LIVE REPORT: Citadel Festival 2018

Sets from La Femme, Fat Whites and more save Citadel from disaster, after chaotic post-festival scenes

La Femme, photo by Jenna Foxton

It is a shame that our final memories of Citadel Festival are so negative, for it played host to some truly excellent live sets. Goat Girl, Goat, La Femme and Fat White Family were each on imperious form, but when it literally takes you about as much time to get home to Hackney from Glastonbury than it does from West London, it’s hard to focus on those positives.

From the outset, it must be said that it’s unclear whether the blame for the chaos that concluded Citadel for us and thousands of others is to be pinned directly on the organisers, how much on Transport for London, and how much on the security teams they’d contracted; in the aftermath the organisers posted this apology which pins much of the blame on Acton Town tube station. The fact, however, is that, for over an hour-and-a-half, thousands of those exiting the festival towards the tube station were kettled in an enormous pen, barely moving with little information until we figured out for ourselves that the last tube had long since departed. After some particularly frustrated gig-goers behind us declared ‘let’s just rush it’, it began to feel worryingly like a crush within the tight barriers of the pen, to the apathy of any staff. Whether or not a woman having a panic attack was indeed called a ‘cunt’ by a security guard, as was claimed on social media, the lack of any form of guidance on the part of the security team or police officers surrounding us left much to be desired. “Not my problem mate,” says one policeman with a smirk that’s particularly hard to take as we inquire fruitlessly as to the nearest bus stop in operation.

With teenagers and families left stranded with no indication of how to get home (many of the local bus stops are closed due to the festival), and £80 Uber fares on the cards for those who’ve had enough, it is close to 3am on a Monday morning by the time we get home, having left the site four and a half hours earlier. Memories of the glorious live sets that the festival did play host to have grown more distant with every minute of our laborious journey home.

Goat Girl, photo by Andy Hughes

That said, those bands are worth recalling here. Goat Girl, for example, open our afternoon with a bracing, all-too-brief cut of simmering and spikey rock, striding their way through with a stoned swagger while a sweltering crowd stands enraptured in front of them in the humid Clash/Last FM tent. Their fellow outliers of the South London scene Fat White Family, meanwhile, take to the main stage outside under a blazing sun. It’s their only London show of the summer and proves a welcome return. With Saul Adamczewski back in the live line-up an opening ‘Cream Of The Young’ spreads its sinister wings over Gunnersbury Park with a power that feels like a malevolent, but somehow comforting embrace. ‘Special Ape’ is bathed in wonkiness and fuzz and dedicated to “those boys in Shame” by Lias Saoudi, his white vest now covered in brown beer stains. It’s a shame that there is no material from their forthcoming third LP, but on their existing tracks alone they remain completely vital.

Goat, too, have little need to prove themselves as a live force, but back in the Clash / Last FM tent they do so anyway. The quasi-mystical air that surrounded their early shows and first inspired the word-of-mouth cult fervour that made their early days so exciting has now faded with familiarity, but there’s still something so irresistible about their relentless, globetrotting psychedelic chug. Their twin masked priestesses, leaping, shrieking and dancing sometimes in sync, sometimes in a duel, wield a dark intensity that soon overcomes their audience, while the band behind them are on ferocious form.

Fat White Family, photo by Carolina Faruolo

Even more effusive praise, however, must be laid at the feet of La Femme, whose main stage set, early in the afternoon, injects the festival with a blast of unabashed, slightly wonky fun. There is a recorder solo that goes on way too long while Marlon Magnée hops, skips and shows off his abs like a sexy Morris dancer, and there is an extended issue with a guitar lead to which bassist Sam Lefèvre simply repeats “problème” in a nonchalant monotone as they twist the hiccup into an opportunity for an extended dance, and all of it is brilliant. La Femme, like Confidence Man of whom I made a similar point earlier this year, reclaim the notion that pop music is supposed to be fun. Their songs are sometimes nonsensical, and sometimes borderline banal – ‘Antitaxi’ is literally about preferring taxis to buses – but live they performed with such a glimmer of wit and with such an energetic infusion of camp charisma, that they’re irresistibly joyous. Magnée spends much of the set strutting peacock-like among the front row, his shonky-looking keyboard in hand while behind him the rest of the band, over half wielding keys of their own, stand posing with a ridiculous parody of icy French cool.

Goat, photo by Andy Hughes

In many ways these sets have saved the festival itself, for there are issues with Citadel that exist regardless of the travel chaos that may or may not be their fault. Unable to get close to the front for Tame Impala, their headline set is barely audible atop the conversational chatter of the crowd. They may well have been excellent and judging from ecstatic-looking reactions from those lucky enough to have made it to the front they probably were, but it’s hard to review a band when the experience of their show is akin to listening through a phone speaker at a beer garden. Similarly, I’d love to tell you about The Horrors’ half-hour set, but we spent the entirety of it, with five minutes either side, queuing to refill a water bottle from one of just three taps near the main stage. A forty-minute queue for water in 31-degree heat is infuriating at the least, and downright dangerous at worst. Alternatives to paying £2.50 for a small bottle of water need to be provided in a heatwave.

At £6.50 for a bottle of beer, £5 for the rights to use an exclusive posh toilet, and a five-hour journey home, it’s hard not to feel cynical about Citadel’s first year in Gunnersbury Park, and there are many, many improvements to be made. That said, thanks to Fat White Family, Goat, Goat Girl and above all La Femme, there was enough great music to save it from disaster.

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