The weather was cold and slushy underfoot but Ben Willmott and Jim Wirth discovered the vibes to be hot and sharp at the summer's first outdoor Dance Festival...
WINCHESTER MATTERLEY ESTATE BOWL
THERE CAN be no other explanation. The Reverend Run, Creamfields’ resident man of Adidas cloth, must have put a word in. Naturally, we mock him when he suggests, halfway through Run-DMC‘s triumphant return from 40-odd years in the pop wilderness, we all, “Give praise to Jesus Christ, our Lord.” Perhaps we should be heartily grateful. Because, let’s face it. Everyone’s money, clever or otherwise, was on a full-scale disaster. Last year’s Glasto multiplied by the average annual rainfall for Manchester. Oh, with three men and a fresian cow for an audience.
But the Rev Run appears to have pulled it off. A cloudless sky. A choice site, a tree-lined valley in the Hampshire countryside kindly donated by the ice age. Enough ultraviolet rays to peel a few techno baldie pates. And a turnout to put a smug grin on the promoter’s face. In short, a miracle. Mind you, Run DMC haven’t done too badly out of the great selector in the sky either. Three months ago they had nothing but their new-found Christian faith to keep them from molesting the neighbours’ cats through sheer boredom. One remix later and they are suddenly the same all-conquering heroes they were 15 years ago.
From the moment they appear – front of main stage, arms crossed, simply staring out the crowd – to the second athletic airing of ‘It’s Like That’, they can hardly put a mud-caked trainer wrong. Even Run’s announcement of his conversion to the Bible-bashing ranks can’t dampen the open-bosomed reception for lose-it anthems of the calibre of ‘It’s Tricky’ and ‘Walk This Way’. Given rap’s notorious reputation for fouling up gifts like this, Run DMC are a gamble that somehow pays fat-cat dividends. But they’re hardly the only reckless all-or-nothing bet of the day.
A quick glance at the bill’s upper reaches confirms as much. There’s the unpredictable and tempestuous Finley Quaye, undeniably gifted but often afflicted by lengthy spells of stoned indulgence. There’s Cornershop, the band who would never let a Number One single and 25,000 revellers ready to sing it at the top of their belaboured lungs interfere with the opportunity for a good old sulk.
And then there’s Primal Scream, never ones to trip lightly when a swan dive down the staircase is on offer. Sure enough, within a couple of songs, a rogue reveller clambers 50 feet up up the scaffolding that holds up the Muzik tent before turning to the audience and waving his fist triumphantly. Security is mobilised, but before he can be dragged away, another one follows him. What better reminder of the belligerent, anti-social spirit of those original ravers than these brave idiots risking their lives for a bigger and better buzz. Either that, or they’re just trying to get a better view of Primal Scream who, tonight, are in their element. In one of the sporadic bursts of bullish genius that have characterised their career, they perform a set which defies any spurious notion of their being the halfway house between indie and dance. They rock with a capital COCK. It’s a loud, blaring, obnoxious racket, and while the synthesis of dub that characterised ‘Vanishing Point’ is much in evidence, it’s raw power that defines this victory in adversity. They make no concessions, save a rabble-rousing encore of ‘Movin’ On Up’, and in such churlish disregard of convention lies the spirit of rock’n’roll and dance alike. “We know fuck-all about dance music,” mumbles Bobby Gillespie before swaggering into a supremely crunchy version of ‘Rocks’, which proves that they don’t care either.
Neither do Cornershop, but in a different way. In a year that has seen them finally drill their way into the nation’s consciousness, nothing can be taken for granted. We’re 40 rows back when they stumble onstage. Within ten minutes we’re at the front. Funny thing is we haven’t moved. The ‘Shop have cleared the Big Beat Boutique of all but the hardiest indie kids in the space of three songs. Deadening the atmosphere by playing their hits too early – ‘Sleep On The Left Side’ and ‘Brimful Of Asha’ – Tjinder Singh sings with his hands by his sides and a glum stare like he’s reluctantly reading a poem out in school assembly, and the songs crawl by with all the grace of a five-legged spider with an orthopaedic shoe. They have the tunes but on this occasion they also have a bloody-minded anti-performance ethic which merely highlights their inherent frailties. A timely reminder that though they are capable of unquestionable splendour they can still be a good old-fashioned shambles when the mood takes them. They came here from nowhere and, with a few more petulant acts of career sabotage like this, there’ll be heading straight back there.
At least FINLEY QUAYE has learnt the subtle difference between slappable arrogance and admirably engaging cockiness. He waltzes on and the main arena erupts. So he walks off again. He returns, but only to drawl, “The Beatles… Velvet Underground… Brian Eno… U2… Fuck you!” He puts a record on – one of his, natch – and frugs like Ian Brown with ballet dancer legs before demanding a glass for his champagne. But, crucially, when he does finally get down to work, it feels as though someone has had the courage to kick his combat-trousered arse into gear. ‘Ultra Stimulation’ and ‘Even After All’ both boast an exotic, frisky charge where once, only muso twaddle used to loiter.
For those not quite up to full Bolly-sipping celebrity speed, however, Creamfields is still an all-important taster of the summer ahead. An opportunity for LES RYTHMES DIGITALES‘ Jacques Lu Cont to check his crimson barnet is clearly visible from the other side of the site. For MONKEY MAFIA to welcome another 1,000 new family members. Bet your silver foil blanket they’ll both be stars before the summer’s through. And a chance for Beasties sidekick MONEY MARK to vent his anger at the regularly demonised soundman, kick his Moog over in a strop and sod off after a handful of songs. Lucky he runs a keyboard repair shop.
No time for tantrums in the land of FATBOY SLIM aka Norman Cook. A true folk hero round these parts – the sight of his skinny figure arriving behind the Technics elicits a headliner-sized rush into the treacherously muddy Big Beat Boutique tent – breaking the ice with a bruising big-beast cut-up of Blur’s ‘Song 2’ and crowning matters with undisputed champion tune of the summer, his own ‘Rockerfeller Skank’. He goes on to demonstrate how one distant, flailing silhouette can capture sensibilities just as effectively as any live act. Unlike DAFT PUNK, whose woefully obscure DJ set couldn’t ignite a petrol-soaked firework let alone an audience.
And yet, given the rainclouds gathering over Hampshire as dawn breaks, we still have a bona fide result on our filthy hands. The only real casualty of the day? Well, despite inviting five-thumbed DJ wannabes everywhere to try their luck (and our patience) at the decks in the perceptively monikered Bedroom Bedlam tent, none of the organisers remembered to bring any records for said Bedlamites to play.
So big-hearted Radio 1 DJ Judge Jules kindly stepped in and generously loaned his precious bag of vinyl for THE KIDS to systematically destroy in front of their mates. Big man. Meaning we can sleep easy, safe in the knowledge there’s at least one less bag of M-People promos and ropey Aqua remixes on the planet. A little chaos needn’t be such a bad thing after all.
Ben Willmott and Jim Wirth