Words: Ali Shutler. Photos: Frances Beach.
Standon Calling is a quirky festival. The Saturday afternoon sees a huge crowd of people decked to the nines in fancy dress trudging through the mud as part of its annual costume parade, while the following morning, there’s a full-blown dog show. Head to the main stage afterwards, and witness a glitzy karaoke contest with punters living out their rock star dreams. Across the weekend, kids can learn to skateboard while adults can sample everything from bushcraft to yoga, and there’s a range of educational talks on the likes of climate change and gender identity held on The Lawn.
Nestled at the top of a hill is a community-focused fine-dining experience hosted by Woodfired Canteen, while the festival also boasts a swimming pool, eco-friendly hot tubs and a champagne bar for those who like a more luxurious festival experience. At the other end of the scale, the Cowshed is an industrial complex that comes alive at night with the best in electronic music, while tucked away in the woodland is the Groove Garden, which leans towards funk and disco. Yes, this family-friendly weekend does its best to be all things to all people, but the result is a gloriously chaotic good time with Standon Calling an inclusive, exciting wonderland.
Leaning into that, the 2023 lineup is a carefully curated celebration of pop outsiders, breaking new talent and genre-defying stars.
Somehow, Self-Esteem has never headlined a festival before, but their Saturday night set is the stuff of absolute wonder. Her ‘Prioritise Pleasure’ tour has been a juggernaut of ambition, emotion and empowerment for two years now and tonight, that magic still reigns. A stripped-back ‘John Elton’ bristles with vulnerability, the uplifting ‘345’ radiates warmth while the fury of ‘How Can I Help You’ hits as hard as ever. Add in the various costume changes, backing dancers/singers and slick choreography, Self Esteem puts on one hell of a polished show. There’s still a rawness to it, though, as Rebecca and her band fight back tears and fits of laughter at various points, to deliver something that feels inspirational but remains viciously relatable.
Years & Years’ Friday night headline set is just as joyous, as Olly Alexander delivers a giddy, theatrical performance that would be just at home on the west end. He starts the gig inside a phone booth, and three songs in, he’s riding a heely-wearing policeman like a motorbike. It’s ridiculous, but it works perfectly with the lush material from ‘Night Call’, which is an unwavering celebration of excess. A constantly rotating cast of dancers keeps the career-spanning set agile, and it’s impossible to argue with poptastic hits like ‘Desire’ and ‘King’.
Across the weekend, that colourful world of pop is really given a chance to shine. There’s a powerhouse performance from living legend Anastacia, who fully leans into the camp chaos of the festival, while Mel C’s energetic, dance-driven set is a relentless good time. Shiny newcomers like Ellie Dixon look comfortable on Standon Calling’s biggest stage, Lynks continues to inspire utter joy while buzzy superstars like ShyGirl put on a dominating, otherworldly experience that’s as brilliant as it is bold. At Standon Calling, there’s space for everyone to play.
In a suitably-playful mood, Thomas Headon’s early afternoon set on Friday includes sugary covers of both Taylor Swift (‘We Are Never Getting Back Together’) and Hannah Montana (‘Best Of Both Worlds’) alongside a mid-gig quiz and a smattering of questionable dad jokes. He’s got the songs to back up these entertaining antics though, with the giddy ‘Strawberry Kiss’, the summery ‘Butterflies’ and the glitzy urgency of ‘Georgie’ perfect for a festival crowd. Within the first five minutes of The Lottery Winners’ set, vocalist Thom Rylance compares his band to a shit version of Queen, but nobody seems to mind. Instead, they deliver a charming set with the band determined to make the ever-growing crowd feel part of their giddy world. The Lottery Winners are still celebrating ‘Anxiety Replacement’ topping the UK Album Chart earlier this year but it feels like bigger things are still on the horizon.
Speaking of which, fresh from that astounding Glastonbury performance on the BBC Introducing Stage, Dylan is back in her element as she bounds onto Standon Calling’s mainstage for a high-kicking, guitar-shredding performance. Early on, she admits she was raised on rock & roll but can only write pop songs, and spends a thundering 45 minutes bouncing between the two. From the soulful ‘Nineteen’, through the spindly ‘Someone Else’, Dylan isn’t afraid to slow things down, but she’s at her most powerful when she’s going full-throttle. ‘Every Heart But Mine’ has all the stadium ambition of The Killers that’s quickly backed up by a cover of Harry Styles’ ‘Kiwi’. New song ‘Liar Liar’ continues that statement – brooding one moment, electric the next.
Hannah Grae is just as elastic. Fresh from releasing her debut EP ‘Hell Is A Teenage Girl’ earlier this year, today’s set is driven by a wonderful sense of purpose. She confidently jumps between rage, hope and joy, and has a blast as she sticks every landing. Opener ‘Time Of Your Life’ snarls with a punk fury while the EP’s title track starts slow and dreamy before a venomous dose of reality. A cover of 4 Non Blondes’ ‘What’s Up?’ sees her jump into the sodden crowd while the closing ‘Well I Hope Ur Happy’ twists empowerment from teenage angst.
Elsewhere, Stone blends big pop hooks with guitar-driven aggression and dance euphoria. It’s intense, urgent and bundles of fun while Sad Night Dynamite incite just as much gleeful chaos with their menacing wonky pop. The hypnotic ‘Smoke Hole’ and the rumbling ‘Kill Shot’ channel a twisted escapism, while the acoustic-guitar-driven ‘Psychedelic Views’ sees the band flirt with indie rock. ‘Krunk’ sees Archie jump into the crowd to start a mosh pit, cackling at Josh’s faux-fury in the process. Their music might feel dystopian and nightmarish but live, it’s nothing but a party.
On the same stage, flowerovlove delivers a more laid-back set, but it’s no less arresting. The bouncing ‘Out For The Weekend’ is sung with a wink, while recent single ‘Coffee Shop’ is sunny and optimistic. The entire set is feel-good and uplifting, but she takes it up another notch when she invites four members of the audience onto the stage to be screamed at by the crowd. “Show them love,” she beams, and then gives £50 cash to the loudest. That excitement continues through ‘Hannah Montana’ and ‘Malibu’ with flowerovlove delivering nothing but posi-vibes.
It’s something The Big Moon know well. Acting as a delayed runaround for 2020’s brilliant ‘Walking Like We Do’ as well as a chance to showcase third album ‘Here Is Everything’, today’s set is everything that’s brilliant about The Big Moon condensed into a glorious 45 minutes. From the warmth of opener ‘Wide Eyes’ through the shuddering ‘Don’t Think’ to the closing ‘Your Light’, a fierce ode to finding hope in the darkness, The Big Moon feel as vital as ever. Plus, has any band ever looked like they’re having more fun onstage?
Fresh from another stint supporting Paramore in North America, Bloc Party’s Sunday night headline set is driven by a renewed sense of urgency. Yes, classics like ‘Banquet’ and ‘Helicopter’ still bang but newer material like the glitching ‘In Situ’ and the skipping ‘Blue’ sees the band continue to dance between dance and punk with a deserved confidence.
It’s a similar energy for Caity Baser, whose feel-good, fierce anthems of self-empowerment turn Standon Calling into an absolute party. A hammering ‘Kiss You’, the pointed ‘Say It Like That’ and the jubilant ‘Dance Around It’ whip the crowd into a frenzy while a hectic ‘Pretty Boys’ sends everyone into overdrive. It’s similarly frantic scenes during Confidence Man’s Saturday evening set. Their bubbly pop music, relentless dance routines and numerous costume changes could easily feel cheesy but cut with a smirking self-awareness, the band are very much in on the joke. Instead of feeling outdated, the band’s 45-minute set is a masterclass in joy.
Somehow, it’s Rick Astley that pulls the biggest crowd of the weekend, though, and even he seems surprised when he walks out on Standon Calling’s mainstage to a very young audience. “Do you even know who I am,” he smirks, but the energy is electric throughout. From covers of Lizzo and Harry Styles “for the young’uns” to new song ‘Dippin’ My Feet’, Rick looks very comfortable onstage, creating a sense of intimacy throughout the sprawling field. Of course, ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ inspires one of the loudest singalongs of the weekend but Rick’s legacy is far from one hit wonder. First Glastonbury, now Standon. The renastley-cence (or Rick-nascence) is in full swing. “Absolute nonsense” grins Rick, and we couldn’t be more here for it.
As well as the relative safety of beloved crowdpleasers like We Are Scientists sugary indie rock, Standon Calling makes space for music that sits at the more extreme end of the spectrum. July Jones’ “crazy pop” tackles everything from self-belief to anxiety and self-expression via a pulsating blend of industrial rave, glitching drum & bass and soaring pop. They own the Laundry Stage from the moment they take to it and pull in a number of curious passers-by to create an inclusive party atmosphere that could go on all night. Following hot on their heels, ZAND’s “Ugly Pop” is just as attention-grabbing. From the twisted ‘Boys Like U’ through a cackling ‘DTF’ to the nightmarish ‘Deliverance’, ZAND is a constant shapeshifter who walks a fine line between all-out fury and vicious humour, to create something truly special.
Then there’s Heriot. The band’s brutal, vibrant take on metal has seen them at the forefront of a new wave of exciting, heavy music but this weekend, they’re very much on their own. By far the heaviest band on the bill, they still inspire mosh pits from a dedicated crowd at the front while an ever-growing crowd are drawn into the beautiful carnage. That’s Standon Calling for you, though – a festival with something for everyone, where everything is ace.