Live Music + Gig Reviews

Rocket Festival 2008 @ Alhama de Granada, Andalucia 2008

18 May 2008

Andalucia’s sun-drenched Rocket Festival aims to be Glastonbury in microcosm, set over three days amongst the sprawling mountains of Alhama de Granada in southern Spain.

The positive parallels are immediately obvious. Artwork created from recycled material is scattered liberally around the site, with a heavy nod to the Rocket moniker and its space and robot themes. There’s an holistic health area offering Tai Chi and hot tea doubles as a family-friendly play area.
There’s an eclectic and enthusiastic line-up that embraces UK ska bands, Irish dancers, local Flamenco heroes and international heavy hitters such as Pendulum and Coldcut. But there the comparison ends, and quite dramatically, for the better.

English mud gives way to a dusty backdrop of mountains, striking you in the eye with the inspiration for the galactic theme of the festival, and the laid-back-towards-vertical approach of the stewards and security creates an atmosphere of unbelievable easiness. Having meandered the mere meters from car park to Main Stage, the compactness of the site also makes a welcome change from the slow progress offered up by the UK’s bigger and busier festivals.

As well as the standard €65 Friday-Sunday three day ticket, a €50 two day pass was available for the last two days, which is the option we went for. Arriving at 2ish on Saturday, we were greeted with the shambolic but charming British ska of Fight The Bear on the Main Stage, playing shouty, bouncy tunes to a small but joyful audience, who, like us, seemed to reap the benefit of the band’s ad hoc approach to harmonies. An hour or so later, The Amigos took to the sun-soaked stage for some straight-up rock music Spanish style – Feeder dipped in the Mediterranean.

With all concept of time rapidly sliding away, we bumbled over to Cantina Galactica, a tent modelled upon the Mos Eisley canteen from Star Wars. Being a science fiction philistine, I can’t offer any thoughts on how realistic it was, but it offered a great line in twisty nipple-like adornments hanging from the ceiling. We caught the end of a wickedly funky three-piece plucking all sorts of goodness from a double bass, acoustic guitarist and sultry female singer, but God only knows who they were and it looks like I’m destined never to find out.

Up next was Stick It On, a Brighton collective bringing the idea behind their long running night, offering up 15 minutes of time for anyone and the best records in their collection. Mixing is actively discouraged in favour of good tunes, and the Saturday fancy dress theme added to the departure from the norm as Banana Man – I think – played us Beastie Boys and Michael Jackson.

From here we explored the further three tents providing substantial shade alongside consistently impressive sound systems and – Eavises take note – stocked up, fully staffed bars. The Main Dance Tent and the slightly smaller Radio Disturbo pumped out a continual stream of breaks, house, techno and drum and bass to a nicely mixed up crowd of English club kids, Spanish day trippers and indeterminable crusty festival types.

As the sun began to set, the crowds began to thicken, and the atmosphere slowly morphed from lazy sun-splattered festival into full-blown underground free party.

The line-up for each day begins officially at 2pm, running through ’til 1pm on Saturday for Friday’s shenanigans, a curfew-massacring 4pm after Saturday’s onslaught and finally staggering to a finale at 8am on Sunday morning. Or it would have done, had it not been for the gloriously laid back approach to time keeping indicative of the festival and Spain in general (“maana”, translating as ‘tomorrow’, but loosely meaning ‘later’ is practically a national slogan).

Expecting Coldcut on the Main Stage at 3am, we inadvertently partook of Muchachito Bombo Infierno, a raucous Spanish outfit mixing ska and swing with traditional Spanish guitar. The now-thronged open air was electric with people chanting along the words, a spine-tingling accompaniment to the rapidly blackening mountain backdrop.

Coldcut overcame some persistent technical difficulties to slope on at just after 5am. Accompanied by guests Raj Pannu and MC Juice Aleem, they started off with some of the ambient lushness of their earlier work, incorporating incredible visuals aligned perfectly with the cut and paste sampling they are known for. Making full use of a sound system that you could feel as much as you could hear, they hardened the beats through hip hop and breaks before threatening to make the audience collectively wet themselves with a compendium of sliced up crowd pleasers taking in Jimi Hendrix, Rage Against the Machine, AC/DC and DJ Shadow.

After salivating all day at the prospect of Coldcut, Pendulum and Adam Freeland in quick succession, we finally limped off to the car at 7am at the close of Coldcut’s set. En route we passed a Village Disco playing Ice Ice Baby to about 50 people, a sight that still had me chuckling the next morning, while berating ourselves for being too weak to catch the other two main headliners.

Like all festivals, Rocket has far too much to see – you’ll miss stuff you really wanted, catch stuff you have never heard of, and leave covered in dust, knackered and bemused, with a silly grin on your face.

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