Melody Maker 19, July, 1999
So what would chic urbanites like SUEDE be doing in a field with a bunch of crusties? Taking on the elements, the food and even Bob Dylan, apparently
"I don't think bring two coats was strictly necessary," admits a sweaty Richard Oakes, as he slumps himself on a polite hillock in London's secluded Hampstead Heath and casts aside one of several thousand layers. Today marks The Maker's kind-hearted attempt to wean Suede back into the festival vibe - a bit of grass, some nice trees, fat, shirtless men wandering in and out of bushes - in preparation for their bound-to-be triumphant return to the festival scene for V99 this summer.
"I need a piss," declares Simon.
"Go in the bushes!" is the universal and instant response.
Seems we're already on the right wavelength...
Suede's festival CV is already rather impressive. By their own admissions, this year's headlining slot at V99 was chosen "because it's the only festival we haven't played" , but perhaps Suede's seminal appearance was at the (now defunct) Phoenix Festival in '96 when, after winning a long-winded row over whether doddery old witch Bob Dylan should be headlining, the band were subjected to a torrential downpour of biblical proportions.
"There was just so much shit against us that year," Brett begins with a defiant smirk. "But it was just so good.
"We were getting this real kicking, it was a really bad time for us, we'd just done 'Dog Man Star', and it was just bad luck. All the way. So we got onstage and literally as soon as we were there, the heavens f***ing opened. Just the heaviest f***ing rain you've ever seen.
"And I just looked out and thought, 'For f***'s sake. Someone up there doesn't like us.'"
Or us a Bob Dylan fan, perhaps...
"But the crowd!" gushes Mat. "The best thing about that Phoenix was the crowd. I would have f***ed off if I were them, Horrible, Truly, truly horrible."
"We just gritted our teeth, and I think we ended up giving even more. One of those things. Something happens to f*** you up and you think, 'No, I'm not going to let it f*** me up.' It was smashing."
It can't be said that weather alwyas has a positive effect on one's festival experience, though, can it, Brett?
"Oh, God no, weather completely influences the ambience of a festival. Phoenix is an example of when it made us better, but we did play [Euro fest] Roskilde once and there were 80,000 people watching us on the main stage. I was like, 'This, is going to be the best gig of anyone's life, eve!'And it just pissed down for the two days. Awful!"
Did you get caught at the Glastonbury mudbaths?
"Didn't one of the f***ing stages collapse? Ha ha ha!" is Brett's response. Might we assume that Suede were not on site? "Yeah, we were abroad, but we were hearing these reports from the radio. To start with we were, 'Oh, ooh dear', and by the end of it we were just pissing ourselves laughing!"
So remember, kids: when you were up to your arse in mud, your wallet lost in a ditch, your friends struck down by E.coli, you were at least providing entertainment for Brett and co. Nice.
That Suede make such an essential, visceral, scorching festival act may be no surprise, the band having followed the familiar, gig-based, Maker cover-starred path to indie superstardom, but Suede are no average indie superstars. Not only is their line-up one of the constant reinvention and evolution; not only are their fans the glammed-up negative of the archetypal festival-goer; but the band's favoured themes of urbanisation are also at odds with the freedom, rurality and supposed "vibe" of the festival scene. Is it precisely that contradiction that works so well at festivals?
"Oh, I don't know if there's any mismatch there," muses Brett. "And I suppose I don't really equate festivals with rurality, to be honest."
"Yeah, that's cos we go home," guffaws Mat. "Harghwa ha!"
"Well, yes and no,"Brett considers, tapping his fag. "I mean we do go home. But while we're at the festivals what it comes down to is a load of kids just listening to music, and I think we work in a big field simply because a lot of our songs are quite anthemic."
Simple as that?
"Yeah. That's the main thing. Big choruses. When you're standing 100 metres away with the wind blowing... Like I saw The Go Betweens at a festival last year, and they're one of my favourite bands, but they really weren't right. Music's got to be quite bombastic in those conditions and I don't think you can afford to be subtle. It's good just to stand up there and broadcast yourself. Know what I mean?"
Is it the repeated concept of entrapment that makes escaping to the country so inevitably seductive? The "She's in Fashion" video tells a similar story...
"Maybe, yeah. The imagery in some of the songs is quite urban," Brett understates." And I suppose with festivals you get on a bus and go there. It makes a nice change, doesn't it?"
It certainly does. And what about your fans, those "thin with good hair" hordes whose levels of hygiene will plunge earthwards like a dump into a festival sewage tank?
"Get a nice crop!" advises Brett, running his hands through a barnet infinitely more festival-worthy than the wiggly quiff that brought Suede to fame. "That's my festival advice: keep your hair short, keep your songs short."
"All in all, the hygiene thing is just a case of throwing people into a field and letting them get on with it, to and extent," concludes Neil. "Isn't it?"
Of course, essential to festival survival is sustenance in its every incarnation. The food! The booze! The drugs! So to take each of those, strictly in order...
"I might have a bit of nosh sometimes," Brett teases. "I'll pop out, get a veggie burger, something like that. I quite like all that grub."
Neil is less convinced of the value of festival food. "I seem to get the slop that's left over from the curry van," he mourns. "Anyway, I'm an on-off vegetarian, so it's 'on' at the moment, so I'll probably go for the noodles. But the problem there is that you have to be quick, because they get cold quickly. And they congeal."
"Anyway," Brett interjects, "we can't talk about food for legal reasons. It's in our contracts. No talking about food. We wouldn't want anyone thinking that we actually ate, would we? That would ruin our whole persona!"
Quite. Far better to nurture the piss-head aspect of Suede's being.
"F***ing hell! Those European festivals are the worst for that! God!" squeals a clearly-quite-shocked Brett. "It all seems to come down to the fact that they brew their own, and as a consequence you see people just wandering around with Castrol GTX cans full of moonshine gin."
"There was one moment in Finland when they filled a water cannon with this home-brewed booze," chuckles Mat, "and everyone was just standing there going, (mouth open hands aloft) 'Arggagaga'!"
Delightful, we're sure. And if booze is out of bound, isn't that just one option left?
"I think drugs are probably a bad thing, actually," states Brett. "I wouldn't mix drugs with festivals to be honest."
What, not at all? Surely that's the point?
"Well, it's probably badly advised for punters, but in terms of performing, then it has to be none, full stop."
"No, I'm always completely straight when I'm onstage, not so much as half a lager inside me. No, really! I just think that's when my performance is best, and I can always focus myself properly. Ultimately, the problem with getting high and going to a festival is that the comedown is too grim. Basically, I wouldn't want to come down in a load of hippies' piss."
"I think," Mat points out, "the idea is that you don't come down at all."
Oh. Yeah. But I suppose it depends how much of a stash you've got, or how hardy you are. But my advice to Melody Maker readers is this: don't do it. No."
Our readers' mums are going to love you, Brett.
"Oh, ha ha! 'Yes,' they'll be going, ' that Brett Anderson's such a nice young man after all.' Ha ha! 'You can tell whether he's a boy or a girl and you can hear all the lyrics. It's got a good beat.'"
Neil has the concluding word on the issue. "I mean, people go to festivals for different things, y'know? You're going to do what you do, just go and do it. I mean the dance tent, well... You know."
Oh yes. We know.
So, a soggy test versus a nice train home and comfy bed. Mad hippies jumping on you versus polite fanzine-sellers. Horse burger versus slap-up grub. The question needs asking: are festival better than "proper" gigs? And if they are, just what is it that makes the festival appearance so thrilling?
I think it's good to get into that rock frame of mind, and just rock out," Brett declares. "You can be really energetic, you can show that side of the band, and it all makes perfect sense. And even though they may not have paid exclusively to see you, the crowd are really into it."
Suede have already cut their 1999 festival teeth, with a number of dates on the European festival circuit. Do you see those as "warm-up" festivals, away from the glare of the British media, or are they as important in their own right?
"Definitely it's healthy to get away from the glare," Brett nods." But the thing is that at the moment we're selling a hell of a lot of records in Europe - the last album sold probably three quarters outside Britain. It was platinum in Scandinavia, for example. So we don't go out their and just trudge around. It's quality stuff, y'know!"
How do the foreign festivals compare to our own?
"Roskilde's a Glastonbury with no drugs," Mat Shrugs.
Part and parcel of the often grim festival experience is the canvas-topped rigmarole we all know and love as camping. Presumably Suede were all in the boy scouts?
"No chance!" splutters Brett.
Pah! So camping's not in your blood?
"Well," says Mat, " that's kind of the thing. I spend my childhood camping - like every family holiday for the first 15 years of my life was spent in tents."
"Too right!" Neil trills. "If you've been forced to camp when you're young, it's just something that brings back dreadful sense memories, waking up in a tent, regretting stuff(!?! - Ed). Retrogression. Ooh, it brings back horrible memories..."
"I got bitten by a sheep once, " Mat chuckles. "Through a tent! I woke up with this thing brushing against me, and the next thing -argh! Fortunately it was just gently chewing on my hand. Basically all the people I know who love camping are the people who spent their childhood holidays in hotels. No, I'll take a hotel any time. If you spend your holidays like that, then it's hardly like, 'Ooh! A tent!'"
"The rest of the band are a right load of tenters," mutters Brett with the kind of contempt one might reserve for Vanessa Feltz.
"No way!" refutes Neil. "I just clear off! Whenever I've got to festivals it's been just for, like, a day."
"Mmm,"mmms Brett, " we do normally try and drive back the same night. Richard's the camper among us."
"And Simon! His family's house was only about five minutes away from the Phoenix site, and he still stayed in a tent!" Brett fumes. "No, Richard's fine - he just puts his glasses on and nobody recognises him. Then he takes them off and he doesn't recognise anyway else.So it's all right! We're going, 'Richard! Richard!' And he just wanders off. Ha ha ah!"
Any final word on the evils of camping? Yes. Brett: "You get to 31 and you need your creature comforts."
As we head away from the Heath, Suede well and truly festivaled-out, just one question remains. What we really need to know is this: which songs are you playing? Tell us now and tell us all.
"Errr..." Brett states, as he negotiates a pile of poo.
"We're going to have work out what to do," Mat translates.
"We're doing three nights at this year's Roskilde festival," Brett continues, "and we should really do a different set every night. We should be like The Grateful Dead!"
"No, seriously! That would be fantastic!"
"Well," Mat huffs. "You're going to be doing a lot of rehearsing!"
Brett has already given this some consideration. "No," is his riposte, "you lot are! I can remember it all! Ha ha!"
You must be one of the only bands appearing this year, whose entire back catalogue - singles, B-sides, album tracks - is good enough to wheel out in a festival set.
"Yeah, it's true that we can draw on anything. Thing is, since we've been playing 'Head Music', we haven't performed a single song from the first two albums. We kind of see 'Suede' and 'Dog Man Star' as out of our bounds, really."
Is that at the expensive of the fans' own enjoyment?
"Yeah, we could have vibed up even more, I suppose, but it's a good discipline. I don't even think we're the same band any more, and it's good because you don't get lazy, don't get complacent, don't just chuck out 'Animal Nitrate', y'know? And the thing is, we've been going down a storm as it is."
But you're not tempted to let loose one night and wheel out the early hits?
"Well, it's partly out of respect for Neil and Richard, as well," Mat explains. "They didn't have any part of those songs from the first two albums. I remember when Richard first joined, we did the whole 'Dog Man Star' tour, and I think by the end of that he'd had enough of playing someone else's songs."
"We've always been like that," Brett trumpets." We've always looked forward rather than at the past and rest on our laurels or any of that shit. We've debuted a lot of new stuff at festivals, and we always make it a little difficult for ourselves.
"It gives us an edge, doesn't it?"
Festival crowds aren't as dedicated as those at bona fide Suede gigs, though, I suggest, as the band disperse to tend to their newly acquired tans.
"A lot of bands our size get through on recognition alone, and Suede isn't about that," concludes Brett. "Sometimes you play all this new stuff and there's a sea of people standing there going, 'Hmmm', but I quite like that. It takes us back to when we started out. Basically, the idea of being a party band is probably as un-Suede as you can get. We just go out there and kick it. I mean, at the end of the day, what is it? Five people banging a plank of wood."
[back to index]