When did BBC Electric Proms lose its edge?

By DanVF on 23 September 2010

What’s happened to the BBC Electric Proms then? It once sat at the end of the festival season as an exciting Indian summer soiree, bringing together the great and good from the contemporary scene, forcing them to rethink and remould their greatest tracks into a bursting collaborative champagne bubble. Not only that, but it brimmed across two cities over five nights with new films, one-offs and star guests to give the event that real ‘wow’ factor.

Come on, it was one of the first places fans got to see Damon Albarn’s Africa Express project, Coldcut used their appearance to muck about with the Beeb’s Radiophonic Workshop and even James Brown, a few months before he died, joined forces with the Sugababes. You couldn’t make this up, it was brilliant.

So why does this year stink of safety? Neil Diamond, Robert Plant and Elton John are set to headline. Where’s the edge? The diversity? Where are those really ‘special’ moments that have defined the event in the past going to come from?

Well, it all comes down to this year’s curators: Radio 2. The station wouldn’t know cutting-edge if Steve Wright had a rotary blade shearing off his moustache. Sure, they’re bound to be great shows; Robert Plant has brought Band Of Joy back again to bring the sublime album of the same name to life with the London Oriana Choir – but doesn’t Ray Davies practically carry a choir round with him at the moment?

Neil Diamond has promised some new tracks – so what. The man is heading towards that nauseating Vegas roundabout where artists cash ballooning cheques for pompous shows that would’ve given Hunter S Thompson nightmares (see: Celine Dion).

At least Sir Elton John has got the memo: Leon Russell, Plan B and Rumer are to help him out over the night. But Africa Express it ain’t. The festival has now been reduced to three-days instead of five, and where it once took over London and Liverpool, it now just fills Camden’s Roundhouse. There are now no sideshows, no cheap tickets, no new films: no aspirations. It’s all about familiarity, organisers are trying not to scare the Radio 2 fans too much before bedtime. But where’s the fun in that?

It’s a shame. From what was an exciting project, a string of nights of brilliance has turned into fodder designed specifically for radio and television. I for one won’t be reaching for that red button, not unless it starts that rotary blade.

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