All photos by Alyx Ashton
It’s 1pm on Friday 31st August and there’s a discerningly focused air about the End of the Road site. There’s very little hanging about campsites or getting battered on Frosty Jack’s. People are drinking and in great spirits, but everyone’s doing so whilst quickly on their way to watching bands. Every stage is rammed.
Put simply, End of the Road is a festival for music nerds. Most mainstream festival-goers would probably consider the line-up, especially lower down the bill, obscure. But for most who attend, the majority of the eclectic line-up makes up their everyday listening. Wherever you go on site, whoever you’re watching, this remains evident. Intently respectful but loudly appreciative when it matters, End of the Road’s loyal audience is unrivalled.
Sporting a somewhat sophisticated cult following, Yo La Tengo make the perfect Thursday night headliners. Setting the bar high, it’s an atmospheric performance on the chilliest night of the whole festival. With many catching the likes of Suspiria and La Chinoise at the cinema tent, the first night gets off to a modest but fittingly refined start.
Friday night headliner St. Vincent brings an unrivalled dose of pizazz to proceedings. Sparkling costume and set design accompany exquisite, well-received renditions of tracks like “New York”, “Pills” and “Los Ageless”. It’s a fine example of the festival’s capacity for showy glitz and glamour.
Performances elsewhere throughout the day are more typically grounded but just as strong. Opening a rammed Tipi Stage, Stella Donnelly is as witty as she is strikingly impressive, mixing jokes with some of the sharpest songs to come from 2018 so far. Priding themselves on personified turbulence and rock-indecency, Fat White Family do what Fat White Family do best and are received rapturously for it. Later on, The Orielles bring a touch of northern class to the Dorset dusk. Their genre-fusing, dance-friendly bagginess make them one of the day’s standout highlights.
Saturday headliners on the Garden Stage, Oh Sees make a claim for set of the weekend. A captivating display of full throttle psych-punk musicianship, their thundering show shakes the ground all the way to Vampire Weekend on the Woods stage. Earlier on, the Garden Stage hosts a run of Boy Azooga, Julien Baker and (Sandy) Alex G. Whilst all three differ greatly in sound and style, each act brings with them concrete substance and real clout. Back on the Woods Stage, Shame are their unapologetically brash selves. Sweaty crowd-surfing, erratic dancing and pure exaltation in the sun, the performance is another marker of progression in the rumbling development of the South London quintet. That evening brings a special performance on the Tipi stage from two-thirds of boygenius, the new project from Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers. With all but the latter in attendance, Dacus and Baker reward the late-night revellers by giving spine-tingling live debuts to “Bite The Hand” and “Stay Down”.
A polar opposite from last year, Sunday brings the best weather of the entire weekend. Hot sun and blue skies makes a final day of any festival that little bit easier to deal with. Anna Burch offers up a soothing but sweaty start in the sweltering Tipi tent, before French outfit The Limiñanas, who sit somewhere between psych-pop and garage rock, play to an appreciative but lazy sun-soaked crowd. High quality performances from the likes of Amen Dunes, Iceage, Japanese Breakfast, Julia Holter and the incandescent festival-favourite Ezra Furman ensure the final day is seen off in style, before equally strong evening performances from Snail Mail, White Denim and Ariel Pink.
The performance of the night, arguably even the weekend, belongs to IDLES. Releasing their second full-length LP on the Friday of the festival, their Sunday evening slot feels like a zealous celebration. The band are full of the earnest intensity that characterises their music, a trait that is undoubtedly matched and understood by the audience in attendance. The perfect way to see out EOTR 2018, it is that same earnest passion for music, from bands and attendees alike, that makes this festival so vibrant and rewarding.