ON A weekend like the one just passed, RockNess is a festival with its own built-in head start in terms of customer satisfaction.
The view down the hill towards the main stage, and the blue and green expanse of Loch Ness beyond, is a satisfying one, and for this eighth annual edition of the event, the non-stop glorious weather delivered a great camping trip, if nothing else.
Fortunately the festival’s traditional reliance on big name DJs and dance artists created the atmosphere of a mini Highland Ibiza over its three-day duration, with Basement Jaxx’s eternally upbeat carnivalesque headline set on Friday kicking things into life. It seems strange to think that Felix Buxton, Simon Ratcliffe and their retinue of dancers and singers are something like a heritage act on the UK dance scene, although it was easier to believe of Saturday night’s returning special guest Fatboy Slim.
Despite a somewhat irritating stage manner that had him engaging in unlikely and forced-jovial banter with the front rows, all points and guffaws and drowned-out exhortations to “come on!”, Norman Cook is one of those DJs with a singular intuition which pushes their set beyond merely playing a few tracks back-to-back and into a fluid and thrilling manipulation of the crowd’s collective emotional state. He used an array of his own ageing hits reinvigorated by crowd-pleasing forays into the contemporary, such as Empire of the Sun’s Alive and what appeared to be YouTubed home footage of a teenage girl with a great voice singing Daft Punk’s Get Lucky.
It was a blast from the past, but the crowd’s wild reaction attested to a more satisfying set than both Skream and Benga’s lively but overly voguish collision of bass and dubstep beforehand and Example’s big budget set of one-note, laddish dance-pop afterwards.
Elsewhere, an array of traditional guitar bands seemed almost like something-for-everyone window dressing alongside the roster of dance superstars, including the cheerful but watered-down dance-punk style of Bombay Bicycle Club and the Temper Trap’s crushing anthems-by-numbers tedium on yesterday’s main stage.
One unexpected highlight was Lianne La Havas on the tented second stage. Many might balk at hearing the “new Amy Winehouse” billing pressed upon her, yet from her delicately mature solo-with-guitar intro Age to the sophisticated jazz-pop of Au Cinema and the ragged guitar chime of Forget, this was a set packed with great songs and breezy summertime self-confidence. Another, flying in the face of this festival’s target demographic, was Glasgow indie-pop bunch Camera Obscura, whose delivery of Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken, If Looks Could Kill and French Navy back-to-back was potentially the most understatedly sublime ten minutes of the festival.
Over on the main stage, Madness offered a cheerful mid-evening antidote to the more somber headline sounds of Plan B, their mighty array of hits like The Prince and One Step Beyond – the latter complete with controlled stage invasion – and singer Suggs’s cheerful self-deprecation (“those of you who’ve turned up for the One Direction perfume launch, you’re in the wrong field”) providing an appropriately bright send-off to the last of the sunshine.