Music review: Skye Live, Portree, Isle Of Skye

Johnny Lynch (aka Pictish Trail )
Johnny Lynch (aka Pictish Trail )
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BY THE middle of the week before, it had appeared as though Storm Ali might blow the main marquee used by the Skye Live festival off the Lump – the small grassy hill jutting out from the shore of the town of Portree – and into the Sound of Raasay. In which case, everyone from organisers to campers should feel happy that a dreich couple of days was all they had to contend with, the rain showers and late night chill feeling less like the very end of the summer season and more like the beginning of winter.

Skye Live, Portree, Isle Of Skye ****

As usual, Skye Live’s location and the beauty of its surroundings (even in the rain) makes it one of the most unique festivals in Scotland, although this year it felt more like two festivals in the same location over one weekend. With a dual imperative to attract people from the Central Belt and appeal to locals, the bill was a blend of bigger names and young, forward-thinking folk acts; in the former category the emphasis was placed more on DJs than in the past, certainly on the Friday, and the show that evening had more of the feel of a miniature Slam Tent.

Still, the DJs were extremely well-chosen, and there was a heavy emphasis on the outdoor Tower Stage on some of the best DJs in Scotland, including Ribeka, Big Miz and Éclair Fifi. In the tented Talisker Stage – structure safely fastened to the ground now – the headliner was Denis Sulta, aka Hector Barbour, a young producer from Glasgow’s West End whose DJ sets have become internationally renowned this year for his buoyant showmanship and a sublime cross-cutting of contemporary club music with euphoric blasts from disco’s past like, in this case, the Emotions’ You’ve Got the Best of My Love and D’Train’s You’re the One For Me.

After a clubby Friday, Saturday’s bill was more familiar from past Skye Lives, an eclectic but enjoyably area-specific blend of young traditional groups, electronic artists and leftfield indie-pop artists. As with the DJs chosen the previous day, the gender balance among the trad selections was positive, with the excellent young all-female groups Heisk and the Kinnaris Quintet sharing the bill with the lively and well-established Session A9, and the group whose reaction marked them out as de facto headliners; the Skye-based Niteworks, an innovative and thrilling blend of raw club electronica and pipe band drums and bagpipes.

Raising an extra cheer for declaring themselves “from the Isle of Eigg”, near-neighbour Johnny Lynch’s band Pictish Trail were a highlight as ever, although perhaps not as decisive a one as last year’s headliners Django Django, whose quirky electronic pop their sound recalls. Taking advantage of the new 2am curfew, Leeds’ Vessels closed with an energising set of live electro, although earlier in the day the Tower Stage’s Mac-Talla Nan Creag – an evocative assembly of electronic beats, archaeological recordings and Drew ‘Wounded Knee’ Wright’s drone-like vocal, led by Edinburgh’s Firecracker Recordings – was perhaps the defining example of Skye Live’s spirit of island and mainland cultural collaboration. - DAVID POLLOCK