Imagine a world where people dance all day without a care in the world, where the crime rate is virtually zero, where the surroundings are stunning, the atmosphere positive and the sun always shines. Well, such a world exists but only for one long weekend every summer, during which the Big Chill Festival takes place in its jaw-droppingly gorgeous Malvern Hills setting.
Our first experience of the Big Chill 2004 is provided by Mr Scruff, something of a cult hero around these parts, who plays self-made anthem Get A Move On before closing his set with The Cure‘s Love Cats. There are yelps for more long after he has left the stage and his performance serves as a reminder that this is a weekend where absolutely anything goes, providing it induces a smile.
Standard chill-out fare is also on offer, such as the Hammond organ and heartfelt vocal workouts of TM Juke, sounding like Zero 7 with a touch more funk and deeper soul, but rules do not exist here.
Hammering this point home as a 140bpm+ kick drum summons people from far and wide to the Finlandia Tent is the only man with the balls (or the sense?) to play gabba techno and hard ragga at a downtempo festival. That man, of course, is John Peel. Peel looks more like an old man tending to his marigolds than a living DJ legend, but he plays the pogo punk of I Wanna Be Sedated followed by dark drum and bass and some light sunshine reggae. His genre-busting ways rock the crowd as Peel sups wine and holds small children aloft. The only downside is the crowd being sardined into the small white marquee – surely he deserved to retain last year’s Open Air Stage slot?
Fragile State take to the stage, catering for the uplifting end of the downtempo spectrum to be followed later by purveyors of warped samples and big beats, Bent. Disappointment abounds, however, as it soon becomes clear they have decided to become a “proper” band, trading in their ironic kitsch and humorous samples to become a bizarre English folk-country cabaret act. Old favourites like Swollen and Magic Love redeem the set slightly but their cover of I Can’t Go For That seems to be an aptly named choice as they struggle within the confines of the straight-song format.
Over in the club tent, X-Press 2 are intent on moving feet rather than souls, a far cry from the warm house leanings of Lazy many may have expected. The trio provide music that, while offering a contrast to the other emotive and thoughful music on offer here, pounds and punches rather than soothes and relaxes, amounting to little more than a nosebleed techno bang-fest.
Thankfully the perfect antidote comes in the form of Tom Middleton’s Amba project in the sanctuary of the erm… Sanctuary Tent. Middleton builds upon the lush ambient blueprint he created with Global Communication, producing some light, wispy melodies, deep bass hits, chirping synths and warm strings. Middleton’s sweetly moving music forms the perfect, harmonious note to end day one of an already varied and memorable festival and ensures that a good night’s sleep is had beneath the cooled canvas.