Multi-venue festivals are not new to Oxford, as proven by annual favourites Oxjam and Oxford Punt. Next month we will also see the first Oxford City Festival (bringing together the best of Oxford’s bands and venues), and there was of course also OX4 Festival, which seems to have been replaced with the hipper and slicker Gathering Festival.
The inaugural Gathering Festival last year played host to bands who have since gone on to make chart hits and become mainstream festival players, such as Bastille, Dry the River and Lucy Rose. Clearly the organisers know what they’re doing and have a very good ear for new music. Let’s hope that this time next year we’ll feel dead chuffed at having seen the next big thing in our local community centre, strumming and cooing mere meters from us.
The venues do all have a certain intimacy and great atmosphere, whether it’s because of their familiarity or their small to moderate sizes I’m not sure. On the subject of their size, most venues were at capacity before bands even got playing and the rush to see bands on time (or, more accurately, ahead of time) meant you couldn’t really ramble pleasantly around the Cowley Road from stage to stage, as one might like to do in a relaxed festival environment.
There was a good measure of Oxford bands mixed in with national and internationals. Spring Offensive and Candy Says both kicked off the O2’s line-up with good crowds and of course, great music. All the bands and musicians were skilfully selected and are all worth looking up and keeping an eye on.
I think new music can best be explained as versions of current or old favourites, so here are a few of my recommendations: fancy a Florence & The Machine / Bat for Lashes mash-up? See London Grammar. Need some new indie-rockers to compete with The Vaccines? Then there’s To Kill A King. Like to relax to a bit of The Vilagers? Try Dancing Years. You should also listen to Nathan Ball, who is an equally beautiful version of Ben Howard. Or, for something a bit punchier and definitely more original on the indie scene, Ruen Brothers have a bluesy rockabilly sound and are tonnes of fun.
Discovering new bands brought to your favourite music venues on your very doorstep is a great way to spend a dreary autumnal evening and after 2 sell out festivals, you want to try and keep an eye out for Gathering Festival in 2014.