Festival review: Rockness

RocknessDores, near Inverness ****

NOW in its sixth year and holding steady at an attendance of 35,000 hardy souls willing to brave the mixture of reluctant sunshine and misty drizzle that is a Highland summer, RockNess has once more stayed true to the original programming ethos which gives it a stand-out personality amongst mainstream major music festivals. That is: a combination of big-name and exclusive headliners; a diligently chosen array of up-and-coming acts to strengthen a bill obviously not selected using the resources of, say, T in the Park; and, most importantly, a willingness to allow dance acts at least equal prominence to the more typical festival line-up of all-male guitar bands.

It's the latter philosophy which meant that Saturday's headliners the Chemical Brothers were the strongest contenders for this year's festival highlight. Before they even arrived on stage, the hill which slopes down to the main arena and a stunning view over the banks of Loch Ness was already crammed with Saturday night ravers dancing to a hypnotic and decidedly dancefloor-unfriendly version of the Beatles' Tomorrow Never Knows.

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All but invisible under three massive screens showing stunning digital images for each track, "Brothers" Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands went on to play one continuous mix of their catalogue's highlights, often blending two songs together as on mash-ups of Do It Again with Get Yourself High and Out of Control with Setting Sun.

Everything came together - sharp sound quality, bass which rattled up from the ground, the ferocious atmosphere generated by the crowd, the evening's drizzle finally stopping - to make for a truly special set.

Many might have felt sorry for the Cribs at this point, playing to a large under-canvas second stage which was barely a quarter full. And the weekend's other headliners were unable to provide anything even half as memorable. Fortunately, Friday's main draw Kasabian are no strangers to working a rowdy and expectant crowd themselves; and, on Sunday night, Paolo Nutini had home advantage on his side.

The closing night, in fact, saw a locally sourced double bill let loose upon the particularly up-for-it crowd, with Glasvegas taking prominent second billing. Although those tracks played from their new album EUPHORIC /// HEARTBREAK ((( are perhaps best suited to soundtracking the latter than the former, the band command a respectful adoration, with a full-voiced closing singalong of Daddy's Gone causing singer James Allen (given the uncanny appearance, thanks to strong UV stage lights and the properties of the video cameras used, the appearance of a metal-skinned Terminator) to grin, "we've made it."

Nutini, meanwhile, is an artist at last worthy of a festival headline slot, having grown diligently into it. His old-man-busker inflections have been strengthened by a real power and soulfulness on older tracks like Jenny Don't Be Hasty and New Shoes, while the now ubiquitous Pencil Full of Lead and cheeky heritage rock-styled covers of Hot Chip's Over & Over and MGMT's Time to Pretend showcased an artist of ambitious versatility. There were many other highlights lower down the bill - the sexualised psychopunk of Glasgow's resurgent Sons & Daughters, epic dance sets from Beardyman, Simian Mobile Disco and Radio 1's Annie Mac and infectious pop anthemics from London rapper Example - but many must have felt that the headliners and the atmosphere alone had been worth their money this year.

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