Dizzee Rascal, Hadouken!, Dan Le Sac et Scroobius Pip, Mystery Jets, Kate Tempest - Beach Break 09
James McDonald 13/07/2009
Imagine, if you will, undergoing the headache of organising a festival for some ten thousand students. Imagine also that you've managed to book some of the biggest acts in modern music today and assigned them accordingly across 5 stages. Then imagine, a mere 4 days before your extravaganza, you have been told by local councilors that you cannot hold your festival at the site they initially promised you. Welcome to Beach Break 2009.
We arrive early on tuesday to collect our press credentials and touch base at production gate three. Already the feat which has been undertaken here is starkly apparent - the site is vast, boasting no less than 5 stages, plus a panoply of additions such as tea rooms and parquor terrain. There's even an area covered in imported sand, with volleyball nets already in place. If none of this was supposed to be here 5 days ago, they're doing a good job of fooling us. Our pr contacts are rosie faced and already rushing around the press area trying to get everyone in their right place; the less glamorous side of the business. We're politely told the who, whats and whens of our interview timetable and sent off to absorb the atmosphere as a mass of students begin filtering through the gates to enjoy the first day. Pandering around in an immense June heatwave, with the dawning sense that the summer was finally here after laborious winter months of keeping up with deadlines and reading lists, the collective mood around site was one of pure bliss. Many of the students I spoke with were not only here for the first time, but this was indeed their first taste of a summer festival. It took me some time and several strong drinks to get my head around this notion. However, despite the majority sharing such a rare virginity, this was the perfect environment in which to be introduced to our nation's fine tradition. Originally scheduled in the idillic location of St.Agnes, North Cornwall, Beach Break was moved to Kent due to licensing laws and false promises, when the initial site (which has been used for this festival and others like it for some years pervious) had to be crossed-off the list of potentials a mere 5 days beforehand. However, for all the hours spent negotiating on the phone, and the mounds of hair pulled from atop the heads of those organising the festival, a fresh breath of relief really could be felt in the air this year as there was nothing left to do but enjoy. So enjoy we did.
But not before a spot of business, namely a brief chat on a double-decker bus with New Cross export Kate Tempest - a refreshing 'urban poet' whose views are structured and sensical, characteristics now a rarity in the freshly coined genre. She's a modest artist who, when prompted, admits she is appreciative of the response her music gets - aiming to raise opinions through her lyrics rather than force them upon the listener. Tempest tells how she plans to draw from the conflicting energies created at gigs and protests, and give the voice back to the people all too often 'underestimated by the modern media, radio stations and music industry at large'. When asked what in particular she is looking forward to from today's set, she meekly admits relishing the chance to meet and perform to those taking an active interest in the world's ways, although humbly reaffirms that she enjoys meeting anyone through the shared medium of her music, 'regardless of their reading list'. Her views and persona are purely uplifting, and to be honest not at all what I had expected stumbling up the stairs with a dictaphone pertruding from my grasp. 'The thing about University is when you begin you're immediately bombarded with other people's thoughts, what other people have said, and your opinion doesn't matter anymore. The beauty about finishing is you realise it's your opinion that matters more than ever.' If you find yourself at Lattitude, Big Chill or Camp Bestival this year, take some time to track her down.
With our conversation deepening, we are rudely drowned out by a blast of synths from the adjacent stage, on which Friendly Fires are ready to launch. On sharing goodbyes, I amble toward the noise and an already swelling crowd in front of the main stage. The coupling of the still blistering heat with the ignition of the Fire's grooves induced plenty of pogoing and miscellaneous mass movements from those in attendance; an ideal soundtrack to reflect the mood. For me however (not that my mood was at all bleak), you get what you pay for with this band, little more. Although this kind of setting is best fitting to their stature, and I'll concede my head may have nodded to and/or fro somewhere in their set. Despite such a vigourous display of approval on my part and, dare I say it, just as I'm beginning to enjoy myself, a glance at my watch reminds me to cut the experience short before I lose all control, and I proceed to spend some quality time with tonight's headliners, the Mystery Jets.
'You're meant to be the gospel of music, I'm not telling you whether Alexa Chung is a 'yes', 'no', or a 'yes in the dark!' William Reese, Kapil Trivedi, my attorney and I are sat on plastic patio chairs discussing the merits of modern fame. 'Is it different to what it was in the 60s? I suppose it is...' Reese ponders. 'We're not famous to be honest with you, we're not at that level. We're a band that can go out and tour to anything between 500 and, if we're lucky, 1200 people across England, and people seem to like our music which is amazing for us. But we're not like, 'London famous' or 'London Lite' boys. We just want to make good records and for people to enjoy our music.' Citing Radiohead as the example, naturally breaking all conventions by conquering the States before the Isles, Kapil hints at plans to take their own sound across the Atlantic, hoping things will 'take-off, as there's no set formula for success over there. But we'll just go with the flow, see where it takes us.' The ambitions of the band, paired with the platform sophomore album 'Twenty One' has given them, equates to a bright outlook on the future. They reveal that they're currently demoing at Bush Studios in London, aiming to get down around 18 tracks, a process which has so far gone 'fluently'. Reese goes on, 'with Twenty One that was our age of discovering who we are as a band and what we want to write about/who we want to write with, and how we go about that writing process. Now we've learned that, we're rolling with it quicker so songs are cropping up all the time, which is why we've amassed so many. Ideally we'd like to have around 30 songs and pick from them...' Maybe sell the rest to pop stars and see what they can do with them? 'Actually, Mark Ronson is doing some work with Duran Duran at the moment, and he's asked us to write a piece for Duran Duran to perform. I've no comment on what I think of their music, but they are lovely people, 'Save A Prayer' is an amazing tune'. I appreciate the honesty and openness between band and media here; when I have the good fortune of being in a position where I can talk to musicians about their music, I like to do so informally and openly. I know from previous experiences how genuine the Mystery Jets are as people, and so I take this opportunity to dispel any association with themselves and a hideous 80s revival. Trivedi admits that although with the video for Two Doors Down they were aiming to capture that '80s pastiche' , it was never a conscious direction. 'The label saw it as the easiest thing to tie it in with the whole record and campaign, and we were very up for the idea as we grew up around [the 80s] with Magic FM playing in the background, but ultimately it was more to do with the marketing side of things.' Reese continues 'You hear songs on our record like 'Flakes' and '...Burnhouse' and it's obvious that there's more to the band than just some 80s fad, but I don't blame people because these days you need to sum up an album in a sentence, and you can't always take everything into account, so we weren't overly annoyed by being put into that bracket.' With the level you're at now, are these kind of marketing decisions something you have to be increasingly aware of within what you do? 'It's always something you have to be aware of as a band as part of the progression of where you are and where you want to go, but you have to define the term marketing - if it's to do with what we wear or what our videos are about and what our artwork says then we still have full control over that, and I think that's a big branch of the term 'marketing'. Possibly because of the fragile nature of this topic, more probably because we're over-running, the tour manager makes some uneasy gestures over my shoulder and I suggest the guys should get on and prepare for their set.
I grab a couple of pairs of pints at the bar and discuss with my attorney the logistics of exactly what we're allowed to use from the discourse (there was plenty more, but I intend to save blushes), and half an hour later we find ourselves admiring the first headline slot of the festival from the shadows of the side-stage. A good few thousand students burst in the warmth of the set, which tonight contains three new tracks not previously sampled to a crowd of this size. They stand up tall against now heavy-weight material, with the ensuing bedlam affirming that the Mystery Jets are apt headliners for the opening evening. However this mood isn't entirely reflected by the band as they leave the stage, with Reese admitting (over a plastic cup of Cava) that the new tracks weren't played at their best. I try my utmost to reassure him; not to discredit the crowd, but a few thousand students, all of whom have been drinking heavily for the last dozen hours, may not be so Cowell-esc in their judgments. Smiles return to faces and we enjoy the rest of the evening justly, washing down the remainder with Chase and Status in the dance tent, who provided an unparalleled electricity of computery nonsense with a pounding beat at its core. All very nice indeed.
'Ah! Shit! I'm in an oven!' A balance one can never perfect through prior experience nor knowledge - wearing every available item of clothing to preserve warmth against the chill of the evening, a chill no level of intoxication can nullify, before waking up in a furnace of a tent covered in midget gems. There was a certain sense of bleary-eyed bemusement in the immediate proximity as scores of students attempted to comprehend the harsh reality that it was around 8am on a Wednesday morning, and that yes, such a time did exist. This unfortunate state of play lead to many an overheard tongue-in-cheek remark that we should all go and see the opening act of the day, a full blown Gospel Choir. Many of us did, and although I personally didn't seek enlightenment, most of those I spoke to had experienced something euphoric, spiritual or otherwise. I used the time instead to meander around the site and absorb what was on offer. After all, with this year's Beach Break already proving to be a corker, it was becoming increasingly easy to forget how much effort had gone into it. I spend time observing the grinds and bails on a half-pipe, gawking at the ferris wheel to a neck-aching intensity, and, on walking past a castle made of carpet, find myself in Chai-Wallah's, a Guardian reader's paradise providing gourmet food and shisha pipes. It has to be said, this is a festival after my own heart.
However for me the best was yet to be lived, as I make my pilgrimage to the production area for my allotted 5 minutes with Dan Le Sac et Scroobius Pip. As an admirer of their work, with an emphasis on Pip's lyrical content, I was keen to utilise the opportunity to the best of my abilities and prepared myself for another deep exchange. 10 minutes later we find ourselves, almost inevitably, discussing Pip's beard. 'If we became the most famous people in the world for doing what we do that'd be fine because we're not striving for that fame, but even now I don't go out as much as I did because I get recognised with this beard. It's never a negative thing but it's conscious. We did a gig on New Years eve at Brixton, but then you don't particularly want to go out afterwards and spend NYE in the crowd because you've headlined the show, so you'll get people asking for pictures etc. In that respect it hinders a 'normal' life, but we don't complain.' The duo are currently writing for the follow-up to their debut LP 'Angles', and already have around 10 tracks demoed. 'The process is so staggered. We'll be there with hardly anything, then a month or so down the line we'll have 8 tracks written and ready to record.' Although they haven't consciously aimed for a new direction, there is a mutual feeling that their sound has moved on 'organically'. 'Obviously we've both heard other music in the last two years, so that has an indirect influence. Plus we've been together doing this for longer now (they had only been together for a year prior to 'Angles', with the breakthrough preachings of'Thou Shalt Always Kill' originally intended as one-off collaboration). 'We've definitely honed our skills'. This closing statement resonated as crisply as the bass bins on stage as they were greeted and promptly savoured over the course of their set. Without the benefit of being able to pause and repeat their tracks, as I often find myself doing in order to fully intake their ramblings, the new material sounded pain-stakingly fresh, and I, with many others, was left eagerly awaiting the next installment from their discography.
Brash and bulbous, Hadouken! were next to the stage in a fit of lasers and other assorted techni-colour wonderment. Man I don't get this band, are they supposed to be ironic? From the opening whirrs of 'Get Smashed, Gate Crash', we are subjected to piss-poor white-boy rap, but apparently I'm a stick in the mud for not knowing all the words. I'm not questioning the merit of acts here (there were 4 other stages I could've been attending at this point in the evening), and ultimately the festival's aim is for people to enjoy, so timely glances left and right confirmed conclusively that this goal had been achieved. However, it wasn't for me. Neither, coincidentally, were The Zutons, who had ferried in to close Wednesday night's proceedings. I mean, they weren't dire, just a little, how you say, 'meh'. I ducked out early and instead made my way to the dance tent to catch DJ Yoda, predominantly because my limbs were willing me to dance, but also because his alias seems to be on every line-up I've seen since the days of yaw. I always make an effort to catch a glimpse of him in the flesh, as I favour the conspiracy that he actually has a fleet of body doubles, much like Saddam Hussein. Whoever was behind the decks tonight they did a stellar job. Also, a notable mention to Manchester's Everything Everything, whose vocal harmonies at 2 am were a disorientating and intriguing venture. Worth a listen next time you're stuck at your desk.
Final days at festivals come all too soon. This is fact. Just as you grow accustomed to your surroundings and feel comfortable in your eccentric world from worlds, it all has to end. Well, not before one final hurrah! By the Thursday there was a rejuvenated buzz in the air, with the sense that the festival had kept an ace in its pocket the whole time and saved the best until last. Rumours circulating Dizzee Rascal's set tonight were rife from the break of day, the most prominent of which was that he wouldn't attend at all (this was later suffixed by whispers that he suffers from a paralysing allergy to grass-snakes). Such balderdash was possibly the theme for the day, as sizable numbers gathered in Chai-Wallah's for some variation in proceedings, namely in the form of student stand-up comedy. I can never remember the jokes at stand-up performances (this is possibly why I die on my arse in social situations), however what I took from this spectacle was Facebook headlines = rubbish, hallucinogens = great fun, and we can all make as many jokes as we like about chavs, because none of them are students. It was around this point in the day I also stumbled on the revelation that hot chai and Sailor Jerry rum compliment each other perfectly.
Now there's an awful lot of music available to the consumer today, and without the likes of these kinds of publications, finding new music would be a lot like chasing a meercat through a minefield, or some other useless analogy. Sometimes I find that the old methods are the best, and I often catch myself exploring bands on the basis of their name alone. Obviously this is an art one can perfect, and there are general golden rules to adhere to, namely nothing prefixed by 'The', or including any form of vociferate punctuation (the exclamation being a classic here). The purpose behind this lecture is an explanation as to why I found myself in the cheekily named 'Club Tropicana' tent, watching Guildford travelers A Stranger in Moscow. Their sound was huge, impressive fuzz battling in a one-armed wrestle with samples and the sort. Much meatier in sustenance and sound live than on record, I later found out. Although still young, there is potential here which speaks beyond their years, and I've no doubt they'll go far in time.
But now to more pressing matters. We were fortunate enough to spend some time with Dizzee Rascal before his set, however my usual informal style of interview was not to his immediate taste. After the initial small talk to get things going, ('how long did it take to travel down?', 'nice rider, were any of these cheeses requested?') he abruptly asked when the interview was actually going to start. Given that he'd only been on site for 15 minutes and was immediately met with a large press cue outside his portacabin, I should've expected a more clinical slot, with quick changeovers clearly in both his and his burley minder's thoughts. This hurdle averted, we got down to brass tacks. I pry, after the success of 'Dance With Me' people were asking where you were going to go from there, now 'Bonkers' has smashed it out of the water. What's the next step? 'I've got a new track that Calvin Harris has produced again, with an electric/R&B kind of vibe to it. It's called 'Holiday' and it'll be coming out in August'. You've already proven a winning formula with Harris, is there anyone you'd like to work with in the future? 'It'd be good to work with the Prodigy, get something banging out with them'. (n.b. his response to this question was so swift I have good reason to believe that this is a collaboration we may well see in the future, so watch this space. Call it a hunch.) As a general comment, how content are you with the music you're putting out at the moment and who you're working with in that process? 'I'm really happy to see the build-up; I was making kinda rough and edgy music in the beginning and still looking for credibility. Now I feel I've done alright with it, especially as I'm an independent artist so I've had to do a lot of the work on my own.' So, as a final thought, where is all of this heading? What are you hoping to achieve? 'I don't know where all this is going! I'm just looking to be as big as I can and entertain as many people as possible; I want to go down as big as the greats, like The Beatles'. With a dozen eager student reporters peering anxiously around the door, I halfheartedly assure the man himself that he is making sizable strides in achieving such greatness, and leave to limber up before competing with the crush of the photo-pit.
I have little experience in encountering rap artists and the like, although I'm told more than with any other, there is a lot of 'face' involved. Dizzee was open to refer to himself as a 'pop artist', however his style and ambition are in keeping with the stereotype. There was a brief moment of pause when he revealed he'd like to name McCartney and Lennon as his peers, holding to see if he would follow the comment with a laugh. It wasn't forthcoming. Then again, what's wrong with such ambition? I have the utmost admiration for him, not necessarily as a result of his current musical output, more that when on stage any pauses between tracks can be counteracted by three simple words; 'make some noise'. These magic utterances, reinforced by a microphone pointed at the crowd, seem to elicit a hysterical response from thousands, always on cue. Say what you like, but any person who is able to strike such a response so effortlessly would've been on the stake not too long ago. Well, a few hundred years ago, but you get the gist. Tonight, in front of easily the biggest crowd at this year's gathering, this harmony between showmanship, pride, and a generous sprinkling of face was compelling to witness. He is uniquely compatible to an audience of this size, his gusto transferring four-fold from stage to crowd. The opening beats of Bonkers are greeted with epic ecstasy, a flare is lit in the crowd, and the rest may well have been history. The final act of your show is the deal-breaker, the talking point for the weeks to come and the fond memory that'll cause a smile for sometime more. Tonight Dizzee Rascal was the jewel in Beach Break's crown, creating an atmosphere not even a Glastonbury slot could top. Having witnessed it live, it's easy to understand where he draws his ambitions and self-confidence from; those perpetuating his success. His name alone would've assured the ticket allocation was met this year, and whether they be first-timers or hardened festival-ers, none left disappointed.
The dilemma that so nearly caused all of this to never happen now seems so distant. Beach Break this year was an unmitigating success, conquering in the face of festival-advhersity and achieving what, at one dark point, had seemed almost out of reach. For this I, and thousands of those who remapped their journey east this year, humbly thank all those who refused to be beaten, and who made 'Safari' Break Live an unforgettable adventure.
Photography by Jacob Guberg.