Music review: Connect Festival, Royal Highland Centre Showgrounds, Edinburgh

Judging by the success of its Saturday line-up, featuring the Chemical Brothers and Kathryn Joseph, the Connect festival deserves to become a regular fixture at Ingliston, writes David Pollock

Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands, aka Chemical Brothers
Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands, aka Chemical Brothers

Connect Festival, Royal Highland Centre Showgrounds, Edinburgh *****

Saturday night at Scotland’s newest (kind of) music festival ended in the sort of triumphant emotion which only a set by the Chemical Brothers can trigger. The electronic duo have built a career on producing dependably infectious music for quarter of a century, which continues to find the perfect pop hook in a repetitive techno beat.

This consistency also means they’ve amassed a store of great music for their renowned live set, which filled a field at Ingliston which is more used to seeing cattle paraded around it at the Royal Highland Show than the barrage of strobe and laser lighting on display.

Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons remained near-anonymous amid the cataclysm generated around them, their always-impressive lightshow abetted by some inventive visual elements, like the crackling onscreen figure made of pure electricity which shadow-boxed its way through the closing Galvanize.

To describe what they do as a “greatest hits” set doesn’t do it justice – it was more a continuously-flowing DJ set built on their outstanding repertoire of music, some of their songs played in full and others a series of vocal and melodic hooks blended through new bridging beats.

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Their biggest songs – Block Rockin’ Beats, Hey Boy Hey Girl, Got To Keep On, Do It Again – all appeared, and their list of guest artists over the years meant some interesting pre-recorded “cameos”, including Noel Gallagher on Setting Sun and New Order’s Bernard Sumner on Under The Influence (and a snippet of his own band’s Temptation). After the disappointment of Massive Attack’s unfortunate cancellation as Friday night headliner, the Chemicals provided the first evidence of just how spectacular the new Connect can be.

Although it only existed for two years in 2007 and 2008, Connect retains a special place in the heart of all those who attended. Held in Inveraray on the banks of Loch Fyne, it was DF Concerts’ more mature, boutique alternative to T in the Park, at that point still one of the largest and most successful festivals in the UK. The original Connect attracted a slew of interesting big names, including Bjork, the Beastie Boys and the Jesus and Mary Chain, but the post financial crash downturn saw it cancelled in ’09 and then quietly shelved.

Kathryn Joseph

Since then, the music festival landscape in Scotland has changed considerably – for starters T in the Park has gone, mutated into the city-based TRNSMT, a non-camping festival which attracts a significantly younger crowd. And while small-scale boutique festivals seem to thrive around the country, the truly huge international artists are now more likely to be found at one-off city events like DF’s Summer Sessions and the Big Top at Ingliston. There is, in other words, definitely a gap to be plugged, and the revival of Connect – which has been in the planning since just before the pandemic – appears to be the solution.

The main Grand Parade stage featured other electronic-based artists in the shape of jazz-house combine Bonobo and the ever-fierce analogue hybrid Caribou, their sets split by the kind of typically epic main stage performance to which Scotland’s own Twilight Sad were born, now with Frightened Rabbit’s Grant Hutchison installed as full-time drummer.

For those who wanted to make this a clubbing festival, the compact Unknown Pleasures stage by the wooded glade near the entrance featured DJs including Erol Alkan and Krystal Klear; for those who prefer Guitars And Other Machines, as the second stage is named, Kathryn Joseph’s solo set with piano was fierce and poignant, and Ride’s full performance of their debut album Nowhere was shoegaze perfection, although they faced a struggle to draw an audience away from the Chemicals.

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With a spoken word tent, a wellbeing area and good food also on offer, the return of Connect had everything but a full-capacity audience. But we can look forward to its legend deservedly growing over time.