Big Chill festival 2008
urban75 review of the festival
(Words © urban75 contributors, photos: Tort, 1st-3rd August, 2008)
The urban75 festival massive give their verdict on the Big Chill 2008: and it's something of a mixed bag. You can read more opinions on this thread: Big Chill 2008 - discussion
Best of times...
Smouldering crooner Leonard Cohen sing his way into every pair of pants in the place through the most wonderfully timed, controlled and emotionally resonating gigs ever!
Making it over to the next tent in time to catch the end of Lee Perry complete his set!
Worst of times...
Rough treatment by a few of the more fist happy security.
Closing down everywhere but one tent at one thirty last night!
Had a great time with some wonderful people but doubt I'll be back. The setting is exquisite but memories of extortionate prices, thuggish thieving security meatheads & the worst toilets I've seen anywhere for a very long time won't have me reaching for my credit card when tickets go on sale next year I'm afraid.
Friday: Never seen Roots Manuva or Luke Vibert live before. Former was a bit disappointing but the latter was spot on. Sandwiched in between was DJ Vadim who was ace and gave me needed fix of d n b.
Sat: Tom Middleton at the main open air stage early on was too much fun Coldcut in the tequila tent late doors: brilliant.
IMHO it was bloody great. Not my ideal music to get messy to till daylight etc (acid tekno or dirty drum and bass) but did not go for that/expect it and there were plenty of top quality sets from the gems among the brilliant line up that I did manage to see!
Agree that music stopped FAR TOO EARLY on the sat night. wtf?? But migrated over to Sunrise on the Sunday night and there was plenty of messy dancing around to techy housey psych trance fun stuff (bit samey after 4 hrs but hey ho) till gone 9ish(?) which left one happy customer (although didn't pay for a ticket either, just worked a shift).
I would just say that during the day the wailing singers (dunno who they were like) on the outdoor main stages were annoying and rubbish/ not to my taste at all! And oops didn't realise Mojito's were £6.50 a pop. No wonder my money ran out quickly. Some bloke was goin round with a tank of mojito made with Buckfast on his back. Had a good few chugs on that. lovely!
I had a pretty good time. Highlights for me were:
Alabama 3 acoustic set
African Head Charge (once the sound was sorted out a bit; it was terrible for the first 3 songs)
Adrian Sherwood (Lee Perry was quite funny to start with but got a bit annoying after a while)
Tom Middleton's 'Summer of Love' set
Cider Bus and the food stalls in the Enchanted Garden
The Disco Shed
Burning down the house on the hill.
Other stuff I saw, but didn't hang around for, or caught the end of:
Bomb The Bass
We were in South Camping. The toilets there were pretty much clean with paper and handwash throughout the festival. More waterpoints or some sinks would have been useful. The security there was also fairly innocuous and we didn't see any heavy handedness. A tent a couple down from us had money stolen while they slept and two police officers were patrolling the area the next night.
Although the food was pricey, it was mostly of a very good standard compared to the shite burger/noodle stalls I've encountered at other festivals.
Manic Organic were charging £7 for a plateful, I didn't go to Glasto this year, but seem to remember they were charging £6 last year.
Charging for the programme is a crappy idea, given that the times aren't announced anywhere else obvious.
The main field was pretty messy by Sunday afternoon, but others were remarkably clear of litter, certainly better than any Glasto I've been to. Watching the rubbish collection, it also looked like people did bother putting the recyclable stuff in the right bins.
Definitely liked not having vehicles moving around on the main site, it stopped the ground from getting churned up and made it safer for kids, and there were a lot of kids whether you like that or not.
Putting Bill Bailey on first in the comedy tent when there were no other major crowd-pullers on was a silly idea. We had a look over an hour before he was due on and the tent was full.
Ok to be a little more specific on the toilet &security fronts:-
We were based at the extreme northern end of the campervan fields so the nearest loos were best part of 10 minutes walk away where a block of about 12 portaloos were supposed to service not only the whole of the campervan fields but were also the first port of call for everybody arriving at the north car parks. Suffice to say on the Friday morning they were piled high without exception and we had to resort to the old 'bucket & chuck it' routine in the van. Also one of the urinals in the arena overflowed to the extent that there was piss running down the steps & people were wading around in their sandals!
As far as security was concerned we were able to walk all the way down into the Sunrise Celebration area without any more than a cursory wave of our wristbands. But from Saturday afternoon onwards they had security on the gate between Sunrise & the main site searching punters bags and not even allowing them to take alcohol back in that they had obviously purchased at one of the onsite bars.
Then to cap it all off Strange-Fish's son Jack, who was a volunteer steward told how some of the kids he was working with were body searched by security. Anybody who had any weed on them had it removed together with any cash. They were told that if they didn't hand it over they would be reported to the OB for dealing. As a result Jack left all his money in his tent.
No surprise then that the security guys went round slashing & robbing people's tents in what was supposed to be a secure staff camping area while they were away working their shifts. Jack lost £100 and also now has to replace the tent he borrowed..
William of Walworth:
Leonard Cohen IS the man. No praise can be too high, brilliant set.
African Headcharge, in their first gig since 1994, were superb.
Jeffrey Lewis is quirky, fascinating, funny, political -- pretty much my hero now.
Pama International, and then Don Letts, rocked the main stage on Friday.
Lee Scratch Perry and Adrian Sherwood in the Media Mix tent really worked.
Very good roots and dub selections from the Reggae Roast collective at the Cocktail Bar stage on Sunday, before they went all dancehall and ragga on us later in their set (and rewinds are a pain!).
Sunrise area was lovely.
Whole site was beautiful.
Weather most of the time very reasonable, especially (contrary to forecast, yet again) on Saturday.
Nice 'homemade cakes' from an 'independent vendor' on Saturday and Sunday
African Tribute to James Brown, of which we had really high expectations, was UTTERLY BORING with plenty of ultra dull funk/jazz instrumental workouts yet no discernable sign of James./his songs at all.
Bar prices ridiculous, £6= (+) for a tequila or a mojito? FUCK OFF!
£3= for a tiny can of Tiger generally was ludicrous too. £3:70 for a pint in the Amstel tent or Cider Bar not quite as bad, but still annoying (luckily I did discover the one and only real ale on site, counterintuitively to be found in the Amstel bar -- chilled Otter, very nice, but only 3.6 per cent). Cider Bus was about the best value, £3:50 for a pint of 6per cent Burrowhills, but even that was pricier than Glasto.
Also, I've heard about the rum punch jugs ..... a rise from £16= (2007) to £28= (allegedly, 2008) for a cocktail jug does not reflect inflation, but rampant, obscene profiteering.
Being searched on the way into the arena was a pretty bad annoyance, but we were lucky and avoided this fate more often than not (also the searchers were usually a little slack ).
No toilets or water in the North Campervan field.
Traffic management on the way out of the North Carparks on Monday was chaotic
We were there on recycled Sunrise Celebration tickets, so we got in on the cheap really, and we're fully appreciative and grateful for that. But I doubt the Sunrise/Big Chill link will be in place again next year, Sunrise will most likely return in their own right as a stand alone festival, and we will have to seriously pare down festival costs next summer. So the likelihood is that we'll count this Big Chill venture as a one off. A lot of it we enjoyed, but there was too much expense and too many niggles to feel too positive about returning. And in the end, we're not dance music fans!
Shocker of the weekend
Realising that the number of people on site was not between 20,000 and 25,000, as I'd for some reason convinced myself would be the case beforehand, but over 40,000!
[re: poor funk music] ...That was my biggest disappointment of the weekend. I love funk and I love afrobeat but this was just some old men playing noodly jazz-funk. Even funk queen nix, who'd been looking forward to this for months, walked away with us in disgust. As we left we overheard someone say "this is in no way, shape or form a tribute to James Brown", which sums it up. Rubbish.
I had a good festival, but it wasn't a classic. Highs included:
The people I went with: the main reason I go to the BC.
The weather just about holding out - Friday and Saturday were actually pretty good.
African Headcharge - once they turned the bass up after the first three songs; great to hear them again
Buzzcocks - I needed some noise to jump around to by Sunday evening
Roisin Murphy - I wasn't expecting much and only went to see her out of curiosity, but she was brilliant - amazing voice, good weird pop songs, put on a proper show, looked great (lots of long instrumental bits so she could go and change outfit again).
Norman Jay - being a contrarian cynic I'd made up my mind not to enjoy him because I was sick of hearing people go on about how great he is, what an institution he is, how he makes the sun shine, but he played a blinding set, had a field of people jumping up and down on a Sunday afternoon and, (fucks sake) pretty much the only sun all day Sunday was during his set.
I didn't have any problems with security - the bloke at the gate on the top of the hill was a good laugh. They glanced in bags to check for booze (which is proper shit, but they don't make the policy), but none of them looked too hard.
The toilets I used were mostly fine. The main thing that shocked me about the toilets is how squemish some people are. There were people walking away from portaloos with faces contorted in horror when all that was up was someone hadn't flushed a turd away.
Whenever there was a queue you could usually walk to the front and use one of the many unused loos that were nearly clean. There was loo roll and hand wash in most of them, most of the weekend. Maybe I was just lucky, or have particularly low standards.
The poor bits:
The festival continues to get more comercial, more crowded and less personal. When I first went in about 2003 the thing that impressed me was how well thought out it was (like the 24 hour tent - RIP - with comfy sofas and nice music where you could just sit and chat and have a nice time: there's hardly anywhere like that there now) and how it seemed to be about putting on a good festival rather than seperating people from their money.
Doesn't feel like so much that any more - it's crowded, expensive, there are only certain brands of booze or fags for sale and you can't take your own drink into the main area (it's not like it's anything to do with the environment - you can buy cans and glass bottles from stalls once you're in).
The programmes: £6 for a crap newspaper supplement style magazine and a cardboard thing to hang round your neck with set times on, if you could find someone to sell you one, which most people couldn't.
There's less space in the camping areas - there used to be loads of room, now tents are all crammed together. Also the car parks are much further from the camp sites now that the festival has grown so much. I guess that's the price for there being so many more people there now.
There were about a third as many water points as in previous years, meaning long queues at peak times. I bought far more bottles of water than previously - the cynic in me suspects these two things are related.
There was far too much vocal house on the dancey stages. I didn't like it in the 90s and I still don't like it now.
I don't want to be a grumpy git though - I had another good time and it's still better than a lot of festivals. The sites's great, the range of music I like (funk, dub, disco, krautrock, techno, garage, dubstep, house, D'nB, ambient, soul, pop, punk, afrobeat) outwieghs the stuff I don't (all that f-ing jazz-funk and free jazz that crops up), the comerciality hasn't quite killed it yet and, most importantly, it's the festival that most of my friends go to..
For a start we were in Family Camping which was excellent with loads of bogs; the odd full one but pretty much clean all weekend - a few still had handcleaner stuff on Monday pm.
The communal showers were great - much better than the cubicle ones of a couple of years ago - people were way quicker using them and unless you were showering early morning, there was never a queue. It being Family Camping, it was also quiet & friendly, had a bar & 3 cafes; one open 24hrs and no grief from Security.
Leonard Cohen is clearly a genius; beautiful set, charming bloke.
African Headcharge just fucking brilliant.
Beth Orton, bit rough and ready but lovely music.
Asian Dub Foundation Sound System - was sat outside with 4 sleeping kids but they sounded excellent and had the dance tent jumping.
Rachel Unthank, couldn't really see the fuss before but she made perfect sense in a field.
The Imagined Village - sublime.
The Disco Shed! Brilliant atmosphere, top tunes.
Various reggae/ragga/dub acts who played/dj'd on that little blue covered stage (perhaps the Cocktail Bar stage WoW refers to?)
Norman Jay on Sun afternoon - an institution I know, but I can see why; great tunes at a great time.
Sunrise: lovely corner of the festival. The only part that didn't want you to remortgage your house for something to eat/drink. Also had some nice free entertainment for the kids - spacehoppers, badge making, climbing frames etc.
Sunrise also saved my life on 2 mornings when I was doing the early shift with children - they had the best, comfiest 24 hr cafe that served lovely proper coffee in real cups, homemade choc muffins and really lovely people. (Most of whom were off their faces but doing a good job of keeping the place going and were really welcoming to the kids).
Finding a big bag of absolutely blinding mdma on one of my 6 a.m. walks across site to Sunrise - result! Got 4 of us righteously fucked up on Saturday night.
The weather - rained on Thurs night, happily after tents had been put up but great most of the time. No mud to speak of.
The site - still gorgeous though fucked up a bit by rubbish (see cons).
It was busy. We never really found it a problem tbh as there was always somewhere quieter to go if it got too much but it was noticeably more crowded.
Putting Bill Bailey on in a tent when there wasn't much else on. Clearly he was going to be a massive draw - he should def have been on an open air stage.
The Body & Soul field was shite compared to a couple of years ago. On a slope and fuck all there really. In 2006 they had a big, level field with loads of free stuff for the kids (books/paper/pens/bikes/balls etc) and helpers to run little events - this year; nada.
Closing the access road that runs around the site. What a pain in the arse. You used to be able to walk along the access road opposite the stages and drop down into whichever field you wanted. That area seems to have been given over to parking/camping for the stalls now. The result was more congestion in the fields. Bit dumbass to allow more people in then effectively reduce the area.
The prices. I'm a bit 50/50 about this really - on one hand, it's always pretty expensive to eat/drink at big festies (which this is now I guess) but prices for spirits were taking the piss. £3.50 for a pint of Amstell wasn't totally outrageous but cans of Tiger at £3 is a knee in the nuts and £6.50 for a mojito!
On the other hand, we had no problem taking in our own booze. There was no searching or hassle coming in from Family Camping so we had plastic 2 litre bottles of vodka/redbull & rum/coke and loads of cans stashed in prams/bags.
It was noticeably more expensive though - food, fairground rides etc (which should be fucking free considering how much tickets cost ffs).
Rubbish - not sure whether there was a lot less focus on the 'Leave No Trace' thing but I never really heard it mentioned (last time we went, there were a lot of reminders from the stages and litter pickers on duty all day). The pickers did a great job on Sat morning, a bit of a half-arse job on Sun and by Sun afternoon, the place was a tip.
There was def a different atmosphere this time round - loads more totally drugfucked people (not a problem, just made for a different atmosphere). Lots more big groups of younger caners, millions of noz canisters/balloons everywhere, empty wraps/bags blowing around etc.
Felt sorry for people who arrived after about 5 on Thurs and wanted to get into East Car Park or Family Camping as both were full. I would have been well fucked off if I arrived a day early & ended up having to camp in 'general population' ()
In the end, the BC that I first went to wasn't the BC that editor et al used to go to but it did work for us - clean, safe, kid friendly etc. I don't particularly want to take kids to Glastonbury (that's my place to act like a kid - I don't want any responsibilities when I'm there) and the BC offered a kind of halfway house - me and a load of mates can take our kids, babysit for each other and each get at least a couple of nights out to get twatted.
Now though, I'm not as sure - prices/rubbish/reports re: security etc have kind of put me off a bit. I think I'd like to try somewhere else next year - if the atmosphere in the Sunrise field is indicative of their festie as a whole then I might give them a shot or maybe Endorse It or Secret Garden or just somewhere smaller, friendlier and less after all your friggin money (or at least less obvious about it...)..
Read more: Big Chill 2008 - discussion
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