Jungle drops in at the Big Chill

The Big Chill 2010 lived up to its name: a pretty and mellow weekend at Herefordshire’s lakeside ’boutique festival’…

With 14 stages and tents plus stalls of all shapes and sizes spread across site below the Malvern Hills, it gave the nearly 40,000 crowd a good 15 hours of uninterrupted fun every day with a variety of choices waaaay beyond music – from movies (available 24hr in one case), massages and handcraft to poignant talks, karaoke or merry carnival fun. Plus abundant eating and drinking options to satisfy every possible craving or munchies.

Friday night began with Explosions in the Sky’s intense take on post-rock. The crowd watched in awe as the Texas foursome performed their emotive yet powerful tunes with visceral energy – at one point the 3 guitarists seemed to be in a music-induced trance with their eyes closed and bodies swaying. Who needs words when you can make instrumental poetry, right?

On a complete opposite note, yet no less beautiful, was a shy and solo Thom Yorke.  Greeted by screaming and ever-passionate fans, Yorke took turns on the guitar, bass and piano putting on a delicate, sensible and very rare one-man show. The set combined songs from his solo album ‘The Eraser’ with Radiohead tunes like ‘Airbag’ and ‘Reckoner’. The cherry on top was the confirmation of “Give up the Ghost”, which has been turning up in most of his recent live performances, as an official new Radiohead song. It features Yorke singing over a loop (in loco) recording of his own fragile sounding voice chanting “don’t hurt me”.

The calm and gentle mood was suddenly broken – Thom was right in saying Massive Attack were the ones with the heavy artillery. The night’s headliners dropped the pressure in a bass heavy set that had the visuals to match: joining the trip-hoppers onstage were powerful lighting and LED displays with all sorts of protest imagery – from wars and floods to an amazing anti-corporate logo extravaganza to Naomi Campbells’s trial tabloid headlines. Putting an end to a 7 year dry spell, the band performed songs from their new album ‘Heligoland’, but it was the version of 1998 hit ‘Teardrop’, beautifully delivered by guest Martina Topley-Bird, that made the eyes close and put a smile on everyone’s face. Adding to the more than welcome trip down memory lane was ‘Angel’, performed by Horace Andy. To finish it off in a typical pretend-to-leave-then-come-back encore, Daddy G sang all time favorite, ground shaking ‘Karmacoma’, followed by guest Deborah Miller’s killer vocals on 1991’s ‘Unfnished Sympathy’.

After the Clash and Deer Park stages called it a day, there was still some late night fun to be had in the tents – with a choice of dubstep, electro, hip-hop or Latin beats, to name a few. Walking around at night is always a pleasant sight: the lit up/blown up decorations like giant flowers and trees with watchful eyes gave the festival grounds a sort of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ feel, which truly seemed to bring out the ‘children of the night’ spirit, given the always packed rides and plastic ball war that repeated itself the following evening.

Saturday started off easy with Finnish natural born chillers Husky Rescue performing tunes from their new ‘Ship of Light’ album on the Reveller’s Stage. Without completely putting aside the ethereal wintry sounds they are well known for (which probably explains the public sitting or lying on the grass through the whole act), the new work leans more towards dancy folky pop.

Easy Star All Stars followed on the same stage, with most of the show dedicated to their latest rastaman version of classic rock albums: ‘Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band’.  Although fun, the project lacks consistency and some songs like ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ sound quite poor in comparison to the tunes in previous and, in my opinion, much more interesting projects of ‘Radiodread’ and Dub Side of the Moon’- the latter still an all-around favourite with its songs requested repeatedly by pleading fans.

Keeping up the version vibe, Jamaican old school mento band ‘The Jollly Boys’ greeted the sun (and rain, and sun, and rain…) with a cheerful Deer Park Stage gig to promote their upcoming album (out on 20th Sept) featuring songs by artists like Amy Winehouse, The Clash and Iggy Pop, all served with a Caribbean twist. The stage overlooks a hilly lawn surrounded by food stands where one could enjoy a picnic lunch with a consistently pleasant live soundtrack – although the lack of stage screens made actually seeing the bands hard on us non 20/20’s (a big no no, Big Chill!).

As the evening approached, the dance mode started to set in. Metronomy, stylish as usual, brought their electronic fun fest to the main stage which, honestly, might not have been the wisest choice – although it’s nearly impossible to sit still to their fast-paced euphoric tunes like ‘On the Motorway’ and ‘On Dancefloors’, their club friendly, synth-driven sound definitely works best on a smaller stage or tent, at night – the small crowd and light accessories dangling from their shirts, impact totally lost during the day, rather demonstrating that.

Caribou’s time & place, on the other hand, couldn’t have been more perfect: the floating Clash Stage at dawn was the perfect scenery to enjoy tracks off an album which, in his own words, was created to be “dance music that sounds like its made out of water”. Somewhat psychedelic electro-pop-house + soft calm vocals (Erland Øye anyone?) + killer bass + somewhat tribal drums and tinkling percussion executed live with mathematical (PhD, actually) precision. How can that go wrong?

Night settled and British hip-hopper Roots Manuva rocked the dubby, grimy, funky beats making the crowd bounce again and again in a perfect warm up for  M.I.A’s rebellious headliner antics. Showing up 10 minutes late, the singer didn’t hold back the hits with a killer opening sequence that included ‘Down River’, ‘Galang’ and ‘Boyz’. Baile-funk, Bollywood and Afrobeat-ridden tunes from earlier works and new album ‘Maya’’s war themed songs like ‘Lovalot’ and headbanger ‘Born Free’ were blended into a proper energy shake of an act. But the polemic loving star wanted to go out with a bang, and inviting the over excited crowd to join her on ‘Paper Planes’ resulted in a stage invasion that alarmed staff and security and sadly cut the concert short. This turned out to be the talk of the town, but I believe those who weren’t part of the stage bound swarm would much rather have enjoyed a couple more songs than watching this cheap shot at making the headlines…

Big Chill’s last day was, well… easy like Sunday morning. After a stop by Mr Scruffs tent for some breakfast tea it was time to join Morcheeba for some groovy downtempo tunes under the sun. Skye Edwards said it all when encouraging fans to turn up and tune in – it was definitely a trip worth taking.

The next act was a perfect example of how deceiving looks can be: a frail-looking James Yuill entered the Clash Stage with nothing but a guitar for what seemed to be a folk performance of some kind. Boy were we wrong! His mix of sensitive emotional songwriting and an electronic beat frenzy (so that’s what that laptop was for!) blew everyone’s mind with an unusual ‘Nick Drake meets Justice’ sound. By the end of the set, which started nearly empty, dancing feet could be seen all around.

The whole day was pretty much a back and forth trip and, en route once again to the Deer Park stage, it was still possible to bump into multicoloured people who, earlier that morning, got naked and painted from head to toe to take part in photographer Spencer Tunick’s latest work over on the far side of the valley, near the giant The Big Chill letters.

Danger Mouse’s new project Broken Bells put on a mellow show perfectly paving the way for The Magic Numbers, who followed on the same stage. The English brother and sister band’s vigorous live performances are always a delight to see. The repertoire included songs from new album ‘The Runaway’, more of the melodic pop folk tales of heartbreak they became well known for.

As the day came to an end, what must’ve started as a private joke and spread like parroted wildfire throughout the festival (campsites primarily), finally made it’s way to the stage as Submotion Orchestra’s lead singer dedicated a song to “Alan”. The closing act was much appraised, long awaited and a little late (20 minutes!) Bonobo. The packed Clash Stage was taken by storm with the sound coming from the 12 piece band, and formidable rising star Andreya Triana (due to release her debut album any day now), joining him onstage. Brass, drums, horns and strings floated through the air while a heavy bass and constant groove shook the ground. It was the perfect ending to a perfect, chilled out, weekend.

Words and pictures by Rafaela Miranda Rocha

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