Old Liverpool Airfield

[a]Gang Starr[/a], hip-hop intruders in the D&B tent, recover well from the faux pas of hollering, "Hello Manchester!"

Creamfields' posters depict ravers skipping goofily through verdant pastures. The reality is ragged scrubland, views of industrial chimneys and toxic-tinged skies over the Mersey. A vast improvement, frankly.

After all, this is exactly where Cream should be staging a festival - on their own doorstep, not lost in deepest Hampshire, as was the case last year. Throw in unremitting sunshine, Liverpool thrashing Arsenal, an onsite swimming pool and a scorchingly anthemic afternoon DJ set from the ever big'n'bouncy Carl Cox on the outdoor stage, and it's little wonder folk look happier here than at just about any other festival. Even Ian McCulloch wears a broad smile. And speaking of celebs, few sights meddle with your grasp of fact and fiction more than witnessing every single member of the Brookside cast who's under 30 hanging out together. Especially when they're dancing badly to the expertly languid hip-hop of DJ Shadow & Latryx, followed by the breakz pastiche of Scratch Perverts.

And now, live from a time when drum machines struggled to get beyond a rudimentary metronomic beat and when only one of the band, not all of them, was allowed to skulk behind keyboards, it's the Pet Shop Boys. Yet as much as technology has moved on - and showmanship back - the link between the PSBs and today's disco-flavoured house isn't hard to recognise. Accompanied by a musclebound man vogueing in a bedspread amid the Georgian house stage set, their synth notes hang grandly in the air as 'Domino Dancing', 'Left To My Own Devices' and 'West End Girls' glide by. The yuppie decadence that informs Neil Tennant's lyrics may have been exchanged for more full-throttle hedonism since their halcyon days, but his gracefully detached delivery still puts follicles on end. They only come a cropper when they propel themselves properly into the '90s, using pumped-up percussives and XL bass. Then they sound like a bad trance band.

Besides, if it's the hardcore trance hypnotics that you're after, Paul Oakenfold is your man. Finally pulling himself away from a procession of TV interviews, he takes to the stage and is greeted with a crowd response so loud and slavering it's as if he's going to cure all of the world's ills before sunrise, not mix up some ropey choons. The sooner trance implodes, the sooner Oakenfold can remind us that once he was a great DJ, with more than one string to his bow.

Renowned for scarpering in the opposite direction whenever a new trend engulfs dance music, Coldcut, suffice to say, have not gone trance. Instead, they've gone audiovisual, melding crashing waves, cartoons, berserker beats and whatever else is stored on their laptop computers. Sometimes their love of 'wacky' samples gets the better of them, but not tonight. Caution boys, before you know it you'll be all the rage again.

Perhaps signifying the genre's diminished status, the drum'n'bass tent is unceremoniously situated on the edge of the festival site. Inside, however, the effulgent brew cooked up by Goldie and Grroverider denotes that chances of D&B making a great creative leap forward just when everyone's heads are turned should not be discounted.

Gang Starr, hip-hop intruders in the D&B tent, recover well from the faux pas of hollering, "Hello Manchester!" Thanks largely to DJ Premier's decks-terity, soon they're rolling back the years and the crowd, consequently, rolls back the proverbial rug. Leftfield aren't so lucky. There's not much volume and, indeed, not much Leftfield, as Neil Barnes and Paul Daley are nowhere to be seen (one of their band members is DJing). Ragga toaster MC Cheshire is here, mind. Though you soon wish he wasn't, such is his profound ability to irritate.

Only one outfit matches Oakenfold as far as yelping crowd response goes. It'sBasement Jaxx, careering through their 'Remedy' album armed with MCs, bikini-clad dancers, percussionists and trusty Technics. They haven't let fame rush them into getting a proper band together. Sensible, you suspect, as played live there'd be a danger of their Latin vibes-strewn missives plunging towards noodle territory, whereas performed in a sound system style they're dynamic and dashing from the first beat flurry to the final bass wallop. Much like Creamfields, in fact. A festival at the arse-end of the festival season which was never arse.

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