Let’s dispel some of the misconceptions about the Big Chill.
Firstly: that it’s full of hippies listening to whale song in a smoke induced haze.
Secondly: that it’s full of ageing ravers who can’t take the pace any more.
Thirdly: that it’s full of middle-aged, middle class people from the home counties on their sole trip out of the year.
While all of these perceptions may ring true for some of the 29,000 making their way to Eastnor Castle this August, the one thing you really cannot do with any great accuracy is make sweeping statements about the Big Chill, whether they be about crowd demographics or the music that’s on offer. It really is one nation under a groove and this year’s grooves are set to be provided by a more eclectic band of artists than ever before.
There was a time when you could look at the line-up and see virtually no familiar names on the bill and that was part of the appeal, being exposed to new sounds and artists, some of whom would go on to greater fame and fortune as Amy Winehouse, Goldfrapp and Zero 7 all did. In recent years, however, a couple of high profile acts have found their way onto the bill. Last year it was Lily Allen and Jose Gonzales and this year it’s the turn of Mika, The Go! Team and Guillemots to draw in the crowds.
From new ravers New Young Pony Club to old raver Paul Hartnoll, who brings his first post-Orbital solo album The Ideal Condition to the stage with a full live orchestra, the line-up oozes variety. Next-big-things Mr Hudson And The Library stand alongside the country stylings of Piney Gir while the irreverent Blockheads and ska originals The Skatalites mean everyone should be able to find something to their liking. There’s even an appearance from Isaac Hayes, proving that there is life after storming off South Park. He and his distinctive voice have of course been around since the sixties and it’s almost guaranteed to be a defining festival moment if he sings Shaft… or perhaps even Chocolate Salty Balls.
The magic and wonder of the festival can often be found in the smaller acts though, like last year when X-Press 2‘s flat display was outshone by relative unknowns Echaskech so it always pays to swim against the tide of the big-name-spotting hordes from time to time. Ones to watch this year include Mancunian curiosities Starbase 109, who come across like a synthpop version of French & Saunders‘ chums Raw Sex, deep dubstep outfit Digital Mystikz and Tom Ravenscroft, who follows in his father John Peel‘s footsteps – though whether he’ll play happy hardcore to rouse the horizontal masses is unknown.
Alongside the fresh talent are a bunch of Big Chill veterans. These include electronica fiends Hexstatic, who return with a set that should be up to their usual smirk-raising, goosebump-inducing audiovisual standards, and Norman Jay whose sets, on the rare occasion it does happen to cloud over, always seem guaranteed to bring the sun back out. Mr Scruff makes a welcome return too as he attempts once again to redefine the word ‘eclectic’ while Mixmaster Morris continues his mission to get people to lie down and be counted. Another regular making an appearance is Tom Middleton who is set to present another facet of his hyper-productive creativity in the form of downtempo offshoot Amba.
There are sounds of a chilled variety but no downtempo by numbers. Bonobo and the Cinematic Orchestra, Ninja Tune label-mates, have recently both produced their strongest albums to date and their performances are definitely must-see. Future Loop Foundation‘s sample-lead humour and gentle instrumentation meanwhile are guaranteed to hit the spot while Biosphere‘s epic, icy ambience and Jon Hopkin‘s leftfield electronics are for those who want to delve a little deeper. Kruder and Dorfmeister will undoubtedly prove a huge draw as they attempt to match the faultless magic of their classic K&D Sessions album.
If you prefer something a little more full-on though, there’s plenty to flail limbs and shake asses to – especially after dark. Tempo-raisers include disco curiosity Black Devil (AKA Bernard Fevre), DJ Yoda with his cut and paste hip hop mash-ups and the Faze Action brothers’ disco touched orchestral house. Then there are The Bays who, having taken one of the headline sets and blown the crowd away in 2005, return for another off-the-cuff, fully improvised, unrehearsed set.
The familiar theme of singer songwriters and folk artists continues with Tunng making a return appearance, Findlay Brown plying his brand of alternative folk, the unique genre melting Joe Driscoll and Chungking displaying their new pop sensibilities.
This year there is more space but the same capacity which means more room to dance or laze around in the sun, wearing fancy dress from one of the dressing up boxes if that sort of thing tickles your fancy. Away from the line-up the onus is on fun with Human Pacman and Punk Rock Karaoke not to mention the always interesting, often mesmerising Art Trail which this year is dotted throughout the festival. There is also a Techno Circus, Divine Company‘s fire ballet The Firegown and a comedy line-up that includes John Shuttleworth, newly-crowned Corrie star Sean Hughes and Carling Black Label drinker Stephen Frost. There’s also an orchestra of beatboxers (really).
Kids are well catered for, there’s a Body & Soul area offering a wide range of treatments to soothe and relax and there are even hot showers to wash away the grime. Let’s not overlook the beautiful setting of Herefordshire’s Eastnor Castle Deer Park either with it’s lush green hills and misty lakes. The Big Chill is a truly holistic experience that brings together and celebrates the finer things in life and, most importantly, puts a huge smile on your face. Well worth a look if you fancy a break from the corporate, logo-riddled beasts that many mainstream festivals seem to have become.