Wakestock (Blenheim Palace) 2008
Surfs and sounds up!
Ed Moores - 10 July 2008
Where else can you find yourself next to a stunning lake within the grounds of an English mansion at twelve noon, sipping
on a pint or on some Pimm's, and watching a world-renowned competition with your mates?
Wakestock is genuinely a music festival built around a wakeboard event, not vice-versa. Its nine-year evolution from a close-knit post-competition party in a dusty Abersoch car park, to a major date on the UK festival calendar is testament to this. Without the sport nobody would be here, but it doesn't compromises the music. Mark Ronson, The Streets and Groove Armada are headlining the main stage, while two of Oxford's biggest bands - Supergrass and Young Knives - are also on the bill. So why the hell hasn't it sold out?
The lack off attendance means the smaller acts are suffering and even Esser's 'I don't give a shit' stare exposes that he really does, in front of his crowd of about forty. His quirky cult-indie has the potential to make it big - it's instantly catchy and performed with precision. The gramophone sampling 'I Love You' could have been a top-ten hit had there been more money poured into it back in April and the main tent should be bouncing in an Eastern European-style gypsy dance to 'Satisfied', but instead forty people opt to stand and 'appreciate'.
Hadouken! are the band that really kick off the festival with a little help from a lively crowd. While they may not ooze credibility, they do their job brilliantly. So to all the music fascists who think they're just a bunch of kids yelling "Get smashed gate crash", just look at the massive crowd of kids yelling, "Get smashed gate crash" at the top of their lungs in the pit (yes, a real pit).
With the crowd roused by Hadouken!, the mighty Pendulum take to the stage for their forte - outplaying headliners. Shoving their relentless bass through the stomachs of thousands of people at 14 UK festivals this year, everyone in the crowd tonight already know they are amazing, either first hand or by word of mouth. Their biggest commercial success 'Propane Nightmares' is the highlight and by the end of the set people at the front are ecstatically dripping with sweat.
Headliners Groove Armada retain their flawless reputation with a set that showcases their 12 years experience of writing some of the world's most recognisable tunes. The dance duo mix classics like 'Superstylin'' with mysterious voice samples and building tension, before dropping heavy beats so perfectly, it's like they invented the idea. Their set may be faultless, but the campsite chatter is all about Pendulum.
Saturday's second stage is a Kerrang reader's wet dream. I-Koma mix Guns 'n' Roses with Queens Of The Stone Age, so surely the status as bona fide festival heroes awaits? Unfortunately not as they lack catchy songs and they're two decades too late.
Its down to In Case Of Fire to bring things back up to date. The young trio aren't scared to change time signatures mid-song and have the natural ability to write some awesome choruses. Their most impressive live track is 'Second Revelation', in which they pull off the quiet/loud trick wonderfully, but they fall down with their lack of onstage movement.
Elliot Minor may've been built as a 15 year old's fantasy, but they are still a superb live band – there is no room for music snobbery here. Any act that can sing this well, play their instruments accurately and put in this much effort, deserve all the success they receive. Live, their anthem 'Jessica' beats anything Mcfly or Busted ever attempted.
Mark Ronson, the most controversial pop act in recent years, is back at Wakestock after last year's washout. Thoughts vary from "Never touch a Radiohead song if Phantom Planet are anywhere within five-thousand miles" to "He's a multi-talented sensation, improving numerous brilliant songs". The tent is packed, so the majority must be of the latter opinion, but his set features a spattering of okay guest performances compared to the stars on his album 'Versions'. It feels like there isn't enough effort here, but the crowd love it regardless.
Had they a care in the world, Happy Mondays would be peeved that they're not headlining. As it is feel-good rave classics 'Step On' and 'Hallelujah' have got revellers young and old going crazy. With love in abundance the Mondays are the secondary headliner of the weekend.
With white skinny jeans and t-shirts with red braces, Little Fish are The White Stripes in reverse. Female fronted with a male drummer, this grungy Oxford double act are dirty, greasy and sex obsessed – but so so good! The only band of the weekend to gather a decent crowd before seven o'clock, lead singer Juju screaming "come to my room," at the awe-struck fans. A great start to the music for day three, a standard that is admirably kept up throughout.
He pulls off the ‘cool Sci-Fi geek’ image pretty well, but few other Sci-Fi geeks can play guitar and write songs as sensitively as Lightspeed Champion. Even his drummer, Anna, has a fan club at the front. A healthy crowd have turned out to watch him and not one of them can prevent a wide grin from spreading across their face when "Galaxy Of The Lost' is so elegantly performed. He leaves an extended Star Wars theme to last, bringing the set to an appropriately geeky climax.
Sharing a similar comic-geek quality to Lightspeed, local heroes Young Knives are met by a swelling crowd. People enter the tent to see bassist House Of Lords rolling over a giant WKD bouncy ball, which is thrown into the excitable crowd for a round of volleyball until it is finally slaughtered twenty minutes later. Their massive stage presence makes Young Knives the most entertaining band of the weekend – not best – but most entertaining.
In the main tent, chart topper Estelle proves what good producers can do. On the radio or in a TV studio she sounds amazing, but her voice seems to shrink to the size of a pea in a large tent. Anyone with any rationale is watching Young Knives right now, not pretending they’re enjoying a dodgy performance of 'American Boy'.
Supergrass and The Streets don't clash due to the main stage running early, so punters have the opportunity to witness both of the fantastic sets in their entirety. Mike Skinner really knows how to work a crowd and he can’t go far wrong when he’s written as many modern classics as he has. He splits the crowd, runs through the middle and then surfs back to the front during his encore 'Fit But You Know It'. This is an artist who can stir emotion with heartfelt poems such as 'Dry Your Eyes' within five minutes of energising the same people to go crazy to 'Don’t Mug Yourself'.
But the pedigree The Streets lack, Supergrass have in abundance. The drop in of the chorus to 'Moving' is the moment of the festival. They perform their classics as dynamically as they would in their heyday to a completely rammed tent. It's the sole performance of the weekend that has even the people who feel a bit stupid dancing, well, dancing. 'Alright' and 'Pumping On The Stereo' are tracks that helped define the 90s, which pleases the huge audience, most of whom grew up in that decade.
The ultimate party by night and chilling out watching world-class wakeboarding by day, the first Blenheim Palace Wakestock is a proven success. Let's hope more people show up next year.