First review: We, The People 2011
Jamie Skey on the festival debutant in Bristol
Theoretically, there is huge potential in launching an international electronica festival in Bristol. For starters, the
city has deep roots in musical expression and exploration (think the ‘trip-hop’ sound and Roni Size).
Moreover, locals have an unquenchable thirst for raving.
However, despite the energy and passion devoted by the organisers and promotion teams involved (head organiser Matt Priest previously launched Skins parties around Bristol for Channel 4, which is apt, because the festival was more or less an expanded Skins party), We, The People 2011 didn't reach its full potential. Not only that, it failed to reflect the quirky, community-centric dynamics that give this city character.
There were a handful of reasons why it underachieved: poor ticket sales led to a reduction in arena size; food and drink prices were extortionate, (cans of lager and cider were £4, and a substandard burger and chips cost £6.50); set times frequently changed, causing widespread confusion; and the sound quality on both stages wasn't often up to scratch. On the whole, it felt like a superficial enterprise, where prices, branding and chart-topping acts were put before diversity, imagination and free expression. Notably and suitably, the festival site lay at the foot of Bristol’s biggest financial institution – Lloyds TSB.
Despite its shortcomings, the weekend certainly had its moments. There were memorable performances from the likes of The Streets, Beardyman and Dub Mafia. And the crowd were hyped up and crazy all weekend, even when it tipped it down on Sunday.
So, to the music. On Friday, the party was truly kicked off by Dub Mafia (8/10), who stirred up the first dance pit of the day with their rude boy (and girl) dub rock. Later on, London rapper turned pop star, Example (2/10), pompously delivers a set of songs that sound not too far removed from Katy Perry’s vacuous candied pop.
A typically comical set from local OAP DJ Derek (7/10) – who arrives with a Tesco bag full of records – fills up the until-then empty waterfront tent. After technical difficulties, the OAP admits in his cod-Jamaican accent “afternoon sets are difficult when I’m sober.” Meanwhile, Modestep (7/10), whose technical, intense and visceral brand of dubstep and drum n bass not only rattles the ribcage, but almost induces nosebleeds too. Finally, for all their visual pomp, London duo Chase and Status (4/10) are rather tame. They roll out a mixture of breakthrough tracks, including Plan B collaboration ‘Pieces,’ and older numbers, but their commercial leanings render their set sonically beige.
Sunday is marred by a downpour. It is a shame, because there’s some cracking music on offer. Reggae legend Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry (6/10) has to be the winner of craziest costume of the weekend. He sports a pink beard and cropped hair, and is garbed up in a sort of sickeningly psychedelic St. Pepper’s suit, complete with a Rubik's Cube-fashioned cap. His rock-steady, blues influenced reggae, however, drags after a handful of numbers.
Over on the main stage, one-man vocal band Beardyman (8/10), pulls off a blinding set and proves that you don’t need laptops, MP3s and decks to make exciting electro music. He also proves himself a soulful singer too, with his remarkable re-imagining of Portishead’s ‘Sour Times’ and New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’. The Streets’ (8/10) headlining slot is one of their last before they call time on their career. Ending on a high note, their set is vigorous and elevated by three-way harmonies, tight, break-beat-influenced drumming and Mike Skinner’s chavvy charm. Classic tracks like ‘Weak Become Heroes,’ ‘Let’s Push Things Forward,’ ‘It’s Too Late’ and ‘Don’t Mug Yourself’ have never sounded so joyous.