Pop Culture Goes Mad at V Festival UK, Chelmsford, UK, 2007 PDF Print E-mail
Archived - Archived Festival Reviews
Written by TK   

The yearly V Festival is as English as Richard Branson.

It has been the wettest English summer to date, so I asked my ultra-organized friend to set down a few pointers for my first English festival:

“You will need to get yourself a good pair of ‘wellies’ (gumboots). And make sure you bring your rain coat. And umbrella. Although it’s not very cool to carry around an umbrella at a festival.”

This advice would not give anyone much confidence in experiencing a hot festival.  But it would prove to be very useful advice indeed.

By the time I arrived at the festival in Chelmsford, about 70,000 fans had already set up camp in the parkland surrounding the main stage.  I managed to find a small patch of grass, where I pitched my tent; this task was as difficult as assembling a bookcase from Ikea (and no less of a mess was made of cooking bacon and sausages on a portable BBQ that refused to light in the windy conditions).  I was glad when the music began just after noon, creating a diversion from the fact that I clearly had not learned anything from watching MacGyver over the years.

Walking through our camping area in my raincoat with the rain tumbling down, I was reminded how music is one of the few unifying powers in the world.  How else can you explain why thousands of revelers would voluntarily pitch a tent in the mud, only to be rained on all weekend, withstand horrendous queues in the rain for toilets as damp as a cave and dirty as a youth hostel, and forego a shower all weekend?

As I made my way towards the front of the crowd as Kanye West took the stage, I experienced what every festival-goer dreads — a need to introduce myself to the festival toilets—which is easier said than done when you are in the thick of 60,000 people.

As I wandered toward the main stage through umpteen security checks, food stalls and makeshift bars, I observed that the audience was not quite as teeny-bopper as I had anticipated.  The crowd was surprisingly eclectic — Chelsea types, Essex dwellers, as well as an international audience.

The setup of the main stage was impressive.  The stage itself was the focal point in which the natural slope of land led towards, and around the perimeters of the arena were bars.  Ominously, there was a large rubber mat placed over half the grass, which reflected the poor weather forecasts for the weekend.

By the time I got back to my position in the crowd, Kanye West was half way through his performance, and I had effectively queued three times over.  In somewhat of a departure from the standard English attitude of acceptance of queues for everything in life, the queues for the bar were rife with attitude and pushing.

The appearance of Kanye West was somewhat of a departure from the festival’s rock vibe, and it is a testimony to his current success that, even in his late afternoon slot, he managed to attract a large crowd.  West is one of the more successful rappers in the world at the moment, and his music is an interesting blend of rap and electronica (in the respect that he is prone to sample a significant amount of music over several different genres).  Not quite rap, not quite hip-hop, and not quite R&B, West has his own style.  He was soon throwing “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” which features the vocals of Shirley Bassey’s “Diamonds Are Forever,” into the mix, closely followed by arguably his biggest hit, “Gold Digger,” which samples Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman.”  West has a large backing band and dancers, which makes watching him quite the spectacle.  He threw more interest into his act by covering Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab,” the Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” and Timbaland’s “The Way I Are.”  His take on Amy Winehouse’s song was particularly appropriate at this festival, as the singer had been a last-minute deletion due to her ongoing battles against drugs.  The irony of singing Winehouse’s “Rehab” in her absence was not lost on anyone.

One wonders where Kanye West would be without his ability to sample other artist’s songs.  However, by the end of his act, I had half-converted to the Kanye bandwagon.  He may not be the most talented rapper on earth, however his performance was entertainment epitomized.

Next up was pop darling Pink who sang a predictable assortment of her more popular songs and some new.  She is very much the archetypal pop-singer, dominating the stage with her bright clothes, colorful hair and flirting.  Her rendition of “Dear Mr President” was her chance to make a statement against the American administration, something that she did not do as well as local pin-up girl Lily Allen did on Sunday.  Pink is good in short bursts.  By the end of the set, I wondered what would Pink be capable of if she expended as much time on songwriting as she does her hair and costumes?  Once the Fratellis donned the stage, the festival shook off its pop and rap beginnings.  The Fratellis are a typically popular English band.  Only those in the know have heard of them outside the U.K. (they have had limited success in the U.S.); however, their talent defies this world obscurity.  They showcased their more popular songs, including “Lonely” and “Chelsea Dagger,” before packing up shop and making way for the main act, the Foo Fighters.

Foo Fighters have been around for over a decade now, and Dave Grohl shows no signs of ageing or running out of steam.  Grohl’s hair is as long as the Foo Fighter’s list of hits.  Having bustled my way to the mosh-pit for the start of their set, I was soon just another face staring up at Dave Grohl in a sea of people chanting along to the Foo Fighter’s favorite hits such as “Learn to Fly,” “All My Life,” “Times Like These,” “Best of You” and “My Hero.”  Grohl mesmerized the audience.  He seemed to be under the influence, and soon the crowd was under his.  The mosh pit was unbearable in its ferocity, so much so that I felt myself going under the sea of people several times, akin to the early stages of being dumped by a wave.  Grohl let his intentions known about “that techno music” complaining during one of his breaks that he was being out-thumped by a nearby stage.  But he had nothing to fear.  On this night, rock music had dance music’s measure.

The crowds awoke the next day to yet more music, rain and mud.  The day began with the intriguing sounds of Mexican duo, Rodrigo y Gabriela, a talented pair of guitarists who began as a heavy metal band, but who now thrash away at their Spanish guitars.

The rest of the day was a second-rate build-up to the main headliners, the Killers.  Unfortunately, as is often the case at festivals, the organizers had managed to simultaneously schedule the Killers, Basement Jaxx and Damien Rice.  The first half of the Killers set was awe-inspiring, as the band pumped out hit after hit.  Certainly, the Killers showed the audience why they have become one of the biggest rock acts of the 21st century.

Over at another stage, Basement Jaxx was just getting warmed up and I was lucky to finish the festival off with some dance music.  Basement Jaxx went through their prime in the late ‘90s and have gone off the boil lately with a mixture of self-indulgence and experimentation.  However, despite having to withstand a couple of tracks from their new album, I was excited to be able to hear classics such as “Good Luck,” “Where’s Your Head At?” and “Do Your Thing.”  As the support band, singers and dancers bustled out hit-after-hit, the crowd danced as one and Basement Jaxx qualified their fame and confirmed their status as a great live act.

As I sat in traffic in the car park for one a half hours, I reflected on the highs and lows of the festival.  The lows included a pitiful performance from Pete Doherty’s band Babyshambles (who were three hours late for their performance).  And one of the surprise highs was Lily Allen’s catchy set, and her explicit taunting of President Bush as well as the festival’s whipping girl, Amy Winehouse. 

Despite the festival’s rock roots, hip-hop and dance music had still managed to feature with distinction at the popular V Festival.

 
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