With each successful year, End of the Road climbs higher into the public consciousness, and is now firmly entrenched as one of the best festival weekends that England has to offer. The rich greenery of Dorset's beautiful Larmatree Gardens welcomes festival-goers from all across the globe, with a lineup to match this growing stature: Mac DeMarco, Father John Misty and The Jesus & Mary Chain (plus a matinee performance from Slowdive) are acts that'd be rapturously received anywhere, and the fact they're rocking up to play in one of the sleepier and more serene parts of England makes it even more special. As much of the traffic en route to the festival is made up of tractors and farming vehicles as well as festival-goers, it draws the area's usual existence into contrast with the buzz of the wide-eyed campers also making the trip.
The first act of the weekend we catch are London-via-Japan post-punks Bo Ningen, who tear through their set in animated fashion, the illuminated Tipi Tent buckling under their well-drilled instrumental maelstrom. Songs like 'Slider' and ‘Koroshitai Kimochi (Reprise)' are even able to spark the rarest of occurrences: an End of the Road moshpit. Bo Ningen are an unforgettable opener to the festival, and made me love them even more than I already did.
Friday morning greets End of the Road with glorious (and unexpected) sunshine, meaning spirits are truly lifted by the time we reach the Garden Stage for Julie Byrne's spiritual folk. Her fantastic latest record Follow My Voice sounds fully realised live, with Byrne's voice as stunning live as it is on record. Sadly, some technical difficulties means an interval is improvised and the set is cut short, but the short set Byrne does get is enough to leave her music lingering long in the memory.
The next highlight comes from Welsh genius Kelly Lee Owens, as we bear witness to her elemental electronics in the depths of the Big Top. The former History of Apple Pie bassist builds her set slowly and expertly, ushering in the crowd with the simmering ’S.O’ and gradually ramping up the energy until the whole tent is rumbling to the sounds of ‘CBM’ and her stunning rework of Jenny Hval’s ‘Kingsize’ - a stunning set from an assured talent.
Agit indie stars Parquet Courts are greeted by rays of warm afternoon sun and an expectant crowd as they jitter into set opener ‘Dust’ and string together a set that draws from across the band’s strong releases. Human Performance receives the most recognition - rightfully so, as it’s the band’s most realised set of songs to date - especially with the bongo-assisted blitz of closer ‘One Man, No City’. Other highlights are abound too, with a surprise performance of ‘Careers in Combat’ going over especially well.
Food from the festival’s outstanding Vegan Junk Food tent refuel us before we catch Real Estate’s blissful evening show. The Ridgewood, New Jersey band have been quietly building an outstanding catalogue of records, and there’s not a dull moment throughout their carefully-selected set (with the band’s calling card ‘Beach Comber’ even drawing a crowd surfer that delights the group). Alternating between the laid-back and the anthemic, Real Estate have grown into a fully-fledged festival mainstay.
Mac DeMarco - Countessian Photography
Mac DeMarco takes the main stage in his usual affable manner, opening with polite conversation where most headliners would place their opening salvo. The set starts lifting This Old Dog highlight ‘On the Level’ unto us, the drifting synth lines evaporating into the mild evening air, followed with the wistful wonder of ‘Salad Days’. As Jameson is swilled and the band loosens up, we’re treated (or punished, depending on your inclination) to impromptu versions of Vanessa Carlton’s ‘1,000 Miles’ and The Champs’ tequila alongside longstanding favourites like ‘Ode to Viceroy’ and ‘My Kind of Woman’. The initially easygoing set gains a bit of edge towards the end as Mac bellows about his mortality, throws his guitar into the crowd and toys with a medley of classic rock numbers before reliable set-closer ‘Still Together’ before crowdsurfing all the way to the Big Top to catch a bit of Pond (maybe). The musicianship of Mac and his band is headline-level undeniably - but it’s subjective if you think that his antics enrich or get in the way of his day-closing set. I was personally incredibly entertained by it all, but I can understand the divisive nature of the Cult of DeMarco more than ever.
During the evening, I board the Disco Shop, ride my first ferris wheel and dive in and out of ale tents as the festival’s impressive array of nightlife options means there’s everything from discos to poetry readings and piano-playing to keep you involved after the day’s last notes are played.
Saturday brings more glorious sunshine, more dodgy home-brought breakfasts and another day of world-beating artists. Alvvays are the first act we all watch together, and bring festival-ready tunes like the instant-classic ‘Marry Me, Archie’ and ‘Adult Diversion’ surfing into our hearts alongside a preview of their (now released) second record Antioscialites, and new song ‘In Undertow’ is set to become a triumphant set staple. Every song gets a warm reception, and both audience and act are thrilled to be there.
The act most in-ascendancy over the weekend is Car Seat Headrest: the ’90s-indebted indie-rock outfit have not only achieved critical fawning but a very real and passionate following. People of all ages and nationalities gather around the Garden Stage to watch Will Toledo’s expert songcraft come to life as his band roar through ‘War Is Here (If You Want It)’ and ‘Fill In the Blank’ as those in attendance holler along. The set reaches its apex with a spirited and explosive ‘Destroyed by Hippy Powers’ - proving Car Seat Headrest are worth their hype and critical hand-wringing.
“Headline slots aren’t my bread and butter, but I’ll give it a try” deadpans Father John Misty, Saturday’s headliner, though you wouldn’t believe it from the swagger of his set. Heralded as everything from an enlightened genius to a curmudgeonly prick, all the trappings of success and hysterical chatter are silenced when you’re allowed to enjoy Father John Misty’s - neé Josh Tillman - music live. His live band, bolstered by an orchestra, sound phenomenal and Tillman’s voice hits every note with perfection (his dancing isn’t bad either). 2017’s colossal critique Pure Comedy takes up the majority of the spectacular first half of the set, before Tillman settles into dispatching hit after hit from his previous two LPs I Love You, Honeybear and Fear Fun.
Whilst Tillman does take time to poke fun at End of the Road’s promises of ‘cruelty-free alpaca fur’ and the on-site Existential Café, he is ultimately a warm and human stage presence, allowing himself to get caught up in the sheer awesomeness that pours forth via him and his band. The final one-two punch of encore number ‘Holy Shit’ and a deranged, ballistic performance of ‘The Ideal Husband’ have the huge crowd leaving fulfilled and grateful to have witnessed such a talent performing at the peak of his powers.
Father John Misty - Countessian Photography
We go to bed energised from a night of off-key singing at the silent disco, but we do hear rumblings of rain as we bed in for the night. Whilst we do wake up to the amplified sound of rain through the taint, no amount of damp can stop us from dancing to the taut, spiritual sounds that Vaudou Game provide on the Garden Stage. The French group encourage energy from the midday crowd, and after getting acclimated to their fusion of punk, afrobeat and pop we’re thrilled to dance in the rain, with the colour fluorescent ponchos and waterproof jackets adding a vivid palette to proceedings.
We take shelter from the downpour in time to catch a low-key and illuminating set from Kiwi wonder Nadia Reid, who is flanked only by a second guitarist and sets about casting a spell over the room from her first chord. Drawing mainly from her recent record Preservation, Reid is warm, enlightening company, letting us in on the stories behind the album between weaving her quietly devastating songs before us, ending with a solo performance of the aching, incredible ‘Ain't Got You’.
Another musical powerhouse from the Southern hemisphere graces End of the Road in the form of Julia Jacklin. Still touring her fantastic debut Don’t Let the Kids Win, Julia and her stripped-down backing bands bring her aching and observational music to life as it acts as a collective waterproof for us all (emotionally-speaking - it’s still raining pretty heavily at this point). Understated and excellent, Jacklin’s set is as bittersweet as the realisation we’re coming to the end of a wonderful weekend. Further shelter comes in the form of Blanck Mass’ pummelling and surreal sounds - complete with eerie projected images - in the Big Top, electrifying their audience with unbridled heaviness.
Waxahatchee take the stage amongst the whipping rain to a loud ovation from the huge crowd, the six-piece standing tall against the harsh conditions. Katie Crutchfield and her note-perfect backing band - that includes her sister Allison, who played her own set over the weekend - are unphased by the weather but thrilled by the occasion. The Birmingham, Alabama outfit joyously bring songs from new record After the Storm ripping through the rain, commanding the Garden Stage with poise, and successfully lifting sodden spirits. It’s awesome to see the band continue to go from strength-to-strength as Katie Crutchfield grows as a songwriter, and the band’s soaring show confirms her as a talent that knows how to bring her considered craft to life.
My personal favourite set of the weekend comes from genre-defying weirdo lifers Deerhoof. The Big Top tent is heaving as the band are welcomed by a thunderous tide of applause as set opener ‘Flower’ raises the curtain. Deerhoof have been around since 1994, with this particular incarnation of the band touring since 2008, and it shows - every colourful sound from the band’s recorded output sounds irresistible live, bursting with force and fun as they dance around the stage, making their intense technical abilities look like child’s play.
It’s a total joy to listen to Satomi Matsuzaki’s sing-song vocals and bouncy basslines work off drummer Greg Saunier’s relentlessly incredible playing as guitarists John Dieterich and Ed Rodríguez (clad in his customary fabulous stage attire) shred bright shards of uplifting noise around them and the crowd respond with lengthy roars of approval. The band’s huge back catalogue may seem daunting, but songs like ‘Paradise Girls’, ‘There’s That Grin’ and ‘Fresh Born’ are immediately lovable. One of my friends had never listened to Deerhoof before, but left their set as an ecstatic fan - and I’m sure many others did too! We then wind down our weekend with three amazing secret shows in the Tipi Tent, provided by Waxahatchee, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever and an absurd, obscene and one-of-a-kind set by EOTR favourites King Khan & the Shrines.
King Khan & the Shrines - Countessian Photography
Sadly, that meant the End of the Road 2017, gone way too quickly - another year of amazing acts, spectacular surroundings and a welcoming, communal air of positivity that’s not often present in these shitty times we’re facing. May End of the Road continue to grow and provide unforgettable times, and a raft of acts to love and discover for the years to come.
End of the Road ran from 31st August to 3rd September 2017. Tickets for next year's event are available here.
All photography via End of the Road’s Facebook.