Truck Festival offers up both exciting names and a decent slice of delightful nonsense

Words: Jake Hawkes. Photos: Patrick Gunning.

Roll up, roll up, the UK’s biggest indie jamboree is back. Yes, we do mean Truck Festival –  Oxfordshire’s annual offering of Mr Motivator fitness sessions and the chance to see a mosh pit while the Oxford Symphony Orchestra play the Indiana Jones theme tune (no, really).

Alongside fitness and violins, there’s also a load of great bands playing. Most festivals don’t have much to do on Thursday beyond setting up your tent and struggling to get into the silent disco. Truck has Swim Deep belting out timeless bangers and The Wombats giving a main stage headline performance spanning five stellar albums. Not exactly a bad way to kick things off.

Friday sees Derry natives Cherym opening The Nest stage with a blistering performance that shakes off any early afternoon cobwebs. Crowd singalongs and call-and-response melodies see a busy tent only get more packed as the set goes on. Later on, Lambrini Girls manage to ramp up the energy even more, with shouts of “Fuck J.K Rowling” underlining their pro LGBTQ+ stance while they throw a brick through the metaphorical window with enough ridiculous punk bangers to have anyone reeling.

Kate Nash is in the crowd from the second she starts singing and doesn’t leave it for most of the first three songs. The audience give as good as they get throughout, but of course it’s during ‘Foundations’ that everything reaches boiling point, with everyone screaming along as if their lives depend on it.

The passion sticks around for The Vaccines, with newer track ‘Headphones Baby’ sparking as loud a singalong as old classic ‘Wreckin’ Bar’ and cementing their status as far more than just a nostalgia act.

Over at The Nest stage, Spector are thanking people for picking them over The Vaccines before jokingly castigating the flood of “fair weather fans” who pour in halfway through. People are on shoulders for every single song, but of course it’s ‘Chevy Thunder’ and ‘All the Sad Young Men’ which get the most deafening response.

Closing out the day are Two Door Cinema Club, flinging out indie hits with abandon to a crowd who seem to know every word of every song. It’s hard to argue with bangers like ‘I Can Talk’, even if the show feels a bit light on spectacle for a headline set.

On Saturday, it rains. And rains. And rains some more. Not that the weather seems to dampen spirits too much, with festivalgoers mud-surfing, building mud-men and just generally doing things that aren’t advisable without an easy way to get clean afterwards. 

Deadletter embrace the chaos, frontman Zac Lawrence stripping to the waist and pulling off the kind of dance moves that look set to dislocate a limb. The singalong chorus of ‘Binge’ get’s the most raucous reaction, turning most of the crowd into one huge, swirling mosh pit.

It’s a tough act to follow, but Courting are up to the task. Bursting straight into the one-two of ‘Grand National’ and ‘Tennis’, they’re a band at the stage where their set isn’t filler dotted with hits, but bangers all the way through. An auto-tuned final ten minutes hypes the crowd up even more and proves (if it ever needed proving) that they’ve got far more in the tank than indie anthems.

Circa Waves battle through the downpour and manage to get the crowd going enough to churn up the already muddy main stage arena even more. ‘T-Shirt Weather’ feels particularly on-the-nose considering the circumstances, but there’s no denying it’s an all time indie classic.

Crawlers have shot up the running order since last year and the legions of dedicated fans crammed into The Nest show exactly why. turbocharged pop-rock anthems and a dynamic stage presence have fans headbanging at the barriers throughout, and even those at the back are leaping around by the end of the set.

Alt-J close out the main stage with slightly less energy. The band are tight, the lightshow is impressive and songs like set-closer ‘Breezeblocks’ need no introduction, but unfortunately for them the relaxed melodies fail to make a headline-level impact on the drenched and exhausted crowd. 

Sunday sees Prima Queen’s folk-flecked pop soothing the aching heads of the exhausted festival goers sprawled out on the still muddy ground by the main stage. It’s the perfect booking for the festival’s intermittently sunny final afternoon.

Pale Waves follow, raising the energy and managing to get people moving with a barrage of hits from across their back catalogue. Lead singer Heather Baron-Gracie has the crowd in the palm of her hand throughout, even pausing to put down a presumptuous crowd member holding a sign which says ‘I can fix you’. The whole set gets a huge response, but even two albums further down the line, it’s early megahit ‘There’s a Honey’ which gets the whole crowd jumping in the sticky mud.

FEET use their late afternoon slot to debut some new material to a packed out tent. The crowd receive it well, but it’s when ‘Dog Walking’ kicks in that things really get going, with at least one pint thrown within the first ten seconds. From there the hits keep rolling, and by the time a meteorologically appropriate rendition of ‘English Weather’ sees us home, the whole of the mud-splattered tent is heaving with people.

Self-Esteem is fresh off the back of her Standon Calling headline slot and two years into her ‘Prioritise Pleasure’ tour. The stage show is as slick as you’d expect with that level of practice, a genuine pop masterclass that’s like nothing else across the weekend. Nobody deserves success more than Rebecca Lucy Taylor and it’s truly a joy to see thousands of people sing along to every word of her set.

Last but not least, Royal Blood close out the weekend with driving riffs and more noise than you’d think was possible for a two-piece. A huge firework display punctuates the end of their set and both the band and the crowd are grinning from ear to ear by the time they walk off the stage. 

Truck is always good fun, managing to perfectly walk the tightrope, being big enough to book genuinely exciting acts, but small enough to maintain its sense of quirky nonsense. This year’s festival is no different, with as many people there to watch a headline set as there are to go and watch a Beatles cover band or heavy metal covers of pop songs. It takes all sorts, and we’ll happily sing the praises of any event where you can get out of the rain by watching a mass midnight screening of Shrek in a disused cow barn.