End of the Road is a music festival devised, attended and played at by people with a profound love for music which results in an incredible line-up of new and established acts that galvanise and divide opinion in equal measure. The line up is split across several stages, each within no more than 3 minutes walking distance of one another, meaning that the festival at Larmer Tree Gardens in Wiltshire might possibly be one of the hardest festivals in the world to find an excuse to sit still at. Though September may not have been as sunny as previously hoped (jinxed it), the near constant downpour did nothing to dampen the energy of the bands, fans and staff at the festival this year.
The Shins’ headline set on Thursday was the first time they had played in the UK for four years and could have quite comfortably closed the weekend it was so jovial. When he began an acoustic version of ‘Young Pilgrim’, front man James Mercer jokingly asked the audience “‘what’s the first verse again?” Restarting the chords, he added “haven’t played this one in about 8 years”, to loud cheers. The band even debuted a couple of new tracks, ‘Dead Alive’ and ‘Rubber Ball’, from their forthcoming album. It was a triumphant start to a set of performances across the weekend that were as relentless as the rain.
Rhain kicked things off on Friday in the Tipi tent with sparse arrangements and powerful vocals. Her solo performances on the piano were truly striking and her band was notable for having a drummer that played fills using the back of a chair. Weaves tore things apart with effortless swagger, enticing a back and fourth with the crowd that bordered on explicit as lead singer screamed ‘I wanna hear you!’ again and again. Later in the afternoon, adorned in his signature Mickey Mouse attire, Oscar soothed elongated hangovers with his baritone croon and even managed a stage dab during his set. At the picturesque Garden stage afterwards, Whitney’s falsetto melodies and horn solos scored the wet greenery perfectly. They waded through their debut album with ease and even added in a Bob Dylan cover, ‘Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You’. The band were visibly ecstatic about being at End of the Road, treating their audience to a shirtless on-stage kiss between lead singer Julian and bassist Josiah.
Animal Collective’s headline set on Friday did not disappoint those who cared to hear the new material live. Opening with Sung Tong’s ’Kids On Holiday’, the rest of the set really brought their new album ‘Painting With’ to life, especially seeing Panda Bear and Avey Tare trade syllables live. This is especially true on lead single ‘Floridada’, which induced frantic movements across the crowd not dissimilar to this. Hearing Panda Bear’s vocals echo across the lamplit hills of the festival site on ‘Daily Routine’ was truly something special only to be topped by the closer ‘Summertime Clothes’, which seemed almost to temporarily halt the rain.
The Big Moon stole the show on Saturday afternoon with their raucous performance in the Big Top tent. They even brought out the festival’s very own Secret Postal Service to dance with them during their closing song ’Nothing Without You’. This was to celebrate the lead singer, Juliette Jackson, and the creator of the Secret Postal Service’s, Max Dovey’s, two year anniversary after a meeting at End of the Road in 2014. Later on, faces were melted in both awe and horror when The Garden, a bass and drum duo consisting of twin brothers from California who blend garage rock with a sort of warped trap, took the stage. Debates about their set could be overheard for a long while afterwards. The percussive and entrancing, Goat quelled any bad feelings between friends by inducing mass movement at the Woods stage, which, given the weather, felt like some sort of euphoric rain dance.
There were few moments to pause during the day at End of the Road but when the opportunity occurred there were a vast array of amazing eateries to stop at. The Pie Maker is where the happiest faces were to often to be found. Eating goat’s cheese and sweet potato pie under shelter from the rain surrounded by the beautiful Lamer Tree Gardens as parrots flew overhead was pure joy and warranted several returns across the weekend. When the bands finished too, many flocked to the Disco Ship which churned out Motown and soul classics non-stop, or pulled haggard shapes at the silent disco.
On Sunday, Chris Cohen and his band stole hearts with an incredible set in the Tipi tent, having to fight tooth and nail to make it to the festival on time due to the weather. Thee Oh Sees wrecked eardrums and blurred eyesights with their war-like volume. It is a wonder how lead singer John Dwyer manages to compete with the output of the two drummers in the band, each playing their own kit, but somehow his guitar creates alien screams louder than any of the other instruments combined. He left the audience with a compliment of sorts ‘We’ve heard so much about this festival for a long time, and here we are. Beautiful surroundings, clean toilets. Beautiful people.’ The heavens opened up during their set which seemed to add additional frenzy to the mosh pit, reaching a peak with one person riding topless on an inflatable shark across the crowd.
The rain continued during Joanna Newsome’s headline set on Sunday night but added a profound atmosphere to the packed out Woods stage at her first UK performance since her latest album ‘Divers’ was released last year. All that could be heard at certain intervals was her coy but powerful vocal and the sound of raindrops hitting coats and hoods. She dedicated her penultimate song, ‘Time, As a Symptom’ to a fan who had sent her a letter via the festival’s Secret Postal Service that day. The chorus line of this track could have served as a banner for weekend: ’Love is not a symptom of time, time is just a symptom of love’. After 11 years, End of the Road festival has cemented it’s reputation for creating a unique atmosphere born out of a love of live music, which sees bands and fans eager to return year after year.
Photos by Rachel Juarez-Carr and Sonny Malhotra.