The sun burns through the early morning mist, a few dotted figures on the main stage test the sound system and the bar staff prepare themselves for the inevitable onslaught. Ladies and gentlemen, RockNess has arrived.
Let’s get this out of the way first: RockNess is a beautiful festival. Not ‘pretty’, not ‘scenic’, but the sort of jaw-dropping beauty that the Highlands dollop out with stunning regularity. Friday disappears in a haze, as the audience gets to grips with the site. The Flaming Lips get a huge crowd to the main stage, with Wayne Coyne in a typically jubilant mood. Clearly relishing the opportunity, the singer unleashes several pearls from the band’s stellar back catalogue. ‘Do You Realize?’ sweeps the festival into an atmosphere of sheer euphoria, before the stage is invaded by a group of Tellytubbies. Yes, Tellytubbies.
A sprinkling of rain overnight brings a hardy element to the fore, with festival-goers leaping face first into rivers of mud. Chew Lips do their best to get the party started, with their singer’s silver trousers sending beams of light shooting off into the hills around. The Wallbirds’ merry skiffle-pop impresses in the Fat Sams tent, but the find of the weekend comes over in the SoCo Lounge. Decked out in the style of a New Orleans bordello, the bar comes alive to the strains of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Hot and filthy, the group’s old-school funk leaves the crowd exhausted. Hardly having time to cool off, a visit to the Clash arena sees DJ Yoda pull out a typically schizophrenic set, gleefully playing around with M.I.A.’s ‘Paper Planes’.
A quick visit to the main stage finds Dizzee Rascal exhorting to the crowd, screaming at the gathered throng to get the party started. He’s bonkers that bloke, don’t know if anyone mentioned. Orbital headline the Clash Arena, with the Hartnoll brothers emerging into literally walls of synthesisers. Peering out, the duo’s distinctive glasses must see the crowd going wild as ‘Chime’ sends shivers down a thousand spines.
Sunday may be the day of rest, but not for RockNess attendees. Rob Da Bank plays a sensational set to start the morning off, expertly reading the crowd as the festival enters its final day. The Whip follow and are dependably fun, with the Manchester act playing a selection of tracks from their unjustly overlooked debut album.
Over in the SoCo lounge, acid house legend Justin Robertson raises the roof with a stunning set. A DJ who comes with a formidable reputation, it’s easy to see why as Robertson blends classic cuts with fresh new producers. Belgian beat boffins Soulwax storm the Clash Arena, limbering up with a version of Daft Punk’s classic ‘Robot Rock’ – almost a national anthem round these parts.
The Prodigy are creatures of the night. Emerging from the explosive energy of the illegal rave scene, the group bring illicit thrills to RockNess. Sprinkling new material amongst peerless classics, the legendary group send the crowd into ever-ascending levels of euphoria. Looking away from the stage, the hill is black with fans going absolutely ape-shit mental, with the band having to be almost physically dragged from the stage.
As the final fireworks trickle down behind the loch, it seems as if this is one Highland fling that will live long in the memory.
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Joe Zadeh’s RockNess Top Five
After seeing the Sex Pistols last year and feeling a little downhearted that Johnny Rotten is now an ageing brown chords-wearer off butter adverts, it was a stupendous relief to see that Keith Flint is still an absolutely non-compos bastard! A main stage pilgrimage from the closing sets of Erol Alkan and Chase & Status saw the fields of Inverness billow with excitement. The
rave royalty took stage and as the opening big beat of 'Firestarter' blared out, I had that moment of realisation: 'If something goes wrong here, I will never get out'. Then Flint screamed, and convulsions of early ‘90s rave/breakbeat nostalgia flooded over myself and the thousands around me.
The Sheffield producer took the Rizla tent and shifted it up an extra gear with a mutated reggae/dub-step set that crawled from the block soundsystem, forcing the artificial pine trees to wilt in a breeze of quivering bass. And just to confuse any sort of dance rhythm the crowd managed to configure, he dropped the BPM with Dawn Penn's dancehall epic 'You Don't Love Me (No, No, No)' to skewer our moves.
Detroit Social Club
Festivals are all about the surprise treats lurking away from the main stage, and Detroit Social Club played out the early evening in the Fats Sams tent like a band sincerely cherishing the chance to perform to a larger crowd. And perform they did, as their towering northern lead singer whipped the crowd into a swaying participation. Jovial hand clapping accompanied 'Sunshine People' and the quite contrary, prudent darkness of their first single 'Rivers and Rainbows' translated stirringly as a live performance.
This electro-kitsch knight strolled into a mobbed Sunday Best tent with the blasé stride of a 9-5er at an office job. A quick crack of the knuckles, flick of the fringe and ready to go, ready to manhandle the crossfader as if he were playing extreme Pong on his mixer. Song choice nailed, it was trademark Erol. The most impressive aspect? That so many would sacrifice live shows from Placebo, Soulwax and Biffy Clyro, just to see this towering Turk spin out the beats.
Three Northern Irish lads from Derry was the last thing I expected when turning up early to see this hyped trio. I wasn't really expecting the air-punching techno that pumped from their keyboards, Macs and mixers either. Too many are associating these lot with glitchy, 8-bit sounds like heartsrevolution and Crystal Castles. In truth they’re not so similar, instead delivering big sounds for big rooms. If they had played the Clash tent later in the night they’d have blown it to the hills.
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Find full photo galleries from RockNess 2009 HERE; watch a video interview with The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne HERE.
The Flaming Lips
Soulwax (2 Many DJs)