Review: Yes, we’re still writing about Drill Festival 2014. This will be the last time, we promise…
Those of you who so much as glanced at the Badger Arts pages last term would likely have realised that we were very, very excited for Drill festival. I must have been particularly excited, as I couldn’t stop writing about the thing. News announcements, previews, interviews – if there was an article to be written on Drill, I did my best to write it. And so now, after the dust has settled, I come to write my final article on the festival that I had been so looking forward to. I should state first of all that this isn’t a review of all the bands I saw. For reasons that will soon be- come clear, I only managed to catch a handful of bands, but I can tell you they were all brilliant. Swans, These New Puritans, and local lads AK/DK made the biggest impressions on me, with the most pleasant surprise of the weekend being Goblin’s fantastic live score of Suspiria. This article is instead intended to be a review of the festival as a whole, but will most likely end up being rant about how much stuff I missed. I’m going to try and not be bitter, but I can’t promise anything.
Drill was a 4 day festival across all of the major venues in Brighton, with a great line-up co-curated by the band Wire and local promoters One Inch Badge. The line-up was very eclectic, featuring everyone from Japanese post-rockers Mono to the saxophone wielding heavy metal band Zu, and the tickets worryingly affordable. In the weeks leading up to the festival it all seemed too good to be true; cheap tickets, great bands, all in the comfort of the city in which I live. For this kind of thing I’d usually have to travel to a field that had, two days prior to my arrival, effec- tively been a very large toilet for cows. Drill, to me, seemed like a dream. Sadly, the whole thing ended up being more akin to a nightmare. While I did see seven great bands, and while that alone was certainly worth the cost of admission, I end- ed up missing countless other acts in order to see the few I could. Drill, while chock-full of great things to see and do, was terribly organised. Most venues opened late and closed early over the weekend, meaning that while you were watch- ing one band you were probably missing at least five others. Many big names clashed; Wire and These New Puritans, Savages and Mono, Swans and basically any unfortunate soul that was asked to play Sunday. Contributing to the difficulty in seeing more than two or three bands a day was the fact that Brighton is deceptively large. This seemingly small city of ours seems to have placed all of its live music venues as far away from each other as possible. You might think that, with so many bands clashing, it would be wise to see the first half of one act and the latter half of the next. Seems reasonable, until you re- alise that by the time it takes to get from The Haunt to Concorde 2 you’ll have missed the latter half of both acts you wanted to see. The festival suffered from problems beyond its own control, too. It seemed like nobody actually bought a ticket, which was a massive shame; venues were either half-empty or full to the brim of green wristband wearing journo types, pontificating aloud about what they were plan- ning to say about whatever band happened to still be playing. Admittedly, yes, I too was one of those green wristband wearing journo types. But during performances I stood awkwardly sipping a beer and nodding my head like everyone else; I have enough consideration for others to not go drunkenly shouting my opinions down the ear of anyone who was unfortunate enough to have stood next to me.
It wasn’t all bad, though. Far from. As I said earlier, the bands I did manage to see were all absolutely brilliant. I should state plainly that I had a great time over the course of the weekend, and I’d almost certainly buy a ticket should Wire decide to host another festival here in Brighton. The weekend only feels like a dis- appointment because of what Drill could have been. In my preview of the weekend, I posited Drill as a sort of gold standard for city-based festivals. Unlike The Great Escape, Drill wasn’t staged with journalists in mind. And unlike basically every other festival known to man, it wasn’t some kind of uber-capitalist ven- ture intending to profit off of the hedonism of drunken teenagers. Drill was simply about good music. The bands were chosen because either someone in Wire or someone at One Inch Badge liked them. They chose to play not for extortionate international fees, but be- cause they were on tour anyway and it probably seemed like a good time. There were no enormous tents sponsored by a brand of cheap la- ger, no floral gardens in which you would find free samples of boutique gin, and absolutely no opportunity for you to have someone take your picture while you stood in front of a very big car. I don’t even think there was any sort of vintage clothes fair associated with the festival, which is odd for Brighton.
For a hopeless romantic like myself, Drill was meant to be more than just a fun weekend. Perhaps I expected, and am still expecting, too much. Drill stuck to its principles; it never really tried to sell me anything, and it allowed me to see a small bunch of really good bands for a very reasonable price. Drill shows that, with a bit of savvy, a festival can still be run simply for the love of music. It just also happens to show that such a festival needs to be a little bit smaller; less bands that can clash with one another and less venues to run to and fro would result in me being a little less bitter about the fact I missed 90% of the line-up while thoroughly enjoying the 10% of it that I managed to see. I can only hope that this first instalment of Drill festival will not be the last, and that next year the organisers will be able to work around the problems faced first time around. If they figure out a way to avoid so many clashes, whether that be by reducing the overall size of the festival or extending the open- ing hours of its many venues, Drill could easily be one of the best small festivals in the UK. As it stands, it’s just a pretty good one.