ALTHOUGH everyone muddled through in 2017, there’s a general acceptance that last year’s edition of the Doune the Rabbit Hole music festival – a boutique event with much goodwill behind it and a strong reputation for putting on a variety of quality artists – had been something of a washout, both literally and metaphorically. While irritating, drizzly rain was a factor in dampening spirits, an element of poor organisation, with some bands not appearing, had also contributed.
Cardross Estate, near Stirling ****
Yet still, plenty of people had fun last year and enjoyed what music there was – plenty of it, still – because Doune the Rabbit Hole is the kind of event which succeeds due to its audience taking ownership and remaining loyal.
So the crowds were back once more last weekend, even though the old sloping site to the rear of Cardross House had apparently been so damaged last year that the entire festival had to be shifted to another part of the estate.
Yet if this change really was enforced by circumstances, then it was one for the better. Where the large patch of grass enclosed by the snaking driveway which loops back to the main road had previously been a rather spacious car park, this year it also housed the campsite and the festival site itself. Both were so close to one another that music could still be heard from most tents, while the festival area felt far more compact and busy, although not overcrowded.
The atmosphere was, as ever, bohemian and laid-back, probably more akin to the free festivals of the 1970s than the corporately sponsored affairs which draw large audiences nowadays.
The line-up was refreshingly off-piste as well, with Friday’s reduced line-up including strong emerging Scottish talents like Rapid Tan and Bas Jan, dub-rave festival survivors of the 1990s Dreadzone, and rapper and political activist Akala.
On Saturday the sun beat down, as it did for most of the weekend, and holiday tans emerged while children and dogs ran around the site. In the small Whistleblower tent, Lost Map signing Alabaster DePlume played a baroque set of off-the-wall folk-pop and Glasgow’s Trongate Rum Riots played rowdy, late-evening sea shanties.
The slightly larger Baino tent was headlined by the Orb, ambient house producers whose greatest flush of fame came in the 1990s, yet whose audio/visual set remains evocative and contemporary, and in the small dance tent at the rear of the site, its line-up hidden and unfairly ignored, Glasgow DJ Sarra Wild’s set was outstanding, a joyous fusion of house, rap, R’n’B and classic pop.
The open-air main stage, meanwhile, featured among others a joyful folk set from the Peatbog Fairies, which included occasional electronic interventions and a procession of circus performers walking on one another’s shoulders through the crowd, although the fuzzy nouveau psychedelic rock of headliners Temples saw the crowd thin out dramatically when a large-scale fire-juggling display occurred across the site.
Sunday saw appearances from perhaps the most identifiable names, including the Levellers, Big Country and Aidan Moffat and RM Hubbert, but this year’s Doune the Rabbit Hole was once more the kind of event which didn’t rely as heavily on the choice of music as the general atmosphere and the benefits of good, effective organisation.