Connect Festival 2022: The Report

Although not perfect, Connect has a future as one of the UK's most unique and engaging festivals

Feature by Raph Boyd | 09 Sep 2022

When you walk through the gates of Connect, it seems like the antithesis of a British music festival. At first glance quiet, calm and friendly, it's clearly not trying to attract the type of crowd that other festivals are. Something of a phoenix festival, Connect first took place on the grounds of Inveraray Castle, on the banks of Loch Fyne on the west coast of Scotland, in 2007 and 2008, but was ended before it could really get going, as an apparent consequence of the Great Recession. Now, as Britain deals with another period of economic turmoil, it has returned. 

Though perhaps not quite as scenic as its original location, The Royal Highland Centre in Edinburgh seems like a unique and very shrewdly chosen site for the weekend, with great infrastucture already in place including actual toilet blocks as well as excellent transport links to the city and beyond. While the roughly 15,000 peak capacity is around 5,000 fewer than what could be squeezed into its former grounds, its pastoral, serene setting serves as the perfect location for a festival which aims to offer a more relaxed environment.

The emphasis on relaxation is immediately apparent as straight through the main entrance we’re greeted by a small lake with the Rest and Be Thankful tent nearby, where you can enjoy yoga, massages, cold water therapy and other wellness-based activities. Beside it, the Speakeasy hosts poetry, comedy, interviews and talks. The entire space feels so idyllic that you’d forget it was next to Edinburgh Airport were it not for planes constantly landing and taking off in the near distance.

Unfortunately, there's only so much the site can do to make us feel relaxed, and the weather is not our side on day one; a few hours of heavy rain are an unavoidable issue that is compounded by the lack of places to shelter. With many revellers soaked and fairly miserable, the first few hours are a slog with main stage headliners later attracting disappointing crowds. As the weather tempers, however, the crowds take shape the atmosphere builds.

Three members of The National perform on a small stage among a patch of trees at Connect festival.
The National for Tiny Changes @ Connect Festival, 28 Aug by Euan Robertson

A trip to the Gardeners Cottage, a small stage hosted by mental health charity Tiny Changes, set up in memory of Scott Hutchison, lifts the mood. It feels increasingly meaningful here over the course of the weekend as many musicians who are already on the bill, like Joesef, Lizzie Reid, Admiral Fallow and Sunday headliners The National, deliver short performances that are heartfelt and reflective; either through community or personal connection, performers express support for a lost artist who the charity and the festival do a magnificent job of honouring.

On Friday on Guitars and Other Machines, the festival's secondary stage, Cloth perform a brilliant set through the downpour while Moses Boyd and his band play with heart as the mood shifts further from the misery felt earlier in the afternoon. After performing a Tiny Changes set that he ended prematurely so that the crowd could get out of the rain, Joesef steals the show, his soul-infused blues shining through the foggy purple lights behind him. On the Grand Parade main stage, John Grant delivers a truly gripping performance, reaching out into the rabble and pulling us in as the sun begins to set. Later, Idles bind the still somewhat demure crowd into a small mass of energy, before Jon Hopkins' cerebral set closes out a day which started poorly but got much better.

As Saturday begins the weather is already an improvement on yesterday, as is the atmosphere. The previously dreary and grey Royal Highland Centre is now vibrant, teeming with happy people. Early on Jessie Buckley and Bernard Butler perform a surprise Tiny Changes set, preceding their show on the main stage, and the likes of Swim School, NewDad, Matt Maltese and Kathryn Joseph give all they have to the Guitars and Other Machines crowd, their talents worthy of the main stage.

The Grand Parade is no weak spot either, with Holly Humberstone and Buckley and Butler serenading the crowd with soft guitar ballads before Caribou and Bonobo offer a strange tranquillity, their electronic tunes bringing everyone into a relaxed trance. It’s all just a warmup, though, for The Chemical Brothers, one of the greatest live acts working today who more than live up to the reputation they’ve built. They're entrancing, magnetic and electric, with their famous graphics lighting up the night and sending everyone home happy, if not wanting to stay even longer.

Jamz Supernova standing behind a set of turntables, with a crowd in front of her and a sunset behind them.
Jamz Supernova @ Connect Festival, 28 Aug by Tim Craig

The crowd at the Grand Parade forms early on Sunday for Black Country, New Road, rivalling most of the weekend's crowds thus far. It’s a shame their set overlaps with the incredible Lizzie Reid, whose intimate, soft set on the Guitars stage also attracts an impressive cohort. Her set is sometimes cut across by the louder parts of BCNR's music, a familiar shame that persists throughout the weekend in multiple forms. Back at the Grand Parade, Little Simz provides possibly the best performance of the weekend. Bringing North London to Edinburgh in beautiful harmony, Simbi and her band clearly feel the euphoria of reaching beyond their home and planting a bit of themselves in an audience that receives them without hesitation. 

It's also a strong day for Unknown Pleasures, the festival's dance stage, which today features everyone from Sam Gellaitry and Jamz Supernova to Horse Meat Disco, while others like Optimo (Espacio), Erol Alkan, Nightwave and TAAHLIAH played earlier in the weekend. Even in the pouring rain of Friday, an admirably large and lively crowd formed around this stage, fists in the air as their fellow revellers looked for shelter.

Back at the Grand Parade, following their not-so-secret acoustic set on the Tiny Changes stage earlier in the evening, Sunday comes to a close with The National, who provide an expectedly excellent performance to an ocean of faces soaking up every love torn word and exquisite guitar riff thrown at them. They are a faultless headliner and a perfect way to close not just the day but the festival as a whole. 

Overall, it’s the small things that seem to let Connect down. The lack of shelter from the elements (unless you haved a VIP ticket); the overpriced bars (which, it's worth noting, run out of beer before The National even take to the stage on Sunday); the close proximity of the different stages, which often leads to a jarring overlap of sound, most notably the throbbing beats of the Unknown Pleasures stage heard atop intimate Tiny Changes performances or quieter performances at Guitars and Other Machines having to compete with acts on the main stage.

But the bones of a top festival are definitely here. So is the blood and the muscle and all of the key things that make for a great combination of music, comedy and atmosphere. It could just do with a skin graft. With a few issues addressed, Connect has a future as one of the UK's most unique and engaging festivals.

Connect Festival returns to the Royal Highland Centre, Edinburgh, 25-27 Aug 2023