2000 Trees 2018 (Festival Review)

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2000 Trees 2018 was easily one of the best festivals I’ve ever been to. Year after year, the Trees team have consistently worked to build and improve on everything they’ve achieved – and by this point, 2000 Trees has a practically unrivalled reputation amongst fans of British underground music.

This past weekend, one of the UK music scene’s greatest institutions exceeded all expectations.

Recently doubling the event’s capacity from 5,000 to 10,000 punters has, if anything, made 2000 Trees more fun and immersive than before. There’s definitely a sweet spot between a super-intimate festival (which Trees previously was) and the monolithic monsters that 2000 Trees was originally created in response to. Since festivals surround you with other people for several days, it helps if they’re not dicks – and more than anything else, the consistently celebrated warm and friendly Trees vibe pushed its 2018 incarnation into the highest of high ranks.

Although making new friends, soaking up the atmosphere, and getting ruined by a three-day party are essential parts of the festival experience, the bands and overall lineup ultimately make or break these events. Some festivals are best experienced by hanging out with your mates in the campsite, as far away from the stages as possible. At 2000 Trees, that is absolutely not the case.

The first day’s lineup was ridiculous. Although Trees does offer a very diverse array of bands and artists, I normally lean toward heavier acts – and so seeing Palm Reader (95%) launch into their signature brand of shit-kicking mathcore was, to say the least, a very good way to get things underway. These guys are capable of reaching Dillinger Escape Plan levels of intensity; watching Dillinger live always felt like their soundwaves were trying to beat you to death, and Palm Reader nailed that effect right at the start. Airing a good few songs from this year’s savage long-player Braille and closing on the cinematic I Watch The Fire Chase My Tongue, Palm Reader pumped so much energy into the beginning of their set that they inevitably flagged a little as it wore on – but saying that, they still stayed head and shoulders above your average hardcore-based band regardless.

At 2000 Trees, you need only walk for about 30 seconds to get from the Cave Stage to the Axiom, where Press To MECO (93%) were busy introducing a spacious tent to some of the best underground alt-rock out there right now. Fretboard-mangling riffs, rich and flawless vocal harmonies, PVC straitjacket tightness, and perfect pop-infused songcraft are all Press To MECO calling cards, demonstrated by the likes of Affinity, If All Your Parts Don’t Make A Whole, and new album title track Here’s To The Fatigue. Press To MECO’s newfound – and hard-earned – confidence earned them a mid-set wall of death and consistently increasing applause; they doubtlessly won a good number of fans at 2000 Trees 2018, and they deserved as much.

When bands pursue generic music and then capture a live sound that matches their on-record efforts, the results are normally boring. Since Vukovi (100%) are weird as fuck – in the best way possible – the above concern was not an issue. Obsessively unique and profoundly talented, Vukovi managed to crush the Cave into a palm-sized cube and keep it captured for the duration of one of the sets of the day.

Vukovi’s songs are clearly incredibly personal – and freaky entertainment value aside, this band’s emotional depth has helped them connect with a blatantly burgeoning audience. Closer La Di Da was met with a perfect a cappella performance from the Cave crowd, shortly after Target Practice and Boy George were accompanied by an appropriately odd cross between a wall of death and a barn-dancing competition. Plenty of people clearly enjoy a healthy mix of angst, bouncy songs, and good old-fashioned fun, and long may Vukovi keep attracting them.

There were only two disappointing first-day sets, and both were held back by below-par sound rather than below-par performances. Brutus, whose set immediately followed Vukovi’s barnstormer over on the Axiom Stage, and Dave McPherson, who played the penultimate post-headliner set of the day at 11:05pm on the Forest Sessions acoustic stage, both fought valiantly to project past the first few rows, but were let down by energy-draining technical issues. Since both acts have spectacular live reputations, no real judgement could be made based on their Trees sets alone.

Back over on the Main Stage post-Brutus, Arcane Roots (94%) and Marmozets (100%) got down to the very serious business of rocking the fuck out and showing 2000 Trees’ biggest arena exactly why they deserved to own it. Arcane Roots’ latest album Melancholia Hymns took a controversially atmospheric tack, with heavy moments surprisingly few and far between – but live, that balance has been reversed. Far more intense versions of Off The Floor, Matter, and Arp fit perfectly alongside Blood And Chemistry highlight Triptych, latest single Landslide, and If Nothing Breaks Nothing Moves, making for a winningly paced setlist.

Marmozets have long been a personal favourite, and Becca Macintyre was on top vocal form at 2000 Trees. This set was completely unfuckwithable: Play, Meant To Be, Particle, Like A Battery, Move Shake Hide, Habits, Is It Horrible, Captivate You, Lost In Translation, Suffocation, Why Do You Hate Me, and the climactic Major System Error, that final choice greeted by the sight of dozens of people sitting on others’ shoulders while the rest of the field sang along. One of Marmozets’ strongest qualities is the fact that they could have swapped out many of those songs for other back catalogue cuts, and their set would still have been equally epic. They’ve not put a foot wrong yet, and I can’t see it happening in any case.

After Marmozets, 2000 Trees 2018 peaked early as Black Peaks (for fuck’s sake, I’ve already given certain bands 100%…how could you even score this one? 150%? 200%? More? I don’t even know) destroyed the Cave. This set was basically the Apocalypse, if the Apocalypse consisted primarily of one band breaking reality and bringing the heat death of the universe forward by ten trecendotrigintillion years. At the very least, you could safely say that Black Peaks’ set was sweaty as fuck; the band themselves were afforded a true rock star’s reception before even playing a note; and on the basis of new songs Can’t Sleep, Home, and a choppy mysterious addition that brings Queens Of The Stone Age to mind, imminent new album All That Divides is going to be fucking sick.

With fresh songs still sinking in, long-running classics like Drones, Say You Will, Set In Stone, and Saviour annihilated a tent so packed that people were spilling out of the sides, stretching and craning their necks in the hope of catching a glimpse of the heroes of the moment. Glass Built Castles remains one of Black Peaks’ greatest achievements, so complex that it’s easier to just throw yourself around in a fit than sit down and figure out what the hell’s going on in there. Naturally, that’s what most of the Cave crowd did, pausing only to bang their heads in time with certain stabs and scream out a series of immaculately positioned hooks.

In short, Black Peaks are priceless – and only the improbably early heat death of the universe will stop them from getting fucking massive in the very near future.

At The Drive-In (80%) had the unenviable task of topping a bill crammed with stupidly talented musicians – and despite their legendary status, the band highlighted as key influences by many lower-level Trees bands didn’t attack their set with the same degree of hunger or ferocity as the up-and-comers. To be totally fair, ATDI have been doing what they’re doing for much, much longer – and although the Main Stage punters only really lost their shit during One Armed Scissor, the headliners themselves still put in a solid effort. Overall, the first day of 2000 Trees 2018 felt like a symbolic passing of the torch, the flame divided almost equally between several groups of fresh faces and chest-bursting heartbeats.

After Thrill Collins (100%) taught a sardine-packed Forest Stage how to party through the medium of folk ‘n’ roll pop covers and banter, several thousand people got very merry and most likely slept for a good two hours before getting up and going for it again. Grumble Bee (98%) made it worth getting up in time for a mid-morning acoustic set, easing the Forest Sessions into a particularly surreal day.

Singer-songwriters are rarely my thing, largely because so many of them sound exactly the same and follow a formula so overused that the results work best as a cure for insomnia. Jack Bennett, the man behind Grumble Bee, blows that stereotype out of the water by delivering the ultimate triple threat of sick guitar chops, jaw-droppingly acrobatic and disarmingly vulnerable vocals, and songs so fastidiously crafted that not a single note or line could be added or taken away without detracting from the whole. I’ve yet to experience an electric Grumble Bee set, but the alternative version had just as much impact as your average fully amplified band. With the volume turned way up, this guy must be even more unforgettable.

Over in the Cave, Vodun (84%) gave 2000 Trees a taste of true Afro-psych weirdness. Imagine a classic soul diva jamming with one of the most aggressive drummers on the Trees site and a guitarist in tribal dress wrenching harsh, heavily effected riffs from his instrument, and you’ll get pretty close to what Vodun do. But really, nothing can replace the experience of actually hearing their work pumped through some giant fuck-off speakers as they perform it in real time.

Also, cowbell fans: Vodun love the cowbell. If you spend most of your music-listening time wishing the tracks you hear had more cowbell, listen to Vodun and rejoice. On the other hand, if you consider the cowbell a hateful sound, maybe give this one a miss.

Sound issues continued to plague the occasional set on day two of 2000 Trees 2018, this time striking Fatherson (80%) on the Main Stage. Mallory Knox, second-day headliners Twin Atlantic, and final day Main Stagers Moose Blood all proved disappointing even without crippling technical problems; although I can see the appeal of relatively basic alt-rock and emo, I outgrew it long ago, dropping out of its target market and heading for more stimulating areas. For people who grew up listening to such bands, they’re naturally going to occupy a space closer to the heart, and of course any overly accessible rock act can act as a gateway to the coolest sounds in the world – but frankly, there are many other acts out there doing almost exactly the same thing, and doing it at least as effectively.

For proof that forging your own path and accentuating a charmingly quirky personality can attract a die-hard fanbase, look no further than Jamie Lenman (100%). Another killer Forest Sessions set, another shoulder-squashing beyond-capacity crowd, and of course a list of solo and Reuben songs topped off with a short and knowingly cheesy 2000 Trees tribute song called 2000 Trees added up to still another highlight as the entire festival’s mid-point quickly approached.

It’s impressively easy to get lost in any Lenman-penned song, whether it be All Of England Is A City, I Ain’t Your Boy, Pretty Please, Little Lives (performed alongside first-ever Lenman fan Terry Abbott), Body Popping, Friends In Low Places, Irrelevant, It’s Hard To Be A Gentleman, or my favourite Jamie Lenman-related song of all time, the emotionally brutal Mississippi. Special surprises, in the form of a cover of It Must Be Love and a run-through of Freddy Krueger (the Reuben classic’s first live airing in ten years), made Jamie Lenman’s most recent acoustic excursion yet another noteworthy affair. Getting out was tricky, due to the sheer number of people in attendance, but fortunately the next must-see band were a mere five minutes’ walk away…

Instrumental proggy-post-math-rock heavyweights And So I Watch You From Afar (90%) are, on paper, a very strange Main Stage choice. They’re pretty niche – but then so are most of the bands you’ll catch at 2000 Trees’ sister festival ArcTanGent, and ASIWYFA represented that scene with steel-balled swagger and indefatigable confidence. These guys are no strangers to Trees’ biggest platform, and it showed; they even managed to outdo a fighter jet on maneuvers directly above the site in terms of sheer volume. Fair play.

I last saw Ho99o9 (97%) supporting The Dillinger Escape Plan about a year and a half ago, and their live consistency is frankly terrifying. Seamlessly alternating between hyperactive trap and head-splitting hardcore, vocalist Eaddy sporting a hi-vis police jacket while his counterpart TheOGM took care of simultaneous vocal-and-gadgetry duties and drummer Ian Longwell administered ultra-tight beatings to every flat surface in sight, Ho99o9 are utterly ruthless. As Knuckle Up states, these guys take no shit – they’ve got everything locked down, and if you’re even vaguely aware that the underground exists, they’re coming for you.

Bands show their true colours when faced with a disappointingly sparse turnout. Some stick their noses in the air and barely shuffle through the motions; others put it all on the line anyway, showing the people who did show up a good time and making it worth their while. One option inspires punters to get bored and walk away; the other wins everyone over and marks the band in question as ones to fall in love with.

Blood Red Shoes (93%) have an awesome work ethic, and managed to overcome a scheduling clash with Dream Wife by powering through a series of gritty rockers including The Perfect Mess, Cold, An Animal, Black Distractions, Light It Up, This Is Not For You, Eye To Eye, recent single God Complex, Red River, full-tilt stunner Je Me Perds, and slowly collapsing closer Colours Fade. By the end, Blood Red Shoes had drawn a much bigger crowd – and anyone tempted away missed out on a top-class set.

Aside from the aforementioned Mallory Knox and Twin Atlantic, only Conjurer (96%) remained on my second-day band list – and fucking hell. Conjurer stuck out like a sore thumb on this bill, and sounded like every member had trapped at least one appendage in a door hinge right before going onstage. Another ArcTanGent-appropriate outfit, Conjurer deal in skin-rending post-sludge, pelting through some of the most intense riffs of the weekend and often setting them against hyperspeed blast beats while dual vocalist-guitarists Dan Nightingale and Brady Deeprose screamed as if being tortured. Despite their overwhelming intensity, Conjurer are extremely well-versed in the subtle art of controlling and harnessing chaos – and that makes them fucking dangerous.

It’s no surprise that they’re rocketing to the top of the British metal scene right now. No surprise at all.

Despite SikTh cancelling their 2000 Trees appearance at the last minute due to the early birth of drummer Dan Foord’s baby (and family comes first – only a dick would take issue with this), there were still a few sick sets to come as the sun rose on the festival’s final day. Dream State (90%) put in a great effort as vocalist CJ Gilpin spent large portions of the set in the crowd, on the crowd, or making it clear that Dream State are a band unafraid to place the brightest of spotlights on the positive, supportive messages behind their songs. Addiction-battling viral hit White Lies quickly won me over; it’s Dream State’s signature song for a reason, and by all accounts only the start of a journey destined to take this band higher and higher.

Like Blood Red Shoes, Queen Kwong (87%) were forced to deal with a sub-par turnout – and promptly launched into a fierce but curtailed set, using up only 25 minutes of an allotted 40-minute slot before closing with Bells On and Purrfiction. The Xcerts (100%) put on an all-time classic rock show on the Main Stage, hamming it up throughout Daydream, Drive Me Wild, Shaking In The Water, Show Me Beautiful, Crazy, Hold On To Your Heart, We Are Gonna Live (dedicated to Tom Searle and Scott Hutchison), a signature guitar-and-vocal version of Aberdeen 1987, and set-closing feel-good song Feels Like Falling In Love. After the Trees faithful demanded an encore, frontman Murray Macleod took to the front row to lead the entire crowd through that final song’s chorus one more time. Arena-ready rock excellence at a relatively small festival? That’s what 2000 Trees is all about.

With only a few more bands left and dusk beginning to herald the end of it all, Black Futures (97%) made a mark on the Neu Stage by employing a group of hazmat suit-clad extras waving flags, ushering people toward the front row, moshing, engaging in synchronized dance routines, and riding inflatable branded unicorn dinghies across the pit. With only a few songs out there in the world (including set highlights Karma Ya Dig?, Riches, and Love), Black Futures are rapidly gaining ground – and with such a complete mastery and awareness of spectacle, stagecraft, and immersive wall-of-sound production, they look guaranteed to blow up quickly.

Two bands to go. Hell Is For Heroes (100%) wrote and recorded one of my favourite albums of all time – The Neon Handshake – and played the whole damn thing in full, along with Cure cover Boys Don’t Cry and Folded Paper Figures, the latter lifted from sophomore LP Transmit Disrupt. Plenty of people had tears in their eyes throughout the main event, energy levels peaking for I Can Climb Mountains and You Drove Me To It – and who could blame them? The Neon Handshake is an all-time classic that means the world to a lot of people, and despite the nostalgia factor it still feels timely and relevant now. It could have been recorded yesterday, but fortunately Hell Is For Heroes have been around for much longer than that.

Could there be a future for Hell Is For Heroes beyond each album’s fifteenth anniversary? Here’s hoping so…

Enter Shikari (95%) got the 2000 Trees camp buzzing with excitement after setting up their own 3D surround sound system around the Main Stage arena – and although the desired effect didn’t quite come off for those standing too close to the rear speakers (which sounded better from right in the middle of the crowd), Shikari themselves were unsurprisingly top-drawer entertainers. As well-established live performance veterans, they know exactly what to do at all times and seem capable of handling any eventuality.

This was a tightly assembled and professionally delivered set crammed with songs that can only be accurately described as bangers. Treating the biggest crowd of the weekend (including a couple who got engaged during the show) to cuts from The Spark (including The Sights, Shinrin-Yoku, Undercover Agents, Rabble Rouser, Airfield, and set-ending encore Live Outside) alongside plenty of past winners (including Sorry You’re Not A Winner as part of a four-part “quick-fire” medley), this was a climax worthy of the biggest festivals in the world – and it was brought to 2000 Trees 2018, a massive victory for everyone involved. Personally, I generally prefer Enter Shikari’s political tracks – and anti-NHS-privatisation anthem Anaesthetist and Arguing With Thermometers, a particularly pertinent cut considering the UK’s current heatwave status, were natural standout moments.

Exit Shikari, and enter the Silent Disco – a 2000 Trees staple and surreal end to, again, one of the best festivals I’ve ever been to. If you need to restore your faith in humanity and the future of music, 2000 Trees can help you out. Plus you get to end it all in a giant tent, wearing noise-cancelling headphones along with thousands of other people, singing along to a selection of the best rock and metal songs of all time and dancing about with not a fuck in the world left to give.



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Posted on 16 July 2018

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