Festival review: Doune The Rabbit Hole

With this year's downsizing of T in the Park to the city-based TRNSMT, it's tempting to speculate that smaller festivals are the future. Yet for those with more focused tastes and less inclination to be swayed by big-name artists at the top of the bill, the boutique festival isn't a new phenomenon. There are plenty of them around the country if you know where to look, and the roster is always changing, with younger entries such as Eden in Dumfries & Galloway and Skye Live taking the place of old favourites such as the sadly soon-to-close Loopallu in Ullapool.

Francois and the Atlas Mountains
Francois and the Atlas Mountains
Francois and the Atlas Mountains

Doune The Rabbit Hole ***

Cardross Estate, near Stirling

In this ecosystem, Doune the Rabbit Hole counts as a positive veteran, a modestly sized and bohemian three-day event on the grounds of Cardross Estate in the countryside between Stirling and Loch Lomond. The site is small but well-formed, based in a field which runs away from the estate’s main house; at the top of the hill is a decent-sized main stage, which leads down to other music tents, food stalls and a large and bustling children’s zone, just one of the reasons why this campsite-based event is one of the best music festivals for families in Scotland.

Sadly, it wasn’t a weekend without moderate inconveniences, although the main one – the weather – couldn’t have been helped. Perhaps more walkways could have been laid down at busy access routes but no festival in Scotland is immune to muddy patches in rain and it’s a hazard which attendees build in. When the downpour had cleared, however, the site was revealed as an idyllic, tree-lined space with enough room to explore and relax (the hollow tree, in particular, is a magical favourite with children). Arriving onsite on Saturday, however, it was a shame to hear that Friday night’s headliners, New York art-punk

outfit Liars, had curtailed their set due to sound issues.

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Curated for the first time by Glasgow promoters Synergy Concerts, Doune the Rabbit Hole’s 2017 edition boasted a great line-up of cult favourites, crowd-pleasers of modest size and reputation, much-loved local artists and great young bands who it’s unlikely many will have heard of before. That description held true even after a handful of main stage artists cancelled their Saturday sets for unspecified reasons. Neither Edinburgh’s Aberfeldy nor Meursault were able to play, and nor were the proposed headline act, Malian roots rock group Songhoy Blues.

There’s no question this would have been desperately disappointing for anyone who had booked to see one of these bands specifically, although buying a festival ticket on condition that one single act plays is a risky business without guarantee. No matter what had gone wrong, the Doune organisers did the best they could, plugging main stage gaps with other artists from smaller stages and keeping the music flowing for the day’s

biggest crowds.

The second top-billed Francois and the Atlas Mountains – Francois Marry’s Franco-English indie-pop group, who have a strong history of collaboration with Scottish artists and one of the most identifiable guitar hooks of the summer in their track Grand Dereglement – took on the headline spot, while earlier in the day one of the biggest names and highlights was Sage Francis and B Dolan, the rap duo from Providence, Rhode Island, who are appearing at the Edinburgh Festival this month with their narrative hip hop show Tricknology.

This was their live gig set, however; one which was still fiercely eloquent and politically angry, yet toned-down suitably for an afternoon audience containing many children. “Let’s get muddy, we’re gonna have a rap show!” they yelled, working the crowd ferociously, and when called back for an encore – usually off-limits to a non-headlining festival artist, although the audience were adamant – they threw together a great take on A Tribe Called Quest’s Can I Kick It?

Elsewhere on the main stage bill, Scots group The Vegan Leather powered through a pleasing and eagerly tuneful set of lively electro-pop, while the similarly promoted Holy F***, from Toronto, Canada, were well worth their high-placed mid-evening position for a fiery and brooding set of electronic post-rock which unexpectedly had young and old dancing.

The smaller stages bore a bunch of unheralded gems, meanwhile, including the comedy character punk-pop of Deliberate Crumbs, who closed with an anthem about getting a “taxi to the chipper”; the sludgy psych-rock of Snapped Ankles, who were dressed like either woodland spirits or dishevelled yetis; and the stunning power of Rattle, two young women with facing drumkits and distorted vocal mics. It was a great day out – a success despite the glitches, not a failure because of them.