Live Review of Festival No.6 North Wales 13-15 September 2013

With the UK festival circuit resembling a homogenised circus where the same acts follow suit every weekend trudging the same well-worn path, it's good to know there's at least one event totally separate from all the rest. Step forward Festival No. 6, named so due to it being situated in the Welsh village of Portmeirion, home to cult 1960s television drama 'The Prisoner'. Designed and built by Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975 (he actually has a stage in the main arena named after him) and largely inspired by ornate, picturesque Italian architecture, Portmeirion is centred around its grand piazza and comfortably wins the award for most unique setting not only in the UK, but anywhere Contactmusic has previously dared to venture. Its elegant woodland overlooking the delectable White Sands Bay, the village itself provides ample respite from the usual surroundings where bands play in strategically sited tents situated at various corners of a muddy field. Add delights such as the guided village tour; participants hold various pieces of a bus together like a jigsaw puzzle while strolling merrily through its paths and roadways; and numerous impromptu performances from jazz-themed marching bands to Welsh choirs, and it's plain to see this is anything but your stereotypical music festival. (DG)  

Festival No.6

Nevertheless, this year's line-up does stand out as one of the UK's most enticing, and Temples set on the quaint Estuary stage which overlooks the beach serves as a timely reminder why they're one of 2013's most hotly tipped bands. Money also overcame technical problems to deliver an intense, if occasionally traumatic, show over on the iStage in the main arena. 'The Shadow Of Heaven' is one of this year's finest debuts and songs like 'Hold Me Forever' and 'Letter To Yesterday' leave all and sundry with goose pimples regardless of the miserable weather outside. It's left to Aussie combo Jagwar Ma though to steal the headlines on the first day. Playing to a jam-packed tent, their acid drenched beats and monolithic rhythms proved taut and insatiable to a rabid audience that devoured every last note. (DG)

There was originally a plan to see bands on the Friday night. Honest, there was. But in the end, travelling complications mean that we don't arrive on site until after Neon Neon's 6pm start, so we end up wandering through the beautiful surroundings of Portmeirion - taking in the otherworldly buildings and the seemingly enchanted colourful walls. But it's deep in the woods that we find ourselves - over at the Audio Farm DJ booth - buried away in the branches so that all we hear is an enticing beat through the trees, leading us closer like some musical Pied Piper. We spend some time there listening to an eclectic mix of deep house, disco, funk and techno until we return to the main arena and spend the evening dancing away to Content DJs and Frankie Knuckles until the early hours. The first day at a festival where I haven't seen any bands and I'm already intoxicated with Festival No. 6 - a testament to how much there is going on around the site. (DE)

The early part of Saturday is spent exploring a little more of the site and wandering through the maze of stages located around Portmeirion, including an excursion into the Town Hall to view some videos of 'The Prisoner'. After another excursion to the continually excellent Audio Farm stage in the woods (featuring a quite magnificent house set from Jane Fitz - arguably one of the best sets of the weekend), we head over to the main arena to watch London Grammar who demonstrate that their shimmeringly beautiful songs translate as well in the larger setting as they do in the smaller, intimate stages which they're undoubtedly saying goodbye to - this band are going to be big. We then retrace our footsteps back across Portmeirion to take in the spectacular views across the Estuary by the Stone Boat Bar, where they're serving cocktails amidst a warren of elegant stone passages and tunnels. It's here we stay for some time, watching the sun go down as we dance to a superb and funky Justin Robertson set, although it's Andrew Weatherall's remarkable set of obscure 60s R&B, funk and electro anthems that really steal the day as the bodies begin to sway and more cocktails are consumed. There's even the amusement of the hotel next to the Stone Boat bar, wherein our increasingly drunken trips in remind us of the video to the Spice Girls 'Wannabe' where they gate-crash a posh hotel. Such surreal moments are what Festival No. 6 is truly made of. But we've got a date to keep with My Bloody Valentine and so we make our way back to the main arena, entertained by a stunning acrobatic display from a balloon aerialist as we enter the tent. (DE)

Say what you like about My Bloody Valentine not being an ideal choice to headline the Saturday night of a festival, but their noise-induced eardrum assault is nothing less than triumphant here. Sure, they don't have a back catalogue of "hits" people can sing along to; although some try humming the errant feedback of 'wonder 2' for several minutes; and their interaction with the audience amounts to little more than a customary nod or occasionally muttered "Thanks!" from chief architect of noise Kevin Shields. Nevertheless, the likes of 'Soon', 'To Here Knows When', 'Feed Me With Your Kiss' and now traditional end statement 'You Made Me Realise' (complete with infamous "holocaust" mid-section) reign supreme, highlighting why the band are still held in such high esteem in the world over. (DG)

Prior to that, John Cooper Clarke has the central piazza in stitches with his barrage of expletives and spoken word rants about Beasley Street and chlamydia. By the time he closes his set with 'Evidently Chickentown', it seems like half the festival's 10,000 inhabitants has descended on the deckchair-laden square. And rightly so, his legendary status as the poet laureate of punk firmly intact. (DG)

Sunday morning brings a reminder that having a festival in mid-September does carry its attendant risks, as the site is struck by what appears to be a mini-hurricane. Tents are hurled through the air and battered sideways by torrential rain as the only realistic option is to hunker down in your tent and pray for an end to the madness (although music and the remaining alcohol certainly helps the time pass). Thankfully, whichever deity you deem to be listening has an ear out for us, as by 4pm the sky is clearing and the sun is peeking through the ever-thinning grey cloud. So it's over to Johnny Marr we head, over at the main arena. Now, myself and fellow scribe Dom Gourlay had very different experiences of seeing Marr at the start of the summer - Dom saw a listless performance supporting The Stone Roses at Finsbury Park and I witnessed a superb and energised display at Manchester's Parklife. In truth, he's neither of these today - he falls somewhere in the middle. His guitar playing is as magnificent as ever and solo tracks like 'Upstarts', 'Generate! Generate!' and 'The Right Thing Right' continue to gain more traction with repeated listens. But his voice loses place in the mix at times and a cover of 'I Fought the Law' does nothing in particular. That said, 'Bigmouth Strikes Again' and a closing duo of 'There is a Light that Never Goes Out' and 'How Soon is Now' - two of the best songs of all time - send everyone away happy. If anything, Marr's summer shows have shown that his new material is actually much better than it was given initial credit for, and it's still wonderful to hear those great songs again, although today isn't quite Marr at his absolute best. (DE)

Sadly, the adverse weather has put paid to a large part of the festival's scheduled performances and hugely anticipated sets by Wave Machines, Wire and Charlie Boyer & The Voyeurs are cancelled forthwith for safety reasons. Welsh experimental troupe Islet do a grand job of rallying the bedraggled rain-soaked masses during their later-than-advertised slot. While esteemed journalist Simon Price holds court with a host of fascinating stories about his dealings with the Manics in Tim Burgess' tearoom over in Portmeirion village. Again despite having to overcome sound issues; at times vocalists Elisa Rodrigues and Jack Barnett don't appear able to hear themselves never mind each other; These New Puritans turn in a short-but-sweet set that serves as a kick up the backside to the Mercury Music Prize's clearly out-of-touch judging panel who chose to overlook their excellent 'Field Of Reeds' long player. (DG)

Chic and Nile Rodgers on the other hand, are absolutely magnificent. Even though it shouldn't really be possible to lose when you've got a back catalogue featuring tracks such as 'Le Freak', 'He's the Greatest Dancer', 'We Are Family' and 'I'm Coming Up', they turn the packed tent into an absolute party through having a plethora of dancers, audience members on stage and the biggest smiles of all time. Rodgers in particular - resplendent in white suits, as with the rest of the band - looks like a man simply loving the second chance at life he's been given: whooping with delight and rocking out with his band with an expression of sheer joy fixed to his face. There's a fantastic cover of David Bowie's 'Let's Dance' (which is only half a cover really, considering Rodgers produced and played on it) and the closing 'Good Times' sees a spontaneous outburst of dancing, cheering and clapping amongst the crowd, while Rodgers bows and acknowledges the crowd at the end. And no, he doesn't play 'Get Lucky' but you can damn well guess what song the DJ plays as the band leaves the stage. The man of the summer and you'd struggle to find a more deserving one at that. (DE)

The first time I saw the Manic Street Preachers was in my old student union back in 1989, cost ten new pence. Twenty-four years and seventy-eight shows later, it's fair to say nothing comes close to matching the level of anticipation surrounding a Manics show. With one of the most incredible back catalogues in rock and roll history to choose from, the guessing game as to what tonight's set will include has started in earnest. Unsurprisingly, with new album 'Rewind The Film' sharing more of a kinship with the tranquil likes of 'Lifeblood' and 'This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours' than the vitriolic snarl of their youthful output, this evening's set is TIMTTMY heavy with no less than five songs - including a rare rendition of 'Ready For Drowning' - aired from said record here. Of the newer material, '30-Year War' bites incisively in the confines of the Number 6 stage while the title track off the new record takes on a whole new persona thanks in no small part to guest vocalist Richard Hawley's haunting interludes and Nicky Wire's dub heavy bass fills. When they are firing on all cylinders, such as on early singles 'You Love Us' and 'Motown Junk', or a particularly snarling 'Revol', dedicated to its writer Richey Edwards one is transported back to Leicester Princess Charlotte or Hull Adelphi circa 1992. Closing with the anthemic strains of 'A Design For Life', there isn't a more fitting way to end this or any other festival. (DG)

The impressive and defining nature of Festival No. 6 is found in the way that it effectively offers a Rubik's Cube of possibilities in terms of how you wish to spend the hours of your weekend. In showcasing a series of diverse and intriguing bands, it offers up countless attractions for the discerning music fan. In setting up a staggering number of DJ stages and manning them with first-rate DJs, it allows dance fans to indulge their every whim. Poetry and spoken-word fans are catered for across the site, along with a series of wonderful spectacles: from acrobats to hula-hoopers and from dancers to fire-eaters. The more laidback attendees who simply wish to bask in the surreal, mystical beauty of Portmeirion itself and admire the striking scenery while enjoying elegant glasses of champagne and cocktails will find everything provided for them. And for those who wish to indulge in varying quantities of the above, there really is nothing else like it. The truly impressive nature of the event is how it somehow manages to combine such disparate attributes into an event where such esoteric elements seem entirely natural and comfortable together. A festival like no other in a place seemingly removed from reality, Festival No. 6 proved to be the perfect way to end the summer. A truly unique and magical weekend. (DE)

Words: David Edwards & Dom Gourlay.

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