United Kingdom | 08 July 2010
Will Saunders is at Wakestock festival in North Wales' stunningly picturesque Cardigan Bay to bear witness to the 11th incarnation of Europe's biggest wakeboarding festival.
Overall – 6/10
Wakestock 2010 gives the impression of an event that has lost its way. With the unusual obligation of having to cater for two separate activities across two sites (wakeboarding competition in Cardigan Bay, a music festival in Abersoch), organisers may have misjudged its audience. A fresh-faced crowd, with an average age of around 16, seem indifferent to acts like Feeder and The Futureheads whose chart-crowning years peaked around 2004. So they leave the main stage bare to pack out the Misadventures dance tent instead.
With a lights out site shutdown at 12.30 and disappointingly low attendances, it seems festival bosses are hitting wide of the mark in trying to cater for their target audience. Despite the indifferent weather (‘Windstock’, as one wag said to another), Plan B, Mr Hudson and N-Dubz are roaring successes and the festival is still a blast with anecdotes and incidentals abound. The wakeboarding is suitably entertaining afternoon fodder too for festival goers and bemused locals alike.
Getting there and back – 8/10
With a site served solely by the kind of country roads normally reserved for the Postman Pat opening credits, you'd expect traffic to be gridlocked for miles around, but not so. Maybe because most festival goers are too young to drive, but the journey that brave the mountain passes of Snowdonia and winds along the coast is swift, efficient and well signposted with enough car parking space for a festival twice the size.
For those taking public transport, transfers are laid on from Bangor station (the nearest metropolis, an hour away by bus), but by all accounts were unnecessarily slowed by an antiquated ‘crossing names off a list’ check in system. During the day shuttles are provided to the wakeboarding at Pwllheli and nearby Abersoch, but each of these can constitute an hour of queuing for a ten-minute bus ride if you try to board at peak times.
The Site – 5/10
Site access from the car park tests festival-goers' mettle before they even have a chance to pick up their wristbands. An exposed hilltop plateau - open to a vicious sea breeze - with a flight of treacherously vertical stairs as the only access point isn’t the ideal welcome.
The site is split into camping areas with a separate enclosed circle containing all of the stages and entertainment and most of the food as well, which irritatingly doesn’t open until 4pm.
Once in, the tiny (in a good way - you never miss a minute walking between bands) main area, the entertainment away from the music stages consists of a mini wakeboarding pool and a series of fairground rides along with sponsor tents and events. Aside from the Plugged In signing tent and free smoothie stall they all serve to be nothing more than a mild diversion.
Atmosphere – 6/10
There is a vibe of friendly, good natured-ness; of arm around the shoulder ‘you’re my best friend’ kind of affair. The most genuinely exciting buzz around the place though is as acts like N-Dubz take to the stage.
However, even if everyone on site were infused with the partygoing spirit of a newly single WAG, it is hard to compensate for the vast empty spaces and overwhelming chasteness of an event that lacks the consistent edge, hustle, bustle and mass singalong moments required to really turn up the heat and make a night sizzle.
For those not interested in the wakeboarding side of things (and the main arena staying closed until 4pm) there are number of ticket-holders who descend from civilisation to savagery, pillaging or destroying the odd tent with a lack of festival etiquette.
Music – 8/10
Pleasant surprises are left right and centre. Mr Hudson (8/10) and (the surprisingly affable) N-Dubz (7/10) steal the show on a first night with performances accentuated by exceptional live musicianship that brings fairly bland, production-heavy songs to life.
Saturday afternoon sees Plan B (5/10) thwarted by risible sound before the evening brings Feeder (7/10) and Maximo Park (8/10) to the Open Air stage and both play pleasingly hit-filled sets. Maximo Park edge it though on the insatiable energy of frontman Paul Smith’s lithe physical histrionics. The biggest crowds of the night belong to Zane Lowe (8/10) and Chase & Status (8/10) in the Misadventures tent as they provide the crowd with essential shelter and then pound them into loving submission.
Sunday sees unexpected gems abound as the Relentless tent delivers back to back scorchers in the form of Frankie and the Heartstrings (8/10), a slightly more handsome electro-Virgins, Huw Stephens (6/10) (who perfectly encapsulates the age dichotomy at the festival when he closes with The Proclaimers’ ‘500 Miles’ to bemused silence and shuffles), and The King Blues (7/10), who combine Hawaiian-infused ska and shorts not seen since the 90s with Eminem-esque lyrical fury, helpfully inciting the crowd to go and destroy the campsite..
The Open Air stage belongs to The Ting Tings (9/10) though. Aided by Los Campesinos’ (8/10) misfortune who play a fantastically exuberant late afternoon set to genuinely only 70 people (all of whom were treated to Wakestock’s wittiest line: “Wakestock.. sounds like it would make a pretty good broth”) and The Futureheads’ (6/10) harmony driven tracks being compromised by the loss of lead guitarist Ross’ voice. Although ‘Hounds of Love’, a song that could have provided that magic festival moment falls dangerously flat, Salford’s finest close the festival in majestic fashion.
Like a rock and roll episode of Playdays, The Ting Tings - who are in matching red jumpsuits - run through their educational disco pop formula (“Wakestock: this is a cowbell”, “I’m going to introduce you to my favourite instrument, the hand clap”). It makes compelling viewing, and make no mistake, from the moment Jules de Martino plays a solo three-minute multi-instrumental opening to ‘We Walk’, this is a performance. That facet alone sets the headliners apart from every other band on the bill, in endeavouring to enhance their records through adding various layers of loops, effects and only slightly gimmicky backing dancers. The Ting Tings triumphantly engage the crowd and by the time a shouty ‘That’s Not My Name’ brings down the curtain on the weekend, there isn’t a static welly clad leg in the house.
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