RockNess 2009: Rated!

A model example of what a festival should be in 2009


Photographer:Steve Jenner

United Kingdom United Kingdom | by Justin Madgwick, Steve Jenner | 15 June 2009

Overall - 9/10

The optimistic party spirit was as bright as the fluorescent ankle warmers, wristbands, face paint and clothing everywhere you looked - a euphoric haven from the doom and gloom of the outside world, reflected perfectly in the microclimate - a forecast-defying sunny break in the dark clouds that dominated surrounding areas.

RockNess 2009 was not so much an escape from reality as a signpost to the magic that can happen when everyone leaves their preconceptions in the nearest town and lets their monster out of the loch. We can't wait to get back next year.

The Site - 9/10

Simply the most unbelievable scenery you'll see at any British festival, the view of the water-strewn valley stretching behind the main stage into the misty distance is like the most magnificent oil-painting backdrop imaginable. A spacious, picturesque campsite, ease of entry to the event, short distances to trek (and carry things) on arrival and the well thought-out way the site is laid out enabling quick transition from stage to stage gave RockNess full marks across the board. We couldn't fault it, and we really did try, but everything we threw at the site it answered. Nevertheless we've restricted it to a nine simply because festival boss Jim King told us he had some ideas in mind for making it even better next year, so we needed to give him some space in our ratings to do so.

Getting there - 8/10

RockNess is about as far north in the UK as you could stage a festival of this size, so, from London it's a ten/eleven hour drive, ten hour train (£250 return) or one and a half hour flight (£30 - £400 each way depending on who you fly with and when you book) to Inverness. If you live in the Highlands, where at least 50% of the revellers come from, you'll know about travelling relatively short distances in long timescales. Once you've got to Inverness it's a doddle, loads of parking space at the site, shuttle buses from the station at £5 single and the cabs run all day and night at about £15 per car.

Atmosphere - 10/10

We said we'd probably never award this score, but RockNess' atmosphere was as near to perfect as we believe could possibly have been achieved. It was the friendliest crowd we've ever encountered, without the faintest hint of aggression anywhere at any time. At first we (as cynical southerners) were a little thrown by the amount of random people who starting chatting to us everywhere we went, but we soon got used to it (even if we found some of it hard to understand!) and we'll miss it dearly when we return to the unfriendly big smoke. 

Even in the downpour on Saturday afternoon there was no let-up in the party. Other than that we were blessed with weather that only a god who loves a festival would bestow on it. The police presence was unobtrusive, the security kept to a discrete minimum with welcoming, smiling staff.

Music - 8/10

Heavyweight headliners Flaming Lips, Basement Jaxx and The Prodigy topped a colourful and eclectic bill that mixed dance superstars like David Guetta, Layo & Bushwacka, Orbital, DJ Yoda, Soulwax, Pendulum DJ's and Scratch Perverts alongside indie acts (The Aliens, The Wombats, Super Furry Animals) with twists of harder rock (Biffy Clyro and Placebo), ska (Dub Pistols), urban (Dizzee Rascal) and even a smattering of gospel country n' western acid house blues courtesy of Alabama 3.


The Prodigy - 8/10
These guys are at the top of their game, exuding unrivalled confidence, stage presence and energy on a level that is rarely seen whilst keeping it real. Scarily brilliant and the perfect way to close an awesome festival. Would have been a 9/10, were it not for the patchy sound and the lack of 'surgical' bass that tore up Wembley Arena a few weeks ago.

Orbital - 8/10
Going against main stage headliners Basement Jaxx, they rammed the Clash Tent to the edges and with a stunning light show demonstrated why they are one of the best electronic/dance acts you will ever see at a festival. Doesn't matter if you have just discovered them or this is their second coming for you.

Basement Jaxx - 8/10
Polished, assured, ultra slick and with a small fortune spent on the lighting, stage set and constantly rotating costumes, these guys can't put a foot wrong just now.

Alabama 3 - 8/10
The ultimate hedonistic party band packed the Fat Sam's tent to the outer limits and treated those inside to a typically uplifting powerhouse of a set that fused country ('You Don't Dance to Techno') with hypnotic dub 'The Night We Nearly Got Busted', blues ('Woke Up This Morning'), acid house ('Mao Tse Tung Said') and gospel ('Let's Go Back To Church') in a way that shouldn't work, but it does superbly. Larry Love's grey hair betrays a newfound youthfulness that saw the band on bouncing form, tossing shapes and smiles at each other and clearly enjoying the performance and the spirited RockNess crowd as much as we were.

Dizzee Rascal - 7/10
Guaranteed to make the crowd go 'Bonkers'. He did and they did and it was but there was a sense of 'waiting out' the rest of the set before this undisputed Anthem Of The Summer was dropped. When it was, it created potentially one of the greatest Saturday afternoon moments of any festival this summer.


Really, with the one exception, there were hardly any. The Black Isle Pub deserved more popularity, but the dance led stages, bars and tents were the big draw.

Super Furry Animals - 5/10
It was as if, knowing they were going up against Basement Jaxx on the main stage, that Fat Sams headliners Super Furry Animals had conceded defeat from the outset. Dour faces, negligible interaction with the crowd (even Gruff's holding up of cue cards saying 'Applause' and 'Woah!' came across as uncomfortably stilted) and, worst of all, a set consisting of almost entirely of new material accounted largely for the embarassingly small crowd that stayed to watch them. RockNess would almost certainly have tolerated a couple of new songs sandwiched in between classics and god knows, the Super Furries can energise a party when they want to. Why they didn't want to at this event is surpassed only by Nessie as a mystery, and we suggest that - if they want their art to be taken at its most serious - they take it to more sophisticated festivals like Latitude or Meltdown. RockNess is for simple havin' it.

Random events

Fancy Dress: A bit of the Bestival spirit crept into Nesstival with various groups adopting alter egos for the weekend - we spotted Danger Mouse, Teletubbies, Wonder Woman, Ninja Turtles; strangely though, we didn't see a single Loch Ness Monster...

Grown men rolling head over heals down the hill until - doh! - clashing heads with an unsuspecting sunbather. Anywhere else a full-on punch-up would have ensued. At RockNess, of course, it all leads to a big hug, followed by a roll-around in the grass before parting company, and then back to tumbling down the hill again - heart warming.

Caring Bobbies - in this time of unease with our constabulary, it was a joy to see good old fashioned common sense "bobbying". Two of the beat cops standing near to a passed-out reveller to make sure no-one trod on him or nicked his shoes, bless them.


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