BAS2013-SAFFRONaOver May Bank Holiday weekend, DEPECHE MODE fans and synth music enthusiasts converged on the Essex town of Basildon for BAS 2013.

Now in its third year, Bas is fast becoming established as the premier festival of electronic music in the UK.

At the heart of the event is the rich musical heritage of Basildon, the birthplace of DEPECHE MODE, YAZOO and countless associated artists. 

DM fans travel from all over the world to pay homage at the hometown of their idols. For the DM faithful, this year’s festival was given an extra frisson of excitement as it immediately preceded the two Depeche homecoming shows at London’s 02 Arena.

Photo by Lee Whitehouse

Photo by Lee Whitehouse

The action began on the Saturday night with a welcome party at The Edge pub, appropriately a former drinking haunt of the young Vince Clarke. Glaswegian trio ANALOG ANGEL impressed with their edgy brand of synthpop, with ‘We Won’t Walk Away’ from the recent ‘Pride’ EP a particular highlight. Meanwhile visitors and artists mingled in a welcoming atmosphere which set the tone for the rest of the weekend.

Visitors continued to arrive on Sunday and friendships were made in the plush surroundings of Basildon’s Katz Club. Live music was provided by CULT WITH NO NAME, whose laid back style on tracks like ‘Breathing’ perfectly suited the afternoon’s chilled out atmosphere. DM fans could view the photography of Tim Williams, who did one of the  first DM photoshoots back in 1981, and enjoy Jeremy Deller’s cult film ‘The Posters Came From The Walls’ on the big screen.

Sunday evening was all about live music, and boasted an excellent line-up of new talent alongside some truly stellar names. Kicking off proceedings were SINESTAR, the Bristol-based four piece who have built a loyal following with their punchy electronic / rock fusion combined with powerful songwriting.  Anthemic singles ‘I Am The Rain’ and ‘Hope & Prey’ were well received, whilst closing track ‘The Undisputed King of Tragedy’ bodes well for their debut album due out later this year.

BAS2013-AUTOMATIC WRITINGNext up were enigmatic duo AUTOMATIC WRITING, who previously impressed at ‘Christmas Box’ in December. Their sound integrates brooding synth soundscapes with guitar effects to mesmerising effect, as showcased on double A-side ‘Falling’ / ‘Continuous’. Singer Neave Merrick has a magnetic stage presence and made a particular impression on some female members of the audience!

Another act making a return visit to Bas were synth-noir exponents STRANGERS. They delivered a stirring set, with frontman David Maddox-Jones’s onstage exuberance beautifully counterposed by backing vocalist Ellie Fletcher. Anthems such as ‘Safe / Pain’ and ‘Shine On You’ were enthralling in a live setting and given extra poignancy thanks to Ellie’s lush vocals.

Crowd favourites TENEK delivered a storming set combining classics from their back catalogue with recent material from ‘Another Day’ EP. Always a compelling live act, they brought the crowd to fever pitch when they introduced special guest Saffron from REPUBLICA. “Let’s blow the f**king roof off!” she exclaimed before launching into the TENEK remix of ‘Christiana Obey’. It was a jubilant climax to the set that had the crowd bouncing, and resulted in a rush on Tenek t-shirts at the merch stand!

Headlining the Sunday night were the mighty HEAVEN 17. One of the great survivors of the ‘Synth Britannia’ scene, in recent years HEAVEN 17 have built a reputation as an outstanding live act, and tonight’s set showed why. Perennial classics such as ‘Come Live With Me’, ‘Geisha Boys & Temple Girls’ and “HEAVEN 17’s favourite song… ‘Let Me Go’!” sounded as fresh as ever, thanks to Glenn’s baritone vocal complemented by the terrific backing singers Billie Godfrey and Rachel Mosleh. Glenn Gregory and Martyn Ware were hugely entertaining, sharing banter between songs and clearly enjoying the show. Interspersed with H17 material were early HUMAN LEAGUE staples ‘The Black Hit Of Space’, ‘Being Boiled’ and ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’, with the latter performed as a spine-tingling duet by Messrs Gregory and Ware. A surprise rendition of David Bowie’s ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ added to the party atmosphere.

BAS2013-H17aAs the end of the set approached, Glenn introduced the band and gave a special mention to their stunning keyboardist Berenice Scott, whose birthday it was… prompting an impromptu audience singalong of “Happy Birthday to Berenice!” And just when it seemed the night couldn’t get any better, the band launched into a roof-raising finale of ‘Temptation’, featuring a stratospheric vocal performance from Billie Godfrey that completely brought the house down.

On Monday, the excesses of the night before were soothed by glorious warm sunshine and a rooftop barbecue, whilst some visitors took a guided tour of Basildon’s musical heritage sites courtesy of local lads Tim Williams and Steve Burton. The final evening’s entertainment was all about Basildon, with Martin Gore’s nephew DEAN M OLDFIELD opening with a short but accomplished set of original material.

Then MODOVAR took to the stage, playing an exclusive set of ERASURE and YAZOO covers which was pitch perfect and meticulously executed. With Chris Beecham’s vocals almost uncannily matching those of Moyet and Bell, plus Glen Wisbey’s synth arrangements staying faithful to the originals, this was something very special indeed and perfectly suited the celebratory mood of the evening.

BAS2013-SPEAK&SPELLFinally, concluding the weekend’s entertainment were SPEAK & SPELL, the premier DEPECHE MODE tribute band.

With charismatic frontman Paul Christian Wood channelling Dave Gahan as skilfully as ever, they provided an entertaining set spanning everything from ‘Get The Balance Right’ to brand new single ‘Soothe My Soul’; the perfect prelude to the real thing the following evening.

As bleary eyed revellers awoke the next morning, they were left to ponder what is it that makes Bas so special? The answer is, firstly, the music; this year boasted a great line-up which struck the perfect balance between heritage acts, tribute bands and new talent.  Secondly, the high production values; everything Bas-related looks beautiful, from the website to the tickets to the onstage projections. But most of all, it’s the people.

With like-minded fans, artists and DJs converging from all over the world, Bas has its own uniquely friendly atmosphere; it feels more like a party than a festival. As one visitor commented, “I feel more at home here than anywhere else”.

Text by Steve Gray
Photos by Richard Price except where credited
14th June 2013