An afternoon of bright sun and blue skies can only have helped blow away any sense of trepidation which lingered around the opening day of T in the Park’s 2016 edition. There’s no doubt the festival has a lot to prove this year, but the truth is that very little of what needed to change was within the site. The crowds had arrived okay, and they would find out much later (we all would, after time of writing) if the organisers had figured out how to get us off the site properly this year.
T in the Park: Friday | Rating ****
In the early evening, though, everyone was relaxed and making good use of all the sunbathing potential offered by a couple of fields of as-yet-unspoiled grass. The Slam Tent, typically packed from Friday afternoon until Sunday night by a clubbing crowd of specialised tastes, was noticeably sparse for the not insignificant DJ and production duo of Germany’s Ricardo Villalobos and Romania’s Raresh playing a set of deep but groove-laden house back to back with one another.
Yet the Slam Tent has ever-increasing competition. It’s an accepted truth that the festival landscape is changing, thanks to a swathe of smaller boutique events combined with audiences who have less money. This year, Reading/Leeds has drawn attention for significantly increasing its pop content; T has responded by going ever-heavier on music which may once have been segregated off into the ‘dance’ ghetto. Sets earlier in the day included dependable old-stagers like Fun Lovin’ Criminals and widely recognised popular balladeer James Morrison, but the evening saw the entire BBC Radio 1-sponsored second stage given over to the station’s Friday night dance music programming.
It’s an impressively open-minded step, yet one which seemed obvious in context. Mitigating for the often-criticised lack of visual appeal of watching someone DJ, three-dimensional screens the height of the stage combined visual effects and inventive camera angles on the talent to great effect. The evening was presented by and included sets from the stations two main dance presenters Annie Mac and Pete Tong alongside big names like Hannah Wants and Oliver Heldens, and when Mac announced over lithe, crunching house beats that “we are broadcasting live around the world on BBC Radio 1, let me hear you!”, the forward thinking nature of this experiment became apparent. It’s the basis for a real multi-media set, festival headline as extended online broadcast which may have been enjoyed live by someone out jogging across the globe or on the bus to work next week.
It’s all a quantum leap on from the comparatively recent norm of weekly boys-with-guitars-in-bands chronicle NME co-sponsoring the same stage, and even when the modern cream of such bands appeared here, the tone had changed; main stage Manchester indie-rockers the Courteeners honouring this new landscape with a medley of Daft Punk’s Robot Rock and Sunday night headliners’ LCD Soundsystem’s Daft Punk is Playing at My House before their own smoke flare-abetted and appropriately wistful anthem Not Nineteen Forever, and a burst of James’ Tomorrow.
Hugely successful Brit dance group Disclosure bridged these two increasingly porous worlds from the opposite direction with a set of predominantly electronic music abetted by heavy amounts of live instrumentation. Against all early fears for this years T, particularly in light of the unquestionable tragedy which occurred before it even opened, the first day was an unqualified success - celebratory, light-hearted and forward-thinking, both artistically and through the much more natural and accessible new layout of the site. Soon after these words have been filed, the Stone Roses - an era-defining band whose reputation is undimmed and who were early proponents of breaking down the barrier between live stage and dancefloor - will be better placed than anyone to end it on a continued high.