Needless to say things have changed a lot in the nineteen years Truck Festival has been delighting our locality. Back in 1998 it comprised of one stage, eight bands, was free to enter and was headlined by Nought, an instrumental, post-rock act from Oxford. Skip forward to today and Truck Festival, for better and worse, has had a facelift, tummy tuck, boob job and now looks very in-keeping with a festival leviathan as apposed to a local frolic. After a few changes of hands and, shall we say, some slightly controversial management techniques, Global, who are exactly what they sound like, bought this diminutive festival with ten other independent festivals in 2016 and now they all look and feel, well, global.
It’s depressing and exciting in equal measures, the charming and haphazard local festival we all grew up frequenting is now pretty indistinguishable from any of the other of the colossal three-dayers and everything now costs a couple of quid more, the huge multinationals squeezing us for more than the struggling independents ever did. Were it not for the now somewhat sidelined Oxford Rotary Club, where you can still get a friendly face and a cheap burger, you could as well be at Reading, Leeds, Isle of Wight, Chelmsford…
But with the muddy waters of corporate homogenisation do come certain benefits. Huge international acts playing on our doorsteps for three days, nine different stages packed with an incalculable variety of music from all over the world and an array of food vendors selling a multitude of different tasty mouth objects. Quite who is eating risotto at a festival, I’ll never know, but it was there if you fancied it. As well as this, the local band contingent was also out in full force. We had Willie J Healey, Leader, Loud Mountains and The Dreaming Spires all playing the Main Stage and Coldredlight, Catgod, Slate Hearts and Candy Says (to name but a few) representing us on slightly smaller stages. Oxford music is in pretty darn good shape.
And we certainly got the rain. My word, three days of non stop rain. By half way through day one the arena looked more like the world’s biggest dirty protest than a music festival. But as we Brits tend to do, we became somehow buoyed and energised by the foul conditions and came out dancing, drinking and generally having a gay old time.
Friday’s action only seemed to truly spark into life with Willie J Healey’s virtuoso performance on the main stage. You’d be amazed that he was still somewhat in the infancy of his career given his comfort on the big stage and his effortless ability to woo and charm his audience. With every colossal leap his career seems to take, Willie’s demeanour remains that of a slightly bemused adolescent who doesn’t really see what all the fuss is about. British Sea Power also played a delightful set, using their vast back catalogue to resounding effect as they gave an encyclopaedic performance of past, present and future work. Slaves just didn’t quite seem to work on the main stage and although they belted out a most accomplished and energetic set, you felt they would’ve been far more suited to headlining one of the tents where we could have got all sweaty and intimate. And then to Franz Ferdinand, a band that were so ubiquitous, it was almost impossible not to see them back in their post millennial heyday. But you know what, it’s festival music for festival crowds and ended day one on an unexpected high.
Day two was all about The Nest which was curated by So Young Magazine. With the exception of Magic Gang, very much the musical equivalent of a nodding dog, you could be blissfully entertained, and also dry, by their impressively subversive line up. Crows were one of the festival highlights, their drone rock and pulsating rhythm section creating a mesmeric hypnosis to their special performance. And then to Yak, who just blew everyone else out of the water, such is their energy, their stage presence and their refusal to be anything other than a rock ’n’ roll band, in every way. Looking a little like a Kubrickian droog and acting like a, well, Kubrickian droog, the security spent the entirely of Yak’s mesmerising set fishing Oliver Burslem and his guitar and his microphone and his keyboard out of the crowd, only for Burslem to leap back in halfway through the next tune. It was as spectacular to watch and I assume it was tiresome to police.
Next came the Sophie’s Choice of the festival, that moment where you realise you’ll have to make that fateful decision between two or three of the acts you’re very keen to see. In this particular love triangle were synthy menaces The Moonlandingz, UK Hip Hop’s newest mandem Loyle Carner and iconic drug addicts The Libertines. This kind of decision always demands the same simple question, “Who am I most likely to never see play again?” So off I toddled to The Libertines feeling a little like I’d turned my back on cool and gone for the socks and sandals option. It proved to be a good, not great, set from Doherty and Barât. They made the cardinal sin of festival performance by trying to expose the crowd to new material. Save that for the album tour lads, we want to hear the classics.
Day three had a lethargy to it, indicative of a group of people who had been rained on for three days straight and are starting to remember that there’s a hot bath and a Breville at home just waiting to warm cockles and melt dairy products. Cabbage delighted the main stage with their usual gusto and hot air, Tigercub continue to get better and better and Sløtface put in an incredible performance as did Girl Ray. Maximo Park proved why everyone’s forgotten they existed but The Vaccines finished off the festival with aplomb, pitching their set perfectly with crowd-friendly sing-alongs and enough fizz and buzz to end the weekend on a high.
As we trudged out for the last time, fireworks booming behind us and trench foot already setting in, there was that feeling of accomplishment, that somehow by sticking it out through the wind, rain and Maximo Park, we had achieved something on that sodden and mud-splattered soil. Once home in warm and cozy surroundings, we could look back and realise just how lucky we are to have a festival of such quality at the end of our gardens. The aesthetics have changed, as has the ownership, but the spirit is still the same. Local people, in a field, getting wet and drunk. Amen.