Camera Obscura @ Visions Festival, part 1 – The rant

I went to Hackney yesterday with Mel and Sara to the Visions Festival. We were only interested really in Camera Obscura’s show at St-John-at-Hackney, so ambled there late afternoon (the day started at 1pm officially), queued for wristbands, ambled up to the church, laughed at hipsters, and their haircuts and their clothes (one skinny guy at an ATM was wearing what can only be described as a circus strongman outfit. He had, natch, a waxed moustache), got some “street food” (burnt pizza for Mel and me; meatball sub for Sara), got in an unfeasibly large queue to get in the venue, and made our way in to watch the end of Jens Lekman’s opening set.

At first we went upstairs to sit, as it was going to be a long night (Lekman was on at 6.15; CO at 9.45). Possibly because of the shape of the room, the materials used in the building’s construction or the overhanging gallery, the sound up there was pretty bad. Tunes and chords were discernable, but words weren’t, so we headed downstairs to the main space to watch the Antlers.

The band – purveyors of heard-it-all-before post-rock: 8-minute songs that each have but two chords and all follow exactly the same dynamic contour, with a male falsetto vocalist that would love to be Jeff Buckley but isn’t even Jonathan Donahue – proved surprisingly popular. The room was full, the crowd was packed tight and were pretty attentive. When the band finished, the room all but emptied out.

Camera Obscura did not really draw a crowd themselves and were, in retospect, a bad fit for this venue and festival. Too old, too unhip, too bald, too fat, too tuneful, too cuddly – take your pick. Their time as anything other than a group for Belle & Sebastian fans to rally round in support of has evidently come and gone. A few hundred stragglers did make their way back in to see the group play, but a distressing amount of them were there in a not-really-got-anything-else-to-do kind of way and talked loudly and persistently through the set. Or played with their cell phones. Or danced in an attention-seeking, look-at-me dance fashion. I did ask two guys who were having a loud relationship crisis to pipe down, whereupon they seemed to leave (one of them had been standing with his back to the stage – no wonder Tracyanne Campbell looked pissed off for most of the set), but their place was immediately taken by five drunk students, including a couple of girls afflicted with conspicuous dancing disease, and there’s only so many times you can a) go to war, or b) move, within one band’s set and be paying more than scant attention to the music.

OK, so it was the end of a long, warm day, and people had been drinking. But really, that doesn’t excuse this kind of behaviour at a gig. Sure you’ve got a ticket; you’re entitled to be there. And sure, rock gigs have to be self-policing on the whole; there are no ushers (at least, not on the floor; there were a few on the gallery). But (“in my day” alert), I’m sure it wasn’t always this bad. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a worse crowd than last night’s, and it really did hamper our enjoyment of the show, to the point where I’d think long and hard about going to other one-day festivals for fear of dropping £30-£40 just for the opportunity to be infuriated by my fellow attendees.

That off my chest, I’ll be back later to talk about Camera Obscura themselves. Happy Sunday!

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