2000 Trees, Upcote Farm, Cheltenham – Day 4: Saturday 8th July 2023


The blistering heat that fried everything to a crisp yesterday has been broken by something far more unsettled, and the dark clouds promise rain at any moment. But how could our spirits be broken with Congratulations opening the Neu stage. With a name like that they couldn’t possibly go wrong, and their angular brand of post-punk fits 2000 Trees perfectly. It’s their bass player who is the elephant in the tent, and he delivers a hefty beat that’s akin to a bull in a china shop. They pull in a big crowd, and not just those sheltering from the torrential rain. Mixing up tempos to great effect ensures things never become staid, and I predict big things from this Brighton based bunch. I’m picking up a decidedly space-rock vibe from Hype Theory, and just like a spacecraft hurtling through the cosmos, they pull the whole crowd along in their slipstream. Plenty of echo on the vocals and reverb on the keyboards adds an otherworldly quality, while the infectious beats only serve to hypnotise the listener. Fleet of foot and fit as a butcher’s dog makes this crew an intriguing proposition…believe the hype! With an earthshaking, groundbreaking rumble Witch Fever have a sound that could easily trade punches with Black Sabbath (and possibly win). And just like Birmingham’s finest they make good use of musical dynamics, pitting loud sections against the quiet, and the result is a set that ululates like the ocean’s waves. The combination of heavy lyricism with heavy music is a winning combination, and one that should propel Witch Fever far.

A bundle of nervous energy are High Vis, and it makes for a pretty intense spectacle. Reminding me of Chain Of Strength insofar as their songs are both heavy and melodic., and there’s a strong groove underpinning everything they do, which makes their songs very moshable, and that’s exactly how the crowd respond to their rabid attack. There’s something very quintessentially English in their no-nonsense brand of rock, and their songs go straight to the cranium. At every festival there is always one pleasant surprise you stumble upon, and High Vis are one such a treat. From the sunny climes of California to the rain-soaked fields of Gloucestershire, Dead Society have a sound that travels very well, and whatever the weather, they always raise a smile. Despite the persistent rain, Dead Society hold a large crowd in a vice like grip and take them on a musical journey that hits all the highs and lows, and they’ve certainly made the long trip worthwhile. Electric Six are the kind of band who can do no wrong, and their good time, tongue-in-check brand of rock is made for any occasion, and whatever the weather, pull out all the stops to deliver a high-octane set, and one that touches all points along their illustrious career. However, the biggest cheer is reserved for that song, and ‘Gay Bar’ has all present singing and dancing like it’s a scorching Saturday evening, and not midday in a sodden field.

In terms of energy levels, One Step Closer take thing off the Richter Scale, in fact it doesn’t take long for a circle pit to erupt, and things get pretty hectic, pretty quick. Their vocalist reminds me of a young Scott Vogel, and he constantly riles the crowd up, inciting them towards greater insanity. Cut from a similar cloth to Knocked Loose, tracks such as ‘Dark Blue’ make an immediate impact. Dream State are no strangers to The Midlands Rocks, and after some line-up changes they’re very much rejuvenated and ready to take on the world. A pig, frog and giraffe create a surreal sight causing havoc in the pit (it is fancy dress day, after all) but the band are all business, and they pack a serious punch. Vocalist Jessie Powell is a fine addition to the band, and looks humbled to be playing to a full crowd, but her words ring out strong and true. ‘Chain Reaction’ from new EP Untethered goes down exceptionally well, and the rapt applause at the set’s conclusion is thoroughly deserved. When it comes to sheer musical velocity, none can really come close to Salt Lake City’s Chelsea Grin. Despite not containing any founding members, this incarnation of the band have an undeniable chemistry, and if any doubts existed about their validity, then they’re smashed to smithereens by ‘Suffer In Hell, Suffer In Heaven’. Their brand of deathcore is particularly biting, and Playing With Fire’ goes straight to the throat, sinking in its fangs and refusing to let go. Vocalist Tom Barber stalks the stage like a man possessed, while guitarist Stephen Rutishauser churns out circular saw riff after circular saw riff. Factor in a pounding rhythm section and you have a hair-raising experience. ‘Hostage’ is the closer and it holds the crowd in a steely grip that isn’t released until the final wall of feedback fades into the ether.

A dark, dystopian intro tape sets just the right tone as we await the discombobulated of all bands, Pitchshifter. Their fusion of electronica and metal was truly visionary, and it still sounds fresh and vibrant today. After a five years hiatus the band have lost none of their effervescence, and they destroy a few eardrums with opener ‘Microwaved’. In an alternative reality where Public Image Limited read Proust, Pitchshifter was the result. ‘Eight Days’ swings with a bad attitude, as does the following ‘We Know’, and the band dig deep in their discography to pull all their trick from the bag. ‘What’s In It for Me?’ is the perfect amalgamation of metal and drum ‘n’ bass, a fusion that really shouldn’t have worked, but Pitchshifer proved themselves master alchemists and joined them in perfect harmony. Like androids in human form, the band play with mechanical precision and they march as if an invading army. ‘Shutown’ finds the welcome return of Kitty (from Saint Agnes) who adds some caustic vocals to an already volatile track, and makes he third sojourn into the crowd this weekend. Pitchshifter make a welcome return to the live circuit and prove themselves worthy headliners on the Cave stage.

With Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes headlining the Main stage and American Football closing the Axiom tent a difficult choice regarding where to put my eyes and ears must be made, but I opt for the second option, and it proves to be a wise choice. Despite their (brief) initial incarnation, American Football’s self-titled debut album became the benchmark for everything emo and math rock. Since reforming almost a decade ago, the band has released a further two eponymous-titled albums, and tonight’s set is culled from all three. In typically understated, and unorthodox, style, the band open with the eight-minute ‘Stay Home’ and its intricate, crystalline guitars catch all present within its web. American Football aren’t the kind of band to dazzle a crowd with a fancy light show or other such nonsense, and this has the benefit of bringing their songs to the fore, and when the songs are this good, that’s exactly where they should be. American Football’s sound is a very personal thing; I often think it is best savoured as a companion piece to quiet contemplation but, as it transpires, it’s also conducive to a festival crowd, and in all my years of gig-going I’ve never seen an audience as attentive as that which is here tonight. There’s something very laid back and hurried about the band’s performance which finds them handling each of these fourteen tracks with the care and attention they deserve. We began with a track from their debut album, and the set closes with three from that same record, including finale, ‘Never Meant’, which initiates a huge sing-along, and never has heartache felt so good.

As the sunsets on another successful 2000 Trees, the organisers can feel justifiably proud in the festival they’ve built, and they’ve set the standard others can only hope to obtain, so…roll on 2024!