Sun, ten thousand people and with a line up to rival anything in the British Isles so far in 2004, Derry was an unlikely location for the first One Big Weekend of the year.
While the dance crowd had been out in force on Saturday or the thumping beats from the like of Judge Jules and Faithless, Sunday brought out a much younger and surprisingly family based crowd.
The loveGods, winners of the unsigned act award opened the show at half eleven with their spiky guitar based rock ,the enthusiasm of the young audience belied the early hour as they welcomed the first of a succession of acts to the massive tented venue.
Keane were next up and they shook off any concerns that their melodic brand of angst might be lost, with “We might as well be Strangers” a stunning tale of love lost belting out in a spirit of defiance before “Somewhere only we know” gave rise to the first sing along of the day. The trio appeared to be awed by the receptive fans and lingered after their set to soak up the atmosphere and throw any souvenirs they had to hand into the crowd.
Between the acts a vast array of Radio 1 DJs appeared on the stage to entertain the crowd. Vernon Kay and the self styled “Saviour of the station”, Chris Moyles took the crown here, with a show stealing 8 Mile parody. The constant stream of performers and presenters meant that the crowd were kept entertained by some did seek sanctuary in the blazing sunshine outside the tent. Prior to their appearance, Kelis’ band took the opportunity to brush up on their golf skills, chipping ball back and forward in the backstage area.,
The lads from Glasgow, Franz Ferdinand were next to appear and despite having to borrow guitars from headliners Ash, the lads continued on their tour de force, which has seen them installed by most of the British media as the best thing since sliced bread. The crashing intro of “Take Me Out” saw a surge back into the tent for the first anthem of the day and the lads built
on their blistering start, reinforces their new found hip credentials as “The Dark of the Matinee” and “Jacqueline” boomed out across the swaying masses out to popular acclaim.
From the pounding guitars of the Scottish lads, the day swapped to soulful funk with the arrival of Kelis and the golf playing posse on the stage. Hits like “Milkshake” and “Caught out there” got the crowd jumping to the groove and the talent songstress even had the crowd eating out of her hand with the risky “In Public” even getting an airing. A new diva of Derry had been discovered and she played up to the image, asking how many of the crowd had ever had sex in public and then removing her blouse to rapturous acclaim, revealing a multi coloured bikini top.
The true state of the nation was about to be described by the bard of the 21st Century as Mike Skinner took to stage, presumably having finished all the drinks and chips backstage. The set started with “Move things forward” but unfortunately the set was plagued with technical hitches, Skinner’s mic the source of most of the problems. The Brummie soldiered on and took the opportunity to showcase new material off the “A Grand Don’t Come for Free” with “Dry your eyes” which was dryly dedicated to Man U fans being the stand out from the new songs. However the two stand out moments came not from his own material but two covers. First off was a freestyle version of “Wonderwall” and then a sing-along version of that Undertones classic “Teenage Kicks”. This sent the crowd truly wild and ensured that the technical glitches will be only a distant memory of the fans come tomorrow morning.
,The crowd were now truly jumping and with the girl they all wanted to see, Avril Lavigne next up, the air was thick with anticipation. The pint sized Canadian seemed to have a hundred body doubles in the crowd and as she took the stage they appeared to gather en masse from all corners. The mild teenage angst was in sharp contrast to the earlier group and it took the crowd a few songs to settle down and enjoy the sentiments contained in the songs. Like Skinner, Lavigne played a few tracks off the new album with “Nobody’s Home”, a track detailing loneliness in the aftermath of a break up looking like a cast iron certainty for a future single. With the new, unknown material a hush finally descended. This quiet lasted just as long as the opening bars of “Sk8r Boy” kicked in and the crowd erupted for the umpteenth time.
Downpatrick lads Ash were the headliners for the day and thus the honour of closing the first major Derry festival fell to them. Tim and the group have played the city a number of times since their emergence, but the stage was set for a triumphant homecoming. Free tickets, good weather and a great day to date meant that they couldn’t fail. Skilfully mixing the old and new, they ensured that the crowd were in state of constant motion, whether bouncing to the killers rifts of “1977” or humming along to the chart friendly “Free All Angels”. Generous helpings of new material from “Meltdown” sated the appetite of the hardcore fans as the band rounded up with two covers. The first a wonderful “Boys are Back in Town” followed by the obligatory final rock out to that set text of Derry gigs “Teenage Kicks”.
As the crowds streamed towards the exits the conversations weren’t if it had been good or bad, rather just how good it had been. As the chants of “Ole, Ole” rolled from the remaining crowds in the tent it seemed not just “One Big Weekend” but simply a fantastic day out in great weather listening to great bands, and not paying a penny to see it, does life get any better than this?,
In the beginning there was the beat, then the vocal overlay, then the sample, then the synth, then the pitch shifter, and so on and so on or that’s how the evolution of mankind appeared to a casual observer on the saturday of Radio One’s One Big Weekend Festival in Derry. The largely non-plussed elder generation of the city had never seen or heard anything like it before as the thud of pounding bass vibrated like a seismic waves across the city all day long. All others where drawn to its sound like iron filings to a magnet, unable to resist its many and varied charms.
The day kicked of early with a rousing set but local hero, Fergie, who managed to shake of any hangovers from the night before with an electric display or mixing, smoking and cursing, all whilst managing to spend at least half of his set away from his decks, evidently the female wellwishers who had congregated backstage proved to be an irresistible charm. He had been warned about his language before he went on stage due to the live nature of the broadcast but Fergie, much like many Northerners, is not one to take orders from John Bull’s halfbrother and so quickly disregarded this request to provide a lively tirade against all and sundry. His set was neat and compact leaving the already respectable crowd begging for more as he walked off the stage to rapturous applause.
He was followed by CJ Agnelli and Robbie Nelson, more commonly known as Agnelli & Nelson and once again another act from Northern Ireland. Agnelli & Nelson proved to be a class act playing a popular mix of tunes, notwithstanding their own epic Holding onto Nothing, all whilst looking like 2 Cheshire cats who had just got double helpings of devon cream. If Fergie had managed to waken up the disparate groups of souls who had arrived early in order to claim the best spots Agnelli & Nelson succeeded in making sure their eardrums would carry the memory of the event long after the final drumbeats had faded into the early afternoon sunshine.
With the day off to a successful start Armin Van Buuren was determined that his set would not match but indeed emulate the triumphs of his predecessors. Playing his own unique brand of trance he managed to convince many tranceheads and casual observers that his claim to being one of the best DJ’s currently on the scene today must surely be given creedence. It was tour-de-force for the Dutch master who seemed to be energised by the fantastic reception given to his set by the local crowd and a broad grin became as permanent a fixture of his set as the thumping basslines. So far so good as more and more punters began to throng into the swelling crowd within the tent.
Col Hamilton’s gleaming head was the next to appear behind thw mixing desk playing his own style of bass heavy house/progressive house which has served him so well throughout his decade long career. The twice Irish DJ of the year certainly seemed to be doing something to merit his crown as the crowd moved in tandem to the familiar sounds of the anthems known so well to those round these parts, indeed never one to restrict himself to one style Hamilton finished his set with a flourish playing a mix of the Undertones’ Teenage Kicks, thus guaranteeing himself icon status in the annals of Derry dance history.
Judge Jules, never one to miss an opportunity to sample the new strains of dance arrived on the stage to share the ectasy with his long time friend Hamilton during Teenage Kicks and a look of astonishment crept across his smiling face as he realised just how much it meant to the people of Derry that someone had thought to play ‘their’ song on the dance day, and indeed it seemed it would be impossible to ride the crest of emotion and energy that had surged forward during those 3 minutes of pop-punk perfection. But then again there are few DJs walking this planet with as much experience as Jules and using his considerable skills managed to keep the atmosphere electric through a combination of clever set selection and general bon-homie through frequent interaction with the crowd. Jules’ flexibility and versatility were very much in evidence demonstrating why he has became the phenomenon that he is today.
After a short interlude for a set change arrived the ‘main event,’ what people had queued for tickets in the hope of seeing, Maxi Jazz and his fellow electro-pioneers, known to the world as Faithless. They provided all that was requested and much more and all with the panache and charisma that we have come to expect. The common refrain of ‘I can’t get now sleep’ reverberated around the rubber innards of the tent in as close to a life changing moment as i have ever come across. The best efforts of the bass and sub bass were easily outdone by the sound of 10,000 feet pounding the ground to the rhythms which have, in a few notable cases, became as defining to the dance culture or the 90’s as anything Oasis or Blur ever did was to rock. We Come One will be a kodak moment for all of those present as they realised that if God was a DJ then, regardless of their proclaimed lack of faith, it was Maxi Jazz and Sister Bliss who made up the rest of the Holy Trinity. To use a word often overused in today superlative-heavy society in its truest sense, awesome.
,Seb Fontaine was left stuck between a rock and a wet place (a river in fact) as he pondered how best to follow the up the mighty sonic explosion that had been provided by his predecessors. All in all it was beyond the grasp of his not inconsiderable exertions, but he still appeared to earn many plaudits who appreciated his effort as well as the great respect and deference he treated the the assembled congregation with. Indeed his dark styling were as apt as any to follow Faithless and anyone would have found it hard to put more food in the bellies of the thousands of fans who had already been more than satiated by the communion provided by Faithless. To his credit however he show his common touch by returning to the crowd afterwards to thank them for his support in a gesture which was heartfelt and meaningful.
As darkness fell outside Pete Tong’s eagerly awaited set took shape inside, for me this was one of the few disappointments of the evening as the crown prince of UK dance failed to ignite the crowd who were already stratospheric after the earlier events of the evening. His set appeared to lack focus or direction which was anathema to a crowd who were confused as to his intentions, no helped by the fact that he barely spoke all evening nor showed much emotion, only a face pressed close to the turntable, as if keeping his head below the parapet in acceptance that he had been dethroned on this occasion and was not willing to challenge his usurpers. All in all this was a shame as all those present knew he was capable of so much more and indeed the level of expectancy was probably as much to blame as anything for his seeming lack of delivery.
Last but not least was Tall Paul, however by this stage many had drifted out into the night air having heard their fill and not waiting to get stuck in the traffic which was likely cause a major bottleneck, despite the best efforts of the police. Paul, another frequent visitor to these parts tried his best to stop the exodus but like the wash returning into the sea as the tide falls back the movement was inexorable and inevitable. A pity really, as his many talents had so much to offer and those determined to make the most out of the day by staying until the end were amply rewarded for their patience with a classic paul set which gave a tremendous sense of closure to the whole day’s events. As the remnants of the crowd drifted out into the fine night which the weather had provided there was not only a great sense of satisfaction that they had witnessed such a momentous and historic occasion but also a great feeling of appreciation to all those who had came and played in Derry, a mere pinprick on the global music map. A sense that somehow they had not only enriched us with their music but that the crowd in turn had provided them with a flavour of the city and the warm, music loving people that dwell within it, in the hope that in the future they may return like the tide returns along a sandy beach.