Crazy, Crazy Nuits: Les Nuits Botanique 2009 Part 1

flagDespite the official opening of the 25th anniversary edition of Les Nuits Botanique kicking off two days before with a sold-out show by Zach Cordon’s folk-world music project Beirut at the Cirque Royale, I enter the fray on Friday as the festival opens on its second and main front. As the host venue gears up for its grand opening, Le Botanique is a hive of activity as teams of staff apply the finishing touches to the four stages which will host over eighty acts in the coming eight days. The former royal horticultural complex is buzzing with anticipation and driven by the sound of a ticking clock.

Amid the organized chaos of these final preparations, I grab a few minutes with Eddie Argos and Jasper Future from British art punks Art Brut. Freshly off a darkened tour bus, singer Argos is slightly disorientated but happy to be back in Brussels. “We’ve been really looking forward to this,” he says. “I’d forgotten it was a festival though. I got off the bus and it was like ‘oh it’s this place again – brilliant! Oh, loads of bands are playing here.’” Guitarist Future looks less ruffled but is no less enthusiastic. “It’s not very often that you get to play in a botanical garden so it’s pretty awesome,” he says. Art Brut bring their ironic brand of shouty faux-anarchy to the Orangerie later this evening and Argos expects a lively crowd. “Last time we were here there were loads of old skool punks and a fight broke out,” he reminisces, almost fondly. “I jumped into the crowd and shouted ‘if you wanna fight, fight me’ and then it was all like, ‘what am I saying?’ They were really big punks. But luckily no-one fought me.”


Art Brut, Live in the Orangerie

There are no outwardly visible punks in the crowd when Art Brut take to the stage later in the evening; the swelling audience is mainly made up of slightly bemused locals with a few hardcore fans dotted around. It takes a while for the band to get through to the majority of the audience but a few raucously delivered songs in – and after the robust Argos leaps into the crowd to deliver a monologue on crashing a Van Gogh exhibition – Art Brut look on course to record another victory on Belgian soil.

Taking a hint from Argos himself, I leave the manic Brits to enjoy their away win and fight my way to the exit, heading for the outside tent where spiky Canadians Metric are due on stage. Weaving through the milling punters and resisting the allure of the hot-dog stands, I exit the 19th century greenhouse and shuffle into the temporary sweatbox outside to catch the end of The Official Secrets Act’s set. With their voluminous blouses, Adam Ant face paint and Killers-esque theatrical pop, I wonder what strangeness I may have missed while feeling that lady luck has played a small part in bringing me here at the end of it all.

Metric offer something a little more palatable to my taste. The Canadian quartet come across as a mixture of The Cardigans and The Strokes and soon have the crowd bobbing along to their sweetly sung, angular new wave-pop. Unfortunately, due to the fact that Le Botanique’s cup runneth over with exciting acts, Metric are scheduled on stage at the same time as Brakes, a band I’m eager to see. Perversely wanting to end the night with ringing ears and sweat-drenched shirts, I leave Metric to their now adoring crowd and heads for the Rotunde to catch the last half of a high-tempo show by the Brighton rockers.

Knowing Saturday is another day, I eventually call it a night after a couple of draughts of the local throat charmer before catching the Metro home.


Andrew Bird in conversation

Les Nuits is a marathon, not a sprint so with a full week of gigs still to negotiate, I decide to take it down a notch for Saturday. The Cirque Royale is offering a night of melodic folk and experimental alt-rock so I roll up in good time to get a good seat (oh yes, it’s all very civilised) and have a word with headliner Andrew Bird. The Chicago multi-instrumentalist is just one of the many artists fitting Les Nuits into an already bulging list of live dates and is unsurprisingly a little lethargic after months of being on the road. Despite this, as Bird himself admits, he and his band are ready to dig deep to produce a show which will both surprise and entertain. “I’ve played Botanique about six times and I always look forward to coming to Belgium,” he says. “If I have some dates in France I always make sure that we manage to get a couple of shows in over here too. So we’re looking forward to the concert here.” Bird is renowned for his live looping, hyperactive switching between instruments and his darkly ironic yet beautifully delivered songs. He promises that tonight will not disappoint. “You know, the record is only a moment in time but we like to make the live show into something else. We won’t change things so they’re unrecognisable but the songs get a different treatment on stage. We like to challenge the crowd and mix things up. Hopefully, the audience here will appreciate that.”

Later at the bar, I accost Lasse, a travelling Swede, and ask if Andrew Bird is the main reason why he’s here tonight. “I was visiting friends in Brussels and was due to fly home last week,” he says, expertly holding four glasses of beer at one time. “But this festival sounded cool so I stayed on. I’m here for Phosphorescent tonight but I hear Andrew Bird is excellent.”


Phosphorescent, Live @ Cirque Royale

After a lilting, acoustic solo set from British folk singer Laura Marling and a rousing masterclass in country rock and tight musicianship from Brooklyn hairies Phosphorescent, the slight, diminutive Bird takes to the stage to show Lasse and the rest of the Cirque Royal why this reputation precedes him. And he does not disappoint. Skipping between multiple microphones, treading on effects pedals with the dexterity of a tap dancer and swapping guitar for violin and glockenspiel, Bird whistles, sings and handclaps his way through a mesmerising performance. I head out into the midnight hour in search of frites with the standing ovation still ringing in my ears.


Telepathe, Le Botanique

I’m back at Le Botanique come Sunday but before the fun and games can commence once more, I have a date with a couple of babes from Brooklyn. Melissa Livaudais and Busy Gangnes from avant-gardists Telepathe bring their brand of electronica to the Rotunde tonight and are in relaxed mood despite the gruelling tour which has already taken them around much of Europe. “What a beautiful place,” says Busy, reclining in her chair and admiring the venue from the sun-drenched terrace below. “We’ve never been here before.” The girls have enjoyed enthusiastic crowds so far in Europe and Melissa hopes the Belgians won’t be any exception. “We hope they’ll be into it, maybe even dance around a bit,” she says. “The live show is pretty intense, with the two of us mixing live and climbing over each other to get to all the equipment. In the States we’ve started experimenting with dancers on stage but we won’t be able to do that here. It’ll just be us doing our thing.” If tonight’s show hinges solely on the Telepathe sound, fans of the multi-layered richness of their recorded material won’t be disappointed, according to Busy. “If anything, we can do more with the songs live,” she says. “We can drop samples and loops all over the place and really let the songs expand. We love the studio because we’re essentially producers and we love that we can work on a sound to make it perfect, but the live show is just really fun because it’s seat of the pants stuff.”


Clare & The Reasons, Live @ Grand Salon

After I wish Telepathe good luck, I enjoy a brief private show at British folk rocker Hugh Coltman’s soundcheck before looking in on the free samba lessons in the bar (and avoiding enthusiastic attempts to get me on the dance floor) on my way to the Grand Salon for some 1940’s-inspired pop from Clare and the Reasons. Playing in the round to a crowd reclining on low chairs and cushions in Le Botanique’s spectacular exhibition space, the US-French quartet deliver a relaxed and engaging show of effortless lounge tunes and chanson. The atmosphere is so casual there’s even time for an impromptu recorder rendition of the Rocky theme tune and a mid-set Rubik’s Cube challenge. If any show so far underlines Les Nuits’ diversity it’s this one. “This is the second time we’ve been to Le Botanique but this is the first time at the festival,” singer Clare Muldaur tells me after the show. “The Belgian crowds have given us a great reception both times. Maybe we share a certain quirkiness.”

That quirkiness is so enthralling that I have to dash at full-tilt around the fish ponds to get to the Rotunde to catch what’s left of Telepathe’s set. The booming bass almost lifts me off my feet even before I enter and those ear-plugs previously found among the lint and ticket stubs come in mighty handy. Telepathe has the crowd enraptured but there’s very little movement on the dance floor. A few nodding heads will have to suffice. Sorry girls – the Belgians appreciate things in a different way.

Leaving the thudding electronica behind, I duck into the Orangerie just in time to see Vinicio Capossela, Italy’s own version of Tom Waits, leave his piano stool behind and dance like a gibbon in front of the heaving, hugely-appreciative crowd. Failing to get more than just a glimpse, I consult our schedule and head for hobo-folkie Charlie Winston’s headlining set in the Chapiteau. However, the audience in the tent is equally bulging so I make the decision to call it a night. Monday is a day off. Time to take stock – and maybe get some sleep in preparation for the days and nights to come. Stay tuned.


Beer & Loafing in Austin: Adventures with The Cheek & Goldielocks @SXSW 09

cheek_rbgig4In a suburban area of downtown Austin, the Red Bull Moontower stage glows luminously among the bungalows and car lots like a recently landed UFO. Punters, drawn by the eerie throbbing light and otherworldly hum, gather mesmerized. They stand waiting, seemingly caught between hope and fear, watching to see if alien beings will materialise from the swirling smoke that has engulfed the neighbourhood. When a figure does appear from the backstage airlock, there is a moment when its terrestrial credentials are brought into question. But once the fog of dry ice blows away, it soon becomes clear it’s a human of sorts. “Alright Austin, Texas,” croaks the being. “We’re The Cheek and my voice is fucked.”

Backtrack five days and East Anglian pop-punk scamps The Cheek arrive in Texas for the South by Southwest festival already suffering from a substantial sleep deficit and a raging collective hangover. The Southbridge five-piece barely have 24 hours to adjust to Austin after the craziness of Tokyo and a tantalizingly short, surreal stopover on home soil. Wednesday is their first full day and they have two shows to play in this wholly new and intensely weird environment.

Austin’s Lower East side is swarming with the full gamut of human life. Indie kids and rock fans stand out from the super-sized families with big gulps like the skyscrapers rising from the banks of the Colorado River while platinum blonde cheerleaders totter between them all in slinky summer dresses and stilettos. Now in its 22nd year, SXSW has grown from a cosmic cowboy and blues festival into the lovechild of a weekend at Glastonbury and a night out in Manchester’s clubland.

In the packed streets, the air is filled with the soundclashes of a hundred bands playing side by side and the excited chatter of crowds filling the cramped sweatbox bars and jostling for views at the open windows. The sickly-sweet smell of cheap liquor and fast food vendors hangs over everything, caught in the blanket of Texas humidity. On a curb outside BD Riley’s, one of the many Irish pubs on East Sixth, The Cheek look like a bunch of students who have partied way too hard way too early. Heads down in that time honoured pre-puking fashion and with charity-shop shirts drenched in poisonous sweat, the band look to be struggling to keep their dinner down and their spirits up. The time zones have not been kind.

“Just before we left for the first gig, the jet lag really kicked in,” says Thom Hobson, the band’s laconic bass player, by way of explanation for the state they’re in. “Somehow we got up for it. Now we have to do it again, only an hour later.” The band’s previous performance, a short set at an industry party a little down the street, was plagued by PA problems and a threadbare crowd more interested in the glowing screens of their Blackberrys. Now The Cheek need to dig deep for their SXSW showcase show. Asked where he’s going to find the energy to perform, Thom replies as if faced with the most obvious question in the world: “From the music, man.”

The music certainly seems to energize the band. Ripping into opener Just One Night, the pavement casualties of a mere few minutes before are transformed into a quintet of spasming lunatics. Eyes popping, faces contorted, and throwing punky shapes, The Cheek are different animals on stage, albeit on one which is about the size of a card table. Somehow the show passes without any injuries sustained despite the close proximity to flailing, stabbing guitars and the epileptic dancing of lead singer Rory Cottam. The crowd in BD Riley’s and in the street outside soon grows in size and enthusiasm, attracted by the wired eccentricity and choppy riffing which made heroes out of a long list of British weirdoes, from XTC to Blur. When Rory climbs into the open window and gyrates his rubbery frame for the passers-by during set closer Slow Kids, it’s clear that The Cheek have studied their rock traditions long and hard. Nothing pleases an expectant crowd more than the promise of an adventurous front man coming a cropper right in front of them. The singer survives unscathed but the combustible and irresponsible nature of the final song’s theatrics makes sure The Cheek make an impact, even if Rory doesn’t.

In the breathless aftermath, the Cheek spill out onto the street outside again, amped on the energy of the performance and the vibe from the appreciative crowd. The buzz will last long into the night, taking them to bars and gigs throughout the downtown area. The jet lag can wait to mount its next assault. The Cheek are in town and eager to experience what Austin has to offer.

Back at the Red Bull House, the band’s rented pad they’re sharing with up-and-coming London dubstep/grime star Goldielocks, The Cheek listlessly pour out of one piece of garden furniture into another in an unconscious game of musical chairs under the relentless morning sun. It’s their first day off and no one seems to know what to do with themselves or where to do it. The conversation is bizarre and fragmented as befits a group of sleep-starved minds. It ranges from a short debate on the future of the red panda as the rock animal accessory – “Monkeys are so 80s,” says Ali Bartlett, The Cheek’s thoughtful drummer – to whether half-naked wrestling in ski masks would make for a good photo shoot.

South by Southwest is The Cheek’s first taste of the US as a band. Despite enduring stereotypes about America back in the UK, they’re keen to point out they arrived with open minds.

“It didn’t seem fair to come with preconceptions,” says Christian Daniels, the lead guitarist. “I prefer to make my mind up after experiencing something.”

“I always wondered if the US would be like in the movies,” adds Ali. “And you know what? It totally is.”

In contrast to the ruffled, borderline psychosis of the band, Goldielocks reclines in the shade of a benevolent birch as if she’s the guest of honour on a Greek shipping magnate’s yacht. Decked out in summer dress, trilby and gargantuan shades, she seems unaffected by either travel or the prospect of her first Stateside shows proper. “I played in New York before,” she drawls, her London twang halting the incessant chirping of curious birds. “But these are my first real US gigs.” As well as her SXSW showcase and her 2 am slot on Saturday’s Moontower stage, Goldielocks will be performing a DJ set. “I’ve only brought four CDs,” she adds nonchalantly, unfazed by the prospect. “It’ll have to do, I s’pose.”

cheek_rbgig2Soon everyone finds the energy to party again, although it helps that it’s in the comfort of their own home-from-home with an energizing array of local celebs and international faces in attendance. The likes of Lady Sovereign and Daisy Lowe rub shoulders with the geezer who runs the strip show just off Highway 71 and a guy who looks like a Hells Angel who has taken a wrong turn. The humid dusk and subsequent sweaty darkness is filled with a multitude of accents and laughter as spirits rise and inhibitions are cast aside. While the diverse guest list kicks-back, The Cheek still have work to do. Huddled together in the downstairs living room, the band perform an edited reprise of their BD Riley’s set with an encore of Twist and Shout to finish, playing with as much heart as if the cramped confines were the stage at Madison Square Garden while party-goers weave through the wires and amps on their way to the bar. Outside Lady Sovereign conducts a football master class while various random assailants physically assault a clown-shaped piñata with an ineffective plastic baseball bat.

Friday’s scheduled visit to a shooting range to experience another part of traditional Texan life – the handling and firing of assorted weaponry – is intelligently postponed until the following day given the number of shaky hands in the camp after the previous night’s hi-jinx. Stories of paddling pool wrestling and the effects of questionably cooked meat slosh between the self-afflicted as the tour bus drives everyone to a thrift store the size of a supermarket. The shopping is lethargic and is soon called-off in favour of sustenance. Goldielocks heads off to prepare for her first show of the day while everyone else votes for time to recover before catching her live.

The gig at Beauty Bar, a venue designed like a 50’s hair salon, goes well. “That wasn’t a true representation of a US crowd so I’m not going to say I rocked America but they were into it,” says Goldielocks on her performance. “Southern hip-hop is pretty bassy, like grime and dubstep, so I think they get it here.” Asked whether the prevalence of industry faces at SXSW gigs makes a difference to her shows, she answers in typically laidback fashion. “I’m playing for the fans, not the suits. It’s just fun to do. Maybe I’ll meet other artists who I can collaborate with but my main focus is just performing.”

Later that night, three fifths of the Cheek roll up at the Billboard Magazine showcase event to watch an exclusive acoustic set by Graham Coxon. After an intimate half hour in the company of the Blur guitarist and seven of his new songs, Rory and Thom are awestruck. “How ridiculously good was that?” asks the singer rhetorically.

“Abso-fucking-lutely amazing,” adds the bass player.

As Friday becomes Saturday, the entire Cheek, along with Goldielocks and the rest of the entourage roll up to the Lady Sovereign gig at Club de Ville on Red River. It’s another long, chaotic night which includes a prolonged period of crowd-surfing and stage invasion by Thom at the Black Lips show and ends with brave but futile attempts to ward of sleep and the sunrise back at Red Bull Central. Fatigue and the rotation of the earth finally win. Despite everyone’s best efforts, they always do.

The huge sign above Red’s Shooting Range is just one of many billboards crammed on the side of the dusty slip road off the main highway. Diners, fast food joints and, more bizarrely, motor boat showrooms and dentists vie for attention in this one of a thousand out-of-town commercial enclaves. No-one would notice this pre-fabricated one storey warehouse of sun-scorched brick were it not for the intermittent echoing crack of discharging handguns coming from inside. But this is another world for The Cheek and Goldielocks. This is where New Britain meets Old Texas. Racks of shotguns fill the walls alongside displays of military grade semi-automatic weapons. Sizeable bullets which would not look out of place in a sex shop stand proudly erect; potent symbols of potential death and damage. The gung-ho attitude the majority of the group had before arrival quickly dissipates as British and American ideas about guns meet head-on.

After a short moral debate which divides the group, those who choose to shoot receive a quick tutorial and shuffle through to a cramped corridor to wait for a free firing alley. Bear-like locals in trucker caps and plaid shirts blaze away at distant targets with a variety of pistols while a denim-clad couple enjoy a date with matching rifles. Outside in the pot-holed parking lot, guitarist and vocalist Charlie Dobney and drummer Ali Bartlett contemplate life, but mostly death, and the reality of gun ownership in the US. Neither is comfortable with the now obvious connection between weaponry and mortality.

Soon they’re joined by the other members of The Cheek who filter out with their preconceptions and excitement in pieces as if blown away by a booming 12-gauge. Not one of them has converted their pre-trip enthusiasm into a confirmed love of guns. Goldielocks has also refused to shoot and the overall atmosphere outside Red’s takes on a dark and disturbed hue under the blinding glare of the Texan sun.

Half and hour before their set at the Moontower, The Cheek are showing more than a little wear-and-tear. An ailing Charlie wraps himself in an unflattering, oversized hoodie and takes another chug on a bottle of cough medicine. This isn’t some pharmaceutically-charged act of rock’n’roll hedonism. Charlie, like the rest of The Cheek, is paying the price of excess. “I feel well dodgy,” the guitarist growls from under a cloud of tour flu. He looks it too. The band have been fighting off the inevitable for most of the past week but now the inevitable seems to have the upper hand. Saturday is their big night but one look at the clearly-ill guitarist and one has to wonder whether or not they’re even going to make it on stage.

Given everything which has gone before – the partying, the gigging, the constant culture shock – it’s no surprise that The Cheek look more ready to drop than to rock before performing at the Moontower. But just as before, when they were still on Tokyo time in an Irish pub in an Austin street some five days ago, the band dig deep to give a typically frenetic show. Under a thick shroud of darkness sporadically punctured by psychedelic search lights, The Cheek puff through the first couple of songs but find their sea legs on the hook-heavy You Let Me Go. As if to give them further encouragement, the two video screens mounted either side of the crowd start beaming images of The Cheek in action to the wider world. The band responds to this closer inspection with increased effort and by the time the insane plea of Give Me You Hand rolls out over the audience, the boys are at full tilt. Despite his opening profane apology, Charlie’s voice holds out to the end, and the lads push themselves to another finale of full-on physicality before bidding Austin goodnight.

goldie_moontower1By the time Goldielocks brings a taste of Croydon attitude to proceedings in the early hours, the crowd is wired and inspired. Buffering the audience with waves of earth-tremor bass and sassy rhymes, she soon has a sea of hands in front of her. A triumph is on the cards until The Man intervenes. The venue is surrounded by surly looking cops and a fleet of cruisers as an announcement of closure rings out from the stage. The music is stopped but the party continues; no-one is ready to leave and the call for an orderly dispersal is ignored. After sticking around with the majority of the resilient crowd until the sun dares to rise over the tense scene, the British contingent eventually ride the Moontower buzz all the way home.

“This has been a great festival,” says Christian, gripping hard on the last remnants of his determination. “You walk around with your head down and this could be Reading or Glastonbury but when you look up, there are all these skyscrapers and this sprawling city. It’s totally rad…just an awesome experience.”

“Just having all these bands in all these venues…it’s mind-blowing,” adds Thom from under a towering fishing cap which would make Elmer Fudd blush. “This is probably the best place to have an urban festival. It’s been a blast.”

With that, The Cheek and friends forget their ailments and party on. The previously at-death’s-door Charlie even gets the girl in a real Hollywood ending. That’s the healing power of music for you.

First Published in The Red Bulletin

Staying out for the Summer: Selected festival guides 2009



July 4-5.

After conducting a survey of festival goers, the Hop Farm organizers found that many fans felt jaded with modern events and so decided to go back to the good old days when only the connection between music and audience mattered. Hop Farm attempts to return to the roots of the experience by avoiding all branding and sponsorship and promises to give everyone with a ticket the same experience. Getting down with Joe Public will be an eclectic line-up of old warhorses like Paul Weller and Echo & The Bunnymen plus festival feel-good favourites such as Ash and the Fratellis. Try not to sleep in and miss noisy upstarts Johnny Foreigner either – not that you’ll have much choice in the matter. If the music’s not enough there will be a full fun fair on site and the celebrity Soccer Six footie tournament to boot.


August 1-2.

If moshing to within an inch of your life under a hail of flying missiles is your idea of fun then Sonisphere could be the festival for you. Brand new for 2009, Sonisphere comes to Knebworth, a legendary venue steeped in musical history – from the 70’s pomp and pomposity of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, to the moment Oasis were crowned as kings of Britpop. Sonisphere is gearing up to be Valhalla for hard rock fans with a line-up bordering on the relentless: Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, Linkin Park and Anthrax among them. One of the other highlights will be the first reunion show for seminal US metallers Fear Factory. Once you’ve had enough of bleeding eardrums, you can recover in the peace and quiet of nearby Knebworth House and its grounds which reopen once Sonisphere is over. For those still pining for monsters of rock, the concrete dinosaurs in the surrounding gardens will have to suffice.


September 11-13

Fans familiar with this edgy little festival’s penchant for theatre will know that one of the things that sets Bestival apart is its love of fancy dress. Those attending this year’s Space Oddity bash will be required to get glammed up in futuristic fashion. Get your look just right and you could even win a prize from Lily Allen and her team of judges. Failing that, you’ll just have to stand around looking like C3PO listening to the likes of Elbow, MGMT, Fleet Foxes and Friendly Fires. Smart people will add a few extra inches to their Chewbacca costumes to get the best view of rising electropop starlet Little Boots. If all the space weirdness gets a bit much, you have the choice of slipping into something more comfortable and heading across to the Big Wheels of Motown festival at the Whitecliff Bay Holiday Park where a host of tribute acts will be getting soulful from Sept. 11- 15.


July 17-19

Situated in an open air museum surrounded by huge, looming machinery, Melt is like watching your favourite bands in the gasoline compound from Mad Max or in a forgotten corner of Blade Runner’s futuristic nightmare. Ferropolis, the City of Steel, makes for a dramatic setting and one which gives the festival an End-Times atmosphere while creating a tribe-like community within the crowd. Providing the headlining vibes in this post-apocalyptic scrap yard will be heavyweights such as Oasis, Kasabian, Klaxons and Bloc Party. Don’t miss acts like jungle legend Goldie on the Red Bull Academy Floor and keep your eyes peeled for excellently titled local electrofreaks Mediengruppe Telekommander. For more German hipness, Berlin with its extensive social agenda is only a short train journey away.


August 20-22

Frequency moves from Salzburg to St. Pölen for 2009 with the organizers saying that the new site offers better environmental opportunities, larger arena sites and lower costs. As well as moving, the festival is essentially splitting into two; the Daypark, which is where all the main events and headliners like Radiohead – playing their first show in Austria, The Prodigy, Grace Jones and MIA will be performing, and the Nightpark, where those who never sleep can party on at the dance and DJ stages. There are plenty of new bands on the menu too but make sure you take the time to hunt down Sweden’s International Noise Conspiracy if you’re suffering from Green Day or Foo Fighters deficiency. If you fancy a slower pace of festival during or after Frequency, Vienna’s Summerstage event runs from May to September and takes in everything from food and drink to sport and music, all by the banks of the Danube.


July 9-12

Started as a form of protest against Yugoslavian dictator Slobodan Milosevic, EXIT has gone from strength to strength while somehow remaining one of Europe’s best kept secrets. Symbolically situated in the18th century Petrovaradin fortress on the banks of the Danube in Novi Sad, the festival has remained true to its initial mission of providing entertainment to Serbian youth while keeping political and social issues on its agenda. It doesn’t do too badly in attracting big names either. This year Manic Street Preachers, punk godmother Patti Smith, Arctic Monkeys and Moby are all making main stage appearances while a bulging list of international DJs such as Carl Cox and Laurent Garnier will spin and mix on the dance stage. The ancient, accommodating  and lively city beyond the fortress walls provides a good reason to extend your stay once EXIT is over.


August 7-9.

For those who want to go that extra (thousand) mile, Summersonic is definitely worth the trip. Just like Reading and Leeds in the UK, this Japanese festival rotates its acts through two cities: the unsleeping, surreal capital Tokyo and Osaka, Japan’s commercial heartbeat and the nation’s kitchen. Both play host to an eclectic line-up with something for everyone; Beyonce, My Chemical Romance, Elvis Costello and Keane are set to dominate the main stages. For something new, try and catch precocious teenage singer-songwriter Never Shout Never at some point and be sickened by his undoubted talent. You have two chances so there’s no excuse. If it all gets too much you can eat your way around Osaka or shop ‘til you drop in Tokyo – neither of which will give you must respite from the frantically exciting pace of Japanese life.


October 2-4.

For those who never want summer to end, thank the oppressive Texas sun for Austin City Limits. Avoiding the deadly heat of the high season, this festival brings things to a close in early Autumn. It should be well worth the wait. As well as featuring headliners such as Pearl Jam, Beastie Boys and Kings of Leon, Zilker Park will also play host to current buzz band The Airborne Toxic Event and The Dead Weather, Jack White’s new supergroup featuring The Kills’ Alison Mosshart and various Raconteurs and Queens of the Stone Age. Set in rolling greenery on the banks of the Colorado River, the festival also hosts a food fair, an art market and a children’s festival running alongside the main event. For those wanting more than the festival can offer, head to Austin’s famous Sixth Street, the reason why the city is known as the live music capital of the world. If you can’t find what you’re looking for there, you must be dead.