Mr Norman Cook does the business on the first day at Essential Festival...

The BRIGHTON ESSENTIAL FESTIVAL returned after a three-year hiatus last night with homeboy Norman Cook headlining at the end of a day of dance.

The place has beats coming out of its ears and, as such, it’s entirely appropriate that the Fatboy himself is headlining proceedings for the club – Big Beat Boutique – that has entered the town into youth culture folklore once again.

Before that happens, though, there’s plenty to keep us going, in what is actually a pretty impressive line-up for a small festival to muster among so much competition. And even though the techno massive is denied the sublime pummelling of Mr Richie Hawtin at the expected hour, the Jungle Brothers arrive to kickstart the party in no uncertain terms, showing everyone what old skool hip-hop is all about in one easy lesson.

Meanwhile, back in the main arena, Eat Static have plumped for a set of old school acid that gives everyone that glint in the eye, digging out rave classics and sticking them next to their more recent, schmoozing cocktail missives without batting an eyelid. Even better is techno don Luke Slater. Giving the Big Beat Boutique a thrashing they’ll never forget, our Luke builds up confidently with some slo-mo electro, before erupting into a full-flown techno volcano that has everyone whooping like they’re charging against General Custer. No, really!

After that, Monsieur Jacques Lu Cont‘s Eighties-tastic synth explosion struggles to gain momentum, but at the end of the day, how can a man with orange hair and a sleeveless leather T-shirt fail?

Indeed, it’s easy to forget that while the main arenas are offering such tempting treats, there are a profusion of other stages offering tempting decknological delights. The drum’n’bass and jungle arenas are, of course, rammed to the rafters, with the likes of Hype and Kenny Ken warping basslines like they’re going out of fashion. The Experiments Arena, meanwhile, gives us everything from eerie breakbeat to 2step Garage, while the Pussycat Arena keeps the Hard House and trance contingent more than happy, with a scalp-massaging diet of build-ups and breakdowns juicy enough to keep even the most severe of casualties happy.

Fun though that is, eventually it’s time to return to the main arena for a hefty chunk of Laurent Garnier live. Last time around it all seemed a bit, well, poncey, but this time he’s sorted out the balance. Sax-laden soul-fests like ‘The Man With The Red Face‘ are keenly balanced with ear-splitting technoid assaults on the likes of ‘Crispy Bacon‘ and ‘Dangerous Drive‘. As he leaves us with ‘The Sound Of The Big Babou‘ ringing in our ears, the solitary remaining question left to ask is, can this man do no wrong? We think not.

The only, final recourse is to agonise over the perennial festival nightmare – who to see come headline time? The popular choice is, of course, to head back to the Boutique, where an alarmingly overweight Norman Cook can seemingly come up with nothing better than business as usual. And while his recordings are the work of genius, you can’t help thinking that, after the sheer quality and diversity of music that we’ve been witness to today, playing the same old drearily cheery crowd-pleasers over an appalling sound system just isn’t enough. Much better is the sleazily sexy breakbeat from Layo and Bushwacka! in the Experiments Arena, or, indeed, the decknological display of sickeningly synchronised scratchadelia from Coldcut. Whatever your choice, everyone’s too far gone to care by this point – which, surely, was the point.

Check back on nme.com tomorrow for our report on the second day of the Essential Festival, which is headlined by James Brown a.k.a. The Godfather Of Soul.