Celebrating 15 Years this year, The Big Chill are sure to want to do it in style, and early additions to the line-up back that up. Eric Truffaz, Mulatu & The Heliocentrics, Rodriguez, To Rococo Rot, The Invisible, Quantic, Fink, Bonobo, Hexstatic, Mr Scruff, The Nextmen, Krafty Kuts & A-Skillz, Greg Wilson, Keb Darge, Tom Middleton, Metro Area, Octave One, The Unabombers, DJ Format, Max Romeo, Pharoah Sanders, Kode9, Dub Syndicate, Suns of Arqa, Mr Benn & Moody Boyz...
...just some of the artists that show The Big Chill dig deeper than most when searching for acts to book...
...and quite a selection from right across the board again. Good work!
August 6th-9th, Eastnor Castle Deer Park, Ledbury, Herefordshire
The Big Chill has become something more than just a music festival for us over the past 10 years. Since our first Big Chill event at Larmer Tree Gardens on the outskirts of Salisbury in 1999, it has been clear that the organiser’s intentions go way beyond those of other festival’s, and the utopian dream of housing a community of like-minded people in idyllic surroundings for 3 days a year is something they humbly adhere to, rather than pompously claim.
The fact that this year’s event was the largest ever, with around 40,000 people in attendance, and was achieved with minimal advertising and commercial backing, immediately makes it stand out as a shining light amongst the mass of festivals on offer over the summer season. For the second year running, it has opened it’s arms to some of the casualties of festival fever, and bailed out struggling events by incorporating them at the last minute into their own event. Like offering shelter to the homeless in a storm, The Big Chill allowed ticket holders from both The Big Green Gathering and Bloom the chance to ease their disappointment by exchanging tickets for this year’s event, and rescheduling their line-up to accommodate some of the performers that would otherwise have had to be axed.
“Nobody here today, even down to our commercial partners, would be allowed through the gates unless we were convinced they understood the soul of this event…” writes festival founder Katrina Larkin.
It’s easy to see from the guests invited to speak at this year’s event where the inspiration for all this comes from, with the Words in Motion tent this year opening with an interview with Woodstock Festival creator Michael Lang, and Film4 hosting a 40th Anniversary screening of “Woodstock : 3 Days of Peace & Music”.
Fittingly, The Big Chill were celebrating an anniversary of their own this year too. 15 years have passed since the conception of The Big Chill, when 700 people were invited to the Black Mountains to indulge in a weekend of relaxation and partying, whilst sharing some of the great music they had found from the more obscure echelons of the underground music scene.
To that effect, little has changed. The line-ups to Big Chill events continue to support independent acts and artists, and the reputation The Big Chill has acquired for seeking out new and innovative acts to play at their events is justified year on year, and an almost omniscient scanning of talent from around the globe results in by far the most diverse selection of artists and performers appearing at any festival you could go to.
This makes it a great place for those with open minds to broaden your musical tastes and boundaries, whilst still being guaranteed entertainment from some of your favourite artists and DJs in a way you’d come to expect at any music event. This year saw legends from the roots of Jamaica’s reggae scene perform alongside innovative French jazz trumpeters, traditional Indian instrumentalists, South American salsa bands, African tribal beat combos, German electronic experimentalists, urban US hip hop crews, orchestral string sections, 60s psychedelic rock acts, Big Band horn sections, 80s pop icons, stadium dance acts, upcoming Soul divas, legendary disco DJs, bass in your face dubstep pioneers, human beatboxers, and soundscaping ambient sculptors. You’d be hard pushed to find an instrument in the world that didn’t make some noise at this year’s Big Chill over the course of the weekend, and there isn’t a single style of music that isn’t represented in some shape or form, whether it be through live performances or genre specific DJs - all at the top of their game and leaders in their respective fields, and lovingly handpicked by The Big Chill’s knowledgeable crew of bookers.
Our Big Chill musical journey couldn’t have started in a better place, with one of our most anticipated acts of the weekend taking to the Main Stage early on Friday afternoon. Since signing to rejuvenated legendary jazz label Blue Note, Erik Truffaz has drawn comparisons to Miles Davis with this experimental approach to modern jazz compositions, incorporating elements of electronica and hip hop into his organic sounding live sets. Parisian beatboxer Sly Johnson takes loops of his own voice to create a canvas of repeating bass and percussion hits for Truffaz to improvise over, splattering muted trumpet riffs and meandering solos into the mix, adding dubby echoes to help smear the sound around and melt them into the canvas. The trio of performers is completed by Marc Erbetta on drums, and the beaming sunshine helps make this one of the most beautiful and inspiring performances of the weekend. As Johnson’s vocal scratches towards the end of the set fittingly suggest “Ain’t no problem I can’t fix…’cause I can do it, in the mix”.
Followed closely by some equally adept double bass from ex-Fingathing member Sneaky, who’s great debut solo album “Feel Like a King…Pluck a String” was released on The Big Chill’s own record label in June, and another Big Chill favourite Fink performing tracks from his new album “Sort of Revolution” at the Castle Stage, all the signs pointed towards this year’s festival being blessed with more than just outstanding weather.
A customary first night exploration of the site revealed some great additions to this year’s peripheral entertainment too, with the post-apocalyptic Dereliction Drive-in housing a collection of graffiti pimped bangers for you to adopt as sofas while you watch one of the great selection of movies or documentaries shown on the big screen over the weekend, or get interactive by uploading your own sound snippets to accompany the specially commissioned movie loops playing late at night after the films finished.
Paying homage to those Big Chill early years, the hillside festival-within-a-festival that is the Enchanted Garden was extended this year to include the Body & Soul massage and relaxation tents, a farmer’s market, a cider bus, a whiskey bar, and yet more music stages, including the wonderfully crafted but beautifully natural feeling space that was the Stop the City Stage. This was a resounding success, and freeing up space surrounding the main stages and moving The Rizla Arena on to more of a slope meant much better sound, and although it was the largest attendance of any Big Chill, actually made the site seem more spread out and less crowded, giving you more reasons than ever to take in all that The Big Chill has to offer around it’s ever improving site.
Leaving enough room around every arena to accommodate large numbers of people was always going to be put to the test on Saturday. The quality and diversity of acts on show right the way round the festival was really quite amazing, and from the instrumental prowess of the Suns of Arqa collective opening the Main Stage at midday, to the psychedelic jazz funk grooves of Mulatu & The Heliocentrics, the vocal talents of 21st Century soul diva Alice Russell to the synth laden audio visual extravaganza of a headlining Orbital set, it was really difficult to find gaps in the schedule to recharge, and as the day went on, finding the opportunity to indulge in mundane essentials like sorting yourself out with a good meal was getting dangerously difficult.
With a top notch barrage of breaks lined up in the evening in The Frisky Bison Cocktail Bar, organising the schedule became a bit like planning a survival mission, and with another day of beaming sunshine on the cards, the route we chose gave us the chance to soak up the rays, and soak in the soundwaves emitted from some of the less physically demanding artists on the bill. As it turned out, the aerobic workout we were trying to avoid was only to be replaced by some Olympic neuron acrobatics, as legendary saxophonist Pharoah Sanders translated his ‘sheets of sound’ into a sonic storm for us to ride, before Germany’s To Rococo Rot tweaked their way through an improvised electronic jam session that sounded perfectly at home on The Castle Stage’s more intimate setting.
Another treat was Chicago’s Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. A family of 8 brothers, born into an historically talented musical family, create a J5 style vibe on the vocals, and a big band brass sound with the horns, that immediately ends any resistance put up to reserve energy, and with legendary guest drummer Malcolm Catto providing the grooves again, the feet were obliged to start the marathon beat-syncing session that was always on the cards. The magnetic pull of the Cocktail Bar took hold, and it was over to DJ Format to provide some old school hip hop and funk for us to get down to, and from here on in the movement was to get more frenetic, and the joyous Big Chill smiles were to become a permanent fixture for the rest of the night.
The Nextmen and MC Wrec took what was initially a gentle buzz of anticipation around at the start of their set, and turned it into a hive of activity as more and more people were drawn in by the trademark Nextmen party breaks, and as the mash-up masters worked their slick routine, you could see the MC’s confidence and normally slight stature expand in a Hulk-like transformation as the crowd grew to a few thousand. Lines like “It ain’t over ‘til the skinny man sings” and “I may be skinny but I rock a fat beat” worked like a Joker’s mask on those not already sporting ear to ear grins. Another Nextmen triumph, and the perfect introduction for Finger Lickin’ scratchmeisters A-Skillz and Krafty Kuts to hit the stage and raise the bar just one or two notches even higher.
The desire for a vibe change could have seen us choose any number of quality alternative routes at this point, with Four Tet taking command of the Rizla Arena, Metro Area running The Coop, and the The Nice Up! Sound System doing their own mash-ups in The Sailor Jerry Rum Bar. But it was back to The Castle Stage for the sweet sound of Bonobo that our ears were yearning to hear, before Quantic frontman Will Holland transports us to another hemisphere with the help of his ‘Combo Barbaro’ – a collection of South American and Columbian musicians with a real flare for a party. With the newly but obviously willingly adopted Senior Holland in the middle (looking a little bit like he’s posing for a holiday snap with his huge sombrero), the vibrant colours of South America flood the stage, and the crowd adopt hip movements they never knew were possible in the green green grass of home. Today is going to be difficult to top.
Another great legend from the past, and another festival appearance that was exclusive to the Big Chill, saw rude boy Max Romeo prowling like a lion on the Main Stage, heading up a much requested reggae revival to Sunday’s Big Chill line-up. With the theme being stuck to almost all day at the far end of the festival, last year’s shortage was more than made up for with welcome returns for the likes of Adrian Sherwood & DJ Derek on the decks in the Rum Bar, and a Dubstep extravaganza to finish the festival in The Coop. But you can’t beat the honesty and soul of Romeo’s live performance, and hearing “War Ina Babylon” swiftly followed by the opening cry of “Lucifer, son of the morning…I’m gonna chase you out of earth…” is going to be one of those eternal Big Chill memories. The emotions ran even higher when an accapella of “Redemption Song” was so sweetly executed - one of the best renditions I’ve ever heard. Worth the ticket money alone.
Other highlights on Sunday came in the form of a monster set in The Rizla Arena from Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B, made all the more memorable by the sunset slowly falling behind the trees on the hill, shadowing the DJs headwear and creating an instantly recognisable silhouette through the Rizla Bus windows. A mind-blowingly bass heavy live show from Dubstep band Jazzsteppa was an unexpected treat in The Coop, Keb Darge dug out and blew the dust off a great selection of 7's from his record bag later in the Rum Bar, while The Unabombers saw out the final celebrations in great style back at The Rizla Arena. As the lanterns rose higher into the sky, and the hypnotic flames from the giant burning zombie rippled on the lake, the whole scene was perfectly framed as the traditional Sunday night fireworks were let off, marking the last night of another memorable Big Chill.
The quandary over whether the festival should end with a Cocktail Bar rinse out with Greg Wilson or a closing ceremony AV spectacular from Hexstatic and friends was sorted out by chance in the end, as the absence of the Godfather of the Edit when we strolled across the field from The Unabombers meant our mind was made up for us, and we kept going all the way to the front of the Main Stage to put ourselves in the firing line for some bass beat bombs, which as soon as Hexstatic played the first record, seemed to be aimed with pinpoint accuracy to the chest. However, the affect of these were not fully understood until we were treated to The Qemists “Iron Shirt Remix”, as always, perfectly complimented with visuals from the Marvel Comics “Iron Man” movie. The drum and bass kicked in again as Hexstatic’s Daft Punk mash-up warned us they were going to stick closely to their promise to “Work it Harder, Do It Faster”, and the crowd went absolutely mental. Filling the stage with masked robotics, kung fu dancers and a full samba band, alongside showcasing their VJing skills by mashing up sequences from YouTube of talking pets, and syncing up rap videos with Sesame Street puppets, there really was a lot going on. The icing on the cake came when the words ‘Hexstatic vs Shlomo’ appeared on the screens, and a beatbox remix of Shlomo video samples turned into a "Timber" remix, and Shlomo himself arrived on stage to spit beats out at a pace that only he could keep up with. A fantastic way to end what has to be one of the most blessed Big Chill’s ever, and a fitting way to celebrate 15 years of Big Chill festivals. Accepting the music had finished was really hard this year, and leaving the site the next day equally so.
The sun literally shines on the Big Chill and all those who attend, and deservedly so. The festival has developed a personality all of it’s own, and the organisers have created an event that should be attended, celebrated and loved. We all look forward to keeping this relationship going for another 15 years.
Review by Matt Cook
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The Image Creation Corporation was offering some goodies around The Big Chill this year. If you saw our logo on envelopes around the festival site, you could open them up and find instructions on how to claim your gift...there are clues around the site as to what and where they are... but you might have to do a bit of exploring to find them!
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