The Big Chill has undergone some serious changes since its inception in the 90's. It was created with future thinking ethos dedicated to eco awareness, art quirkiness and a line up that was different from the norm. Indeed it has gained a considerable following having grown in numbers certainly since the days of 'The Enchanted Gardens'. A converted following have remained dedicated seeing it as the festival of choice and new comers gladly flocking for a different experience. The Big Chill has gone through financial difficulties through the years and has seen the original founders having less involvement and passing the responsibility to Melvin Benn, an established big festival promoter. Last year there was concern about the size of the festival. Having always been unique to its small size this year the promoters limited the capacity to 35000.
It's been six years since I last went to The Big Chill. I had a great experience. Seeing Nightmares On Wax, John Peel and Nitin Sawhney all the main stage made for a serene experience. Also the food and arty 'goings on' certainly separated The Big Chill from other festivals. Luckily the weather was exceptional as it usually is during early August. I was looking forward to going back.
It was great to see the legends still supporting the Big Chill this year. Originals like Tom Middleton who played on various stages throughout the weekend, whose music is a reason why The Big Chill could flourish, was gladly appreciated. Seeing Norman Jay on the main stage playing his biggest gig of the year was a treat for the entire crowd. Others like Giles Peterson, Mr Scruff, Greg Wilson and DJ Food were all on the line up and had great gigs! Plus there were profound contributors still making their presence known on the line up like Don Letts and DJ Derek that make The Big Chill special. The Big Chill line up has always been cool, showcasing a plethora of unique and progressive innovators that highlight ambient or forward thinking innovative music. There was much to choice from this year.
In fact the line up was pretty immense. Acts like Roy Ayers, Massive Attack, Gregory Isaacs, Easy All Stars, Bonobo, Bebel Gilberto, M.I.A, Mad Professor and DJ's like Andy Weatherall, Maurice Fulton and Hospital Records all representing and many more. Lily Allen was a surprising choice for the 'converted' Big Chill crowd although it was clear with her gig on Sunday night on the main stage was a good choice for this year's crowd. Although maybe this is a reflection of where The Big Chill is going?
I arrived at The Big Chill on Thursday night. Seeing the crowd roll in reminded me of the difference of The Big Chill audience compared to others. The festival name sake reminded me of the relaxed nature of the people that come here. It's certainly not an edgy festival. The grounds are beautiful. With a big lake in the vicinity and the lighting organised to make the scenery look interesting, it reminds you why this festival has survived. Witnessing the The Big Chill radio station that broadcasts all the way through the festival is a classy and great addition. There's some great tunes played here. However the festival has changed a lot since six years ago. I was amazed not to get any holders for cigarette butts or a programme when entering the grounds and gob smacked when finally finding a programme I had to pay Â£8 for it! In fact there was no alternative other than buying a programme to know what was going over the course of the festival.
I don't feel the organisers had quite got the layout right to create the best atmosphere. It was a disappointment that there was no Castle stage, it had been replaced with the 'Clash' stage which was a quarter of the size of the original stage. The site has always been long and narrow, which means walking along from one side the other. Towards the purple camping area there was an abundance of activity with The Revellers Stage, Paradiso, Chill X and a cool new addition called Starburst that displayed some cute positioned cubes dotted around to create a fun atmosphere. There were some great DJ gigs at the Starburst with Futureboogie, PBR Streetgang and Crazy P Soundsystem smashing Friday night! Not to forget to mention Theo Parrish, Giles Peterson, Greg Wilson and the popular silent disco based here. As you walked along you came across the cool Igloo tent that had some amazing visuals and consistently good house music. The speakers on the karaoke stage beamed across the whole of that area. A fun idea for crowd participation but if someone with terrible vocals came on, and most did, created a killer blow to the ambience of 'The Chill'.
Bonobo played on the Clash stage on Sunday night. Back by popular demand, although against the ethos to play two years in a row, got dumped there. There was a lot of people at this gig but hardly fitting for Bonobo although Submotion Orchestra who played before Bonobo had one of their best gigs to date! The festival had been stretched to accommodate more but if you wanted to see the acts on the bill you had to scurry around from one place to another to see them. Thankfully there were some cool elements still like The Enchanted Gardens (an ode to the old site), Sailor Jerry's and the funky Tree House.
The main stage had some big names performing. It was good to see such a big crowd for Gregory Issacs and Morcheeba. There was a very 'naked' and intimate solo gig from Thom Yorke that you could tell he certainly enjoyed playing to a smaller crowd than he's used to. I was really looking forward to M.I.A but felt she had a difficult gig. There was some great dancing on stage and cool visuals but the crowd didn't seem to be giving M.I.A justice for her great musical contributions. Possibly the crowd were more interested in seeing Lily Allen who to be fair had a great gig. Her presence was cool and she adapted her set to accommodate The Big Chill, changing certain songs to dubstep and drum & bass and also collaboration from Prof. Green who spitted some cool hip hop lyrics. Maybe M.I.A and Massive Attack suffered from the lack of big screens on show that for a sizable festival seems ludicrous. It was good to see Magnetic Man, The Jolly Boys, Roots Manuva, Martina Topley Bird all playing on the main stage and acts like Newton Faulkner and The Magic Numbers provided some variety for all the punters. Plastician DJ set on Saturday night was sick! It was great to hear some serious urban street music in that environment.
I had seen a lot of the acts on the bill previously and I have to say they all performed well and highlighted how hard the promoters had worked to get the sound and the other stages right. Great gigs from Little Dragon, Terry Callier, Roy Ayers, Matthew Herberts One Club, 2020 Soundsystem, Dam Funk and Master Blaster, The Phenomenal Handclap Band, Ty, Akala, Kelis, Plan B, Tinie Tempah, The Craig Charles Fantasy Funk Band and great DJ sets from Zero 7, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Ashley Beedle, Layo & Bushwacka, Tensnake, Henrik Schwartz, Andrew Weatherall and a mesmerising set from Mr Scruff in The Revellers Stage Saturday night with inspirational visuals throughout the set.
In fact I have to give a special mention to Mr Scruff whose dedication to The Big Chill is first rate. His presence at 'the chill' is legendary to me, having started with a small tea shop and turned it into a kick ass tent with Funktion 1 sound system, shows how you can grow at 'the chill'. His eco friendly and reasonable priced tea and cake offerings added with the best music going could easily capture you for the whole festival. With Scruff he's doing it for the love! With such a collection of tunes he's playing because he wants to be there and bringing some of Cheshire and Manchester's finest for feast of 'head's ' music. There was a guest appearance from Bonobo too. 'Scruff's Tea Tent' was a brilliant contribution to the Big Chill for me this year. Banging as well as smooth! Big respect to the Scruff!
Andreya Triana played a beautiful set in The Chill X on Sunday afternoon. A very subtle and involved performance occurred before her gig with Bonobo later that night. Other cool performances from Tinariwen, Appleblim, Mount Kimbie, Alice Russell, Broken Bells and upcoming Stac made for some good times. It was good to see some original guys too like John Shuttleworth and Micheal Cook around.
The Big Chill is famed for its little touches and it was good to see the cinema areas and 'the drive in'. In fact the showing of The Wizard Of Oz not only showed the film itself but had actors dressed in all sorts adding to the entertainment! With a host of Warp films on offer it meant there was much to see. Rude Brittania was about somewhere and Spencer Tunick, famed for his naked pictures, organised an opportunity to be in one of his shots! The only problem was that it was difficult to find and I missed a lot of the arty bits. For example the 'Egg' that was burnt on Sunday wasn't advertised to create a unifying festival feel although it was a good touch.
The most shocking revelation for me was the fact that the eco conscious element of the Big Chill seemed to have gone! The slogan 'Leave No Trace' seemed to be a joke. To be fair there was more stewards picking up litter but the whole point of the Big Chill was that everyone made an effort to be clean and tidy. With less bins, no cig butt holders and a crowd that weren't that bothered meant the The Big Chill ended up like any other festival at the end, full of rubbish everywhere. The food wasn't quite as impressive as it has been in previous year but there were still some great contributions from the Middle Eastern fraternity like Moorish, Lebanese Mezze and also nice Curry from Goan Fish Curries.
We weren't blessed with fantastic weather this year but a rainbow came out at one point to create some magic. It's a shame to report that ticket sales were down from last year. Maybe it's because of the line up? Maybe last minute buyers were put off from the weather? Or the competition? Certainly new witnesses of the The Big Chill, especially the younger ones, will see how the Big Chill sets itself apart from other mainstream festivals but for the 'converted' crowd we may see less returning. Indeed financial considerations are essential for the business life of any event but to lose the little touches that make this festival so unique may mean it is no longer the The Big Chill as we once knew it.