ZERO Review: End of the Road 2016

End of the Road has always been a festival shrouded in myth, mystery and magic. I’d never been before, and tales of wild peacocks, sunken gardens, and Patti Smith turning up to read her poetry out of the blue would surely set the Dorset-based festival to be something of a disappointment - but no. Truly, End Of The Road is the most innovative, heart-warming and viscerally likeable festival that the UK has to offer.

Although it falls towards the twilight of the festival season, any craving for blazing sun (or even lack of micro-storms) is utterly overcome by EOTR’s deep-rooted drive to offer something totally different than the corporate festival model that the UK generally tends to operate: The food is reasonably priced (by festival standards at least), its backdrop is implausibly beautiful, and the programme is stacked with great live music from noon until the early hours. Inevitably, headline sets from Joanna Newsom, Bat For Lashes and Ezra Furman prove among the highlights of the weekend, but it’d be a disservice to concentrate on that. We’ve picked out some of the bands a little lower on the bill that made a mark on us over the EOTR weekend.

Here are our highlights of End of the Road 2016:

Yak

Larmer Tree Gardens opened its gates with much anticipation at around 2pm on Thursday, with all ticket holders able to make their way to the festival from this point - and it’d have been a crying shame not to do so. Up against the inherently EOTR-suited indie titans The Shins, London trio Yak had a task on their hands in keeping the attention of any wandering souls on the Tipi Tent, which they totally revelled in. “One more time and then we’re going home” insists a sweaty Oli Burslem, once again leaving his guitar at the mercy of the first few rows of the crowd as his band tear through album track ‘No’ with the bit firmly between their teeth. Yak’s set is totally unhinged and chaotic, and sprung EOTR into life in a way that few other bands could have. The satisfied cries of “Fuck The Shins” as the crowd filtered out from the Tipi may be a little harsh, but I wholeheartedly echo the sentiment. (MH)

Ezra Furman (Secret Set)

‘We’re the festival house band tonight’ claims Ezra Furman as he and his band take the stage for their Thursday night secret set, immediately opening the floor to requests. In less wonderful environments, this could turn into a never-ending barrage of ironic song requests and yells of ‘Freebird’, but instead the already-stoked EOTR crowd pick out some real gems. Ezra and his band’s soulful runs through The Clash’s ‘Train In Vain’, Madonna’s ‘Like A Virgin’, Beck’s ‘Devil’s Haircut’ and Weezer’s ‘El Scorcho’ – with the Rivers Cuomo’s guitar lead converting into a genius saxophone riff – raise the curtain on the festival in utterly joyous fashion, setting the tone for the beautiful weekend ahead. (JF)

Amber Arcades 
“I think this is officially the most beautiful place we’ve ever played in” declared a visually lovestruck Annelotte De Graaf mid-way through her band’s set, making her the first frontperson of many to succumb to End Of The Road’s charm, “there’s wild peacocks just chilling backstage”. As well as being the first to fall for the festival, Amber Arcades were also the first of three pre-1pm bands (with Younghusband and Pinegrove the other two) to open the day with striking convention. The Dutch band crib from the softer side of the shoegaze spectrum, with pulsating krautrock nods keeping the sprawling nature of their guitar compositions from spiralling out of control. It may have been the first time that most onlookers had seen (or even heard of) Amber Arcades, but it certainly won’t be the last. Their set is totally immersive, and perfectly suited to the stunning Garden Stage. (MH)

Savages

Savages have reached that fabled point in their career where you know that they’re going to be excellent at every single show that they play, which always seem odd for bands deeply-rooted in unpredictability, and so I approached their Woods Stage show with limited anticipation. For all of its much-appreciated efforts to feel intimate, Woods’ is unavoidably huge, and would seem fairly ill-fitting of the London punks on paper. Instead, they make the most of the main stage slot and announce their coming-of-age in riotous fashion. At this point, Fay Milton and Ayse Hassan are irremovable from their pedestal of Tightest Rhythm Section In The World, and prove essential in providing a visceral foundation upon which Gemma Thompson can unleash her ear-splitting, reverb-doused guitar storms; either dragging behind or foreshadowing the beat, but never, ever on it. Jehnny Beth finds little difficulty in rolling the crowd around the palms of her hand like child’s play. A perfectly timed sun-down cover of Suicide’s eternal outsider anthem, ‘Dream Baby Dream’ proves a highlight. (MH)

Mothers

“Hi, this is called Mothers” announces Kristine Lespcher as she takes to the stage alone. Neither ‘we’ nor ‘I’, which is central to the early narrative of the Athens, Georgia-based project. The live show that follows shows exactly why; Mothers is neither a creative moniker nor a band name, it’s more unattainable than that. The clever pronoun choice gives Lespcher the freedom to play with and without the band, and the late night set is a combination of both. When she plays solo, as she does on quieter cuts like ‘Burden of Proof’, the attention is firmly focused on her incredible lyricism: “Everything you touch turns to gold, everything I touch just turns away” she mourns, her delivery as crushing as her lyrics are witty. When Mothers becomes a collective, though, it’s a totally different live experience. The awkward, weaving structure of pre-album cut ‘No Crying In Baseball’ sprays Lespcher’s stirring melancholia onto a wall of stop-start guitar joy sections, finding the delicate balance between Mothers As Haunting and Mothers As Total Fun. The energy and sheer emotion put across by the project is utterly unique, and makes for quite possibly the highpoint of the weekend. (MH)

Jon Hopkins

I approached The Big Top following Wild Beast’s fantastic unannounced set entirely unaware that one of my all-time favourite artists would be in residence for the next hour; I was thrilled to see Jon Hopkins poised behind his laptop and ready to set The Big Top dancing. Hopkins varies wildly from End of the Road’s usual aesthetic but his floor-filling set made for ecstatic listening and a genius surprise to set Friday night alight, unleashing a freewheeling house-heavy set that sparkled with an infectious energy that was returned by all in attendance. As a one-two punch of surprise sets, it's difficult to think of a better combination of Wild Beasts and Jon Hopkins, and it's fantastic booking like this that's helped End of the Road stay close to the hearts of so many,  (JF)

Frankie Cosmos:

There’s something fantastical and otherworldy about watching a Frankie Cosmos show; there’s the sparse beauty of the music that backs Greta Kline’s confessional lyrics, taking the minutia and intimacies of life and turning them into metonyms for friendship, hope, suffering and love, and the expressive joy that Greta and her band drum up throughout the songs themselves. Tracks from this year's world-beating Next Thing sound absolutely tremendous inside The Tipi as rain pours outside, and everyone inside the tent can be seen grinning towards their friends, like they're all sharing a secret that the other damp festival-goers aren't aware of (yet). It’s no coincide that there’s a huge queue to meet the band and buy merchandise following Frankie Cosmos’ brilliant set as this Saturday crowd have either been converted or enriched (or both!) by the band’s performance. (JF)

Martha

In an ideal world, everybody would be a Martha fan; their inclusivity-focused politics and transformative energy deserves global unity. But we don’t live in an ideal world, we live in a world in which Donald Trump as President of the United States is a genuine possibility, and a world in which tabloid bigotry is taken as gospel. Luckily, though, End Of The Road is a convincing imitation of an ideal world and everybody there is a Martha fan, or at least that’s how it seems for forty five minutes on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Even during the Durham gang’s soundcheck, there’s more energy in the crowd than for the highpoint of most other sets. Newer tracks like ‘Curly and Raquel’ and ‘The Awkward Ones’ evoke sing alongs from at least the first third of the Tipi Tent crowd, 300+ miles away from Durham, Martha are still recognised as DIY kingpins. By the time old favourite ‘1967, I Miss You, I’m Lonely’ rolls around to close the set, the entire tent is helplessly swooning over The Greatest Pop Band Of Our Time. Drummer Nathan Griffin spoke about an unsuccessful job interview before ‘Precarious (Supermarket Song)’, and you can’t help that Martha’s world domination continues and that he - and the rest of the band - can rely on playing life-affirming pop songs about Corrie and 19th century anarchists for a living. (MH)

Pinegrove (Secret Set)

Some of EOTR’s true highlights came without any warning. Weaves played a storming secret Tipi set on Friday night, as did Seratones on the Saturday. Elsewhere, Bill Ryder-Jones previewed his Garden Stage show with an intimate two-song set on the beautifully humble piano stage, and Thurston Moore took part in a thought-provoking Q&A with Laura Snapes on Sunday afternoon. The highlight of the lot, though, was undoubtedly Pinegrove’s second Tipi Tent show on Sunday night. Having made their full-band debut on the same stage 12 hours prior, the New Jersey band were invited back to play another set on the same stage in the early hours. Although their second outing focuses on older, non-album tracks, ‘Cardinal’ opener ‘Old Friends’ proves a highlight, with Evan Stephens Hall’s cries of “we had some good ideas but we never left that fucking room” belted back at him twice as loud as they were earlier in the day. (MH)

Thee Oh Sees

‘Grizzled veteran’ is something of a backhanded compliment when applied to an artist, but ‘grizzled’ is a fitting term to describe the gnarled noise of John Dwyer’s long-standing group Thee Oh Sees. The band, now recording and touring with two drummers, send a jolt through the rainy Sunday night at The Garden Stage, whipping up highlights like ‘Ticklish Warrior’ and ‘Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster’ before an enthralled, pogoing and receptive crowd. Thee Oh Sees’ amplified exercises in garage-rock perfection provided an incredible highlight and one of the most rapturous sets of the weekend, with my friend and fellow ZERO writer Otis comparing the band’s set to ‘a religious experience’. (JF)

Words by Marty Hill and Joseph Fuller

Images courtesy of End of the Road, by Nick Helderman and Eleanor Hardwick