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Review: 2000 Trees Festival 2023

Carrie Humphries

Triangle

2000 Trees returned on 5th – 8th July 2023 for an out-of-this-world instalment of the award-winning festival. Now in its fifteenth year, the medium sized festival near Cheltenham is the perfect haven for alternative music, with a killer line-up of both old and new bands alike.

WEDNESDAY

As the gates opened to limited early entry ticket holders, many set up camp before being treated to an evening of live entertainment on the Word and Forest stages. These sets were largely provided by 2000 Trees favourites who have appeared at the festival in previous years.

Bristolian band Masca‘s set on the Word stage was enjoyable as they slipped in some acoustic versions of some of their tracks which really showcased lead singer Tina’s vocals. However, I feel that they would have gone down better on the Forest Stage, which seemed to get the majority of the foot traffic for that night.

Press To Meco may have split up way back in December, but they ended things triumphantly on the Forest stage with one final set, including fan favourites such as A Test of Our Resolve and Sabotage. For those who were wondering what comes next with the former members, they also didn’t have long to wait as Luke and Jake’s new band, Unpeople, had a slot on the Neu stage the following day.

Rockers Saint Agnes seemed to be having some minor technical issues in the lead up to their set, but this didn’t seem to phase them as their dark and brooding supernatural rock seemed to fit perfectly in the woodland setting. Later, for those who were lucky enough to get into the tightly packed Word tent, they were treated to an insane set from Haggard Cat. However, the rock ‘n’ roll duo definitely needed a bigger stage to host their antics.

Holding Absence and Bob Vylan were both scheduled to play on the Main stage later in the weekend, but there is no such thing as playing too many sets at 2000 Trees, as both appeared on the smaller stage in the Forest on the Wednesday night too. Fans packed out the area in front of the Forest stage entirely for Holding Absence, as they worked through anthem after anthem and got everyone hyped up for the release of their new album, The Noble Art of Self Destruction. Meanwhile, Bob Vylan closed the night with a politically-charged set which left everyone thinking about worldwide affairs.

THURSDAY

One of the earliest performances on Thursday came from hotly tipped grunge-rockers, Exit Child, with their angsty, yet fearless anthems for modern society. They may not have played many shows yet, but if their set on the Neu stage was anything to go by, we have a lot to look forward to from them during the next few years.

Metalcore band Ithaca were originally supposed to perform at Trees last year, but sadly had to drop out due to travel issues; however, this year they made a triumphant return as their savage yet beautiful set thundered across the field from the Main Stage.

Lambrini Girls had an overspilling tent for their Neu Stage performance; but I wouldn’t expect anything less for one of the most talked about punk bands on social media at the moment. The band didn’t hold back as they touched on difficult subjects such as catcalling, sexual assault and trans rights, and urged the crowd to “Call out your mates” when they performed Boys In The Band.

Svalbard were by far one of the best performances on Thursday as they dazzled in the Cave with their sonically spectacular show. Front-woman Serena Cherry is a vocalist to behold as she flawlessly switched between ethereal singing and fierce growls throughout, while the band equally created the perfect balance of ferocious metal and glittering guitar lines.

No Devotion are a band who haven’t had much luck up until recently, with various problems plaguing the New York/Cardiff supergroup (including previously being booked to play 2000 Trees twice during the Covid years that didn’t go ahead). However, they finally made it to the Axiom stage this year and things seem to be on the up for them following their spectacular set. Their songs are definitely slow burners, but they have an intense, apocalyptic feel to their music, which is in a similar vein to bands such as Deftones.

Jim Lockey and the Solemn Sun are 2000 Trees favourites, and the local lads seem to have gone through a bit of a sound evolution since the last time that I saw them; but they are better than ever. They have come back with a rockier edge, which went down well with the fans in the Cave, and with their first album in nearly a decade, Colour, being released at the end of a month I look forward to seeing what this next year brings for the band.

Skindred are the ultimate festival band, and I can’t quite understand why they did not headline Trees this year as they would have been wonderful headliners; but none-the-less, their early evening set on the Main stage drew one of the biggest audiences of the day. Front man Benji Webbe is charismatic and commanded the audience superbly as they rallied through hits such as Set Fazers and Warning, along with tracks from the new album such as L.O.V.E. (smile please).

The audience in the Axiom was met by a singalong to The Time Warp from the Rocky Horror Picture Show as Eagles of Death Metal strutted on stage, and you could tell that the band were there to have a good time. What followed was a good old rock ‘n’ roll show, packed full of swagger and charm that you couldn’t help but enjoy, led by larger than life front man Jesse Hughes.

FRIDAY

Friday saw some bright and early sets from the likes of Beauty School, Rxptrs and Motherhood; but one that particularly stood out came from Midlands metal band Heriot. They are perhaps one of the hardest working young bands of the last few years, and it certainly seems that their hard work is paying off as they performed their fierce show on the Main stage.

LostAlone drew a fairly small audience for their Main stage appearance, but if you were watching the set, you could be fooled into thinking otherwise, as the band proceeded to pull off an electrifying performance packed full of harmonies and nerdy rock-opera esque high jinks. A pitch-perfect classic rock show, but for a modern era.

Hailing all the way from Japan, Paledusk are one of the bands that have travelled the furthest for this weekend’s festival, but they seem to already have plenty of fans in the UK. The Cave tent was packed for the manic metalcore band, and chaos erupted throughout as fans dressed as all manner of creatures including frogs and pigs and went wild in the mosh pit.

Another band who are regulars to the festival are Scottish rock band The Xcerts, and as per usual they drew a packed out tent for their set in the Axiom. It’s been more than five years since their previous album release, but as the old saying goes ‘Good things come to those who wait’, and we are definitely being treated to that with live performances of new tracks such as Ache and Jealousy.

Biffy Clyro frontman Simon Neil seems to have his fingers in many pies at the moment, but the most talked about recently is Empire State Bastard, the experimental black metal band that he formed with Oceansize musician Mike Vennart. Some audience members in the Axiom clearly expected something along the lines of Biffy, as they looked a little bemused while the band launched into abrasive opener Harvest; but for those wanting to hear something a little bit different, the discordant chaos of Neil’s furious screams and Vennart’s industrial riffs were something to behold.

Dutch rockers De Staat are a bizarre band, but they are fun. They’ve played at 2000 Trees quite a few times now and never fail to draw an audience, and this time the Forest was rammed for their set. It’s hard to describe their sound, as they push boundaries between rock, pop, dance, funk and industrial, but all you need to know is that they are ridiculously catchy and will make you dance. This was followed up by a set from Dublin trad-punkers The Scratch whose set was also a good craic, jam packed full of mayhem and mosh pits.

SATURDAY

2000 Trees is usually well known for its good weather as much as its amazing line-up; but, as Friday made way into Saturday the festival was hit with some rain that got gradually worse as the day went on. However, most fans didn’t let it dampen their spirits as they still enjoyed a day of top quality music (plus, it couldn’t be anywhere near as bad as the muddy Trees of 2012).

Easing us into the day with her folk-pop harmonies, Guise (aka Jessica Guise) performed a serene and charming set on the Forest stage, before Dick Valentine of Electric Six fame performed a solo set which had everyone chuckling with absurd tracks like Running Out of Potato and Duran Duran and Princess Di.

Ways Away are a band who I was not previously familiar with, but I opted to watch as I was near the Axiom when they began. I was not disappointed as they were phenomenal. The Californian post hardcore quartet comprises members from Stick To Your Guns, Wish You Were Here, Samiam, Knapsack, Racquet Club, Boysetsfire and The Hope Conspiracy, so I guess you could call them a super group; but the main thing that I found super was their songs such as Nevermind the Dog and Everyone I Know (The Optimist).

Most fans know rock band Electric Six for their debut album Fire, which was released twenty years ago, and admittedly many were probably at the Main stage to hear their hits from that, but the band treated everyone to a selection of songs from their impressive back catalogue of 19 albums. Yes; their biggest hits Gay Bar, Dance Commander and Danger! High Voltage got the most cheers, but everyone seemed to be having fun throughout, and we even saw someone dressed as the Loch Ness Monster in the mosh pit.

Rock band Dream State have been through several line-up changes during the last few years, and are almost a completely different band to the one that we have seen at previous 2000 Trees festivals; however, this reincarnation of Dream State seems to work well and they were happily received by the audience; in particular, new vocalist Jessie Powell who soon had the fans singing back to her.

Rave-rock artist Cody Frost was by far the highlight of the weekend in the Forest, even though it chucked it down throughout her set. The quirky northerner bounced around the stage with a maniacal grin throughout, as the audience moshed in the mud. The cherry on top of this set came in the form of Rou Reynolds from Enter Shikari joining her on stage for their song Bull, so it was well worth getting drenched for.

As the rain continued to get heavier, many attendees opted for the shelter of the tent stages for the evening, luckily there was still plenty of fun to be had, particularly in the Axiom and the Cave. Sadly, we were not met by the heavy metal riffs of Loathe in the Axiom, as they had to drop out of the festival at the last minute; but instead The St Pierre Snake Invasion replaced them for a second set, which was still enjoyable.

Closing the festival on the Axiom stage were emo icons American Football. As shoegazey, twinkly guitars, layered glockenspiel and trumpets and gentle vocals washed harmoniously around the tent, everyone seemed chilled out with this very peaceful end to this year’s festival.

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