With the ever more saturated festival season well and truly underway, it was The Big Chill’s turn to prove they were worthy to stake their claim on music fans from around the country. With The Chemical Brothers, Kanye West and Rodrigo y Gabriela as headliners, and a wide spread of artists from the most mainstream to indie favourites, we were sure the weekend would impress.
Yet, our first observation was how empty the festival seemed, and we questioned whether this was due to the relatively widespread layout of the festival, the increasing number of festival goers that seem disinterested in the music, or that maybe a bulk of fans had bought day tickets to see Kanye West’s performance on Saturday. Wild Beasts on main stage on Friday afternoon, for example, had a surprisingly small turnout, for a band of such popularity and critical acclaim.
Nevertheless, the boys from Kendal played a brilliant set which drew on all three albums, with their distinct vocals and terrific melodies entertaining those who had shown up to watch, albeit in a questionable atmosphere.
The Chemical Brothers did, however manage to drag people out of their tents (though even then the crowd seemed spacious). They rolled through a great set, without pausing for breath, and coupled with an extraordinary visual and lighting display, the set got the crowd dancing and provided a great atmosphere.
On Saturday everybody was talking about Kanye West, as the excitement built through the day. But before he had a chance to grace the stage, Hip Hop was already the culprit for the best performance of the weekend thus far. The Bullitts’ performance, featuring Jay Electronica, Lucy Lui and Idris Elba, exceeded our already high expectations and put on a fantastic show. With a soulful hip hop sound not dissimilar to some of The Roots’ work, the combination of forces on show meant there was a lot going on. Jay Electronica is often said to be the best rapper out that is yet to release an album, and he proved here that live his lyrical dexterity takes no prisoners, never missing a line or stopping for breath, whilst Idris Elba’s hype-man role and apparent DJing will only help is case for being the coolest man alive.
Metronomy brought a truly summery feel to main stage later in the afternoon, with recent single ‘The Bay’ being a standout, they gave the more expected festival performance with beach balls flying around and the crowd really getting into their danceable songs. Playing material mostly from their two most recent albums whilst adorning flashing lights, it’s clear that this is a band still developing into something great; and with a Mercury Nomination under their belts already, they proved they had the live set to couple their album’s credentials.
Kanye West then. After starting the show 30 minutes late, the Chicago rapper appears at the top of the sound/lighting tower in the middle of the crowd and plays ‘Dark Fantasy’ before most of the crowd realise he is there, slowly turning their back to the stage to watch West look down upon his adoring fans. Miraculously, he soon graces the stage to be joined by 20 ballerinas to start the show proper, beginning with the tribal and emphatic ‘Power’. The set Yeezy plays is pretty much a greatest hits show, storming through classic after classic from his five albums, and performing verses from other tracks he’s featured on, such as ‘Swagga Like Us’ and ‘E.T’. But before long he stops the tracks for a bit of a chat. 10 minutes of talking about himself is enough for many borderline fans to be turned off the performance, whilst many seem to appreciate the artists honesty and passion for his art. So this two hour set may not be the best performance Kanye has ever given, but it’s still probably enough to outdo many of the ‘headliners’ currently playing the festival circuit.
On Sunday the traditional festival vibe was present as Warpaint played their chilled rock sounds to a small but adoring crowd. Performing numbers from their fantastic 2010 debut album The Fool they were the perfect antidote for a hungover Sunday afternoon.
Jamie Woon, playing a smaller stage, but drawing a larger crowd, also provided a more relaxed vibe, with his soulful voice floating over his delicate production as him and his band proved their worthiness on the BBC sound of 2011 list.
Four Tet is an artist I’d previously seen at Reading Festival playing a daytime spot. Here, he performed late at night, which provided a much better atmosphere for his melodic beats and sample driven jams. Watching a guy messing around on a laptop can only be so good to watch, but with a light show giving the tent a club feel, Kieran Hebden managed to pull it off.
So overall, Big Chill proved a fantastic festival. In terms of atmosphere, layout, travel, stages, and general facilites, they nailed it. Questions arise when you look at the broad selection of artists on the line up, but there’s just about enough there for a huge mix of people to enjoy a huge mix of music.
Photography: Oliver Shilling & Richard Mutimer,