Going to the Big Chill is like stepping into an alternate reality for a few days.
The three-day festival in its stunning Malvern Hills setting provides a safe and friendly place lacking in the bad attitude and lairiness that dog many festivals.
That’s not to say it’s all warm and fluffy and soft around the edges though (not if you don’t want it to be, anyway).
It really is whatever you want to make it and while other festivals seem to be merely a string of consecutive gigs, the Big Chill has that all important je ne sais quoi as well: atmosphere. The music policy is varied but could all be classified under music that moves you, whether that’s your soul, your heart or your ass!
Since its humble beginnings as a club at the Union Chapel in 1994, the Big Chill has built its name on word of mouth but this year there are ads in the London press and posters at tube stations. Whether this will change the core crowd or alter the atmosphere remains to be seen but in a year when even the mighty Glastonbury struggled to shift tickets you can hardly blame the organisers for erring on the side of caution. You can rest assured that those who know the festival already won’t need any further encouragement to attend and recommend it to their friends however.
For those who haven’t been before, it’s the well-known names that will draw them into Eastnor Castle Deer Park. The main attraction for many may be the legendary Leonard Cohen who, following his triumphant set at Glastonbury this year, ends his first UK tour in 15 years at the festival. The Mighty Boosh are also set to make an appearance and, though not strictly a music act, Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt have been brushing up full-length versions of their surreal songs and are bound to attract their usual legion of fans.
Idiosyncratic Irish singer Róisín Murphy always provides a hugely enjoyable performance while Beth Orton, whose latest offering has received huge plaudits, and the massively gifted Martha Wainwright will also keep those who appreciate talented singer-songwriters very happy indeed. If you prefer something altogether harder then punk veterans The Buzzcocks will be rattling a few cages while Fujiya & Miyagi will be offering some of their off-kilter indie.
On the more electronic side of things, Bomb The Bass continue their 20th anniversary comeback with a full live set and Denmark’s Trentemller will be providing his epic, enchanting, house-edged tones. Hugely respected stalwarts of the downtempo scene, Thievery Corporation, pioneers of ambient house, The Orb, and seminal acid house dons, The Grid, will also be appearing.
If dancing till your legs ache appeals then the club tent will provide you with some uptempo treats till the early hours with MCing and lyrics from the versatile Roots Manuva, cut and paste, rave-fuelled hip hop from LA’s Daedelus and the contorted beats of Cornish headcase Luke Vibert. Then there are old hands Justin Robertson and UK Apache to keep the beats per minute up to a respectable speed.
The real joy of the Big Chill has always been discovering new acts that are on the up. This was after all where Amy Winehouse did one of her early performances as a relative unknown. So who should you look out for this year? Well there’s Flying Lotus (or FlyLo if you prefer), whose melody infused brand of hip hop has been causing a stir lately, for starters or perhaps Gong Gong, who can at one moment indulge in warm ambience then the next serve up a playful, sample-led, psychedelic dance track. Other ones to watch include deeply soulful Swedes, Little Dragon, the party-starting, sampled Caribbean beats of El Guincho and Esau Mwamwaya, where modern electronics meet traditional East African rhythms.
The usual ‘Chill suspects including eclectic, tea-drinker, Mr Scruff, shiny, foil-wrapped ambient superstar, Mixmaster Morris, and the man who never fails to bring the sun out, Norman Jay, will all be in attendance. While The Bays, perennial favourites who put on an amazing off-the-cuff set at the Big Chill a couple of years ago, hook up with the Heritage Orchestra to add an extra dimension to their totally improvised yet completely mesmerising performances.
You can even play at the Big Chill yourself. If you’re an aspiring producer you can take your own track with you to be played at the CDR Festival Sessions which, following the success of last year’s session, are happening every day during the festival.
If you fancy more than music you can indulge in the comedy of Bill Bailey and Simon Day, catch a film at the Moonlit Picture House or take a trip to the usually jaw-dropping art trail. This year will also see a giant wicker man being burned on the final day of the festival, so steer clear if your name happens to be Edward Woodward.
If that’s still not enough to entertain you there’s also a spoken word space called Words In Motion, a dressing up box and a Victorian Fairground and there’s also plenty for kids to do at Club Mum and in the Kids Tent. Sound like there’s a lot going on? If you fancy taking some time out from it all you can grab yourself a massage or Reiki treatment at the Body & Soul area.
There’s far more going on than a short preview can do justice to so let’s boil it down to the basics: If you fancy spending a long weekend in the middle of stunning countryside listening to a wildly varied selection of music, discovering new artists and enjoying some old favourites, laughing, smiling and having your breath taken away more times than you care to remember, then the Big Chill is probably for you. There may be no guarantees in life but if you approach it with an open mind you could well become one of those people who return year after year after year.