You might not think it from today’s playlist-friendly line-ups but, back in ’96, the first ever V festival was an all-out indie extravaganza. Created so that Pulp could headline two huge shows across the country it was the coming together of the Britpop clan. So, as this year’s Jay-Z and P!nk-headlined shindig is announced, let’s look back at how the event lost its V plates…
Let’s begin at the beginning: V96 headliners Pulp are synonymous with the festival, as frontman Jarvis Cocker is credited with its creation. He wanted the band to play two outdoor gigs on consecutive days and his promoters suggested spreading such an event over the north and south. They even laid on a Pulp Express train from Sheffield to get the home crowd there, and they owned the weekend.
Pulp even turned V into their own giant dressing-up box, as Jarvis explained when he returned to the festival in 2007 for a solo show. “In ’96 me and [Pulp bassist] Steve Mackay walked around the site in gorilla suits,” he said. “Today I walked around the site dressed as a dildo and, as you can see, I haven’t changed.”
Elastica blitzed the Second Stage in ’96, while singer Justine Frischmann, pictured here flirting outrageously with the NME signing tent, gave a subtle clue that they might take forever to release their second album by wearing a hat redolent of those other long-term studio shut-ins The Stone Roses.
Elastica also used their V96 appearance to try out new material from their much-delayed second album ‘The Menace’… a mere four years before the record was actually released.
V96 was Pulp’s chance to back their favourite rising bands too. Sporting what appears to be a dodgy 1970s shower curtain, singer Gruff Rhys led Super Furry Animals in a set that drew on their debut album ‘Fuzzy Logic’, including ‘Hometown Unicorn’, which Pulp had made NME‘s Single Of The Week during their guest reviewer spot.
Recognise this man? So you should: this is Gem Archer of Oasis and Beady Eye fame back when he was the singer with glam-tinged rock outfit Heavy Stereo, and having his trackie tops seemingly designed by Versace.
Britpop figureheads after their lauded debut album ‘I Should Coco’, Supergrass played second on the bill to Pulp in one of their biggest festival slots to date. The main stage that day also featured Cast, Stereolab, Longpigs and, bizarrely, Gary Numan.
A sign of more mainstream things to come, London trip-hop trio Morcheeba, led by singer singer Skye Edwards, played the Dance Arena in ’96 and became festival stalwarts, returning to play V four more times: in 1998, 2000, 2003 and 2011. Maybe the festival organisers have got something on them.
Oasis weren’t even on the bill (and wouldn’t appear at V until they headlined in 2005) but with the event sitting alongside Knebworth as a sign that alternative rock was taking over the world, Noel turned up anyway, clinically unable to miss any good party in the ’90s.
In 1996 you didn’t need a psychotropic cube, an actual spaceship or a gigantic electro-pyramid to get a field raving. You just needed a banner big enough to wrap your decks in and some lights on your glasses. Hello Orbital.