It has taken me two weeks to recover from what was supposed to be a very chilled out weekend. There were several highlights but upon arriving at my friend's house the night before the festival began he told me that I should be honest in my reply to the question of his girlfriend coming along, without a ticket and being smuggled into the site. No other explanation was offered apart from "She wants to go". Under normal circumstances this would be 'un-cool', but at The Big Chill I knew this would be going against the whole ethos of the festival and the people who attended it. I didn't think it was good karma. I replied with honesty that I thought she should do something else with her weekend. This of course made absolutely no difference and she came along anyway. As a result we were by implication feeling like outlaws before we even got there, which is not my idea of feeling chilled out. To make matters worse, upon arrival neither my friend or his girlfriend were very impressed. They being slightly older and more 'earthy' found the middle-class 'nice ex student' crowd extremely boring and the music and events timid. I wondered what I did to deserve this...
The first night (Friday) it rained and this continued for much of the weekend bar the odd break for long periods of moody clouds until the last morning, when everyone was due to leave. That's when I got sun burnt, which was about the best thing that happened to me during the whole weekend. On the Saturday night (which I myself have no recollection of) I was apparently spotted by my ex-girlfriend who kindly told me the next day, that I resembled a hideous sweating e-monster that made her feel repulsed. As you can imagine I felt like things were definitely going my way by now. Nothing was going to stop me having a good time. It came as no surprise then when I was struck by an extreme dose of food poisoning on the Sunday night. The dose was worse than feared and lasted for six long days.
Aside from all this personal grief I would like to say that the festival itself is still worth seeing and going to, although it does depend (like all outdoor events) on the weather, the people your with, the people you meet and by all accounts what you consume. Compared to the year before it was a lot quieter and smaller (just 2,000 allocated tickets sold this year down from 4,000 last year). Inevitably that meant less catering, less choice and unfortunately less people to see and less things to do. I personally preferred it slightly busier but everyone had a different opinion. Having a photographic memory when it comes to faces I recognized at least five girls from the Saturday night that I have no recollection of. This was a very odd feeling because I didn't whether to say "Hello" or run for cover. Big Chill FM provided the ambience for the weekend and many people spent the majority of the time lying around their camps stoned and pissed. I saw people resembling Kurdish refugees sitting around trailer park homes with better facilities than most household kitchens with that glazed look in their eyes, as if to say "How the hell did I end up here and why the hell didn't I think of this before?"
In terms of the live music I want to mention Roots Manuva who brought their own unique blend of Afro-London hip-hop to bear on the 'nice ex-students' with a live set that bore the hallmarks of both realism and the deep soulful performance that UK dance music can sometimes lack. They are without doubt one of the UK's most exciting and authentic wordsmiths, which allow their performance to resonate with meaning, even if the words themselves were not understood. The tempo, vibe and up-beat message could not be misheard. Most of the lyrics from the album Brand New Second Hand portray the lives of African men living in deprived areas of London, successfully dealing drugs whilst struggling with the morality of the necessary violence and destruction that the lifestyle inevitably involves. Add to that an authentic voice of soul searching and story telling that will keep you listening to the new album for weeks and you have a piece of music history that puts most US acts to shame. This is real music about real ghettos focused on real lives of people struggling to harmonize wealth creation and moral values the best way they think they can. This is not about posturing and romanticising life in the crappiest parts of town; this is about documenting an existence as it is and in so doing extraditing the demons invoked by the experience. This is honest music delivered live with honesty, without trying to intimidate or shock.
The DJ's I saw were Norman Jay and Mr. Scruff in the dance tent. Both continue to tread the path of experimental dance by combining sounds of old Stevie Wonder (for example) with new grooves (deep house, garage and the odd break beat). Although no one should go to a Big Chill to rave, as some people obviously did (you'll only get frustrated and disappointed) there was a strict music curfew that took a lot of people by surprise. It seems that even nice ex-students sometimes want to listen to loud music past 11.30 on a Saturday night. I on the other hand was far too gone to care by that stage. After four attempts at seeing something of vague interest in the media tent I was bemused to see a foppish, academic, shy looking geek reading out a book about French poetry whilst a very dull student film was projected from the back, onto a split screen which no-one could be bothered to watch, out of fear of falling asleep.
The catering was poor I have to say, but never before have I been poisoned quite as bad as I was. I can only assume that someone purposely imported the most dangerous stomach bug known to mankind from a swamp-pit from the Island of Rancid Death Fever off the coast of Vomitsberg. Shreds of information came back to me in a blur as I desperately tried to trace my memory for a clue to the origins of the noxious foul that had poisoned my usually iron walled stomach. I remember some beer boys in a crew that I acquainted myself with from the previous year saying out loud on the second day that they were shitting blood. I know now that that they were probably being serious! So what lesson can we draw from all this you ask?
1/ Go and see Roots Manuva and buy an album by him (new album out now)
2/ Don't rely on your ex-girlfriend for support when you're on a come down (she'll probably just insult you)
3/ Your male friends are all dominated by their weaknesses for the fairer sex whether they like to believe it or not
4/ Pray for good weather when you go camping and if you don't get it then go to a nearby hotel
5/ Don't trust vegetarian caterers who talk too much and try to be funny when they are not - they are trying to kill you
6/ If you want to lose weight - let some dodgy vegetarian caterers try to kill you
7/ Try to turn even the most appalling experiences into a positive as you'll be a stronger person for it
8/ Go and see DJ Scruff play somewhere or buy some of his scruffy stuff (Ninja Tunes records) because it will always put a smile on your face
This review is the last piece in my personal recovery from the trauma of my Big Chill weekend and I hope that you may draw some amusement and maybe a lesson or two from it. In a strange way it has brought me closer to myself. It cheered me up a little when a female friend said that suffering obviously suited me as I had lost at least half a stone and gained a suntan in the process (maybe that's what festivals were always about?). I leave you with the slogan that made me laugh at the times I most needed it: 'Big Chill? Big fucking headache more like'!
James 'Youth' Johnson