by Jon Burns
The 17th Big Chill Festival took place last weekend in the beautiful valley setting of Eastnor Castle Deerpark in Herefordshire. The Festival isn’t really big, but it is very chilled.
The design of the park reflects the Big Chill ethos by up-lighting trees in relaxing colours, and covering a hillside in a series of lit orbs which light in different patterns when night falls. The orbs look amazing from the festival site, and provide somewhere to relax after the end of the day as they are filled with air and piped music from the middle. The centre of the site is relaxing lakes, and the rest of the festival features funfairs, kids areas, booze sponsored dance tents and arts trails through the woods.
The Big Chill is also acclaimed for its diverse and eclectic programme. Where else have you experienced the close of a festival feature Spanish Guitar from Rodrigo Y Gabriela, followed by the dark dance and even darker visuals of Chris Cunningham. Sadly, the rumour this year was that ticket sales are down – something we found evident throughout the weekend.
Thursday saw James Blake provide kick start music from the main stage with his brand of soul-fused dubstep. He drew a reasonable crowd, and was a perfect fit for a balmy summer evening, performing a rousing version of his 2010 single Limit to Your Love, and other tracks from his self-titled album.
Friday was the first official (and the sunniest) day of the festival, where Neneh Cherry took the main stage early evening and got the audience out off their chilled bliss and onto their feet. Cherry didn’t disappoint, performing classics including Buffalo Stance, Manchild and Seven Seconds.
Australian band Empire of the Sun: Superb – turned out to bea cross between a laser space hero and military style Viking gods in spectacular head-dresses and a bunch of matching dancers – They rocked the place. They’ve only released one album in 2008, but a limited back catalogue can be a good thing. Everyone seems to know the songs and they have the talent and the show to emit from the stage. See them if you can, well worth it.
Godfathers of dance music, AKA the Chemical Brothers closed Friday’s proceedings. The opposite of chilled, the brothers hit out big beat after big beat in front of a huge audience. Dance classics like Hey Boy Hey Girl & Star Guitar performed against a back drop of spectacular visuals: Think giant animated origami horses; the scariest clown you’ve ever seen; butterflies & swimmers floating at the back of the stage; and a massive circular lampshade structure providing a light cover above Ed & Tom Chemical. These guys are the leaders in their field, ahem, and certainly topped off the day for us. We were very close to the front, and were surprised how easy it was to dance – was everyone back at their tents?
Saturday afternoon brought us Metronomy who got the chance to show off their awesome new album the English Riviera. We got up on our feet and had a good dance, but it must be difficult as a band to really let go when you can see picnic blankets in front of the mixing desks? Particularly enjoyed joining in with four men in fancy dress following the dance moves of an eighteen month old boy: By the time the band finished, the child had a 30-35 strong audience copying every move – Lots of fun!
We’re not a fan of Jessie J, and the image of her being a gobby gal with little substance wasn’t changed. “People tell me I talk too much during the songs” Yes you do Jessie J – Shut up please and sing.
And then the biggest gob-shite ego of them all landed in the form of Kanye West, arriving 30mins late on stage due to problems with his voice. During one of the first set of songs, West decided to treat us to a monologue about what a perfectionist he is, and insinuated his martyrdom to the music scene. We listened to ten minutes of him ranting about collecting an award (boo-hoo), and defending his latest video and why he is not a misogynist. On his groundbreaking work in hip-hop he said: “I walk through the hotel and I walk down the street, and people look at me like I’m… insane, like I’m Hitler”… Er, WTF?? Cue booing and mass exodous, folk were not happy.
2ManyDJs got us back into the mood again with their legendry mash-up DJ set of classic hits. Think Standing In The Way Of Control, The Gossip; Boys & Girls, Blur; Justice, Motorhead, the Supremes & so much more – all of this set to moving animations of the album of single artworks to keep you even more entertained. These guys know how to party and party they did!
Sunday afternoon kicked off with Norman Jay’s Big Chill Good Times set. This guy is the perfect tonic to three days of partying – He plays two hours of soul to dance tunes, and will have you on your feet and feeling good to go in under half an hour. If only we could package that man!
Rodrigo Y Gabriela’s Spanish guitar was a great choice for a Sunday slot, but again lacked the folk to set the night alight. Their audience was the biggest of the day, and their music was beautiful.
Slightly more cheery, and the end of our Big Chill adventure was the decades mix by Annie Nightingale, first lady of Radio 1, mixing her favourite tunes from her forty-year-long tenure. The tent was packed with people appreciative of the sixty-something’s mixing skills, and the choices she made ensured hands were high in the air before she left the stage to huge applause – Legend.
Personally, I think the Big Chill is one of the best festivals on the circuit. The programme is good, it’s not too large or small, the facilities and great on the site as is the camping, the people are lovely, and you don’t feel like you are being ripped off everywhere. The concern is that you cannot help feel that everything is too easy to enjoy as crowds were depleted from previous years. Friends who have been before mentioned not having queued for anything once over the weekend, which in a way is nice, but worrying for the future of the festival.
Will we be there next year – Definitely. If you are looking for a festival which has got it almost perfect, The Big Chill is for you.