Boardmasters 2021 review: beach-side bonanza makes long-awaited return

11–15 August, Newquay: As the festival finally returns to the Cornish coast, the likes of Ashnikko, Foals and Sam Fender thrive off that sea air

While every single festival’s return feels special after an exceedingly quiet summer in 2020, the return of Newquay’s Boardmasters feels particularly momentous. After being forced to cancel due to extreme weather conditions on the Cornish coast in 2019, it’s been a long time away for this festival: a unique meeting of beachside revellers, live music galore, and pro surfers going head to head on the nearby waves.

Situated on the cliffs of Watergate Bay, offering stunning sea views in all directions, this year’s festival – like many finally going ahead – oozes togetherness and inspires a genuine camaraderie amongst the legions of music fans who walk in as strangers, but leave as friends (or at the very least, newly followed social media acquaintances). It’s a kinship helped along by the festival’s sense of community; on-site, you’ll find everything from pubs and tea rooms to a wellbeing haven and fairground. And on the music side of things, the variety at Boardmasters seems endless, too, with rock bands, rappers, singer-songwriters, pop stars, indie bands, DJs, and so much more; if you can’t find something you like here, it’s probably fair to say you might need to update your Spotify playlist.

Credit: Darina Stoda

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The Main Stage plays host to a mix of big names and upcoming acts such as Blossoms, Becky Hill, Inhaler, Holly Humberstone, Loyle Carner, and Sam Fender, whose exhilarating set on Friday night injects a shot of adrenaline right into the heart of Newquay ahead of his forthcoming UK tour. Foals’ headline slot on the same day sees them tear through a 90-minute set including a hulking three-track run of ‘Spanish Sahara’, ‘My Number’ and ‘In Degrees’ – leaving the crowd jumping in unison and frontman Yannis Philippakis with a huge smile on his face. Just their second show since the return of live music, the Oxford band let it all out on the Boardmasters stage.

Credit: Laurence Howe

Ashnikko’s set in the Land Of Saints tent also proves to be a lively affair. “This is my first show in two years. I’m shaking in my boots and my pussy is throbbing,” she tells the excitable and very loud crowd. The American-born, UK-based pop star zips through her setlist lightning-quick – debuting a fiery new track called ‘Maggots’ in the process. Halfway through, she has to hastily change out of her latex costume thanks to sweating so much.

The Kooks’ Saturday night performance at Land Of Saints spills out of the tent by about 300 metres in each direction, promoting many fans to ask why they weren’t on the Main Stage – instead occupied by Gorillaz making their Cornish debut. And the weekend’s biggest crowd comes together to watch Dizzee Rascal, who takes to the Main Stage early Sunday evening. His set goes ahead despite recent assault allegations (the rapper is currently on bail after being charged) and runs through hits like ‘Jus’ A Rascal’, ‘Baseline Junkie’, ‘Bonkers’ and ‘Fix Up Look Sharp’. Even when what appears to be a sandwich is hurled at him, it doesn’t throw Dizzee off his axis, keeping the energy at 100 throughout – and his reworking of Florence And The Machine’s ‘You’ve Got The Love’ incites a gargantuan sing-a-long.

Hidden gems across the weekend from lesser-known talents include a gorgeous set from London-based singer-songwriter Mágdala on the BBC Introducing Cove Stage, who besides performing her own material, shares a stunning cover of Erykah Badu’s ‘Didn’t Cha Know’. It’s a popular pick as Lianne La Havas also covers it during her own set on the Main Stage. DJ Jonezy hypes up the crowd in the Unleashed tent on Saturday with a range of hip-hop classics, and retro-pop trio Pattern Pusher shut down the View Stage on Friday before returning the following day for another set on the Cove Stage. Other highlights see DJ sets from Tiffany Calver and Mistajam ring off. Eats Everything’s hypnotic two-hour set into the early hours of Saturday morning draws one of the Point Stage’s largest crowds, and performances from Master Peace, Arlo Parks and Kano are among some of the most talked about of the weekend.

Credit: James North

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Closing out the festival, Jorja Smith headlines Sunday’s Main Stage with help from a troupe of well-choreographed dancers, while Jamie xx delivers a euphoric DJ set over at Land Of Saints, transporting festival-goers to a nightclub setting via a mix of electric beats, a bit of genre hopping and a dazzling light show. And finally, a last minute performance from Mike Skinner on the DB90 Stage – which he did after spending the afternoon visiting some of Newquay’s amusement arcades – puts an exclamation point on the end of a perfect weekend.

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