V Festival 2011 review - Chelmsford

'So defiantly mainstream, that as festivals go, it's pretty alternative'

V Festival 2011 review - Chelmsford

Photographer: Mark HollowayChris Eustace on 22 August 2011

Click for the best V Festival 2011 photos.

You’ll have heard all the V Festival jibes already – that it’s full of Hollyoaks and The Only Way Is Essex cast members, and (shudder) people sitting in front of the main stage all day with picnic hampers and that it’s just sooo corporate, man. But despite the disdain, it quickly sold out once again this year.

Why? Because V knows what its audience want, which is acts and songs they KNOW.  Even the bands near the start of the day have all had a least one hit of sorts to play, and while that means a few are past their prime, it’s also just an Adele and a Gaga away from being a comprehensive round-up of who’s popular at the moment – and you suspect that at least one of those two will be here next year.

You could say Glasto’s recent more pop-friendly approach was actually pioneered by V, who’ve always had room for a Sugababe or three, and the genre’s current domination of the charts is reflected in this year’s line-up.

Lucky for the guitar fans then that Arctic Monkeys (8.5/10) are here on Saturday with a perfectly judged festival set. With ‘Suck It And See’ translating well to the big stage, they’re sharp and confident, even wheeling out ‘Mardy Bum’ in the encore, before Miles Kane joins up for ‘505’. Chase & Status and Dizzee Rascal both have their charms, but if you were there instead, beware: You missed (still) the best band in the country.

Plan B (8/10) takes ‘Strickland Banks’ on a well-deserved victory lap, with a spat with his drummer only serving to supercharge ‘Stay Too Long’, while songs from ‘The Future Is Medieval’ come off well for Kaiser Chiefs (7.5/10). A never-more-topical ‘I Predict A Riot’ gets the biggest reaction, but they’re not quite ready to be chucked into the nostalgia bin yet it seems.

It’s hard not to find Jessie J’s (6.5/10) homecoming set affecting, but you end up thinking that such a good voice deserves better than having to sing the inside of Hallmark cards all the time, a titanic ‘Do It Like A Dude’ aside. Wiz Khalifa (6.5/10) gets the tent jumping with ‘Roll Up’ and ‘Black And Yellow’, as Kele (7/10) cracks jokes - “Some of you will know my other band…The Black Eyed Peas” - busting out  ‘Tenderoni’ and ‘Ready To Go’, and looking in his element. Next stop: The most upbeat Bloc Party album yet?

Elsewhere, Aloe Blacc’s (7/10) soul revue keeps on rolling, and while new Number One ‘Don’t Go’ might get the singalong, it’s ‘Traktor’ that remains Wretch 32’s (7/10) most devastating track.

Sunday brings the U.S. heavyweights in, and while an underwhelming “special guests” middle section threatens to hobble Eminem’s (8/10) headline performance, he turns it round with a tremendous hit-packed second half to remind everyone what the fuss was about in the first place, with a Rihanna-featuring ‘Love The Way You Lie’ and a closing ‘Lose Yourself’ sending the place delirious.

Rihanna’s (8.5/10) own set, while not quite having the same explosive start as Beyonce’s at Glastonbury, doesn’t have the mid-set ballad slump either, with the pace and energy barely letting up from an opening ‘Only Girl (In The World)’ to the celebratory end of ‘Umbrella’.

The Wombats (7/10) offer to imitate her famous moves as they plough through a set of singles, with ‘Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves)' and ‘Let’s Dance To Joy Division’ the picks.

With The Saturdays (5.5/10) and N-Dubz scheduled at the same time, someone was going to lose out, and it was the former, with the Arena Tent only two thirds full for the girl band. Even more unfortunately, there isn’t much personality or memorable songs to be found either, the whole thing coming across as a poor photocopy of Girls Aloud’s pop masterpieces. At least N-Dubz (6.5/10) have some spark.

The Wanted (7/10) are a surprise  – slightly out of their comfort zone, they revel in it, with ‘Glad You Came’ and ‘All Time Low’ revealing their fanbase to contain as many beer-throwing lads as it does screaming girls. They should probably lose the “See? We’re so REAL, we play instruments too!” cover of ‘Iris’ though.

The day started with a battle of the ex-teen idols as Charlie Simpson (7.5/10), who looks to have found his voice with the impressive folk-rock of ‘Down Down Down’ and ‘The Farmer And His Gun’, was followed by a big crowd for Hanson (7/10). While their new songs may be a little too Maroon 5 for comfort, ‘Where’s The Love’, ‘If Only’ and a bayed-for ‘Mmmbop’ remain superb.

It’s funny how the festival managed to create an eclectic line-up just by booking the biggest artists they could get. Seeing some of these chart stars in a festival setting is pleasingly surreal too, and with that, you realise if any event is succeeding in breaking with convention, it’s this one. V then – so defiantly mainstream, that as festivals go, it’s pretty alternative.

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