The first song-based act to take the ECC stage was An Experiment on a Bird Pump, who drew a fair crowd thanks to growing media attention (as well as the backing of The Horrors’ Faris Badwan). Despite delays which lasted throughout the weekend putting their set back by an hour, the Birds didn’t disappoint, and their soulful vocals and grunge instrumentation provided a good warmup for what is still to come. They’re by no means a band given to vulgar displays of power and speed, but a taut energy ran through their set and their restrained pace and musical minimalism perfectly suited their afternoon slot.
They were followed almost immediately by I Am The Arm, reduced to a three-piece after the recent departure of bassist Kane Martindale and who give performance of great intensity but one which showed the strain of the reduction. It’s particularly clear when vocalist Cyan Assiter-Clark is forced to switch from bass to guitar, and then to synthesiser, in the space of only three or four songs that, having only recently replaced their drummer, the Arm clearly need a new bassist as well. But they’re still making strides in songwriting and technical competence and the future looks bright, particularly with rumours of a release with DiscError floating about. Only time will tell.
Although ddd were set to follow, Paul Simmons (the guitarist for Ulterior, making a guest appearance in place of the absent John Kontos) had left his guitar pedals in Hackney and, rather than accept the alternatives offered, had gone to fetch them and left a hole in the programme which was filled by Futurism Vs. Passeism. Unfortunately, the phrase ‘plagued by technical problems’ has never been more appropriate: with the drum pads and microphone both playing up and the band becoming visibly frustrated, relief was sought in the New Bands tent as they struggled through their set. The technical failures would have been disappointing to any band at any time, and must be a constant danger for Futurism’s extensive electronics, but for a group playing a return show with new members and material they proved doubly crushing. Hopefully a future demonstration of the band’s developments hasn’t been ruled out.
ddd, arriving on stage a short while later after Simmons’ return, proved a blistering contrast to Fvs.P’s mystical electronic meltdown. A sharp and noisy sound attack is always guaranteed with Darryl Woollaston’s project, but Simmons’ contributions lent it, if possible, even more anger - his frantic slashing at the high end of the guitar strings were a perfect background to Woollaston’s robotically rhythmic guitar and vocals. A triumphant collaboration.
After a weird and not entirely wonderful set from No Bra, whose cult appeal I fail to understand, there was a noticeable crowding of the tent in anticipation of a performance from S.C.U.M, the band of the moment. The group arrived from an earlier performance in Norwich only shortly before taking the stage, and there had been some ill-feeling over their requests for a later slot (which were not entirely unjustified when the rest of the day’s bill was considered). Although slightly robbed of their atmosphere by being performed in full daylight, Thomas Cohen’s echoing vocals and the group’s tribal drums and menacing synth lines fetched a fair response from a crowd whose lack of movement apparently belied their appreciation, based on the positive words that could be heard in the tent after Rauridh Connellan had destroyed his drum kit and lurched over the front barrier before disappearing behind the stage. Cohen is developing into an iconic Nick Cave-style frontman, and their forthcoming single Visions Arise should cement S.C.U.M’s status as the Next Big Thing; whether they can sustain the bubble is a matter for the future, and at the moment they are a band living very much in the present.
Night had fallen by the time Factory Floor took the stage, and an audience which grew steadily throughout their set showed that their artistic draw is a great deal more powerful than their media presence. Latest single Bipolar has been absent from their live performances almost since its release, and most of their set consisted of new material, although Francis Francis (their next release) got an enthusiastic reception with its screaming guitar line. Factory Floor are moving away from their obvious influences into territory which is entirely their own, and although they aren’t a band that court the spotlight, they must sooner or later be thrust inevitably into it.
Of all the lineup changes in evidence on Saturday, perhaps the most drastic was from Micron 63, who have doubled in size in the past few months to a live four-piece. Their place on the bill was a little unusual for a group who have received little media attention and who are yet to release their first single. A more obvious move would have been to give a popular group with more stage presence such as Ulterior this peak slot, and to move Micron 63 to later in the night when their pounding bass synth and flickering vocals could have made for an excellent dance set. They were a little lost on an early crowd who are still gearing up for the night, but still put in a decent show which pointed to a great deal of potential.
When Ulterior did take the stage it was towards midnight and most of those who weren’t camping had left. Their performance closed the night acrimoniously with heckling from the back of the tent, and a tense set showed the growing influence of stadium rock on the group: they seem to be taking their love of the Manic Street Preachers to new extremes with a more tuneful sound.