STA is now Ten Years Old

Smalltown America Hold 10 Hour Micro-Festival In Aid Of Cancer Research UK In East-London

It's easy to be charitable when presented with a line-up of today's calibre

A Saturday in mid-September saw the return of the annual ten-hour two-stage micro-festival held by Jetplane Landing and their label Smalltown America, in aid of Cancer Research UK. It's easy to be charitable when presented with a line-up of today's calibre, although it was a shame not to see Jetplane themselves playing (not that the band regretted that). Nonetheless there were still plenty of bands worth watching and the lack of any given timetable or running order did kind of add to the thrill of it all even if it did make compiling this review that little bit harder. With that in mind, the bands here are reviewed in what I remember was their order of appearance but are subject to the Only Human Factor.

At 1pm the steadily mounting queue was let into the 240-capacity venue, located in East London just outside the city, and it wasn't long before the relatively intimate settings of 93 Feet East kicked into life. To the tune of Boom In The Diamond Industry to be exact. With six of them on stage there was plenty going on, and that's even before their bouncy indie-pop sound is taken into account. The lead singer jumps off stage into the mounting audience a few times, and even a few broken guitar strings don't quite stop the band in their tracks. Popping into the corner room between sets on the main stage, there's the acoustic sideshow, featuring a line-up put together by Jetplane's partners-in-crime for the day, Seafood. First up on that bill is Adam Killip, frontman with The Tailors. He's in fine voice and gets things off to a fine start, the highlight being a Lyle Lovett song (I think) about a wayward woman who, unfortunately for him, "ain't no lady, she's my wife."

Soon as he's finished (and appreciation given) it's back out onto the main stage area which, if you took the bar out, wouldn't look too dissimilar to my old secondary school's main hall. Americans The Young Playthings take to the stage, and they're certainly a playful duo, if clearly not that young. Today's audience are a hard one to get moving but TYPs' fun mix of melody and humour comes close to vibrating a few backsides.

Whilst here I learn that the running order at any SA Alldayer is never made public knowledge until the day, so the majority of people here probably also have very little idea who the next band stepping up to the stage is going to be. The next hour, then, begins with watching Help She Can't Swim - the first flashlight-heavy, synthesised-chaos, all-phasers-to-stun moment of the day, and frankly all the more enjoyable for it. They're followed by Fleeing New York, of whom much is made of the fact they've interrupted the recording of their debut LP to be here today. Which is probably why they sound a bit under-rehearsed. Not bad, just not standing out on today's bill. On the acoustic stage (think more an acoustic corner) in the meantime, we get some interesting performances from The Loose Salute, Diamond Family Archive and even a couple of tunes from Seafood's own frontman, David Line. But only because someone else pulled out...

Back out on the main stage, there's a good performance from Scotland's We Rock Like Girls Don't, who a while ago featured prominently in a Radio 1 competition for unsigned bands. Their song 'Hip To You', which the station played a fair bit during the campaign, is the day's first proper singalong moment. Afterwards, Seafood then take to the stage, a moment plenty of people here have been waiting for. It's been four years since they were last reviewed here on Lashout and the band have survived various line-up changes and illnesses since then. Tonight's set looked confidently to the future though, consisting entirely as it did of all new material - the Sonic Youth influences of old toned down and even threatening to get a bit psychadelic at times. The crowd are naturally enthralled - or hypnotised? Hard to tell really. Good to have them back, although those hoping for a classic "Get up soldier!" moment so common in the Seafood of old would have been disappointed.

It was at this point the acoustic sideshow room gets absolutely rammed. So rammed, in fact, the bouncers have to stop letting people in. The reason for this? Get Cape.Wear Cape.Fly. Essentially just one man, Sam Duckworth, armed with a few friends, his drum machine and no fear of sounding off about what's wrong with society. There wasn't a repeat of the hokey-cokey the audience did during his set at TMF, but with the following he's gathered through gigging, the net and his quietly ferocious debut EP, the crowd knew pretty much every song in a set that's easily the highlight of the acoustic stage if not the day. This guy is flying places.

Back on the main stage we're treated to a late addition to the bill - Fighting With Wire. It's the closest we get to a performance from Jetplane themselves, as the frontman is JL guitarist Cahir O' Docherty. The trio have toured with Reuben and Biffy Clyro, which gives you an idea of what to expect - big riffs, vocals in turn searing and affecting, but still doing just enough to keep you guessing what'll happen next. Bit like today as a whole, really. You could certainly say the same for what's happening on the acoustic stage, now quite dimly lit as it gets dark outside, which gives a whole new feeling of intimacy and, er, weirdness to the proceedings. It certainly brings out the surrealism in Treecreeper's jaded acoustics and the more electronically inclined Hunters Palace, who I recall even dropped the odd pop song cover version into their darkly comic set. Definitely the day's most downright weird moment. Enjoyable, though.

Back on the main stage - where bands are now ineviably running parallel with their unelectrified counterparts - it's business as usual for Hell Is For Heroes, if indeed their career to date could be described as running in a 'usual' way. One of the bands many a face has been looking forward to seeing - even Help She Can't Swim had proclaimed earlier how chuffed they were to be sharing a stage with ex-members of Symposium - and tonight's show probably didn't disappoint any of them. After various record company woes (something Will and Joe from the band must be used to now), the band are ready to take the scene on again. There's the odd nod to the past, such as 'Sick Happy', elsewhere it's new material that produces the day's most shamelessly animated performance both on stage and in the moshing crowd. Welcome. And right at the end the lead singer decides to indulge in a spot of crowdsurfing that takes him all the way to the opposite wall and nearly out the door. Crikey.

All that's left after that is one more act. Effectively the headliners, then, but through default rather than design. Not that they don't merit the position though - it's The Pipettes, essentially three harmonising ladies from Brighton. The setup feels a bit sixties, Spector-esque initially, but the sparkly pop produced by these three gals and the band boys behind them has the sound of pop now written through it. The sounds of 'ABC' and 'Judy' stamp all over any of the excuses for pop churned out of most recent TV talent shows, so it's a bit of a shame the audience (probably still a little tired from the Hell Is For Heroes assault) didn't take up the trio's encouragements to dance. I mean, what else are you supposed to do at a Pipettes gig? Stand there and stare? Um... either way it was a good end to the day and a bit of a result for those of us with the energy to move our feet. I didn't go to the aftershow party/gig as I couldn't find the place and, frankly, was lucky to get home with just being shouted at by some tramp and getting on one wrong train to hamper me. That does mean though I should recover from it all well in time for next year's alldayer. Till then, as Jetplane Landing would say, dare to call this progress.

- Nick Lash, The Lashout Files