InMusic Festival, Croatia review

Marko Kutlesa takes in no less than The Coral, Jake Bugg, Florence + The Machine, Yeasayer and PJ Harvey among others at Zagreb's InMusic Festival.

Ben Smith

Date published: 28th Jun 2016

Image: PJ Harvey

Rain is as traditional at Zagreb's InMusic festival as insularity is in England and so it comes as little surprise that showers accompany the first day of 2016's edition. Luckily, not being a field in Somerset, the rain doesn't extend beyond this first day and the ground is dry enough to sit down on and relax during the next two days.

This is good as it takes a while for InMusic to come alive. The first bands of any international standing start playing at around 6pm on the main stage, but many of the Croatians who make up the bulk of the audience here are not ready to party at such an early hour.

On the first day, following a valiant set by competition winning Liverpool band The Haze, that first international slot is taken by fellow scousers The Coral. It's great to see this band back in action and the new songs that herald the start of their set are met politely by a crowd that swells two fold in size to many hundred by the time they finish.

'Chasing The Tail Of A Dream' is the highlight from the newer batch before all the old favourites are rolled out. 'Dreaming Of You', 'Jacqueline' and 'In The Morning' sound really great, reminding of James Skelly's assured place in the annals of British songwriters.

'Don't Think You're The First' perhaps lacks a little of the power it used to as a live tour-de-force, maybe because of an absence of the effortless guitar pyrotechnics this band once held, but as a band performance The Coral come together well in this line up.

Backing vocals sound great, keyboard player Nick Power hits all the right notes and, for a gangly scouser, actually looks very handsome in his shades, shortened hair and cool demeanour. 'Pass It On' is played wonderfully, every bit the optimistic, seasoned favourite it deserves to be heard as.

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One of the best things about InMusic is the fact that both main stages are right next to each other and their acts run non-simultaneously. This means that once the music programme starts there are no gaps in the music and you don't have to worry about missing any headliners due to their sets occurring at the same time. It also means there's plenty of time to go and buy a beer or sample some of the food on offer, which is an extremely varied menu this year.

Friday's audience are excited by the prospect of seeing Jake Bugg. The guy puts on an assured performance, his sound built around his unabashedly accented vocals and admirably sharp lyrics.

It is truly impossible to find anything to dislike about him or his show, although being someone who doesn't possess any of his music and is not enthused enough by his performance to invest in any, his most welcome song is 2002's 'Trouble Town', largely because it reminds of the great Sarah Lancashire fronted TV drama Happy Valley of which it was the theme.

Django Django are up next on the slightly smaller stage and their left-field rock sounds are a welcome change after the distinctly more straightforward Bugg. They've come a long way in the past half decade and deserve to be playing such premier slots at international dates.

Tuesday's line up is not as strong as the other two days in terms of international guests, particularly as Skunk Anansie cancel their appearance at the last minute and are replaced by a Croatian band few travellers will have heard of. It's a shame it wasn't Let 3, the Croatian band who replaced Plan B here in 2012 when he similarly cancelled at the last minute, as they have the power to easily win over an international audience with their stage antics.

Florence And The Machine are the evening's headliners and they are the one band from the festival that everyone in Zagreb who hasn't got a ticket wants to see. It's still quite an expensive event to visit for locals, particularly if there's only one act you want to see, although InMusic is a bargain for festival goers from western Europe who are extremely well looked after in the site's spacious camping area.

Those who haven't bought a day ticket for Florence miss a great show, one as theatrical that befits such a headliner. Florence's shrieky wail of a voice sounds extremely strong on all the hits, if you like that sort of thing.

The final day's early international slot is taken by longstanding American outfit Wilco. Like The Coral, Florence, PJ Harvey and the likes of New Order and The Stooges in previous years, Wilco are being given their first opportunity to perform in Croatia thanks to InMusic and it's to the credit of the festival and the benefit of the country as a whole that such a diverse and impressive music programme is able to take place here at all.

Wilco give a great performance and again, like The Coral, their audience doubles in size as the performance goes on, the band well and truly winning over the crowd with their collage of classic songwriting, non linear intervals of noise and jaw dropping guitar heroics.

“Handshake Drugs” sounds particularly great in the sunshine, although Wilco are able to draw upon such a strong back catalogue of tracks the set never drops below a consistently impressive standard. They are followed by Pat Thomas and Kwashibu Area Band whose afrobeat sound offer the perfect opportunity to dance in the sun.

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The audience are as excited by the prospect of The Kooks as they were about Jake Bugg. Similarly, they are as professional sounding, their performance proficient and they are also difficult to dislike, even if it's not your cup of tea, which it isn't. Immediately following The Kooks, on the lesser of the main stages, are New York band Yeasayer.

If you are lucky, at every festival you go to there will be at least one special performance that will blow you away, one band that make you want to fall in love with them, to want to know more of them and see them again as soon as possible. At InMusic 2016 that band is Yeasayer. Again, debuting in Croatia thanks to InMusic, they grab the festival by the scruff of the neck and put on a show that simply slays the crowd. The reference points of their sound seem a little too easy to mention.

There's a definite Talking Heads and general 80's vibe to their sound and it's nice to be reminded of the wonderful contribution sometime Talking Heads member Bernie Worrell has made to music of the last half century during the show. But Talking Heads never had vocals as strong as these.

Yeasayer's harmonies are closer to The Beach Boys and their two lead vocalists are indistinguishable in their strengths. Their songs are brilliant, their trippy stage set well thought out, their angular funk the perfect soundtrack to dance to as the evening well and truly sets in. Ira Wolf Tuton's bass playing is impossibly funky but never in a predictable or passe way.

Anand Wilder may be the first guitarist since Andy Summers to be able to mould the avant garde sound of Robert Fripp into an easily accessible pop setting and he smoothly flits between such stylings that recall The Police and a wonderfully befitting African guitar style heard in several American groups in the last decade. Make no mistake though, Yeasayer are the best at incorporating this sound, along with a whole load of others, providing the freshest and most exhilarating show of InMusic 2016.

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The evening's headliner is PJ Harvey. Full disclosure; I have seen PJ Harvey more times than I can remember. She is a wonderful artist consistently capable of outstanding showmanship. Truly, when it comes to recounting to future generations who were the premier British rock performers of the era, PJ Harvey would be among the highest. 

Always different, always entertaining, on this tour we see PJ Harvey at perhaps her most gothic yet. The band, which features Bad Seeds's Mick Harvey and long term collaborator John Parish, are presented on an impressive designed stage set and are uniform in their smart, black outfits and similarly dark stage presences.

Their controlled emotions suit the presentation of the at times bleak material Harvey has chosen to perform, drawing heavily on most recent albums The Hope Six Demolition Project and Let England Shake. Older material such as '50ft Queenie', To Bring You My Love' and 'Down By The Water' make very welcome returns to the set, which obviously has been constructed to suit this formation of her band which relies on two percussionists and three saxophones including Harvey's.

Sadly this means we don't get any guitar playing from the front woman so there's no 'Dress', no 'Send His Love To Me' and no songs from 'Stories from the City', 'Stories from the Sea'. As a performance of the chosen songs this is as deft and as well judged a show as rock music gets, elevating such to a position of high art.

But while respecting one of my favourite artist's choices, it's perhaps a shame that on her first visit to Croatia PJ Harvey doesn't give any of her long term Croatian fans, who are ecstatic at her visit, anything to really dance around to.

Her voice is as startling, unique and affecting as ever, the effects that are at times placed over them adding a frightening aspect to the delivery, but this is definitely something you could appreciate in an impressive outdoor or gallery setting, but nothing you would want to pogo to after a couple of litres of lager.

Outside of the headliners there are more things to do at InMusic than ever before, many smaller tents and performance areas boasting comedians, silent discos and many Croatian acts. An impressive performance/installation area that pays simultaneous tribute to David Bowie and local hero Nikola Tesla is a particularly strong hit.  

All in all, InMusic as a festival continues to improve year on year in its variety, scope and programming. Even despite the difficulties that programming such an event in a crowded festival calendar hold and in the face of an often grumbling and parochial local media who are presumably oblivious to the merits of the performers InMusic continues to bring here. 

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Like this? Try Soundwave Croatia announces more acts and boat party line ups or Five Foreign Festivals to get excited about in 2016

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