Ahhhh. Smell that? That faint lingering smell of deep fat fryers, raw sewage and burning… well… everything?
That’s the smell of the Great British summertime, that is, and in particular its most glamorous pastime – lurking under canvas in the company of 200,000 other hardy souls. It’s festival season, and musicOMH will once again be covering the brilliant, the bonkers… and the biblical flooding.
2009 looks set to be a fascinating year for the seasoned festival commentator. Despite the recession continuing to exert a stranglehold over the nation’s purse-strings, live music is, conversely, booming, with some absolutely enormous acts – including Radiohead, Kraftwerk, Bruce Springsteen and the newly-reformed Blur – gracing the myriad of UK and international festivals this summer.
Perhaps the slow death of profitable recorded music has forced the labels to take drastic action, but even this year’s boutique festivals have line-ups to drop the jaw of even the most jaded fan.
Let’s start with the big ones first. After the now-traditional ‘indoor’ curtain-raisers London’s Camden Crawl and Brighton’s The Great Escape, which saw over 400 acts sweltering in tiny venues looking to make the enviable ‘step-up’ to become the year’s buzz band, festival season proper starts on 24th June with the patriarch of the festival scene, Glastonbury Festival (24-28 June).
Last year’s Glastonbury was mired in slightly self-indulgent controversy – Noel Gallagher putting the final nail into the credibility of Oasis with an ill-informed rant about Jay-Z’s headline performance. Despite low ticket sales, the festival was a success beyond Michael Eavis’ wildest dreams, and the naysayers this year clogged the phonelines to sell out the festival in quicksmart time. The festival has unfortunately retreated slightly to its rock roots – but while the big draws will be Blur and Bruce, the still unsurpassed joy (or terror) of stumbling upon a naked druid at 3am is the thing that keeps 200,000 people coming back every year.
Of the real crowd-pullers, Reading/Leeds (28-30 August) has pulled off the coup of the summer by persuading Radiohead to appear. The festival has always been about the music more than any kind of ‘experience’, and it’s reflected in the line-up, with behemoths like Arctic Monkeys and The Prodigy playing above still-huge acts like Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Glasvegas.
V Festival (22-23 August) has a stellar pop line-up, from Oasis to The Killers and down through Lily Allen and Lady Gaga. While it’s a little middle-of-the-road for some tastes, it’s a radio-friendly and eclectic set of bands that’ll keep most punters interested.
Latitude (16-19 July) is a firm favourite of ours; a kind of Glastonbury for the Radio 4 crowd, with an emphasis on literature and poetry as well as riotus rockers. Exclusive headline sets from Pet Shop Boys, Grace Jones and a set from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds are interesting enough, but it’s the extracurricular dancing in the woods with pink sheep that really grabbed us last year.
If any festival deserves good weather this year, it’s Bestival (11-13 September). After last year’s apocalyptic weather conditions, the connoisseur’s festival of choice should get back on its feet with only-bloody KRAFTWERK headlining. Massive Attack, Elbow and Squarepusher all play, and it’s one of the best and most imaginative line-ups of the summer. Family friendly sister festival Camp Bestival (24-26 July) sees an UK exclusive performance by PJ Harvey, and an eclectic line-up ranging from Roots Manuva to Laura Marling.
For Londoners who don’t fancy hunkering down under canvas, the capital plays host to a veritable smorgasbord of festivals that are just a night bus from home. The biggest – Groove Armarda’s Lovebox Weekender (18-19 July) – has a superlative line-up, including N*E*R*D, Duran Duran and the ‘Armada themselves, but much of the fun will involve be seeing bands like The Temper Trap and Dananananakroyd fare in support.
Surprise of the season is the ‘Clapham Weekender’, with two one-day events over the Bank Holiday Weekend. The Get Loaded In The Park day (30 August) features Orbital, Royksopp, Peaches and Roni Size along with a range of DJs and new acts across four stages, while the day before sees Sasha & Digweed, Layo & Bushwacka! and Eric Prydz running the rule over South West Four (29 August).
Hyde Park is gearing up for a busy summer too – Hard Rock Calling (26-28 June) kicks off the action with Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young and The Killers all performing headline duties with some interesting bands (Mumford And Sons, Johnny Flynn) – and not so interesting (The Kooks) in support. Wireless (4-5 July) is the newly-urban alternative, with Kanye West, Basement Jaxx, Dizzee Rascal and The Streets appearing across two days. Jack Peñate, Saint Etienne and Metric bring up the rear.
Every skinny-jeaned indie kid in London will also head to Victoria Park for Field Day (1 August) which, after a rocky start, has become something of a fixture in the festival calender. Headliners Mogwai are always a draw, while Santigold, The Horrors and Little Boots make this one of the coolest festivals of the summer.
One thing you’ll always be sure of in Britain – here more than anywhere else, it seems – is that every single musical style will have its own festival. Clubbers wanting to rise late and dance till dawn rises are particularly well served this year. The big one is Creamfields in Liverpool (29-30 August) with a whos-who of the world’s greatest DJs (Tiesto, Guetta, Garnier) and live performances from the now-ubiquitous Basement Jaxx and Dizzee Rascal. Beyond that, the Secret Garden Party (23-26 July) is one of the summer’s best kept secrets (possibly because no-one who attended can remember it clearly). Basically Glastonbury’s much-missed Lost Vagueness field spread across three days and an entire field, this year sees Jarvis Cocker, Phoenix and Rodrigo y Gabriela battling to keep the crowd’s attention away from the “skinny-dipping and sock wrestling” promised by the Head Gardener.
Serious clubbers will also want to check out Glade (16-19 July), which is adding a more communal feel to the party this year – although its focus will remain on cutting-edge electronica artists like Booka Shade and Freeland. Also on the horizon are Global Gathering (24-25 July) which offers a weekend of ear-bleeding dance from the likes of The Prodigy, Orbital and Pendulum, and the electronica-tinged Loop Festival (11-12 July) in Brighton with The Field and Datarock providing the beats, while Fanfarlo and Tunng bring the guitars.
More relaxing – read ‘family friendly’ – is The Big Chill (7-9 August). A beautiful site, catering for dance-orientated families, this year with added Basement Jaxx (yes, they’re everywhere this year), Calexico, Friendly Fires and Norman Jay. A similar vibe prevails at Womad (24-26 July), one of the summer’s most interesting and enjoyable festivals. It promises to bring the cream of ‘world music’ to a stately home in Wiltshire, and we’re certain Ethiopiques, Solomon Burke and Mad Professor will rival those Tibetan nose flute players for your attention this year.
Of the serious ’boutique’ festivals – ie. smaller, with a more intimate ‘fete’ feel and hopefully with better food – Summer Sundae has a good mix of established acts and newcomers (Bon Iver and The Streets will mix happily with Micachu and Broken Records) while End of the Road Festival (11-13 September) sees Fleet Foxes, Explosions In The Sky and Herman Dune given the opportunity to play ‘longer sets’ than the average festival, which can only be a good thing.
Finally, The Green Man festival (21-23 August) has one of the best indie line-ups outside ATP, with Animal Collective, Jarvis Cocker and Wilco covering headline duties (although, apparently everyone here’s a headliner – ahhh…) , while the loyal 10,000 strong crowd enjoy a festival with little branding and a lot of band interaction.
And wherever you go, so long as you have your wellies and a mac, even the unpredictable weather will struggle to dent your fun.