It may only be in its second year, but I’ll Be Your Mirror at Alexandra Palace has secured top billing in London’s festival circuit. It’s hardly surprising, as its organisers, ATP, are renowned for their eclectic holiday park festivals and an inspiring array of one off shows by such luminaries as Spiritualized and Faith No More.
But is I’ll Be Your Mirror really a festival, or just a glorified indoor gig? Well, judging by our experience it certainly qualifies. Ally Pally may be indoors, but its cavernous Great Hall could easily be a sun swathed park; the rays pouring in through the vast ceiling windows and opulent rose window means it’s acceptable to wear sunglasses inside. The failings of one of the bars to do its job – provide drinks — also add the festival ambience.
Then there are the queues. Whether it’s the winding string of fans creeping down the hill from the Palm Court entrance waiting for wrist bands, or the crossed-legged throng waiting for toilets, there’s a feeling of being herded. As people slowly duck waddle inch by inch from the food area to the smoking pit through the bustling Palm Court, back to the second room, I’ll be Your Mirror has the feeling of trudging along Glastonbury’s disused railway.
What makes it different is the volume. You never get this level of audible clarity in Hyde Park, and it’s perfectly suited to The Melvins sludge grunge. Admittedly, foundation-shattering doom punk is something of an acquired taste, but The Melvins are legends, influencing the likes of Soundgarden, and from the peak of London they claim their rightful place as rock masters. Main-man Buzz Osborne resembles a static scarecrow, refusing to acknowledge the crowd as he churns his crunching riffs, while the two perfectly choreographed drummers pound the palace like hell’s very own glam rockers.
The volume award goes to Sleep, the Californian stoner rock trio, who absorb the Great Hall in hypnotic drones which reverberating through the guts. They have an audible love of Black Sabbath at their most down tempo, and even incorporate the 12 bar blues on Dragonaut, but it’s their repetitive crawling riffs which truly make them exceptional. Rather than just being a noisy racket they use distortion as a cocoon, and their rhythms become almost symbiotic. By the end of their hour set, Al Cisneros and Matt Pike are kneeling in front of their massive amps playing and nodding as the stage throbs. Wonderful.
But everyone’s here for one thing, Slayer. The metal gods are playing Reign In Blood in its entirety, one of the best albums of all time, not just in metal. In all honesty a Slayer gig is never going to be surprising, it’s going to be loud and fast, and tonight lives up to it. On stage they have 15, yes 15, Marshal amps in a row and a massive drum riser. Although their playing and phenomenal guitar shredding is earsplittingly fast, they are note perfect throughout. As they play Angel of death and Reigning Blood the only thing louder is the audience howling in appreciation.
Throughout the weekend Mogwai deploy a much more subtle sonic assault, and the Afghan Whigs reward fans for waiting over ten years with an enchanting reunion show. I’ll Be Your Mirror 2012 is hardly the most accessible festival, as it’s geared towards a specific 30plus alternative music fan. But if you’re in that demographic then I’ll Be Your Mirror is essential, and London’s lucky to have such an original and progressive festival.