V Festival - or the Virgin Media Festival to give it its correct title - may be the least favoured of its kind as far as music connoisseurs are concerned. A quick flick through the line-up doesn't exactly set pulses racing, as bland non-entities like The Script and Paolo Nutini rub shoulders with has-beens whose sell-by date expired over a decade ago (Ocean Colour Scene, Happy Mondays). However, cast all snobbery to one side for two days and delve a little deeper into the mixing pot and there are actually several gems to be found along with moments of real inspiration here.
If Latitude is the epitome of middle class utopia, then V Festival is undoubtedly the post-millennium equivalent of a working class family day out at the seaside. Certainly in and around the arena and various campsites there is an ultra-friendly vibe that transcends the image this shebang has attained since it first began over a decade ago. Add the fact you're more likely to see members of the Hollyoaks cast and Nationwide League footballers than one of The Bad Seeds or J Mascis and its as far removed from ATP as is humanly possible; hell, even DiS finds itself mistaken for bit-part actors (!) and Johnny Knoxville on more than one occasion. Situated on multiple sites - Hylands Park in Chelmsford and Weston Park in the Staffordshire countryside - where the acts perform on alternate days, DiS found V Festival on the whole to be a fairly pleasant experience.
Of course, the main reason we were here was for the music, and below is a selection of the highs and lows yours truly experienced over the course of the weekend. Oh, and did we mention that the rain managed to stay away for the entire duration of the Festival too...
Say what you like about the overall line-up of V Festival, but sometimes, a performance at an event such as this can define and maintain the vibe of the entire weekend. Step forward if you will Dizzee Rascal. It's fair to say that having never really been a fan of his recorded output, the set was approached with a heap of indecisive trepidation. Nevertheless, a little persuasion from a few old friends scattered around the crowd coupled with rave reviews emanating from the previous day's performance at V's sister event in Chelmsford meant DiS found itself literally in the mix, and do you know what, it was possibly the most enjoyably insane hour we've experienced in a field all summer. 'Just A Rascal', 'Fix Up, Look Sharp' and an incongruous cover of M.I.A.'s 'Paper Planes' come and go with rapid assertion, while the set closing 'Bonkers' unified an entire field of pop fans, hip hoppers, rockers and just about any casual observer walking past the Channel 4 Stage during Rascal's Sunday teatime slot. So much so in fact that you had to feel sorry for any other artist expected to compete with this on one of the other stages such as Lily Allen, who DiS is later informed actually drew one of the smallest crowds of the day, such was the Dizzee man's impact. Whether or not this cynic is converted into purchasing his records only time will tell, but as a live performer there really isn't anyone else around like him at present. Go. see. ASAP.
"They clash with Oasis" screams a girl behind me in the queue for The Arena before scarpering hastily for the exit, leaving yours truly and those unconcerned by the prospect of the Gallagher brothers annual will they/won't they show up facade with a clear path to the front of the stage. Even though the tabloid headlines some 48 hours later will no doubt reflect on the implosion of Oasis, we are in no doubt that we made the right choice as this was the moment MGMT came alive as one of the most infectious live acts around at present. The Oracular Spectacular material that received mixed responses this time last year sounds huge this evening, and a pounding 'Electric Feel' coupled with 'The Youth''s feel-good demeanour and 'Time To Pretend''s general pervasiveness causes a pandemonium that someone remarks as being akin to being taken back in time to one of those free love festivals your folks keep banging on about from the 1960s. Hallucinogenics and Amyl Nitrate is offered and passed along from stranger to stranger, friendships are formed, and a general feeling of harmony engulfs the tent. Of the new material aired this evening, 'Song For Dan Treacy' and 'Its Working' both demonstrated a more psychedelic, mid-period Beach Boys sound than previously associated with the band, while revitalised former b-side 'Destrokk' is fast becoming their show-stopping 'Sea Within A Sea' moment. All in all, MGMT proved themselves to be something of a revelation this evening. Cynics beware...
This year's award for most out of place band on a festival line-up must surely go to Sheffield duo Slow Club. Amidst their more radio and glossy magazine friendly compatriots, their decidedly twee repertoire was always going to divide those who made the effort to see their half hour set in the Strongbow Tent on Sunday afternoon. That they managed to conquer those blissfully unaware of their existence some thirty minutes previous was something of an achievement in itself, the likes of 'Because We're Dead' and 'Let's Fall Back In Love' proving particularly popular with the ever-more enthusiastic crowd. Feeling quite smug that one of "our" bands had won over a reputedly set-in-its-ways audience such as V, DiS duly returns to the great outdoors with a smile on its face and a spring in its step.
Fellow South Yorkshire dwellers, Barnsley four-piece Exit Calm would also be candidates for the previous award if they hadn't managed to run away with the title of unluckiest band of the weekend instead. Forced to go onstage just as many revellers were still awaking from their heavy Saturday night induced slumber, Exit Calm find their set reduced to just twenty minutes, meaning they only have time to play four songs. Nevertheless, the swooping harmonics of 'We're On Our Own' and pulsating rhythm of 'Hearts And Minds' coupled with 'You've Got It All Wrong''s dissipated bass echo also make them the loudest, most blissed out outfit we witness all weekend, which is just what we expect from the strangely still-unsigned ethereal shoegazers.
Perhaps the most anticipated set of the weekend, certainly for yours truly who was just that little bit too young to catch them first time round, The Specials play a greatest hits set and more packed with classic selections from both albums that lyrically at least, sound as relevant today as they did almost thirty years ago. 'Rat Race' and 'Man At C&A' are immense, both in Terry Hall and Neville Staples vocal delivery and the frantic musicianship that accompanies them while 'Ghost Town' proves to be one of the most movingly epic singalongs of the whole weekend, and a startling reminder that their creators' prophetic musings proved disparagingly real.
Katy Perry / Lady GaGa
We've chosen to combine these two pop princesses/divas/jokes (delete as appropriate) as A) after serious consideration, we arrive at the conclusion they're pretty much one and the same; and B) neither deserves their own paragraph after the performances we witnessed this weekend. Let's start with Ms Perry. Sure, that tight top and those hot pants have most of the males drooling, but her musically bland and vocally inept attempts at rock and roll controversy seem fake and contrived, even down to her ridiculous posing with the Les Paul copy strapped around her neck but unplugged and unplayed for the most part of her set. Drab, uninteresting and decidedly unentertaining, she could just about be one of the worst live performers DiS has ever set eyes on if it weren't for the dreadful, overblown "performance" we endure some four hours later. Ah yes, Lady GaGa. Its like when people say they watch the X Factor or Big Brother - car crash TV where the victims fail so spectacularly. Well I guess there's no other reason why DiS is here this evening, and yet despite it being a largely irrelevant show, we're left even more disappointed than when we hear 'Pokerface' booming out from the radio for the umpteenth time. In true diva style, she keeps us waiting for a full twenty minutes, then treats us to an intro that is basically a five-minute promotional video of her aural and visual delights, before finally treating us to a song or three that could just as easily be karaoke, lip-synched versions of "the hits". Here today, GaGaGone tomorrow. We wish.
Two Door Cinema Club
Again something of an anomaly here, Irish three-piece Two Door Cinema Club's angular post-punk pop proves to be quite a revelation, not least due to the sight of many a forty-something moshing along quite insanely like its 1979 all over again. 'Something Good Can Work' and 'What You Know' stand out energetically, while set closer 'Undercover Martyn' sounds like Foals giving (re)birth to Refused such is its enthusiastically danceable sub-metal discordance. The only criticism DiS can ask is when are TDCC going to get themselves a live drummer, but until such times their DAT-assisted funk driven melodies prove the perfect kickstart to the weekend's festivities.
The Human League
Having created possibly the most perfect pop album of the 1980s, it would be rude not to participate in The Human League's all-singing, all-dancing early Saturday evening slot in The Arena, even if that means giving Guy Garvey and co a wide berth for the second time in forty-eight hours. As greatest hits sets go, theirs is up there with the best of them, 'Love Action' and 'Open Your Heart' defining the likes of Ladytron and Miss Kittin's careers in entirely five minutes flat, while the closing triple whammy of 'Keep Feeling Fascination', 'Together In Electric Dreams' and 'Don't You Want Me' just about take the roof off. Retrospective nostalgia never sounded so uplifting.
Much derided they may be, and in a lot of cases it has to be said, rightly so. However, whatever your take on Brandon Flowers and co's recorded output, and let's be brutally honest here, Hot Fuss apart, how many of you have ever actually managed to get through a Killers album from start to finish without pressing the STOP button at some point? Exactly. Its perhaps no surprise then that tonight's show feels like a game of two halves. The opening segment, which contains material largely culled from Sam's Town and Day & Age respectively, proves somewhat forgettable, so much so that DiS is on clockwatch, fully intent to give them one more song before disappearing elsewhere. Thankfully, it turns out to be a wise move as 'Somebody Told Me' leads the way into hitsville heaven culminating in a grandiose finale of 'Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine' and 'When You Were Young'. Call them what you like, but on top of their game as they were during the latter half of tonight's set, The Killers are still capable of exciting an audience. DiS is excited at the end too when two females approach and ask for a photograph, until we disappoint them by revealing we haven't ever appeared in Coronation Street, honest.
And so another V Festival draws to a close, and alongside those we've already mentioned other memorable moments include poor old Natalie Imbruglia's battle with the sound at the start of her set causing a mix of emotions ranging from laughter to anger and sympathy both on and off stage, and Johnny Borrell's slightly embarrassing Bonoisms during Razorlight's tedious performance.
Minor criticisms aside (everything, and I mean EVERYTHING closing down at 1130 on the final night, two mile walks to the main arena and several less than helpful stewards), V really isn't as bad as many commentators make it out to be. A little bit more underground diversity when it comes to booking next year's line-up and several more doubters could be converted. Bravo!
Photos by Helen Boast.