric avenues.

Indeed, she is capable of conjuring a certain fire that simply warms the dampest spirits – it’s hard to recall being in a festival crowd so entranced by something so complex in spite of treacherous elemental conditions.

This chunk of Saturday is the only time the festival is marred by rain though; by the time Black Midi mount The Garden stage four hours later the sun is out. The four-piece are maniacal, not since the occult climax of Kill List have such magnificent dark energies been stirred deep in the forest.

A true highlight, the band blast through the contorted realms of their outstanding debut album 'Schlagenheim'; Geordie Greep and his misfit rock group holler and howl through math-rock nightmares, through snarling heavy riffs and complicated guitar trickery, and through volatile improvised mania. By the time they kick into the closing triumph of ‘bmbmbm’, the Wiltshire countryside is left trembling in their savage wake. 

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Harnessing a similar devastating energy to Black Midi are Vancouver art collective Crack Cloud. The Canadian septet line up in battle formation, toting as many as four guitars at one point. Their music is something completely new; they all howl together, atop bastardised no-wave scronk.

The highlights are numerous but the one that stands out most comes towards the end of their set, when keys-player Mohammad Ali Sharar stirs the 6Music dads into a ‘wall of death’. A sight to behold.

Crack Cloud’s energy is stunning, but later that day on the very same stage, something wholly different brews. Ata Kak’s set bounds with a primal dance energy, blocked synth lines lay the perfect groundwork for the Ghanaian rapper to spit his verses that sound like a skipping record. He bounds around the stage, perhaps the most singular and energetic performer of the weekend, frequently yelling sweet somethings like: “hello Salisbury! It’s our first time here, and we love it!”

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So rich are the offerings at the festival that frequently I find myself staggering tent to tent, stage to stage, utterly transfixed. The dense array of brilliance is unthinkable to those reaching the End of the Road for the first.

In a two hour period I find myself dancing free of abandon to the thunderous grooves of DR Congo’s boiler-suited wunderkids KOKOKO!, standing terrified of Gazelle Twin’s feral experimentalism, and working up a sweat in a Black Midi moshpit.

Time after time, this festival seems to outdo itself; the lineup is always fantastic and this year is no exception. From the fresh faced, glorious pretensions of newcomers like Black Country New Road, to grizzled veterans like Sleaford Mods, from the tilted pop majesty of Cate Le Bon, to the red-eyed New York Bodega and their standing drummers, End of the Road is a magical place. 

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Words: Cal Cashin
Photography: Burak Cingi + Sharon Lopez

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