We sent Bukowski down to The Big Chill 2011 and he came back with words. Here they are..
The picturesque Eastnor Castle Deer Park seemed strangely placid as I strolled through the festival site scoping out the various stages in preparation for the weekend ahead. I soon learned that expansion of the festival grounds ‘chilled’ reception. It was nearing dusk on Friday by the time I started to feel the festival vibe as Ghostpoet a.k.a Obaro Ejimiwe greeted a rapidly filling tent with the words “It’s still quite daytime init!”. It was. Compared to the last time I saw him the set started, as he admitted after the first track, “quite rusty” which he put down to not having performed for two weeks. Obaro and his band soon found their stride and between the bag full of little badges he was throwing out and his undeniable charm, Ghostpoet soon had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand – Survive It, Cash & Carry Me Home and forthcoming single Liiines were particular favourites. The Chemical Brothers smashed it with an hour and a half of the people’s favourites, chopped up, edited and complemented perfectly by mesmerising visuals and impressive light shows. The highlights of the night for me came later, first from Boddika. Smoke machines, heavy techno and real mixing were exactly what I was craving after the seemingly pre-recorded Chemical Brothers set. Digital Mystikz kept me dancing until the early hours with a bunch tunes I’d never heard before including some filthy distinctly Coki sounding numbers.
Square Pie’s food stall and Janelle Monae were the highlights of saturday afternoon. Her set was beautifully choreographed and impeccably performed with hits Cold War and Tightrope shining through. At times however the set seemed maybe a little over-rehearsed resulting in a slight detachment and lack of crowd interaction. Metronomy delivered a less memorable show, recovered slightly by the charisma of bassist and should-be frontman Gbenga Adelekan. A dry performance from singer Joseph Mount and out of key vocals from drummer Anna Prior highlighted the bands questionable lyric writing ability. The majority of the crowd however seemed oblivious (drunk) enough to ignore the flaws, as well as the sporadic rain showers and enjoy the bands abundance of sing-along hooks and catchy riffs.
So onto Mr West. As expected pretty much the entire population of the festival showed up to catch the weekends most anticipated act and tensions grew high as he was still nowhere to be seen 40 minutes after he was scheduled to start. The restless crowd was at once rejuvenated as Kanye finally appeared high up the tower opposite the stage. How he managed to get from there to the stage is between him and Jonathan Creek but somehow he did and the set got off to a roaring start with Dark Fantasy during which Kanye was joined on the epic roman statue themed stage by 20 ballerinas, familiar to those who watched his impressive 20 minute film accompaniment to his album release early this year. This was followed by Power and Jesus Walks and most memorably Diamonds Are Forever as the vast crowd ‘threw their diamonds in the sky’ at West’s command. Unfortunately Kanye’s voice was frustratingly horse and he relied increasingly heavily on the backing track as the set went on. Kanye then split the true Yeezy fans from the curious casual followers with a 7 minute piano soundtracked pre meditated monologue about the press and how hard he works and how everyone is mean to him “I’m tired as hell and I’m lonely but the one thing I can’t be is phony” etc. etc. during which he drifted in and out of auto tune in the way only Kanye West can. Those who weren’t teary eyed or swooning by this time were booing, heckling or leaving but West soon picked up momentum once again smashing out crowd favourites including Gold Digger, Heartless, All Falls Down and Stronger. After almost 2 hours, 3 ‘Acts’, more Ballet and some fireworks Kanye ended. And then came back. Adding an emotional tribute to the late Amy Winehouse playing out a couple of her hits and sharing a charming anecdote about their paths crossing at a party.
The festivals population had noticeably decreased by sunday and Warpaint played to a ridiculously quiet main stage. When the band (who had come all the way from LA) reached the stage the crowd hardly stirred – most remained seated and the few lazy wolf whistles could be counted and directly pinpointed. “Wake up everybody” guitarist/vocalist Emily Kokal. Their set was great. At the risk of sounding patronising it’s always a pleasure to see 4 girls play instruments well and the vocal harmonies are beautiful – particularly on ‘composure’, a favourite track of mine. Jamie Woon’s set drew a much larger crowd. There’s no denying that Mirrorwriting is a great album but I’ve always felt that Woon has too much love for the sound of his voice. A thought which was immediately confirmed as the singer started with Wayfaring Stranger, comprising of various layers on live, badly timed vocal loops and some cringe beatboxing. He played 2 more of his slow tracks which seemed to go on for an eternity and then announced the next one as “a slow jam” which was my cue to leave. Luckily Redlight had just started at the Starburst Stage right next door playing, as his MC announced, “not dubstep, not house, not drum & bass but Redlight”. The sounds were fresh, lively and the mixing tight but the little outdoor stage couldn’t do the bass justice with it’s substandard sound system.
The Peoples Ear Stage had no such sound issues and it was there that I spend the last 3 hours of the festival listening to two awesome sets. The first came from Julio Bashmore – one of the heroes who over the past year 2/3 years have succeeded in making house music cool again. I couldn’t fault a single track or mix throughout the hour and a half set the highlight of which was his biggest record to date: Battle for Middle You. Jamie XX was up next. The last time I saw him play his mixing was awful, really difficult to listen to at times which was a great surprise given his huge musical talent and the excellent mixtapes he’s put out. I’m glad to say he’s improved and bar a the occasional wobble (notably a failed Deadmau5 mix) he largely managed to hold it down. The truth is that this time he could have played every song start to finish with a 10 second pause between each and I wouldn’t have minded – his selection was that fucking good. He played some non-cheesy old school house and garage classics & new bangers with sexy female vocals running throughout. He dropped an XX remix I’d never heard and went on to end on an extended mix of his excellent Numbers release Far Nearer – a perfect end to a great weekend.