Martin Longstaff, singer-songwriter with The Lake Poets, looks dolefully across the empty stage.
“The rest of the band has gone to watch the Euros,” he remarks with a sigh, before picking up his acoustic guitar and launching into the downbeat folk-pop of ‘To The Lighthouse’.
The Sunderland musician’s commitment to playing at Long Division in the face of such abandonment is only matched by the urban festival’s many supporters. Following the loss of funding the sixth annual event has been made possible by a Crowdfunder campaign, an approach that backs its celebration of independence.
This DIY spirit takes many forms over the course of the day, from the Sonic Youth art-rock of Fur Blend through to the post-shoegaze dream-pop of Fear Of Men. It also embraces the unashamedly epic, be that Her Name Is Calla’s fusion of Godspeed You! Black Emperor instrumental passages with Muse-style vocal histrionics, or Dancing Years’ Keane style mini-stadium alt-pop with added violin.
The main vibe of the day is nonetheless folk influenced. RM Hubbert and one-man band Piles Of Clothes take a traditional approach to the genre. The former’s flamenco influenced instrumentals impress with his fingerpicking dexterity but his melancholic lyrical material cries out for a stronger vocal alternative to his low, breathy delivery.
Piles Of Clothes, meanwhile, offer pleasantly generic country tracks such as ‘Downpours In May’. Andy Crowder’s admission that “this sounds quite a lot like the last one” highlights the material’s limitations, much of which has the quality of a demo awaiting more fulsome band arrangements.
The Pictish Trail (aka Johnny Lynch) has navigated the challenge of being a solo artist by matching his self-deprecating folk with what sounds like a cheap 80s Casio keyboard. The result is close to a more lo-fi King Creosote, his sweetly affecting vocals breathing humanity into his DIY electro-folk.
He reappears with his keyboardist Suze Bear later in the day as part of Malcolm Middleton’s backing band. The two acts share a certain lugubriousness (‘the whole world’s listening to downbeat s***e,’ sings the former Arab Strap man at one point) but the latter has a more contrary approach to music, his set switching between electro-pop and punk guitar thrashes.
The reformed Bis have made a career out of combining these two styles. There are times when the energetic Glasgow electro-punk outfit are as dated as Pop Will Eat Itself but for the most part they sound remarkably contemporary. ‘Kandy Pop’ (‘a swear word to some people,’ admits Sci-Fi Steven) is an irresistible sugar blast and ‘Minimum Wage’ is not dissimilar to the art-punk of The Julie Ruin.
As a band that rose out of the 90’s DIY movement they perfectly capture the spirit of Long Division, which in grassroots enthusiasm and organisation has established itself as one of the best boutique festival in the region.