Knee Deep festival 2016 – review

Some day all festivals will feel this way

My final festival of the summer season and the one I was looking forward to more than most - Knee Deep in Cornwall may be small but it is most definitely perfectly formed.

So on a late summer Bank Holiday there are a plethora, a plethora I say of festivals all vying for attention, from the kiddiefest that is (are) Reading and Leeds to the thrum of Creamfields there is no shortage of events on offer.

So given the fact that we could have enjoyed the delights of 100,000 teenagers who have just found cider and lighter gas why would I venture 3 hours in the opposite direction?

I know you don't care but I'm going to tell you anyway.

The organisers of Knee Deep have done something really odd. They've tried to run a music festival.

Given that most of the festivals we go to seem to be finely crafted as a way of emptying ones wallet within 30 seconds of entering the main gate it's a refreshing change to find people who start with the music then find a way to pay for it.

Knee Deep is held at a farm down a tiny track near a village in Cornwall. There are bugger all amenities, no wifi signal, no trolley chap, no all nite phone charging stations, no hippy boutique fashion stalls, no pay over the odds yurt rental, no pay over the odds posh toilets and showers and no bloody solar powered jacuzzis. Thank God.

What there is are two stages, beer, a dance tent, nice food and great people.

Ooh and music, lots of  music.

So we turn up and park the car and as it turns out we have chosen to arrive at the exact same time as the rest of the crowd. This threw the organisers a bit and the queue took an hour to get through. Although it was clear we were in the longest part of it and we didn't see another all weekend.

That said even though they were under pressure there were still smiles at the wristband exchange and people were pretty helpful. The main hold up was the bag check with two security checking every locals' bag for illegal turnips.

The good part about it was that we were queuing right next to the main stage so could enjoy the music of Penelope Isles as we stood, chatted and drank beer.

Safely in the site we pitched our tent a suitable distance away from the toilets/main stage and got a wriggle on to go and take in some great bands.

Kicking it all off for us was the Black Tambourines Loads of energy and plenty of top tunes from an indie favourite they turned out to be a great starter for the weekend.

We tested the real ale from kegs and checked it all out before settling down to Bristol guitar worriers Trust Fund.

Fronted by Ellis Jones, a man who gives the impression of someone who has seen the absurdity of the world and still finds it all too funny for words, it would be a mistake to think that their jokey onstage persona indicates a band that aren't taking it at all seriously.

In fact what the ever smiling frontman leads is an excursion into finely crafted indie with a smidgeon of grunge thrown in. Knee Deep have a reputation of being able to pick superb acts and our first proper set was to prove that their touch, after a year out to recuperate hasn't deserted them.

Trust fund will no doubt have won more admirers in the growing crowd.

A band that I'd marked up as a must see were Dream Wife.  

Wrapping a sugar sweet rock sound around stinging cut to the bone lyrics I certainly wasn't disappointed. So often we see bands that compose superb songs and then stand, shoe gazing on stage whilst the audience looks on quizzically.

Dream Wife in contrast grab hold of the stage and wring its neck, with punchy basslines from Bella and awesome dirty guitar from Alice Go the band, started ironically as a fake Spinal Tap type creation end up playing it straight but giving you a literal and metaphorical wink when no-ones looking.

Irrepressible Icelandic vox Rakel is a photographer's dream (intended) and there's plenty to keep the snapper happy. Watch these.

The sign of a good festival is that you shouldn't  like everything. You should find things you love, things you hate and others that challenge.

What challenged me was Whitney. Shortly before a well received Reading set they ended up on the main stage in Cornwall and went down a storm. I however didn't get it. Still don't even after seeing them on the telly. It'd be a boring world if we all liked the same things though.

Big up to Yama Warashi who kept on playing on the top stage even through a power cut and got a great ovation because of it. 

Food, Beer and long drive after a day at adultwork meant that by the time the music started getting all dancey I was getting in my pit. For the night owls around us though there was plenty still going on.

Day two arrives and after a great breakfast I spend my time shooting my fellow festival goers and trying my hand at some of the creative stuff on offer. It turns out I'm rubbish at it all so I fiddle with my camera gear and get ready for the arrival of  Sports Team.

If the hangovers were hoping for a nice lilty singer of ballads to ease them into the day they were to be, like them that voted Brexit, sadly disappointed.

There's an air of mystery that surrounds this band as they refuse to engage with any form of electronic communication except for the implied''fuck you' of having a facebook and soundcloud page with nothing on. Fine then.

Happily aggressive they plough through indie rock with a bit of the Oasis swagger and the odd look at the audience as much to say ' you still here then?'

Frontman Dave Spivey sings a song lying down 'like Rhianna recorded her entire album' and the band play on as though it's a regular occurrence. Luckily people invented radio mikes and he takes one and lies down in the crowd, then gets bored and wanders off into the burger tent singing as he goes.

If you wanted a decent shot then you had to move about a bit, which I did, then I lay down for a rest. Liked.

Yonaka had just got in after an epic week recording their new album in Sheffiesl, driving back down to Brighton, then setting off for Cornwall. If they were van lagged then they certainly didn't show it.

There's much going on in this band and guitar George is on it from the start, it's clear it won't be a shoegazing experience.

Power indie rocks with a dark side, Yonaka are one of those bands that you must see live.

Front Theresa may look angelic at times but she brings a real rawness to the lyrics and goes from rock chick to full on throaty metalcore by the end of the set. Going backstage to say hello I found her flat out on the ground and with good reason. It may have been their first time in Cornwall but the county loves them.

My only sadness about the set is that it was full on daylight because the pics would've looked better under lights. hey ho.

Knee Deep has a really friendly feel. It's easy to chat to people and there's a chilled out vibe with a real appreciation for music.

I can't overstate enough the quality of bands that the guys booked. The problem I have is that this review could be immense if I included the great sets by people like Flamingods, Hers, Mothers, Tamu Massif, Matt Maltese and many more. Fact is there isn't a weak band amongst them.

Jelani Blackman stands out as a guy who's on his way. After a false start in 2013/14 he's now back on track and producing wonderful but difficult to pigeonhole sounds. 

Where the set begins with soulful sounds and scratchy DJ there's a pot pourri of glitch/grime/stuff. Then the guy whips out a sax. Where do you go from there?

Blackman won friends without doubt and I'm looking forward to new tracks dropping soon.

Knee Deep have a habit of picking bands that are just about to break big. Think Wolf Alice, Kate Tempest and the dearly departed Big Deal.

It looks like they've done it again with Loyle Carner given that Radio one were trailing an interview with him all day on the Friday.

With good reason too. Loyle is a particular talent and a rising star of the now established British Hip-Hop/rap scene.

British rap has a particular cadence and attitude that you don't get elsewhere with heartfelt words twinned with a softer, more soulful side.

Carner is no exception and it's easy to warm to his very personal tracks interspersed with a touching back story that he relates in part to the audience. Check out "Ain't nothin' changed" on your favourite video channel.

Loyle kills it and the punters respond in kind and he looks both genuinely amazed stunned and delighted. It's a magic moment and something that he'll need to get used to because with this kind of showing he can expect much more of that kind of reaction. In a very high quality festival Carner knocks it out of the park with the stand out set.

So there was a load of other stuff that space stops me mentioning. Take a look at the gallery below to get a taste of what it was all like.

The whole point is that Knee Deep is a music festival. The guys spend a great deal of time finding the best bands they can and then put them on for our delectation and delight. 

The whole festival feels like some blokes have booked a bunch of bands they like and then got a few mates round, which they have.

Topping out at 1000 souls the festival is small but it was a great way to see off the festival summer season. It's a superb antidote to the over commercialised, derisked corporate bollocks that fills our calendars. 

With a small team I can't begin to work our how they did it. If you bought early the two days would have cost you around £30 which is criminally cheap.


What did they get right?

Band Roster

Right number of food vendors

Good beer at a fair price

Sensible security

Stuff to do



number of toilets

chilled people

what did they do wrong?



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Find Trust Fund here

Find Dream Wife here

Don't bother looking for Sports Team here

Find Yonaka here

Find Jelani Blackman here

Find Loyle Carner here


Knee Deep in Numbers

Ticket price (£55 on the day) highest other festival price this year £230

Parking £2 Highest elsewhere £25

Pint £3.60 elsewhere £5.50

Chips £2 elsewhere £4.50


The Knee Deep Gallery – feel free to use and share but no commercial use

Click on an image to get a bigger version

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