Taking place in the wonderful setting of Larmer Tree Gardens, End of the Road is all about magic. The festival is all about the small things, which in turn makes the event that much more special. Great curation, food, DJs, and a huge variety of things to do outside of the music (cinema, comedy, games; circus workshops, yoga, clay modelling, best stick competitions, arts and crafts, music jamming and a huge amount more), End of the Road is a magic box, a treasure chest that’s nearly infinite in size with the amount that it has to offer. Do you like peacocks? Well, they’re there. Maybe that’s not enough and you want to see baby peacocks? Sorted. Macaws? Yup.
There’s so much more and even the mysteries of the labyrinth in the woods that feels like a portal into Alice’s Wonderland is also a star of the show. From the wonderful art installations, the karaoke tent, and the quaint piano stage that sometimes sees attendees commune and revel in a spontaneous sing-along, to the games area that features giant chess, Jenga and another assortment of activities that hosts late-night vinyl DJs playing afrofunk, the random encounters with other music and peace-loving folk helps make the festival feel that much special. End of the Road, again really is a wonderland.
With that being said, here are some of my musical highlights from the weekend.
The first act I got around to catching over the weekend came on Thursday evening being the international psychedelic-funk trio Khruangbin and their tapestry of sounds, taking influence from across the world. From Thai-funk, Latin sounds, all the way to balmy psychedelia; the cosmic trio, who weren’t just one of the best live bands of the weekend, but also were majestic in their wardrobe and were an utter delight. Delving into the Khruangbin classics all the way to their hip-hop medleys; the trio were a dazzling technicolour explosion that stole the show early-doors and got the crowd waltzing under the Wiltshire moonlight.
After an exploration of the site, the first act on Friday came by the way of Keg (The Big Top) and their bombastic art-rock, jazz free-for-all that was all very charming in a not so-take themselves as seriously as other acts of the same ilk. I had to leave a little earlier, to be able to catch some of former Goat Girl member Naima Bock, in the picturesque verdant green gardens. Releasing one of the stand-out albums of 2022 in ‘Giant Deep’, Bock’s rich ethereal stunning sounds live was a perfect serenade for The Garden stage setting, with even a majestic dragonfly in the audience showing its appreciation dancing between heads.
Over again at The Big Top was the Manchester-based Mandy, Indiana and their experimental electronica before catching some of The Golden Dregs (The Garden) of End of the Road’s very own label. Musically laced in americana infused country pop with a Lou Reed-esque croon, The Golden Dregs were glorious stuff for a warm sunny afternoon.
Over at The Tipi Tent, a storm was brewing inside The Tipi Tent with the riot that was M(H)AOL (pronounced Male), as the outfit slayed with their heady post-punk and some parts krautrock cacophony that felt like a like cocktail of Traams, A Place to Bury Strangers and Gilla Band.
A storm was brewing inside The Tipi Tent with the riot that was M(H)AOL (pronounced Male), as the outfit slayed with their heady post-punk and some parts krautrock cacophony that felt like a like cocktail of Traams, A Place to Bury Strangers and Gilla Band.
The intensity didn’t let up at The Boat stage, a great new addition at the festival with a stage literally in the middle of the woods, which almost came crashing down from the sonic hurricane that is Fat Dog. The super-hyped Fat Dog and one of the most talked about new bands in the capital were absolute carnage. With the front person donning a karate outfit, the outfit launched a whirlwind of frenzied maniacal delirium-esque chaos, where art-rock met happy hardcore. Urgent, compelling and utterly bonkers, Fat Dog might well be one the best new live bands that the country has produced in a few years.
After a little downtime and catching some sporadic sets here and there came the legendary Tinariwen at The Woods Stage. Perfect festival sounds, the outfit was sensational with their Saharan desert blues and psychedelia. Genuine music legends and wizards of their craft.
Back at The Boat in their native forest woodland, the anthropomorphic tree people that are Snapped Ankles brought the party to their woody perennial plant cousins and the human audience alike. Meandering between krautrock, electronica, post-punk to UK bass sounds, Snapped Ankles are bound by no genre. One of the most fun live bands in the universe delivered yet again.
Just over in The Garden came the headline set from Black Midi (who also featured on our Rosie Alena ‘Mixed Messages’ single on Strong Island.) The avant-garde jazz-rock frenzy from black midi was once again chaos in the best way, as the hyper-talented outfit nearly brought down The Garden and justified why they should be headlining one of the greatest festival stages around, period.
Day three saw some of the highlights of the weekend. The first couple of acts I caught were Sniffany and the Nits and their fun-filled punk and the excellently named Warrington Runcorn New Town Development Plan at The Big Top. The latter was a cosmic affair, with ambient electronica that felt like an odyssey through the cosmos. Gorgeous stuff akin to the likes of Brian Eno.
Over at The Woods stage, The Umlauts brought the fun times with their wonky-electronic-synth laden krautrock art-pop that sounded straight from mainland Europe in the 70s and 80s.
After catching up with Strong Island Recordings label alumni Los Bitchos at the Rough Trade tent for their signing to say hi, there was a bit of downtime until their set on the main stage. The forever label family and now City Slang outfit were a highlight of the whole event – biased or not.
With two sets, a signing and also countless folk across the festival wearing Los Bitchos tees, it really was the Los Bitchos show. Serpentining between cumbia, Turkish psych, surf-rock and garage-punk, the international outfit, mostly instrumental like their cosmic-cousins Khurangbin were an absolute blast and it was a real pleasure to see them slay to a sea of people who were all having a blast. From their bangers from ‘Let the Festivities Begin!’ to their cover of King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard ‘Trapdoor’, it was a joyous fun//sun drenched party and a band that we’re all very proud of at Strong Island. Also once again, Los Bitchos really are a band we need in these times.
After Los Bitchos, it was straight back to the new favourite stage, The Boat, to watch Taraka. Kicking off the set in a heart-shaped bed, laying down before an alarm went off, Taraka then slayed with a solo set of psychedelia fitting, akin to the likes of the Fuzz Club roster. Things then went very chill as Taraka invited all of the audience on stage before getting an acoustic guitar and serenading the many fellow stage mates with some beguiling dreamy acid-folk. All very-very surreal but it was certainly worth the trek.
Straight after it was indie-god Kevin Morby at The Garden – a place Morby called a second home. Americana, country, indie and straight-up rock n roll fun times. With bubbles hovering above, Kevin Morby laced in a dazzling golden tassel jacket, Morby and the immensely tight band were a sprawling, atmospheric sonic adventure and a real highlight of the weekend.
Back at The Woods for the headliners, Pixies showed no signs of letting up as one of the very best. The very legendary alternative-rock outfit was truly on-form and for a band that has been around for such a long time, still slay hard with their classics sounding as ever-present as they did on record in their early years.
Straight after Pixies, it was to The Tipi Tent for the surprise shows. First up was Grove, creating an absolute sweat-box. Delving between UK bass, grime, rave, jungle and more with impassioned and vitally important messages delivered in a glorious gnarl, Grove’s set was both chaotic, yet displaying the importance of an artist such as Grove in 2022.
After Grove past midnight, it was SURPRISE… Los Bitchos! There are many reasons why EOTR is the greatest festival in our galaxy, and booking Los Bitchos to play twice is one of them. The outfit returned with a slightly heavier set with all their bangers to the tent. Los Bitchos really are the best party (and in general) band out there. Anyway, there can never be too many Los Bitchos sets at your event.
The last day of EOTR is always a special, if not sad one in knowing that the magic is soon-to-end. With that being said, Sunday was probably the busiest in terms of the number of goings on.
Kicking off the Sunday at The Garden, Jake Ferxes Fussell was wonderfully captivating with a solo acoustic folk set that was a great way to start the day off and after 3 days of heavy drinking. Ural Thomas & The Pain (The Woods) then cranked things up with some marvellous soul and wholesome times. After that, a visit to The Tipi Tent was then in order for Cobalt Chapel and their shamanic and bewitching synth-psychedelia that was really beautiful stuff.
Back at The Woods was another highlight with the hyper-fun South-African BCUC (stands for Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness) and their positive and important quest to spread love and peace to one another. The collective brought the festivities with their afrobeat and psychedelia sounds that were very percussion-driven, that really did feel like music for the mind, body and soul. Utterly thrilling.
In the wonderful amphitheatre woodland setting of The Talking Heads (mostly used for literature and comedy), Lael Neale of Sub Pop enchanted with a wonderful celestial-set of dreamy folk and space-y pop. Stunningly hypnotic and serene, Lael Neale’s first ever UK show was a special one.
The Garden saw Hailu Mergia bring the late-night acid-jazz lounge sounds before Kurt Vile and The Violators at The Woods. Kurt Vile and The Violators delved into the large repertoire, playing his signature acid-psych-folk favourites as well as country sounds that were truly enthralling.
One small minor negative for this year was the lack of ‘wah wah’ psychedelic guitar sounds, but fortunately Kurt Vile and The Violeters came up with the goods as well with ‘Wakin on a Pretty Day’ and a trippy-psychedelic solo to give me the much-needed fix that I had been craving all weekend.
Things went from a nice leisurely place to full on bonkers with the pummeling industrial techno-art-rock synth-storm that is Scalping. Possibly one of the most intense bands around, the Bristol outfit turned The Big Top into a sweat-filled rave.
Overall, End of the Road once again delivered another special and memorable festival that really shows why the event is the very best thing to happen each and every year. If you’re a music loving person who loves being surrounded by 12,000 other lovely people, then this family friendly festival that refuses to sell itself out in the name of corporate greed is the place for you.