After a torrential downpour sees everyone running for cover M.I.A. makes an early, unexpected appearance on the Deer Park Stage. Whether it’s a premature sound check or if she’s trying to take over already is unclear but the crowd are already lapping it up. The music gets stopped and she engages in an intense chat with the stage manager.
Bass Clef then appears on the Clash Stage – the tiny boat shaped stage that isn’t floating in one of the Eastnor Castle Deer Park lakes as the programme notes say but where the five-times-larger Castle Stage once was. Twisting basslines in knots and overlaying them with blasts of brass, the highlight comes in the form of Promises, an uplifting Balearic style slice of electronica complete with trombone. It’s blissful and perfect for the now baking sunshine.
Slightly less laidback are Monarchy. The London-based band arrive on stage with a sci-fi style sampled monologue wearing arty black masks. Shrouded in mystery, singer Ra instantly reveals himself as a huge Neil Tennant fan. Opening number Black The Colour Of My Heart is a great pop track, and the pumping synth pop of the next song follows the same theme.
This is quality, if highly retrospective, pop music. It’s clear that the quartet are very good at what they do, and by the end of the set they have won many people over. Set-closers Love Get Out Of My Way and Maybe I’m Crazy are brilliant. If this was 1980 they would be masters. Where they sit in 2010 is less clear.
Another band who are completely retro, but for entirely different reasons are the Jolly Boys. Originally formed in the 1950s, the six-piece play gently lilting, mento-style reggae, delivering their own material and covers with style and passion. A brilliant cover of The Stranglers‘ Golden Brown is performed complete with shouts and screams from lead singer, Albert Minott, and similarly energetic renditions of Steely Dan‘s Do It Again, New Order‘s Blue Monday and Lou Reed‘s Perfect Day follow.
Meanwhile up the hill at the Lazyland stage, Keyboard Choir are playing their five-man drifting ambient show. As the sun beats down and the rain simultaneously falls, the quintet launch into more industrial and acidy waters then revert back to more chilled electronica as five silver box robots dance around the field. Big Chill co-founder Pete Lawrence comes to join us on the hill but rather than grill him on what he thinks of the changes the Big Chill has undergone, we simply lay back and enjoy another lullaby-style track.
Wafting, meandering synths then get counterbalanced by a funky, accelerating, horror-styled track and the finale which features screamed samples and crazy electro beats and synths. All-in-all it’s a heartfelt appearance delivered with genuine passion and exuberance.
Back down in the valley at the Revellers Stage, Kelis overcomes initial sound problems and begins a set with what can only be described as a full-on dance music assault. The New Yorker then launches into a medley of hits including Caught Out There and Good Stuff and mixes Madonna‘s Holiday and her own Milkshake, which works particularly well. It’s all pretty standard pop dance fare aside from old favourites like Millionaire and Trick Me though and her attitude of old has disappeared or been diluted. Perhaps she’s just grown up and mellowed.
Her conversion to disco diva continues with more euphoric dance with only a brief respite for the ballad Get Along With You. As with the Black Eyed Peas and numerous other artists, it’s as if the US has just rediscovered the very same dance music they exported to us 20 years ago but with little concept of how that music has evolved during the interim.
One artist whose attitude remains firmly in place is M.I.A. who is being given an extended build-up over at the Deer Park Stage. Chainsaw and gunshot samples, 808 beats and pounding bass mark her entrance. Musically it’s simple, direct and tribal, not to mention tough, with no melody venturing anywhere near most tracks.
The rib-cracking bass continues for Bucky Done Gun then rave blasts stab out over pounding kick drums as M.I.A. complains about sound level restrictions. “I really love the law but I hate the ones that bite me,” she sings, “Fuck the law.” Then another deluge of beats and rough sounds rain down. The assault on the senses continues as she dives into crowd and spends the next thrash heavy attack of Story To Be Told being held up by them.
She then turns the tables by asking the audience to get up on stage just as Paper Planes is beginning. Anarchy ensues as about 30 members of the crowd jump up on stage, then more and more invade the stage. The stage ends up full of people, some teetering precariously close to the edge of it, and the music is brought to a halt. One man dances on one of the huge speakers while another moons from the stage.
Security eventually stem the flow and bundle the masses off backstage with the odd scuffle breaking out. M.I.A. has apparently encouraged this to happen several times before and while it’s a spectacle, it’s dangerous and leaves the rest of the crowd feeling short-changed.
From one type of madness to the next, the tea-obsessed Mr Scruff plays some salsa-infused Latin American music on the covered confines of the Revellers Stage. His trademark, self-drawn characters dance on the screens along with orders like ‘Wobble your legs!’ as the Stockport DJ plays one of his most enjoyable Big Chill sets for years.
A smirk-inducing end to a typically eventful, and slightly bizarre, day.