It’s near closing time. Paul Hartnoll, of legendary techno duo Orbital, plays a marathoner’s marathon slot Sunday midnight. Those with long drives in the a.m. have gone to bed, but the core who put this set on their must list are here, and the turnout is strong.
It’s a tremendous set, well worth the wait, with Orbital remixes and perfect oddities like the mash up of Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven is a Place on Earth” and Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love A Bad Name”, two songs that uncannily mirror each other yet ironically clash with messages of fluffy love vs. swaggering anger, at one point playing Belinda backwards so the vocal sounds like an Icelandic pop marvel.
The inspired booking of Paul Hartnoll is not a fluke. The after parties at this music festival are programmed as well and more broadly than the main stage headliners, with a number of large rooms to fill out, and almost as many hours of music.
Like the main stage from afternoon to late evening, the side rooms are well-rounded with a winning combination of heavy-hitters like Hartnoll, BBC Radio’s iconic Steve Lamacq, and last year’s Graeme Park and Dave Booth, who were there for the very first days of the one and only Hacienda in Manchester back in the early 80s, and going strong as hell today. The DJ and club culture that exists in this country is worthy of special mention for visitors from outside the U.K. In most of the U.S. and Canada, the once shimmering scenes have given way to an overabundance of hipsterism (a good excuse to go the economical dive bar route) and back to a landscape of worthy indie bands struggling to get a foothold in struggling corner bars. To be sure, the late-night offerings at Shiiine are a treat for the Canadians (who just go ahead and stay on their own time, bit of a cheat, that) as well as the diehards, those admirable zombies who always get themselves “home”, sometimes with a little directional help in the end.
We must rely on other reports for much of Friday (missed all but headliners due to travel delays) and for some bands we had planned to see, including The Black Jackals (Liverpool), Cellar Doors (San Francisco), and The Train Set (Crewe). The omissions of these and others in our pretty full photo gallery is due to these events & does not reflect a lack of interest.
We put together detailed reviews of some particular personal high points for us, notably Thousand Yard Stare, The Farm, Echobelly, and a side trip through some cover bands we enjoyed a lot. That said, there are so many highpoints we share with our Shiiine Family, and a more articulate group we’ve never met. We know that like you, we’ll be revisiting and discussing this weekend throughout the year. We’re also developing a podcast so look for that if you like those Canuck tones.
Those who would call us all nostalgists can note that social media chats mark tonight (Friday) as the one week anniversary of the time The Wonder Stuff took the stage, when they immediately ramped up the evening with a terrific high energy set, saying they were happy to be back, just as the crowd was happy to receive them. The Stuffies are so solid and it was a treat to see them at the beginning of the weekend this year instead of the end as main stage closer (we also didn’t want to be seen crying during “Size of a Cow” again). Next, Echo and the Bunnymen took us right into the evening with their entirely different groove, Ian McCulloch’s voice as clear and deep as ever. “Lips Like Sugar” is still sexy as hell, dark and lovely. All the headliners delivered as promised: Ash, Cast, Shed Seven, The Bluetones (photos at bottom of all of these performances) with even the reported unplanned stage departures of a few singers somewhat befitting the reputations of the artists who left their assigned spots. That’s Entertainment.
Cud (or as a few fans have christened them, Magnificent Bastards) gave a terrific performance in the perfect venue that is Centre Stage (at a smaller festival this would be Butlin’s main stage, and here is where everyone floods after the Skyline stage closes at 10.) Back from last year, Cud, who formed in the mid-80’s in Leeds and have recently come back out of hiatus, touring with the also reformed Ned’s Atomic Dustbin (ahem, festival curators) is something different than most of the bands out there working today. There’s the rare and beautiful throwback punk feeling of slight danger about Carl Puttnam, who postures and uses the space in a way most singers today never do; not preening for cameras but communicating with an invisible god/demon/muse. A friend who knows music made a new discovery in this band, in communication with his own muse in an epic talk & drink session, and as we watched him fall in love, it was another facet of a long and memorable night.
How strange, how wonderful, how of the 90s the feeling of Saturday night is. But be advised, this is not nostalgia, but rather a grasp of the tail of something these bands were inventing and we were experiencing and defining ourselves by, in all our relative youths, then. It’s still needed, it bloomed but was soon extinguished (like the fad it wasn’t) cruelly killed by shallow media agendas, boy bands and belly tops, quite premeditated, too, because gender equality and musical diversity had been happening for a decade for the first time in history before our cultural Y2K disaster. And that achievement, that hope, and that feeling, that’s all we’re celebrating here. And in celebration there is new life.
And so to our Shiiiine Friends/ Family:
The friends we met, and re-met, well.
The ones we didn’t meet, who yet rotated around us sharing and being part of the same creation of happy memories as ours, with their own groups of friends, overlapping in circles – or never to meet.
The people who will duck under to not spoil a picture whether from a long lens or a camera phone, these observant and thoughtful people.
And those who instead, jump in front of it, giving you something else to see, and to photograph. (Was there really a leprechaun?)
The group who photobombed a passed out, sitting up man one afternoon near the Skyline stage, and another who created a massive dance floor huddle, that we photobombed ourselves. “Peace Sign!”
The musicians who came and joined this party, many who returned for year two, already family, from afar, are in it together, with all of us.
Musical artists roam and mix freely with their audience in the massive after-parties that make up the second festival once the main stage ends at 10:00 p.m. Centre Stage and Reds go dark, and alive, and everyone comes together in perfect rooms that are really the return to the 80s and 90s we crave and miss most of all: The camaraderie of youthful timelessness that extended way past your table of friends, bound only by a yellow flyer, a happy face, a flower T-shirt, a catchphrase, not yet co-opted; a beloved short-lived magazine, subtitled “Music & Beyond”, as it summed up life itself; a search, for our kind, in the faces of big, anonymous cities where our music was never so popular that it become uncool. If it never became uncool it is still intact. Deal with it, journalists.
But the 90s scene(s) once blossomed, triggered alarmist reporting about noise and drugs and the clucks of the boring and the critics shouting from the dull comfort of their homes. Dehydration, indeed. Club culture has had its casualties, but in truth, there was so much more that was good and authentic. Our youth was so much more and so different than any headline could reach for. Like everything worthwhile, and everything cool.
Worldwide, in our 90s, everywhere you could get a 12 inch record, an import or a bootleg tape or hear John Peel or read the NME, community could arise for 5 or 6 hours every Friday, Saturday or Sunday in the cities we grew up in, planted our flag in, ended up in, or tried for awhile, when we still believed adventures might lie in that garden patch we knew almost too well, former kids dreaming of archaeology in the back garden, innocent to the truth of the sewer lines below, or the fact of our dry suburban ahistory, our little world’s irrelevance. We still dared to hope in the early 90s, were shortsighted then, tied to grueling jobs of youth and knew not how to jump a plane, a train, or a border.
But now we do.
Weekender people leave whatever their ordinary day to day life is and create something on a closed circuit that is yet a continuum from year to year, and from one great festival to the next. And Britain suffers no fools when it comes to music and to music festival offerings, or to the price of a pint. The competition is fierce, especially in summer, but even now, in November, the pull of home is calling (if you are so lucky to have that nagging pull, intact) and most of the land is marathoning through year end, an effort to put 2016 behind all of us. And so we lurch toward New Years Eve, nowadays with a bit of dread, since things sometimes get worse instead of better, for nations, for culture, for the fate of music, for our currencies we live by, or for our loved ones. Who could use a weekend away?
But it was never truly easy, even when we had youth and a massive buffet of end of the century music offerings, to be present, to party, to cheer, or to hit the road. And it takes a persistence to row against the tide, to ignore the nagging mother within ourselves and to carve out a bit of the beautiful 90s here and now. Not because we are simply nostalgic, that’s not it, if you were there, you know that. But because we are relevant, we are right, and so is this music.
It was put away unjustly. It lives again in spite of industry, press, denied riches and the devils that have claimed the name “music” for so long, that create sounds in factories that are not good enough for our children, and are bad for the world. Musical heritage, musical life, is as worthy of a long life as any other art form. The trends & promotional cycles forever insisted upon by the uncreative money men are false, and everyone old enough to remember the early 90s is wise to all of it.
And so bands that have been quiet for a decade are back with regularity this year. They are here. No doubt, many are here due in part (or wholly) to the work of the organizers of Shiiine On Weekender, music lovers whose own path is circuitous and no doubt interesting. There’s real currency at work here, one that holds fast against the unseen pressures surely faced by all festival organizers to pull it all together. The currency here is invented out of credibility, trust, and maybe even fate. The journey is part of it, down to Minehead, and yes, down to Butlin’s. Location, location, location. And there’s a reality, an immediacy, to the whole thing that makes phones onsite a necessary evil to be put away when we find each other. Or when the battery dies. In that one way, and that way only, Shiiine On Weekender is retro.
This is a new but quickly established Weekender. The Shiiine On Family are in it together in an uncommon way. No one ever calls Beatles or Stones fans nostalgic, retro, or bald (even when they are) or implies that their enjoyment of these well-played records that to some of us are no more resonant than Muzak, is but a quaint attempt at reliving a flash in time known as “the 60s”. But for too many journalists, claims like this about our music reveals only the limits of their own ability to connect, their truncated imaginations and their stingy way with passion. A shame. And a detriment to the accurate reporting of all eras since the accepted peak of the late 60s. But enough about the absent. In our scene, a band as brilliant as Joy Division tragically dies, and another brilliant band, New Order, forms in a whole new way. Our artists are adaptable. We’re all adaptable.
We came here in year one because to see the first year’s bill was to think it was a made up wish list. Because one of our own important musical heroes was quietly added in an intimate gig that shattered us just as much as Peter Hook and the Light and The Farm did. Because we had just seen a mysterious and never to be seen again perfect Stone Roses cover band in Toronto, sharing wide eyed awe with a like-minded musichead across the room, a not-easily-impressed DJ turned Chef, no less. Because our work had been leading us toward what we’d only seen from “across the pond” forever, in strange happenings and signs. It was time to run, hop a time zone and take a leap. Right past that back-garden gate. And now we are among the addicted, loyal, devout – we’ve found our FC at last. We’ll be cheering at home and away. We are, like so many others we met or did not meet, open-hearted and discerning and we will not hear anyone celebrate the demise of “the 90s” as people were and still are quick to do, outside our culture. Tourists.
The 90s needed to come back, and so it has been on the return, without much help from the old powers that be that are crumbling like despots always do. 90s bands, tunes and culture has been steadily coming back to fill a massive void in music, culture and life different than the Beatles nostalgia trip of the mid-eighties, and with a whole lot less commercialism. It rolls on, like this weekend, on just the steam of passion, generosity, grassroots efforts, authenticity and the truth that sincerity is cooler than irony, after all. Everyone here belongs here.
See you next year.
With our thanks to Shiiine on Weekender, James & Steve, the bands we photographed (and a few we missed) The Cobbie & Mrs Cobbie (& Al!) Phil, Mark, Charlie and absent friends Gareth, Adam & Greaves – we returned to the scene of the crime and we found the irons. You were much missed. Weddoes in Toronto in April?