Chris Eustace takes two big festival months in one bumper retrospective look back, before packing his tent down and saying goodbye for another year.
That burning smell wasn’t just restricted to the festival campfires this August, as the month began to the biggest riots this country has witnessed since the 1980’s. Shops were looted, the warehouse containing most of the country’s supply of essential indie records burned to the ground and the Kaiser Chiefs looked like soothsayers for a few days.
Not only that, but the biggest of British obsessions (apart from festivals, of course) was not playing ball, meaning that The Big Chill was more aptly-named than usual, with gripes about the event’s new-found commerciality dwarfed by one man: “This wasn’t going to be about Kanye West,” began Dan Fahey’s 9/10 review, but an ego-driven, superb performance, save for a mid-set diatribe about the pressures of fame changed all that, though Janelle Monae and Aloe Blacc got their due too.?
At least Kanye could leave in luxury – punters at Belladrum Tartan Heart had to be evacuated from in rafts after floods swamped the campsite. Meanwhile, Bombay Bicycle Club were creating a “hoedown atmosphere” at the Underage Festival in Victoria Park. “An accomplished opening to the world of festivals for the next generation” said VF’s Lennon Craig.
The park was open again the next day for Field Day, with The Horrors , Zola Jesus and headliners Wild Beasts taking the plaudits. Chris Swindells declared that “Field Day remains about good quality music, electric atmospheres and, most importantly, celebrating an alternative culture in the capital.”
Down in Cornwall, Anja Kimberley took in “impromptu wedding re-enactments, random outbursts of dancing and conga-lines” beside the beach for the 30th Boardmasters, with Fatboy Slim, Skindred, Zane Lowe and Lethal Bizzle among her highlights.
Leicester’s Summer Sundae was still going strong too – “It’s safe to say some people caught the festival bug this weekend, and no doubt a few had theirs rekindled too” we said, as “demented children’s entertainers”, new songs galore and The Maccabees, Example, McFly and Everything Everything earned it an 8.5/10 review.
W.A.S.P., Immortal, Devin Townsend and pig’s heads on sticks in the campsite ensured that Bloodstock Open Air mixed “the serious side of metal with the downright daft”, contrasting nicely with the “stunning grounds” of Green Man with Fleet Foxes, Squarepusher and The Low Anthem highlights of what Samuel Whittaker called, “the discerning man’s music festival of choice”.
Tragically, 5 people were killed when a severe storm caused two stages to collapse at the Pukkelpop festival in Belgium. Levellers’ Beautiful Days got an 8/10 from Sara Bowrey. A familiar mix it may be, but one that’s “lost none of it’s charm.”
The only was Essex – and Stafford – as V Festival spared no expense for its twin festivals, with American superstars Eminem, Rihanna, Bruno Mars and Aloe Blacc, plus a raft of UK pop sensations like The Wanted, Jessie J, and N-Dubz on the bill.
Festival mainstays Dizzee Rascal, Tinie Tempah, Chase & Status and a pugilistic Plan B were also there, with guitar fans seen right by heavyweight headline sets by Arctic Monkeys (who were joined by BFF Miles Kane for ‘505’), as The Wombats gave us their Rihanna revelations.
A celebratory mood meant there’d be plenty of sore heads come Monday morning. Unfortunately for Glasvegas, those sore heads came early as they were unceremoniously bottled at both sites by impatient Chase & Status fans.
Both legs of the festival scored high, with Chelmsford getting an 8/10, floating the theory that V is “so mainstream, it’s actually pretty alternative,” while Stephanie Davis went one better in Stafford, calling the 9/10 festival “one of the biggest and best.”
For those not finished dancing, it was off to South West Four, and “the finest electronica around” according to Daniel Smallbone, with Underworld, Pendulum and Simian Mobile Disco.
Will Saunders crossed the Channel to see a 10/10 rated Foo Fighters headline a “simple, but compelling” Rock en Seine. If that corner of Paris was idyllic, things were a little more treacherous at the twin mudbaths of Reading & Leeds. Festival veterans collided with those clutching their GCSE results for a bank holiday blowout, with My Chemical Romance celebrating their elevation to headliner status at Reading on Friday by bringing out Queen’s Brian May. They went down similarly well at Leeds, with Gavin McInally saying that “surely any cynicism has to be discarded.”
Pulp continued their triumphant run of reunion shows, with Holly Garraway awarding them 10/10 at Reading – “today they celebrate all we’ve grown to love about them in one spectacular performance.” Jarvis was soon back onstage, joining The Strokes for a run through The Cars’ ‘Just What I Needed’, with the New Yorkers getting an 8/10 at both sites.
As The Streets continued their long goodbye, Viva Brother revealed they’d declared a Gallagher truce and Elbow led a grand singalong, it was up to Muse to finish up at Reading – getting full marks from Matt Miles for “a stand out and historic set” as they celebrated ten years of ‘Origin Of Symmetry’, and still had time for the greatest hits before leaving in a hail of fireworks.
Gavin McInally praised “another successful chapter into the Leeds’ history books, which will tell a tale of youthful enthusiasm overcoming nature’s misery”, and down south, Ali Ryland raved over Reading’s “great bands and great performances.” As we went into September, Beirut, Mogwai, Joanna Newsom helped ensure that “The relaxed and slow paced vibe of End Of The Road remains despite the increase in numbers.” reported a delighted Alison Kerry, and talking of relaxing, before Gary Barlow took his seat on The X Factor, he swooped in to save Radio 2 Live In Hyde Park, stepping in for a stricken Lionel Richie, getting full marks from Fiona Bevan, with the event itself getting an 8/10. Now that’s good judging.
With festival season winding down, it was time for things to get surreal, with Mr. Motivator joining PJ Harvey, The Cure and Bjork amid the rock star costumes on the Isle Of Wight. “Bestival is how festivaling should be done in 2011: diverse, engaging and intriguing without a reliance on headliners” said Dan Fahey, giving it 9.5/10, the highest scoring festival of the year on this site. With the best saved for nearly last, there was just time for Outlook to confirm Dubstep as the new festival force, and the weather was just as hot, as Benga will tell you. And so that brings us to here and now. As ever, it was an eventful festival season, but as it gets a bit cold for even a UK festival (well, apart from Freeze) and we have to go back to watching bands inside, don’t despair, all that huddling together for warmth means it’s time for the rumours about who’s headlining next year to start spreading around.