When my family moved out to Derbyshire this year, I was down-hearted. Our new Derbyshire village is close to the blissful countryside of my parents’ retirement fantasies, whilst not too far from the hospital of their retirement nightmares, but for me, after living in Oriel with Babylove-induced term-time tinnitus, it was unnervingly quiet. I arrived on a typically calm Derbyshire day, but I was soon cheered by the news that my postcode was due to get a bit louder for a few days in August, when Y Not festival pitched up in the dales. Y Not was even labelled the Best Small Festival of 2012 by an undisclosed awards ceremony last year, so I went along to find out why.
When I arrived in a taxi, Y Not felt anything but small – it was bigger than most of the surrounding towns, equipped to feed and house eight thousand. The festival had suffered a particularly dramatic thunderstorm on Friday night, leading to the evacuation of several stages (The Horrors delighted in their own impromptu Hammer-horror lightshow) and the stampede to safety had churned up every bit of grass in the arena. Nevertheless, the shows went on, and I waded along paths through five inches of sludge to locate the great sounds I was already hearing.
On my initial explorations, I marvelled at the festival’s variety: they’d gone for ‘theming’ in a big way, like a giant gastro-pub, embellishing the individual stages and surrounding areas with playful sculptures and oversized decorations. Octopus tentacles, giant cardboard flowers, hay bales, a small boat and an impressive reconstruction of a Wild West saloon dotted the arena. Though this made for a strange environment, I was impressed at the dedication of the festival’s designers, and it definitely made everything more family-friendly. Kids could dash to the children’s tent, giggle over silly drawings and try their luck at hula-hooping while adults explored the wide variety of ciders on offer (and presumably, after a few pints, stumbled to the children’s tent to giggle over silly drawings and try their luck at hula-hooping).
The variety of activities available was rendered almost obsolete by the musical variety at Y Not – as well as the main stages, they had a hard rock tent, kept fittingly dark; a folk stage, complete with barnyard wooden décor and enough straw to feed an army’s horses; a reggae tent with DJ sets running on into the night; and a ‘saloon’ stage where vaguely bluesy musicians played. There were some mediocre acts, but the majority of the artists on these smaller stages were excellent. Amongst my favourites were the self-styled Anything Goes Orchestra: their novel instrumentation and confident showmanship probably should have pushed them further up the bill, but they seemed laid-back about their early set. Another favourite was Emperor Chung, who sounded like a fierce acoustic Wolfmother – not usually my sort of music, but it was so well-executed live, it was hard not to smile through their performance. It was a good day for cover versions too, with Elliott Morris’ rendition of ‘Billie Jean’, and then an attempt at Basshunter’s ‘All I Ever Wanted’, which, if nothing else (at all), made us all laugh.
Over on the main stage, several medium-sized indie outfits were doing their thing. Intermittent showers had scattered the crowds, and people didn’t start filling out the front barriers until Drenge. It was a shame, because Naymedici and Sky Larkin had been great earlier in the afternoon, Naymedici sounding like a “bar brawl between the Pogues and Gogol Bordello” (not my words but too perfect a summary to leave out) and Sky Larkin previewing some exciting new material.
The sun came out and I went looking for dinner. Only those who haven’t paid for the ticket because they’re there with the Oxford Student have enough cash to sample the many culinary treats on offer, but luckily I was in that category – or maybe not so luckily. I was drawn by a nostalgic reminder of Mission Burrito to the Mexican food stand, where I asked for the chicken because the beef looked kinda dodgy – only to discover that the beef was the chicken, minced out of recognition and drowned in thin sauce (was it tomato? Chilli? Mud mixed with water? Thankfully, I’ll never know). As with all festivals, the food and drink on offer at Y Not were atrociously expensive and not particularly nice. But hey, digestive complaints are part of the festival experience. As are queues for the portaloos.
The evening wore on and better-known bands started to compete for festival-goers’ time. I avoided Kids in Glass Houses, though according to their Twitter feed, it was “total fun”. I went to watch The 1975 instead, only to find the tent so packed that you couldn’t even hear at the back, never mind see – the crowd didn’t look like they’d need much elbowing-out-of-the-way, being mostly under eighteen and untrained in gig etiquette, but I gave the task a miss and went to see Arcane Roots in the hard rock tent. They were very impressive, especially the vocalist. As a Sonisphere festival veteran (kinda), it was nice to reacquaint myself with hard rock, but also nice to be able to escape into softer fodder again.
I wandered back over to the main stage as night fell and Ash took to the stage. I wasn’t a fan of Ash before Y Not, but they were exceptional live – they got the crowd going brilliantly. During mass singalongs to ‘Girl From Mars’ and ‘Burn Baby Burn’, two beach balls, a Bob Marley wig and a cowgirl hat began to do the rounds in the air, making for some strange camera shots on the big screen – as if the sheer number of people dressed as Superman wasn’t enough. When The Cribs finally took to the stage, everyone was well warmed-up. The Cribs definitely deserved their headlining spot. Gary Jarman went so far as to call it the “best show” they’d ever played, almost certainly a lie, but a welcome one. Between tracks, Ryan Jarman took advantage of the receptive audience and the booming mic to do a deafening Freddie Mercury impression, estranging thousands, only for Gary Jarman to mitigate it with a bit of pleasant stage sarcasm.
I left Y Not as The Cribs finished their set with live favourite ‘City of Bugs’; the sky was dark but clear, and the quarries were reverberating with the noise of guitars (I admit, that was an indie rephrasing of “the hills were alive…”). As festivals go, the variety and the average quality at Y Not had been matchless, with very few disappointments musically and a lot of things to do (and drink) to make the experience fun for all the family. Compared to Glastonbury or the Reading & Leeds fest, Y Not is small, but also cheap – at just under £80 for a weekend ticket, it’s a fantastic choice for people on a budget, and for anyone who wants a slightly quirkier, more relaxed festival experience.
Y Not Festival 2013 – the Unofficial Awards
Wait for it… Satsuma Elephants. They were actually quite good but… Satsuma Elephants.
Many people at Y Not conformed with the odd tradition of spending the festival in fancy dress, and my favourite costume was the Where’s Wally outfit donned by someone in the Ash crowd. I avoided the temptation to approach him and say, “Ah, there you are” – I merely stored it in my mind to put in this article instead.
Smuggest lead singer
First on in the hard rock tent were the St Pierre Snake Invasion – after songs about David Icke and Jimmy Saville, the singer cried “I know what you’re thinking! How come we’re on so early when we’re SO AWESOME?” I don’t think that’s what many people were thinking, but he gets a 10 for attempting to alter our memories.
Make what you will of this category – Leela and the Spaceship definitely take the prize for trendiest sound. Radiohead’s brand of sorta-folk is deeply in fashion at the moment, and Leela and the Spaceship have found the recipe for their own perfect homemade brand. The concentration and seriousness of the musicians was only matched by their edgy vibe.
Most welcome encore
Though playing fairly early on, achingly amiable young singer-songwriter Elliott Morris was summoned back onstage at the folk tent by a unanimous vocal vote. If he hadn’t tried the Basshunter cover, maybe he would have been called back a second time.
Most voracious fans
Aside from The Cribs, whose following pride themselves on knowing every B-side, the most voracious fans per capita at Y Not were in the audience for Emperor Chung. Despite the fact they were playing on the smallest stage, the chanting between tracks suggested that the band’s friends and family, and extended family, and their family’s friends, might have been invited to see them play.