Sun Goes Down: Five Festivals That Made Our Summer
Coachella Festival (Indio, California), 13-15 April
It’s hard to sum up what makes Coachella such an amazing festival. There’s no single element that elevates it to such legendary status, but when all the ingredients of this sun-drenched gathering in the Californian desert are combined, the results are truly spectacular.
Admittedly, the weather helps, but it’s more than just the sunshine that makes Coachella sparkle. The grounds are littered with palm trees and 40-foot high sculptures; all framed by the red rock of the Santa Rosa Mountains. Sitting in one of the (surprisingly civilised) bar areas sipping a cold beer and watching the sun dip behind the hills is as good as it gets, especially as said bars are conveniently placed directly beside the stages. Coachella 2012 will most likely be remembered for Tupac’s (sort of) comeback. And whilst the collective confusion of 60,000 people watching a dead rapper appear on stage in holographic form was memorable in itself, the big name performances weren’t the stand out moments for this writer.
Dancing under a desert sky filled with shooting stars to Justice was pretty special, and seeing Miike Snow followed on stage by Madness was as surreal as it sounds. Coming from the UK, where music festivals often feel like some sort of endurance test, Coachella is a welcome alternative; blue skies, dry feet, friendly crowds and absolutely no chance of being hit on the head by a flying pint of piss. God bless America. [Kate Small]
Download (Donington Park, Leicestershire), 8-10 June
In the absence of any dedicated open air rock festival this side of the border, the trip to Donington has become a must for Scottish metallers in the last three decades. This year’s pilgrimage was perhaps more epic than usual for most; the car park was delayed by hours, bands (including the mighty Europe – ye Gods!) were forced to cancel and the site was thrown into disarray by harsh weather conditions – we were skiing in chocolate mousse by the time we arrived for the headliners on Friday night. But all it took to restore balance to the universe was a splash of Poison from Prodigy, a sharp blast of Slash playing the lick to Nightrain and a few nightcaps in a wee onsite club (called Sanctum) that dared to play the Fresh Prince theme tune in full (yes, the whole house roared the words).
But beyond nostalgia, Download stays wired into recent developments, scattering young hopefuls who represent its infinite subgenres across a bill that’s always unquestionably heavyweight. Metallica rolled out a reassembled Black Album and a chorus of Seek and Destroy that recurred throughout the weekend. In some inspired billing, this year organisers resurrected Black Sabbath, reintroduced Soundgarden (and Refused!) to the UK after a 15 year absence and had Kyuss play at breakfast time – all on the same day. And what better way is there to wake up on a Sunday than to hear Tony Iommi soundchecking Into The Void? Most importantly, it's hard to find the kind of buzz and inclusive camaraderie that freely floats around Donington at any other UK festival. One for the fans, as opposed to the bawbags who'll shit in a stranger's tent; solid proof that the good guys wear black. See you next year? [Dave Kerr]
T in the Park (Balado, Kinross-shire), 6-8 July
The 2012 instalment of Scotland’s biggest music festival had the misfortune to fall on one of the wettest weekends of an already rain-soaked summer. By lunchtime on the Saturday, the main arena was in places under a foot of thin brown liquid. And yet the mood of the mud-splattered punters remained positive and relentlessly upbeat. The Wailers played a main stage set of sunshine reggae during the worst of the rain, but every drenched member of the crowd still crooned along in time to the likes of One Love and Three Little Birds. The weather did force the temporary closure of the Slam Tent, but otherwise the festival’s infrastructure held up remarkably well given the circumstances.
And by the time The Stone Roses arrived to play their first Scottish show in 17 years on the Saturday evening, the rain had stopped and excitement levels - amongst men of a certain age at least - had reached fever pitch. The returning Mancunian giants looked like they might lose the typically well-refreshed T crowd as they indulged in the slow grooves of Something’s Burning, but a mass sing-a-long to Made of Stone quickly made amends. It'll take more than rain to stop play in Balado. [Chris McCall]
Away Game, (Isle of Eigg), 20-22 July
Away Game is just as brilliant in practice as it is in theory: take one small-but-beautiful island, inhabited by friendly, hard-working locals, and invite over a couple hundred fans of independent Scottish music for a long weekend of boozing, chat, and watching bands that prize immaculate tunecraft and leftfield ideas, in greater-or-lesser amounts. Add sun, and mix, everyone together, musicians and punters and locals the same. There are no VIPs, no logos, no rip-off burgers or queues for watery beer tokens. We've all made the same journey, through stunning west coast scenery to Arisaig, or Mallaig, for the boat to Eigg, and we're all in it together. But then, it would all be just a camping trip if the music wasn't up to it.
This year's line-up provided a run of highlights: from Slow Club's euphoric love songs to the Twilight Sad's angry a cappellas, Rob St.John's precisely drawn arrangements to Babe's clattering, weaving messes, sensational vocal performances from Ross Clark and Sparrow & The Workshop, and wonderfully propulsive rhythms from Francois & The Atlas Mountains and Django Django. Away Game was a blast from start to finish. [Ally Brown]
Wickerman, 20-21 July
The continuing success of Galloway’s Wickerman Festival is down to several factors: it’s beautiful rural location; it’s laid-back and welcoming atmosphere; and it’s ability to gather the greatest collection of the best new Scottish bands ahead of any other festival. The line-up of the Solus Tent is a thing of wonder - a tented carousel featuring the very loud, the very quiet and all styles in between. These extremities are summed up by two songs which sound like polar opposites, but are each great representations of the differing experiences Wickerman can offer.
On the one hand, there's 'Swifty' by the thunderous riff-merchants Holy Mountain, who deliver their set with the same kind of power required to demolish a house with a sledge hammer. And then there's Diamonds by Julia & the Doogans, who draw an equally appreciative crowd the following day. Gentle, melancholic folk songs such as this are delivered with warmth and good humour. There is a home for all at Wickerman. The friendly atmosphere is most definitely helped by dry, warm conditions and short queues at the bar - although these civilised conditions can’t be of help to the critical faculties of the main stage crowd: near-forgotten 90s’ acts such as Texas and Cast are treated like returning heroes. [Chris McCall]