Review: Common People 2017

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Three years in and Common People has become a firm fixture in Southampton’s summer calendar. Taking up residence on the Saturday and Sunday of the second bank holiday weekend of May, it has the luxury of being the first taste of festival season for many of its attendees, lending it a very special atmosphere.

The festival shares its line-up with its twin sister in Oxford, the main acts performing at one site on the first day and swapping to the other on the second, giving the two near identical line-ups, bar a few welcome accents from local acts.

As per the festivals previous iterations, Southampton Common played host to four distinct stages, along with a range of attractions for young and old. Those in attendance last year will have noticed little change this time around, as the site remained relatively the same. The world’s largest bouncy castle made its return, along with the festival’s kids area, meanwhile cocktails were served up to the sound of laid back rhythms at the Sugar Skulls bus and a range of artists presented by Southampton’s own renowned indie venue, The Joiners, took to the Uncommon Stage to offer an alternative soundtrack to the big names of the mainstage.

Across the four stages Common People once again offered a varied line-up throughout both days. The quality of the headliners themselves also felt stronger across the board than previous outings of the festival. It’s hard to fault Midland and My Nu Leng’s ability to close the Uncontained stage on both days, if only for the fact I had to forego Midland’s set as it coincided with the first festival appearance of Pete Tong’s Ibiza Classics project.

Joining forces with Jules Buckley and the Heritage Orchestra, Tong has arranged a selection of neo-classical re-imaginings of some of the best loved dance anthems that have become synonymous with the white isle. Since first debuting at the Royal Albert Halls for the Radio 1 Proms in 2015, Tong has performed a select number of gigs including a sold out date at the O2, whilst the tie-in album climbed to number one in the UK album charts last year. Little needs to be said of Pete Tong’s credentials as a selector, but as one of the nation’s greatest ambassadors for dance music it only seems fitting for him to head up such a project. It’s no surprise, therefore that the set list Tong has compiled is hard to fault, bursting at the seams with emotive and iconic records that have punctuate key moments in many a night out before. Hearing these tracks again anew, with the depth of sound afforded only by a full orchestra, was nothing short of spectacular. There’s no doubt, that if asked their favorite moment of the set everyone will have a different answer. Tracks like ‘Go’ by Moby, though heard time and time again, were able to produce the same chills as the very first listen, and it stands as testament to the quality of the original producer’s musicianship that their compositions carry all the ingredients to translate so successfully. From the get-go with the swell of the strings section on Fatboy Slim’s ‘Right Here Now’ to the calming interlude of ‘Pacific State’, and the euphoric climax of Faithless’ ‘Insomnia’, the crowd were in rapture.

Heavy rain on Sunday afternoon did little to dampen attendees’ spirits and at the Uncontained Stage Goldie turned in a reggae set, closely followed by the ever reliable of Redlight. At the mainstage Groove Armada played a curiously circular set returning to tried and tested records that they had opened with, Breach’s ‘Jack’ and ‘You got the Love’, to close their set. These and the boys’ own production Superstylin’ marked the only real moments that amped the crowd up in a pre-headliner set that was arguably a little too relaxed to ever fully take off.

What followed was a shameless opportunity to cut loose as Kingston’s biggest dancehall export instigated some questionable moves to the sound of ‘Like Glue’, ‘Get Busy’, and of course ‘Temperature’. Sean Paul doesn’t initially appear to be the most relevant of headliners, having turned in his aforementioned hits during the noughties, but given the way that dancehall inspired rhythms have been infiltrating the charts recently, borrowing a selection of the most popular culprits, including Bieber’s ‘Sorry’, Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’, and Sia’s ‘Cheap Thrills’ (on which he has a feature) to weave into his set, Sean Paul delighted the crowd by pulling together club tunes new and old.

7.5 Dependable

Serving up a varied line-up of different genres and a mix of chart artists and those lesser known, the festival has found its audience, and by now most will know if the festival is for them or not. The programming successfully manages broad appeal, however those with more specific tastes will likely find themselves catered to by just one of the stages throughout the whole event. Round three of Common People Southampton was undoubtedly a success, and memorable this year for the stand-out booking of Pete Tong and the Heritage Orchestra.

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