Only a magic bus ride away from Strawberry Fields, in a converted dockside warehouse, Camp & Furnace (and its baby annexe Blade) makes an unlikely yet strangely beautiful gathering point for the international psychedelic community.
And what a community - there are 2,500 of us here on a bargain ticket of £30 per day, or £45 for the lot over the weekend (and only about 20 toilets. So that’s where they’ve saved money…). Opening in Camp, Mancunians Plank take to the stage armed with big riffs, precision bass and plenty of synth attack, giving a good argument as one of the early highlights of the festival. Soon Asteroid #4 are transporting us to the Bay Area by the swirling light projection and the Californian quintet’s reverberating, woozy blend of 60s and 90s trippiness. As the spiralling riff of Catherine Wheel’s I Want To Touch You fills the cavernous space, it’s possibly the nearest alternative to a mood-altering substance this side of teatime. Over in the 300-capacity Blade, Wiltshire trio Thought Forms are not the most psychedelic band at the festival, but they are the most dynamic. Burn Me Clean is typical of a set that takes in hushed atmospherics, grinding drones and immense lurching riffs. The new Sonic Youth perhaps? Next door in Furnace, the main stage, Les Big Byrd from Sweden are taking flight and play what turns out to be one of the best sets of the weekend, even if it does mean we’ve peaked early. Their undulating, sumptuously textured space-rock builds to a crescendo for Vad Hânde Med Dem (Whatever Happened To Them?), heightened by red lasers - and even a bit of crowdsurfing. Highly anticipated Los Angelites Allah-Las fall a little flat by comparison; their melodic jingle-jangling on Tell Me (What’s On Your Mind) is enjoyable and draws a big crowd but they struggle to make an impact, not helped by the low sound level. Saturday gets off to a strong start with Temple Songs (now called Pink Teens) in Camp. The Manchester band come up with some satisfyingly clangy psych-pop led by a Pete Shelley soundalike. Back at Blade, Strange Collective spark up a mini garage rock riot. Having recently supported Black Lips and Ghost of A Saber Tooth Tiger, it’s worth catching these psychotically reactive young men now, before they get big or implode.
Veering off in an entirely more esoteric direction are Cardiff’s Islet, the quirkiest and most in-yer-face find of the festival (one of the vocalists appears bang in front of us wielding a tambourine and howling in the air every few steps – scary). Funky, animalistic and intriguing, frontwoman/drummer Emma Daman is a magnetic focal point. Following a potter around the record mart, a nosy at the hookah-piped beer tent and with possibly the tastiest burgers in the world in our mitts, it’s back into the fray for the thundering trio of timpani and massive hypnotic riffs announce the return of local drone collective Bonnacons Of Doom in their darkest of guises. The repeated euphoric building and releasing of tension is as exhausting as it heavy, and equally exhilarating. And there’s no sleep ’til Brooklyn’s Woods appear with their superb folk-psych, Jeremy Earl’s haunting, high voice evoking Buffalo Springfield, making With Light And With Love a ten-minute triumph. Sweden’s Goat prove too popular for their own good, as a crush ensues trying to get to see them. The ones that do make it in are treated to a tribal spectacle of cosmic worship, with hypnotic chants and joyful, kaleidoscopic guitar lines from new album Commune that leave everyone in little doubt as to why they’ve received top billing. White Hills are a heady consolation prize for those who didn’t brave the crush, closing the night with In Your Room, a pulverising blast of skronky space-rock to take the last few earth-bound souls into the stratosphere.