This year sees the Big Chill celebrating its 15th year having evolved from a Sunday social of lazing around on mattresses listening to ambient music at Islington’s Union Chapel to a full-blown three-day jamboree for over 30,000 revellers.
It’s an ever-changing beast and last year saw the festival sever its roots further when they dropped the ambient-led Sanctuary stage and there was barely a 12-minute chill-out epic within earshot all weekend. That in itself flies in the face of the notion that the Big Chill is all about horizontal snoozing (though you’ll still find plenty of mellow sounds if that’s your bag) and this year looks set to continue in the same vein.
If you like your electronic beats there’s dance music from Basement Jaxx, and the recently re-formed Orbital, with Axel Wilner’s blissed-out The Field further down the bill. If you fancy some dub, reggae and roots there are Dub Syndicate and Suns Of Arqa, if you’re more of an indie persuasion then you’ll lap up sets from Spiritualized, Noah And The Whale and Mercury nominees Friendly Fires and The Invisible.
If singer-songwriters are your thing then you can check out Fink, Alice Russell and the highly-rated pop queen in waiting Marina And The Diamonds. The jazz angle is covered by legendary saxophonist Pharoah Sanders or, if that’s too hardcore for you and you crave something less avant garde, Bonobo will be showcasing material from his upcoming album, while aficionados of mariachi bordertown adventures will head to Calexico.
It’s those artists that don’t comfortably fit within the usual generic pigeonholes that the Big Chill excels at though. These include the pop-led sounds of Mali courtesy of Amadou & Mariam, Talvin Singh‘s Anglo-Indian tabla-based fusion and the ever-experimental Talking Heads frontman, David Byrne, who will be headlining and playing selections from his latest collaboration with Brian Eno. A recent, press-stopping addition to the line-up is Mr Hudson; whether the prop-giving Kanye West will make an appearance alongside him for Supernova seems to be the main reason for watching his set these days.
But away from the big names it’s always worth taking a punt on catching some artists you may have never heard of before. The line-up always has plenty of strength in depth and you may just discover some new favourite artists or catch an early performance from an act that goes on to break through to the bigtime. The usual Big Chill suspects will also be in attendance including Norman Jay, who is still yet to fail to bring the sun out with his Sunday afternoon sets, Mr Scruff, who’s throwing a splendid tea party, the silver-suited ambient legend Mixmaster Morris and reggae-slinging Bristolian pensioner DJ Derek.
The Big Chill prides itself on creating a holistic, all-encompassing experience rather than just a mud pit for people to watch bands in. The beautiful site of Eastnor Castle Deer Park itself is testament to this but then there are also the non-musical elements of the festival to take into account. These include comedy from top drawer comics like Sean Hughes, Dylan Moran and Josie Long, a Victorian fairground, a circus and, for when your ears are ringing, your feet are aching and your liver has taken a battering, you can retire to the Body & Soul area for a massage. There’s also a busker’s stage, an art car boot fair and cinema courtesy of Film 4.
For those arriving on site on Thursday there is the opportunity to stalk Noel Fielding. There are certain conditions though; you have to dress up as a zombie to worship the Mighty Boosh star as Zombie King and help break the world record for the most zombies ever caught on camera. The results will form part of the upcoming film, I Spit On Your Rave and there will be Zombification Stations for you to get made-up at in case you don’t want to frighten people with your undead flesh hanging off on the way to the festival.
To give you the full picture of what the Big Chill has to offer musically, creatively or indeed socially would be impossible. It’s a self-contained oasis of myriad sensual delights, and the grub’s not bad (fantastic in fact), the toilets are cleaned several times a day and there are even hot showers (if you can cope with queuing). It’s as civilised as spending three or four days in a field can be and every year you’re guaranteed to hear, see or experience something that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Let’s just hope the sun makes an appearance.