A tractor rolls through the narrow back-lanes, meeting an already slightly damp Wax Music gang as we make the short trip across the Tamar Bridge from Plymouth to Bethany, a countryside-hamlet home to Knee Deep Festival and it’s secret location, a Cornish farm and the some 200 tents that have taken over it. For one weekend getting stuck in a country lane with a pissed-off young farmer in the South West meets some of the invigorating, unique and fuzzy bands that are the sound-makers of this year so far, and with a stellar line-up of local contemporaries and nationally known noise-makers, no rain or local traffic will hamper the weekends events.

Cardiff’s Scriber step up to the plate as the first act on the second stage, a glorified shack with a polished wooden finish that gives the festival a homely feel that many do miss. Joshua Price, the young man behind the delicate murmurs of National-esque progressions filtering from the stage, is backed by a full-band this afternoon, giving his introspective tales added dynamism and an unfaltering weight of emotion that would have perhaps felt lost on the arriving crowd had it been Price alone. The group provide a provoking performance nonetheless, Price’s vocal a string-tugger at it’s most fragile, exposing a tranquil essence to the festival that simmers across the field.

Scriber at Knee Deep Festival

It lasts for a brief period as Theo Verney turns everything up to 11 and powers through a blistering set. Single highlights in the 60s hedonistic sounds of ‘Sound Machine‘ and reverb-drenched Sabbath prayer turned lo-fi, warmth-kissed ‘Heavy Sunn‘ are taken down a pace slightly from their recordings, feeling all the more cataclysmic for it. The surf-psych infused verses take a grungier path while on the road, Verney a grinning devil of garage that’s at ease in a live setting, yet in no way does his music lose it’s eerie polish that is has on record. With a rocking stage-light close to knocking out the bassist and a suitably warmed crowd, Theo Verney bids Knee Deep adieu, safe in the knowledge that he has provided a rollicking afternoon set.

Theo Verney at Knee Deep Festival

Back on Stage ‘A’, London producer-come-singer Peter Lyons is the first of the two-dayer to head on an electronic route, his 90s deep house-influenced synths and trip beats not providing anything truly original, but enjoyable still. A cover of Rui Da Silva‘s classic ‘Touch Me‘ is is his highlight, a stripped-back interpretation invokes a haunting element to Lyons’ performance that James Blake has brought to the fore-front of a minimal electronic scene. Adding a full-band to take on the duties Lyons controls via backing tracks would certainly add a grandiose layer to his sound, perhaps engaging that original element that he needs to truly shine in a saturated genre.

Come Saturday and we’re starting to regret missing the tribal dance party that was Flamingods‘ hour long set the night before. We console ourselves with the fact that the torrential downpour of yesterday has been replaced with glorious sunshine and the prospect of Happyness who, having released their debut album just weeks before, have become this years hot ticket. Perhaps struggling somewhat with the 2:30pm slot, the three piece nevertheless receive a warm reception from the sunbathing crowd as they breeze through the likes of ‘Naked Patients’, ‘Anything I Do Is Alright’ and ‘Its On You’. Singer/bassist Jonny Allen comes alive for the minute slab of skewed lo-fi punk that is ‘Refrigerate Her’ and along with album standouts, ‘Great Minds Think Alike, All Brains Taste The Same’ and ‘Leave the Party’ leave the longest impression.

 Heading over to Stage A, electro duo Bernard and Edith fill the valley with other-worldly vocals that float over shards of minimal synth and percussion. Avoiding obvious comparisons to the likes of London Grammar and The XX, the duo take cues instead from The Knife at their most ambient and  80’s electro pioneers Japan, creating disquieting, if not vaguely disturbing, soundscapes in tracks like ‘Poppy’ and ‘Eyes on U’.
Whether its the sunshine, or the slowly returning consciousness of the majority of festival goers, but Gengahr seem to be in tune with the bucolic setting for their main stage set and are rewarded with notable approval from the crowd. The tense throb of ‘She’s a Witch’ is fully realised in its live incarnation whilst the anthemic chorus of ‘Dizzy Ghosts’ explodes into the Cornish countryside. Set highlight ‘Fill My Gums With Blood’ encapsulates the bands brand of tight, subtly nuanced indie-pop. Whilst not necessarily breaking any new ground sonically, the quality of the songwriting and a falsetto vocal reminiscent of The Antlers’ Pete Silberman distinguish the band from their peers.
Gengahr at Knee Deep Festival
Back on Stage A, Oscar Scheller and his band bash out the type of melancholy pop that makes it easy to imagine what Beirut would have sounded like had Zach Condon been born in Manchester rather than Albuquerque. In a set comprised mainly of tracks from his 146b Ep, pop nuggets like ‘Open Up’, ‘Still Like You’ and ‘Heartache’  sound effortless while ‘Kitchen Song’ and ‘Be Good’ reach for the kind of pop perfection The Magnetic Fields achieved on ‘Long-Forgotten Fairytale’.
The Black Tambourines have always been an engaging live spectacle, provoking audiences into synchronized limb flailing. Its not always easy to transfer that energy onto a larger stage but thats not a problem the Falmouth 4 piece seem to be struggling with. Having earned a slot on the John Peel stage at Glastonbury this year, the band waste no time launching into latest release, ‘I Wanna Stay Away’ and the reaction is immediate as the crowd, almost in unison, rise to their feet and move towards the stage. With an extended intro ‘Crosseyed’ is simple, melodic and infectious. Live favourite ‘Bad Days’ has, over time, morphed into a rapid fire punk blast that is no less immediate than on record. ‘Green’, with its hazy, sun-soaked vocals slows things down as the sun continues to slowly burn the necks of the crowd before the stomp ‘27-25 Blues’ returns the crowd it former state of ebullience. Closing with the hyper-active ‘Far Out Boy’, at just after 6pm the band exit the stage to the sound of squalling feedback.
 The Black Tambourines at Knee Deep Festival
What you can take most from this festival is the feeling that it’s growing just as the bands are. In a small setting compared to other festivals it looses nothing, just adds a homely quality. The kooky crafts and stalls (pasty crimping a particular highlight) in teepees and detail to design give the festival an unconventional aspect that will encourage further interest, along with their broad booking of acts from different genres of varying notability. Sadly taking a break in 2015 after five years, we look forward to 2016 and the return of a festival that’s attention to the cause is something many will hook onto.
Words: Ross Jones & Jon Whitfield
Photos: RJ, JW & Holly Kennelly



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