The Big Chill has come a long way since holding its first festival in the Welsh Black Mountains in 1995. Essentially an ambient affair, the festival was about horizontal snoozing and chilling out to leftfield electronic artists such as Matthew Herbert, Global Communication and Mixmaster Morris.
Following financial strife, a consequent benefit concert and moves from the Larmer Tree Gardens via Lulworth Castle to Eastnor Castle Deer Park, the Big Chill is now a three day, 30,000 strong festival that, while occasionally referencing its ambient past, now showcases a wealth of musical styles and flavours including folk, pop, dance, reggae, African, electronica and soul.
Slowly but surely the list of little known yet high quality up-and-coming artists has been replaced by an ever increasing amount of big name draws. This year’s headliners include the dark strains of a back-on-form Massive Attack, controversy-covered political rapper M.I.A. and Lily Allen returns, having made her Big Chill debut in 2006 during the heights of Smile-induced acclaim. Kelis will be on hand to whip up some Milkshake and Tinie Tempah will be playing his annoyingly catchy Number 1, Pass Out. But the biggest coup for the organisers comes in the form of a rare solo live performance from Radiohead‘s Thom Yorke, and if this year’s secret appearance at Glastonbury can create such fervour it should be one of the defining moments of the festival.
On the indie front, The Magic Numbers, Mystery Jets, Metronomy, Explosions In The Sky and Broken Bells, which sees James Mercer of The Shins teaming up with Gnarls Barkley‘s Danger Mouse, are all in attendance. Plenty more guitar-wielding bands join in the fun, such as John & Jehn, We Have Band and The Leisure Society, alongside post-dubstep duo Mount Kimbie. The well-represented dance music contingent also includes the deep bass wonkiness of Appleblim, 2020 Soundsystem, Layo & Bushwacka! and drum and bass don High Contrast.
The festival’s fine line in singer songwriters continues with dreadlocked crooner Newton Faulkner, offbeat popster Paloma Faith and Andreya Triana, who will be showcasing her Bonobo-produced debut album. Morcheeba will be celebrating the return of original singer Skye to the fold, Brazilian star Bebel Gilberto will be seducing the crowd with love songs of various tempos and moods, while the multi-talented, creative powerhouse that is Roots Manuva will no doubt be taking the audience on an intense lyrical and musical journey. Other standouts include The Bug, whose London Zoo album gained huge critical support, the wonky beats of Funki Porcini, the oddly enchanting Little Dragon and the summer soul of Smoove And Turrell, who provided one of the ‘Were you there when…?’ sets of last year’s festival.
Over the past few years Sunday has seen day ticket holders flood the site with picnic baskets and tiny folding chairs. This can be slightly disconcerting for those who have lived in the Big Chill bubble for the past three days and nights and musically the day generally lends itself to cater for a slightly older crowd. Previous Sunday night headliners have included Leonard Cohen and David Byrne, and this year reggae icon Gregory Isaacs, jazz-funk pioneer Roy Ayers and US jazz and folk singer-songwriter Terry Callier provide the more mature Sunday sounds.
And if this all feels like too much and you want to indulge in the Big Chill’s ambient roots, you can enjoy Roger Eno, alucidnation and the ever-present Mixmaster Morris or indulge in Dominic Glynn‘s 100 Years of Chill, which will provide horizontal grooves from the past century.
Of course, it’s not all about the music, and this year offers those brave enough the opportunity to get their kit off en masse for a naked Spencer Tunick art installation. If you prefer to retain your modesty though, there is the Words In Motion tent where you can hear everything from Shlomo‘s beatboxing to a discussion on Michael Jackson from Paul Morley.
The Big Chill’s reach is a universal one, wilfully overlooking any musical boundaries and focussing on creating a festival where there is a genuine atmosphere, as opposed to just a succession of bands being conveyor-belted on and off the stage. The Eastnor Castle Deer Park setting is stunning, the atmosphere is relaxed even when the music may not be, there are numerous new discoveries to be made every day and the sun (nearly!) always shines. It may be virtually unrecognisable compared to its original incarnation but the Big Chill still manages to retain its own unique charm.