2000 Trees, Upcote Farm, Cheltenham – Days 1 & 2: Wednesday 5th & Thursday 6th July 2023


Wednesday 5th July

Maybe it’s the compact nature of the 2000 Trees site, but there’s something so very friendly and family-like about this festival. The good vibes are crackling the air as the early birds arrive for Wednesday’s half-day session. Held primarily on the Forest Stage, amongst the towering pines, it’s a great way for the curious to check things out. Rustic and welcoming the environment may be, but Delaire The Liar get my 2000 Trees experience off to a bruising start. At once both heavy and emotive, they play like they mean it, and leave it all on the stage. With an unbridled rage, they’re a blur of nervous energy and the sound they deliver shakes the forest to its very roots. Final track, ‘Dog’, signposts a bright future, and marks them as one to watch. From a band who are starting their journey, we come to a band at the end of theirs, and this promises to be the last ever Press To Meco gig. If that’s true then they’re going out in some style as they blast through a selection of their biggest and best songs. In fact, the band are playing like it’s the end of an era, and as they reach the end of their set, if feels as if someone, somewhere has switched off a light.

One band who are definitely on an upward curve are Saint Agnes. Fresh from a European tour with Monster Magnet, and with a killer album (Bloodsuckers) set to be released on 21st July, they’re bristling with confidence, and firing on all cylinders. The title-track from aforementioned album goes down particularly well, as does recent single ‘Outsider’ which finds guitarist Jon, lost in the moment, throwing his instrument down in exasperation, before vocalist Kitty makes a sojourn into the crowd, and is carried around on worshipping hands. It’s a full-on, fearless performance from a band at the peak of their powers. One of 2000 Trees is the sheer variety of music on offer; no two band inhabit the same sonic space and Tigercub are rocking a distinctly post-punk vibe. If Echo And The Bunnymen had read Dostoevsky while imbibing hallucinogens, I’d imagine they’d sound a lot like this. ‘Shadowgraph’ is a set highlight, and if they continue to blast out songs like this, then the sky’s the limit. As you’d expect from a band at the top of their game, Holding Absence hit the ground running, and rarely let up over the course of 60 blistering minutes. Building huge sonic structures in worship of some strange deity, and the sea of smiles and good natured moshing act as the ultimate seal of approval. It’s a crowd-pleaser in its purest definition, and true to the old adage, they leave those present hungry for more. Bob Vylan rounded the day off in style, but we’ve reviewed their main stage appearance on Thursday, so read on…

Thursday 6th July

Today is the start of 2000 Trees proper with five stages bursting at the seams with musical talent, and over on the Cave Stage Profiler get the day off to a rowdy awakening. They pull in a big crowd despite the early start (11am) and hit all the right buttons with their infectious grooves. Opening track ‘Identity’ tempers its rage with emotive vocals, and makes good use of loud and quiet dynamics. They’re a three-piece who sound far bigger than their constituent parts, and they dish out an abject lesson in brutality. If you could judge any one band by their name, then it is surely Cage Fight. Their brand of crossover is the musical equivalent of going twelve rounds with Natan Levy, and with no fancy introductions, Pow! they appear and deliver a brutal uppercut. They’re a quartet who’re metal thrashing mad, and you can feel the waves of energy radiating from the stage as they blast through tracks from their self-titled debut album. It’s a blistering, 35-minute set that takes no prisoners, and while the band have come a long way in their short history, you feel like there’s much more to come. I like the post-punk aesthetic of Project and their stark, angular chords that cut in at impossible angles, like a piece of brutalist architecture. Their dark and discombobulating sound reminds me of Joy Division (only updated for the new millennium) and tracks such as ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ paint a picture of someone not quite at home. As their sound echoes around the Gloucestershire hills, it seems they’ve finally found their refuge.

London’s Ithica are symptomatic of the new wave of metal. After declaring war on “camping chair” metal (a war they seem to be winning), they’ve gained admires through strong performances, such as at 2022’s ArcTanGent festival where their magnetic power pulled in fans from all corners of the site. They have a similar effect today, and have made the step up to main stage material quite effortlessly. ‘Fluorescent’ shows a slower side to the band, without sacrificing heaviness, and those packed tightly in front of the stage explode like a primed bomb. Hail the new chief. There’s no escaping the melodic sensibility that underpins much of Prince Daddy & The Hyena’s songs. They’re heartfelt and emotive, yet strong and sure, and like a riddle wrapped in an enigma, makes them a difficult band to pigeonhole. They bounce around as if on springs, and the crowd respond in kind, and they’re the kind of group who inspire slavish loyalty amongst their fans, who sing along with every word, and ensure a splendid time is had by all. Over on the main stage Bob Vylan make their second appearance at 2000 Trees (having headlined the Forest stage yesterday) and it seems the public can’t enough of their boisterous brand of punk. After some stretching and yoga (really!) the band get straight down to business with ‘Mind The Gap’ which instigates all kind of madness as waves of crowd surfers continuously crash over the barrier. The police, King Charles, and Prince Andrew are all set firmly in Bob Vylan’s sights, and they’re cut down to size with verbal razors and crushing beats. New track ‘Dream Big’ bodes well for the future, and if punk was becoming staid then Bob Vylan have administered an adrenaline shot, and right in the main artery.

Attired all in black and scrawling their sound on every available surface, Sugar Horse have a sound that’s certainly not recommended for the weak of constitution. But for those made of sterner stuff, they deliver a set that’s full of surprises as they mend their merry way through an enjoyable set. Like a penny dropped in a jar of treacle, their sound is rich and full, and will stick in the memory for a long time. Back on the main stage and Pennsylvania’s The Wonder Years are cooking up a storm, and with lead vocalist Dan “Soupy” Campbell singing from the front of the stage and looking like he might invade the crowd at any moment, they make for an arresting experience. They’ve travelled all the way to the UK especially for this show, and they’re making every mile count as they deliver a career-spanning set. However, it’s tracks from latest album, The Hum Goes On Forever, that really hit the spot with ‘Low Tide’ and ‘You’re The Reason I Don’t Want The World To End’ hitting especially hard. The band are quickly approaching their twentieth anniversary, and with no signs of slowing down, the next two decades are looking equally exciting. Dead Pony have a barrel full of riffs, and they’re not afraid to use them, and the result is a set that sways and swaggers, and their brand of rock has a crossover appeal that jumps genres and finds metalheads, punks and hardcore kids all come to worship at their alter. Teasing the crowd with a few bars of Pantera’s ‘Walk’ gets all in the groove before they launch into their very own ‘Zero’, a track of equal power that gets all present bopping in unison. The new Garbage? You better believe it!

Arriving in typically understated style, And So I Watch You From Afar appear as if from the ether, yet there’s nothing diminutive about their operandi. They pull in a big crowd and turn every pair of eyes towards the stage. Sculpting sound into previously unheard shapes, ASIWYFA make good use of musical dynamics and juxtapose loud sections with quiet and heavy with the lithe, each acting as a foil to highlight the other, and the result is a set that ululates like ocean waves, and their songs either collide like juggernauts or hang in the air as if misty rain. ASIWYFA have now attained legendary status, they are surely the premier propagators of instrumental rock, yet they’re refusing to rest on their laurels and new track, ‘heft Sulk’ suggests the future is going to be even brighter. As the late evening sun bathes the Cave in a warm orange hue, And So I Watch You From Afar have delivered a masterclass in post-rock. Worthy headliners over on the Axiom stage are Eagles Of Death Metal, a band who look every inch rock stars, and they play like it too. But first, The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s ‘Time Warp’ rings out by way of an introduction, and it certainly gets the crowd in the right frame of mind, but when the crowd appear and launch into ‘Got A Woman’, things really get interesting. Their brand of good time rock n’ roll shouldn’t be taken too seriously, yet it fits this moment in time perfectly. As darkness descends over the 2000 Tress site, the Eagles Of Death Metal’s amazing light show comes into full effect, and it makes the perfect frame for s surprise, but very welcome, cover of David Bowie’s ‘Moonage Daydream’. A masterclass.

Soft Play (the artists formerly known as Slaves) are headlining the Main stage, and a sizeable crowd have assembled to witness the band’s return. For many present, this is their first time seeing Slaves under their new moniker and an air of expectation hangs heavy; will their heroes still sound the same, or has there been a reinvention? Will those delicious hooks still permeate their songs, or has there been a complete overhaul? All those questions, and more, are filling the air, and they create a tangible tension that’s ready to crack. Despite the new name that suggests a far fluffier experience, there’s been no squelching of the band’s sound, and if there were any doubts, then their blown away by opening blast ‘Sockets’. Hitting the crowd right between the eyes, it’s a no-nonsense introduction, and sets a dangerous precedent for the next 90-minutes. The band pull all their tricks out the bag and hit us with ‘Live Like An Animal’ and ‘White Knuckle Ride’ in quick succession. In the second of three appearances at this year’s Trees, Bob Vylan team up with Soft Play for a run through of ‘One More Day Won’t Hurt’ and it proves to be a marriage made in rock n’ roll heaven (or a kind of punk purgatory). A cover of Skepta’s ‘Shutdown’ works surprisingly well, while ‘The Hunter’ brings their set to a shuddering stop, and ensures that no one leaves disappointed.