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RockNess Festival – Inverness, Scotland

Festivals live or die by their line-up, of course, but what do you do when you are competing with other, bigger festivals for the same acts? Do what Rockness did; simply mark time until someone worth booking is available. Hence why Rockness was one of the most uneven festival line-ups you are ever likely to see. Such giants as Friendly Fires, Crystal Castles, Soulwax, 2manydjs and Ian Brown were presented in headline slots across Friday and Saturday along with Fatboy Slim, the only act out of those mentioned who could genuinely claim to be a top attraction.

This was due to the money being spent on acts who were appearing at the Isle of Wight Festival and unable to attend til Sunday. The booking of the first two days was akin to trying to make the last of the butter do one more sandwich. No matter how hard you scrape, you’ll have to spread it too thin to be of any value. Unless, for example, someone really thought they could book Leftfield as a headline act – in 2010 – and get away with it.

Sunday’s line-up is studded with headliners, however it kicks off with the frankly irritating Twin Atlantic. They sound a bit like Biffy Clyro, a bit like Frightened Rabbit and are just preternaturally dull. Singer Sam McTrusty growls ‘is that the best you’ve got, RockNess?’ after the band’s first average offering. The resounding answer from the deservedly apathetic crowd seems to be no, it’s the most you deserve. Twin Atlantic are endemic of modern acts who are over-imbued with a sense of entitlement. It’s not the crowd’s job to get the act going. If someone has told Sam and his mates that it is, they need re-educated. They dick about for another twenty uninspired minutes. They leave. No-one cares.

Hadouken! have an exclamation act in their name and a few Prodigy records and they are going to use them, dammit. It’s the sort of nu-rave everyone was going nuts for in 2007 and doesn’t care about any more. This is a shame, as Hadouken! try really hard and deserve credit for really shooting for the stars. Sadly, perspiration minus inspiration makes for a workmanlike set, no matter how loud you shout. When watching them, it’s hard to escape the feeling that this is as good as it gets for them. Is anyone out there actually a Hadouken! fan?

The Maccabees are a lovely little pop band who make shy, diffident pop music. Songs which sound so fragile you worry that they might get lost on the wind on the way out. However, singer Orlando’s vulnerability gives them an underdog charm which the crowd seize on and you can almost feel the audience willing them on. ‘Toothpaste Kisses’ and ‘Precious Time’ are dear little things, before a more bombastic stride through ‘No Kind Words’ shows a darker side to their sound. The Maccabees are chess club members, but that’s not a bad thing. There are a lot of people who like their indie to have a heart, and this band certainly do.

Next up, almost staggeringly early, are Blondie. Some uncharitable souls may suggest this is due to bedtime approaching, but these comments dissipate as soon as they hit the stage. Simply put, she still looks like Debbie Harry. The hair may be a wig these days, but the piercing eyes and pout remain. they draw the biggest crowd of the festival by far and it’s quite clear that people see Harry as the icon she is, far more so than the male-dominated monthlies give her credit for. It’s suitably reverent.

The bad news first; they play far too many new songs which, although listenable, simply halt the momentum. The sound, meanwhile, is just terrible. It’s a horrendous day, with gusty winds swirling round the arena, but it seems to grab the noise and throw it over the crowd randomly. Sometimes you see a note being played seconds before you hear it. The bass will be the only thing present before the rest arrives and takes over. No-one in the sound booth seems to have prepared for this.

But then, the hits; and what songs they are. ‘Hanging on the Telephone’, ‘Atomic’, ‘One Way or Another’ – nuggets of pure pop gold. She radiates dark serenity, like the White Queen after a bloody mary and has something so many modern pop stars do not; presence. Debbie Harry still has it.

Did Doves ever, really, or were we all just desperate for something British to hang our hats on after the Strokes re-energized guitar music? They are just so terribly average. There are two Doves songs; the pounding, lurching one and the slower, trippy one. It works well in small bursts. ‘Pounding’, ‘Catch the Sun’ and ‘There Goes the Fear’ are fine songs. Everything else is filler. Add in the charisma of a cheese and onion crisp and the stage presence of a shop dummy riven with depression and you have one painfully dull hour. People love them, but people love a lot of shit things in this country. Doves are a musical Pot Noodle.

God bless Vampire Weekend. Their albums at first seemed a little too clever, a little too arch, but repeated listening unlocks the truth; they are almost metronomically perfect albums, uncluttered, unfussy and pin-sharp. nary a note is wasted, a string section here, a keyboard section there, everything fitting perfectly. Live, they seemed too big too quick on their first trip round Blighty in 2008, like they hadn’t learned their craft properly yet. This is no longer an issue. Two years of touring has honed them to a similar level as the records.

They get pretty much their whole recorded output in over the course of a pulsing, shimmering hour. Highlights are too many to name, but ‘Giving Up the Gun’, ‘Oxford Comma’ and ‘Horchata’ are just sublime. Vampire Weekend are just great. It’s as basic and as simple as that.

And now The Strokes. Excitement has risen throughout the day, and it’s patently obvious that this is the act which has made most people part with their hard-earned. They amble on, no longer the terrifyingly thin young men of a decade ago. they look like…well, rock stars, like a young Rolling Stones. But they do exactly what the whole place wanted; the best of the three albums, no fuss, no frills.

Is This It? was the noughties version of Horses; everybody owns it but hasn’t played it in years. Tonight is a brisk reminder of just how great it was. Starting with ‘New York City Cops’, they play almost all of their debut, throwing in the best from the other two albums as well. The stage show is a minimalist New York electro-art piece of hipster cool. The Strokes were always too cool for mere mortals. They still are, but by God, they are good.

So it ends, with ELM in no mood for the dance tent. Lesson for the organisers; if you don’t have the acts for three days, don’t run it for three days. this festival was about one day and one day only.


17 Responses

  1. The Strokes are legend. I totally agree about the poor line-up on days 1 & 2. It’s a shame really, RockNess has so much going for it, next year they need to get it right.

  2. I like this review Mr ELM. Top Marks

  3. think you should wake up from your little NME world and see that the festival was really about dance/electronica, and that those acts/djs was what the crowd were really there to see…aphex twin, soulwax, vitalic, boys noize, death crew 77, green velvet..the whole arcadia afterburner..the fact they in effect had 2 dance stages plus dance in the bolloywood on the sunday , in the strongbow & howards end tent + rizla outdoor bit..the reason is that guitar music is dieing on its arse..the strokes can only still get away with headlining a festival due to the modern age ep from 10yrs ago!!! (and lets face it the album didn’t really do that much more than the ep).

    you were at the strokes..i was at aeroplane…and they were superb..maybe ten years ago i’d have bothered with the strokes, but their time has long gone….

    rockness wsa a brilliant weekend…perhaps you just need a more open music policy?

  4. Fair points NS45, though a couple of things spring to mind. Firstly, RockNess may well have been set up as a dance/electronica festival but the organisers clearly felt they had to spend big money to get the last day headliners in. I’d suggest that was because they would have been left with piles of unsold tickets otherwise.

    Secondly, guitar music has been dying since 1962, I’ll believe it when I see it. 🙂

    And lastly, all the acts you rave about were in tents. Why? Because they are minor acts. Why? Because not enough people like them. Why? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

  5. I dont understand the point of going to see people push buttons to set off loops and samples.

  6. I have enjoyed many an electronica act live when out my tits. But past that, can’t see the point of it myself.

  7. strangely every person i’ve meet who’s been to rockness will say daft punk is the greatest live show they’ve ever seen…

    the reality is there is a lack of serious festival headline contenders doing the rounds….but to me that just proves the dirth of guitar music…eminem & jay z needed to be drafted in for titp…..

  8. The best live act I’ve seen this year is LCD Soundsystem, as the gushing review testified. Electro isn’t bad, it’s just not the bag of the people who write for this website.

    TITP sells out regardless of who is playing, mainly due to the fact that the neds and students who frequent need somewhere to go 🙂

  9. surely this is stretching the term ” live ” to breaking point ?

  10. I love a bit of controversy, but I think there are two viewpoints – dance / electro has a huge number of followers but it works better in a tent which is why they often end up there. the big headliners need to be on the main stage, they wouldn’t go otherwise. at every festival there should be room for both and then the dance and indie fans can bond (and thereafter live in peace)

  11. Adrian – who loves dance more than ELM?

  12. I fucking hate Daft Punk. They suck dogs raw cock.

  13. I dont like dance and I dont like indie , can I have my own tent please ?

  14. That would be “The Alt. Country and Folk-ish singer/ songwriter and Kraftwerk and Joy Division sponsored by Four Roses Bourbon and Malboro Lights Tent” then, Dusty??

  15. thats got me pitching a tent of my very own !

    I think I might change my real name to “Dusty ” by deed pole .

  16. know this is an old post but just found this website agreed sunday was the best day but friday was also amazing (Flood of Red, Pendulum, Canterbury , Enter Shikari) could of done without saturday though where i was in Twin Atlantic was right next to a fairly rowdy mosh pit so dno why mr mctrusty wasnt happy with the crowd

    Danananananaykryod and The Xcerts also rocked sunday and the Go Norht unsigned tent was really good

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