Ok, so another Big Chill weekend flies by, with the build up seeming to last an eternity, and the weekend over all too quickly.
At least the memories will be there forever. But what makes the Big Chill different from most Festivals?
People talk about all sorts of things when asked that question.......
...it's beautiful countryside home provided by The Eastnor Castle Deer Park, with it's picturesque lakeside setting amongst the rolling hills and the snug woodland borders?
...the relaxed, friendly, almost family atmosphere provided by the organisers, staff and security, and consistently adopted in equal measures by the attendees?
...an environmentally friendly 'Leave No Trace' ethic that encourages festival-goers to take responsibility for their own mess?
...the Pollock style splattering of different cultures represented within the artists, music, food, and alternative entertainment on show across the site for the whole weekend, including contemporary art installations, poetry readings, stand-up comedians, cinema screenings, radio broadcasts, av shows, massage parlours, coctail bars and international food stalls?
.....the uncanny ability for the festival to attract the sunshine despite being held in Britain!?! (thanks to the Big Chill Sundancers!!!)
All these things undoubtedly add to the experience, but ultimately for me, it has always been about the music, and the ability this festival has to satisfy my desire to see acts that I would have to travel far and wide to see otherwise, while at the same time leaving me pleasantly surprised by what's been sitting on my doorstep unnoticed for all this time. There is little commercial drive to sell tickets in the same way other festival promoters do - just a rich knowledge of what lay beneath the surface, and this balance ensures I always come back richer myself.
This year was no exception, and the line-up was a peach. So much so in fact, that some sacrifices had to be made in order to allow some artists to do their job - build a set of music that is more than the sum of it's parts, and take you on a journey worthy of plotting on the Big Chill musical map. Wandering from tent to tent this year would have provided you with a constant stream of class acts, especially on the Saturday night when so many schedules had ticked boxes next to them right the way from mid-afternoon to early morning, all begging you to join them in making their space the place to be.....
The Open Air Stage played host to the Bombay Dub Orchestra on Friday afternoon, setting the scene for what was a beautifully sunny weekend, before the Funky Wormhole DJs ran amoc in the Dub Shack with an afternoon of photon emitting sounds from the far end of the festival, playing everything from classic soul, funk and reggae to drum 'n' bass.
The evening kicked off with another great live set from Ninja Tune's Cinematic Orchestra, doing what they do best - jazz vibes, orchestral strings and heavenly vocals that created the ideal soundtrack to the Malvern Hills scenery and dusking skies, but it was the big guns that stole the show on Friday, making it difficult to resist the magnet that was Kruder and Dorfmeister presenting a Summer Sessions set that did everything mentioned above and more.
All those expecting downtempo dub and jazz tinged drum 'n' bass amongst their signature sound were taken on a different kind of ride - one full of unexpected twists and turns but with an overall sense of purpose and progression, resulting in a set that left commiters with an overwhelming feeling of destination and achievement at the end of it. Everything was class, with just the right mix of festival vibes and hard edged electronics layered over body moving rhythms and beats that kept my feet defying gravity for the majority of their 4 hour set (once the inviting bounce had taken hold). Even the gentle encouragement and persuasion coming from the MC crew of Earl Zinger and T-Weed was never imposing and just added to the overall feel of what was a fantastic dj set. Not even the pull of the Mad Professor or Tom Middleton was strong enough to take me away, and if you saw my music collection that's saying something! G-Stoned groovin' all the way back to my tent.
Saturday's line-up always promised to offer a bit more flava for all those hip-hop heads out there, and it wasn't going to disappoint. A Beat Box workshop with Shlomo started things off in the new Big Chill Nights tent. Drawing a lot of people in out of curiosity more than reputation (although You-Tubers will be more than familiar with his vocal prowess), Shlomo and friends told the story of Beat Boxing from it's origins to the present day, demonstrating the dynamics of vocal sound and encouraging all to take part - a show that worked on all levels regardless of any previous Beat Boxing experience, so much so that the tent was the fullest it would be for the whole weekend, but was just a preview of things to come...
The hip hop continued with another summery set from by the lake at the Fat Tuesday stage by Skitz. Bass and beat heavy he gave us the perfect follow up to the Shlomo intro, and proved to be a great meeting place for the groups of Super Heroes and other fancy dress crews roaming the Big Chill on Saturday.
Bonobo showcased tracks from their recent 'Day's to Come' album on the Castle Stage early evening to a very receptive crowd, reinforcing Ninja Tune's continued contribution to the Big Chill vibe. The comparisons to Cinematic Orchestra's set the previous night were obvious, and the quality equally so. Now I'm ready to dance!
A short stroll to the Main Arena gave us all the opportunity to do exactly that. Hexstatic were poised to go to the next level with their AV spectacular, mashing up everything from Led Zeppelin to House of Pain with pop videos and movie clips, cartoons and ambient visuals in a way that few others can match. Owners of the 'Exactshit' DVDs may have been a little bit disappointed that some things were missing, but the live nature of their sets should excuse them from just reproducing old work. They did what they promised - took the evening to the next level, and paved the way for the Saturday night finale awaiting in SoCo Fat Tuesday - The Nextmen.
I've seen The Nextmen many times now and they have never let me down. They drop fat tunes and keep them sounding fresh with scratches - it's as simple as that. It's not just hip hop either. All sorts fill their record bags and the beauty is not knowing where it's going next. Just when you've found the groove, in comes another that was bigger than the last, and you can't help but get picked up and taken along with it. They do their own thing and it's good.
As I said earlier though, the choice of acts to see on Saturday night was too much, and I had to sneak off for a quick peek at another one of those acts that are unlikely to be within my radar again - the Environ label boss Morgan Geist. I first got sucked into his music whilst collecting stuff from Clear - the label that brought us releases from Doctor Rockit (Matthew Herbert), As One (Kirk DiGiorgio), Jake Slazenger (Mike Paradinas), Jedi Knights (Tom Middleton), Plaid and Metamatics, to name but a few. An amazing label that was full of talent. These days Morgan Geist concentrates on music for the disco-tech, the slightly more discerning dancefloor dweller who likes his disco tinged electronics. And that was exactly what you got - a lot of space around the sounds but once you get on his wavelength you are away. The only downer was the mud soaked ground beneath your feet that really did make the Club Tent the least inviting throughout the weekend, but only served as a reminder as to what this festival would have been like if the rain hadn't held off for the week previously. Organisers take heed.
Already it was Sunday, and it lived up to it's name - of course it did, Norman Jay was playing! But it was the follow up act that made the afternoon sunshine all the more special, as The Skatalites released their sound to the Main Arena, bringing the joys of the Caribbean to the Malvern Hills in the best possible style. You get the impression that the sound itself is inextricably attached to these guys, and that it would follow them around the world even if they forgot their instruments. They are Jamaica. They are Ska. They are The Skatalites. Easily one of the highlights of the festival.
Word had obviously got around after the Beat Box Workshop yesterday afternoon, and the Castle Stage was engulfed by a legion of Big Chillers to take in the proper performance that Shlomo and his Vocal Orchestra promised. The first part was a slight extension of the workshop, encorporating a loop sampler into the show, giving him the ability to create and build his own backing tracks as he sampled phrases from his massive array of percussive sounds and rhythms. A man, a mic and a machine.
But then came the show. The concept was clear - man made music in it's purest form, Shlomo had built an orchestra of performers that were to generate all the basic elements of songs using only their voice. Slightly impromptu, and always experimental, the results were amazing. The accapella group The Swingle Singers were split into pairs to provide harmonies, while the beat boxers proper provided bass, drums and scratches to complete the tracks. Shlomo joined in to make the beats sound fatter, but his job was mostly taken up with the orchestration of the rest, cutting in and out of the mix the separate parts with a gesture of his hands. The sound was big, the beats complex, and the team produced a performance that made the crowd go wild.......wilder than anything else all weekend.
Everyone came away from the Castle Stage talking about Shlomo. We will see more of this again. The reception demands it.
The last night of the Big Chill 2007 offered yet more gems. It was great to see Gilles Peterson and Patrick Forge reminiscing over old times with a recreation of their Sunday afternoon Dingwalls Sessions in the Club Tent - a couple of tracks each giving the other plenty of time to dig deep in their bags for just the right track, while on the Castle Stage the perfect compliment to Ninja Tune's contribution to the festival came in the form of the Tru Thoughts Merry-Go-Round.
After a great DJ set from Tru Thoughts resident Bonobo earlier in the afternoon that just oozed style, Brighton based label Manager Rob Luis was joined by TM Juke to host an evening of 21st Century funk and soul, including the voice of Quantic Soul Orchestra's Alice Russell.
Isaac Hayes got even deeper with his soul on the Main Stage before we filled our boots with a return to the Fat Tuesday tent for a final rinse out - the big breaks sound of the Soul of Man. Consistently keeping the tempo above what Big Chillers had been used to all weekend, the bass heavy build up of breaks and eclectic breakdowns offered us what we needed to end the weekend, despite the pull of an ambient set from Coldcut in the Sanctuary Stage.
I hadn't finished with partying just yet - I still wanted to dance, and with Mixmaster Morris providing the opportunity to properly chill out later on, I was havin' it.
All in all, Big Chill 2007 was a great one. The line up beforehand was a tickler, and despite some disappointment when the schedule came out that there were so many clashes, I hope my review makes clear that there was still plenty going on, and the fact that the weekend went so quickly is testament to that.
It's always been one of the ironies of life that that's the way things are - while you're sitting at your desk at work in the preliminary weeks waiting for it to happen, everything can go so slowly, yet such a manic and eventful weekend as this seems to fly by, but I'm going to remember this weekend for a long long time whereas I've already forgotten about any boring days at work.
Thank you Big Chill - keep up the good work!
Review and pictures by Matt Cook originally posted on the The Big Chill Sundancers group at Facebook.
Also published as A Big Chiller on Eastnor
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