Live Report: End Of The Road Festival 2022

A friendly, fun, and eclectic return from a much-loved festival...

The first-of-the-season chill that usually accompanies Thursday night at End of the Road Festival never seems to arrive this year, and as the crowd gathers at the Woods stage, EOTR’s version of a more typical festival main stage, Sudan Archives aka Brittney Parks certainly brings the heat. 

Vacillating effortlessly between raunchy and ridiculous, armed with an electric violin and liberated by her headset mic, Parks’ setlist weighs heavily on her acclaimed new album ‘Natural Brown Prom Queen’. The eclectic mixture of hip-hop, pop, and classical is one of the more unique combinations of the weekend and her sense of pure joy and playfulness is rubbing off on everyone who has arrived early for the start of the UK’s best medium-sized festival.

Live Report: End Of The Road Festival 2022

Now in its 16th year, End of the Road has continued to grow in size and scope without compromising any of its charm. The site is still one of the easiest to navigate and most lusciously beautiful of the festival calendar, where even peacocks and macaws move freely between the humans. The audience – though perhaps not the most diverse cross-section of the country – remain among the friendliest and most fun. Musically, while there are shades this year of relapsing into the plaid shirt Americana that EOTR established itself on, eclecticism still abounds across the bill, the lower rungs of which contain the most inspired performances.

The inclusion this year of The Boat stage – described by booker Simon Taffe as “Cafe Oto in the forest” –  gives a platform to some of these more outré acts, with the likes of Taraka’s thrilling blow-up-matress-based performance art rubbing up against the psychedelic musique concrete and free jazz of Robert Stillman. Snapped Ankles and Jockstrap deliver two of the highlight performances of the festival here, if you were lucky enough to find space amid their raging crowds.

Live Report: End Of The Road Festival 2022

Elsewhere, the propulsive and melodic metal of Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs on the Tipi stage provides a more enthralling alternative to Thursday headliners Khruangbin, who seem to be glazing the eyes of everyone in attendance of their mellow musical wallpaper. Likewise, The Magnetic Fields provide a more grounded and self deprecating charm contrary to the impressively front loaded though eventually disappointing majority of PIXIES set. It proves that this festival thrives on the margins of its programming, where the alternative choice, of which there are many, is often the correct one.

Where Friday greets a prevailing folk line-up, beginning with Naima Bock’s beautifully harmonic mid-tempo melancholy lulling the sun drenched Garden stage audience into the day, it’s WU-LU taking to the stage thereafter in the clammy confines of the Big Top that really gets the blood pumping. Within a heady combination of dub, shoegaze, metal, punk and hip-hop, WU-LU, led by Miles Romans-Hopcroft, approaches his bandmates to lovingly rub them on the head or embrace them mid-song. When the guitars are dropped towards the end of the set and exchanged for microphones, the true visceral power of this quartet is unleashed, and as the guitarist joins the moshpit swirling in the audience, it’s plain to see that behind the anger and disillusionment in the music there is a deep joy ringing.

Live Report: End Of The Road Festival 2022

Similarly, the sweetly outlandish jazz and spoken word of Alabaster DePlume on the Garden stage vibrates with joy and anger in abundance, with highlight being an ethereal take on his classic ‘I Was Gonna Fight Fascism’ (originally written for the band Soccer 96). Amid the low hanging greenery of this most unique festival stage, DePlume instructs his band of improvisers through long and textured sections, culminating in a moving tribute to his recently passed friend and respected trumpeter Jaimie Branch. Huge waves of emotion are felt throughout DePlume’s set, for which the gorgeous setting of Garden stage is once again the perfect venue for.

That’s not to say the main Woods stage doesn’t have more than its share of festival moments as well. Saturday begins with the buoyant chaos of The Umlauts, whose charmingly hand-played electro is imbued with a brazenly DIY spirit, performed by people who seem like they are having the time of their lives. Soweto-based BCUC play an absolutely relentless set taking in everything between jazz, afrobeat and psychedelia that sees every single person moving. Later on, Perfume Genius delivers a pitch perfect performance of melancholy wrapped in euphoria, writhing over the stage between agony and ecstasy. With barely a breath between songs, the swung swagger of highlight ‘My Body’ from 2014’s breakthrough album ‘Too Bright’ segues into ‘Queen’. It’s a truly jaw dropping moment as the sun sets on another scorching day.

Live Report: End Of The Road Festival 2022

Of the main headliners, it’s Fleet Foxes who really blaze ahead with the most inventive and inspiring performance of their flawless set of melodic folk rock, which by the time it hits upon tracks from their second album ‘Helplessness Blues’, the crowd are in full vocal unison behind them. With an expanded line-up of brass, and impressively multi-talented instrumentalists, the very charming and sincere Robin Pecknold leads his band and the audience through an ambitious set without pause.

After an inspiring and refreshing weekend, the Sunday provides a welcoming balm in the shape of Cassandra Jenkins’ atmospheric yet emotional, the head-bobbing reliability of Kurt Vile & The Violators, and culminating in the highlight of Aldous Harding who, marionette-like, takes to the stage in front of her band with nothing but precise movement and perfect performance. It may be choreographed and contrived, but it’s so well executed that the moments of poignancy and revelation continually beam through the facade when they do occur.

Fittingly, as the audience files out from the Garden stage, the rain that has been threatening to pour all weekend arrives all at once. Though when taking shelter beneath the stunning greenery around them, it’s clear that no one really minds.

Words: Kim Eckhart
Photography: Parri Thomas

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