Review: Common People Festival 2015, Southampton

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Saturday 23rd May saw Southampton open its arms to welcome a brand new festival onto the common. Curated by the acclaimed creative team behind the Isle of White’s Bestival, many of us were hoping that Common People would be able to bring the same experience to Southampton.

In its central location, access to the site was relatively easy; situated on numerous bus routes, and being walking distance from Southampton Central train station. Entering the festival I was amazed by the size, as I wasn’t expecting the first time festival to be of such a scale as to rival a full camping festival on its first outing. The evenly balanced mainstage line-up of up and coming acts and some familiar names for the older generations had clearly worked effectively to draw in a mixed crowd: Something for everyone. Coupled with a range of discounted ticket plans aimed at both students and families, the crowd was far larger than I had expected and consisted of all-ages.

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The stages were orientated around a central helter scelter, the Mainstage, Big Top and Uncommon Stage, placed around it to the south, west, and north, respectively. Further on in the woods above the Uncommon stage was the kids area. Elsewhere the Day of the Dead cocktail bar presented itself to be an adult playground with music throughout the day, raised platforms and booths made from old camping trailers. Surrounding this area were a few other diversions like The People’s Front Room, a knitting tent and a couple of women with hula hoops in front of the shisha tent. Though, based on my experiences at Bestival, I was hoping a bit more would be on offer in terms of alternative entertainment. As for the VIP area, The Nook sported a private bar beneath an open fronted tepeee canopy that lead into a spacious reserve with a great view of mainstage. VIP provided a luxury experience, but the spacious common ensured that there were plenty of chillout areas available elsewhere, as many set-up camps and picnic rugs across the south-side of the site all the while retaining a clear view of the mainstage.

Saturday

Having completed the customary lap of the site I headed on in to the Big Top to catch Dusky in an oddly early slot. Despite the fact that the London based house duo would be more atmospheric in the evening they drew a solid crowd. The pair played an immersive comprised of dark and melodic techno and house. Slowly teasing in their own releases, the arrival of tracks such as ‘YooHoo’ were heralded by whooping and applause, and near the tail end of their set ‘Inta’ ignited the crowd the moment its set in. The transition over to Jeremy Underground proved to be a little problematic, so the duo got extra time on the decks whilst technicians fixed what appeared to be a problem with the second mixer.

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By the middle of the afternoon the sun was out and Jaguar Skills was entertaining a lively crowd at the main stage with a medley of sure-fire dance anthems. What you get from a Jag Skills set is comparable to what you’d get if you took an Annie Mac compilation, combined it with your noughties classics playlist and added in an extra bit of drum and bass for good measure. Put together in his customary high speed cut and paste style, the masked ninja skipped from genre to genre and kept the crowd hungry for more, unafraid to pull a few rewinds to keep the crowd baying for more.

Returning to the Big Top, Dense & Pika could be found pushing the crowd to their limits with an aggressive set that gradually built the tempo to blistering heights. Combined with some abrasive synth driven tracks, the Hotflush mainstays proved that you don’t have to rely on basslines to deliver a brutal set.

Bringing the festival to a close after its first day, was one of the UK’s most universally respected DJs, Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim. Confident, energetic it was a testament to Cook’s experience that he could command the mainstage so effortlessly. The organisers had evidently put a lot of effort into the production for Cook’s set: It was accompanied by visuals on the large LED display behind him. I was surprised to hear Cook build up his monster hit ‘Eat Sleep Rave Repeat’ only to drop it to Knife Party’s LRAD, considering that the latter track has been absolutely rinsed in festival sets for the past couple of years. Fatboy was far more creative elsewhere in his set, showcasing his production talent by incorporating unique edits. The obvious crowd-pleaser ‘Uptown Funk’, was reinvigorated with a teased out intro, guest vocals from Idris Elba and two bongo drum breaks on Cook’s rework of the song with Jerome Robins. Elsewhere in the set it was Fatboy Slim’s penchant for looping simple vocal lines that proved most popular as ‘What the Fuck?’ and ‘Jacking With Your Mum’ got the crowd involved regardless of whether they knew the track or not. The explosive set finished with an apt finale, as Fatboy followed up a novelty spin of Pulp’s Common People, by wheeling in Rob da Bank on a piano dressed in top and tails, accompanied by a choir to perform ‘Praise You’.

Sunday

For anyone still reeling from Saturday, Slaves’ raucous set woke up anyone that was still trying to shake off the effects of the night before. The two piece punk band had oodles of stage presence. Guitarist Laurie Vincent exuded plenty of swagger, but it was frontman, Issacc Holman who stole the show. Holman’s frenzied performance is simply incredible to watch as he flails with primal energy, shrieking lyrics and playing drums at the same time. His performance is so unique it’s hard to tear your eyes away. Though the crowd were a little hesitant at first by the duo’s raw sound so early in the day, they were soon brought on side as Holman rallied them to his cause, following often bizarre monologues with the brutal delivery of intense drumbeats. By the end the pair had won the crowd over and stirred up a mosh pit.

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Throughout the day I visited the Uncommon Stage, which carried a more laidback air, partially due to the adjacent bar and seating that meant it was largely frequented by the older festival go-ers. Each visit offered something completely different as a wide variety of artists had been given slots. As promised the stage offered a mix of the weird and the wonderful, as a range of imaginative and quirky artists performed with interesting set-ups. Cholombian’s set was a real standout of the weekend. Chatting to us earlier this year Mitch spoke about the debut of a new live setup and I wasn’t disappointed as the tent’s soundsystem gave his ethereal set clarity, enabling him to show off the craftsmanship of his productions and allowing all to appreciate their intricacies. The sounds was beautifully rich and dynamic, perfect from an acoustic perspective.

Having been named winners of the BBC Sound of 2015 award, and given the Critics Choice at the Brit Awards, Years & Years are on paper a flawless booking. Their arrival on stage was greeted by the shrill shrieks of a teenage audience, however their catchy brand of electropop was infectious enough to get everyone moving. The trio wheeled out their chart topping single, ‘King’ to finish their set to a rapturous response.

Once again the Big Top had a commendable line-up, thanks to Warehouse. Friend Within played to a full tent in the early evening. Among a set of crowd pleasers, it was Disclosure’s ‘Bang That’ that kicked things into overdrive. Behind the decks Friend Within could be seen to partying just as hard as the crowd and everyone was absolutely loving. An extended play of his remix of The Renegade rounded off a great set. Despite a number of great performances across the weekend in the Big Top, the scale of production was somewhat lacking as the tent was kitted out with only a few lights, which seemed like absolutely nothing compared to the Space Ibiza tent at Southamtpon Soundclash. At a smaller festival this would be forgivable, but given the production value of the mainstage, it was hardly like there was a shortage of funds and it made the Big Top look a little neglected in comparison. Later on I caught a portion of Rob da Bank’s set and was a bit disappointed to hear the DJ opt for a very safe selection of commercial dance music, the kind of stuff you’d hear at pre-drinks, as opposed to the experimental left-field tracks he’s known to champion.

Arriving slightly late Clean Bandit wasted no more time, launching straight into their set with firm favourite Real Love. With guest vocalists on their most popular tracks, Clean Bandit have expertly solved the issue with a multi-talented live outfit whose skilled vocalist make the absence of the original recording artist go unnoticed. The Black Butter alumni finished with an excellent cover of ‘Show Me Love’ that had the crowd going wild again.

common-people-2015-helter-skelterRounding off the weekend Grace Jones, was undeniably an interesting choice. Her arrival took many by surprise as she emerged from a troupe of backing singers wearing a glistening golden skull as a disguise, and not much else but body paint. Despite a strong opening, energy dissipated over the course of Jones’ set due to lengthy intervals between tracks as the singer disappeared off-stage between every song for a costume change. This was made even more frustrating as, with the mike left on, Jones would fill the time with tedious monologues. By the tail end of her set Jones had thankfully managed to regain the crowd’s enthusiasm with ‘Slave to the Rhythm’ and a great rendition of the catchy ‘Pull Up to My Bumper’. Sadly this was the real highlight of her set, and her final track was hardly a memorable send off. Thankfully an impressive firework set meant that the weekend still went out with a bang.

Verdict

Overall Common People was very effectively executed and due to its format could easily be enjoyed as a single day or a weekend of music depending on punters’ preferences. Despite drawing Bestival comparisons, the festival did have its own identity. Common People certainly wasn’t a Bestival clone, however many of the favoured hallmarks are present. The mainstage bookings provided a balance of electronic and live acts that between them offered something to suit everyone’s tastes. Its important to remember that Common People is a metropolitan festival as opposed to a specialist music festival, and in this respect it excelled, offering the opportunity to experience a full weekend festival without having to commit to the camping. Thanks to solid support for their confident first outing, organisers have already confirmed that the festival will be returning next year retaining a similar format.

7.7 Excellent

A fantastic new addition to Southampton’s calendar that can be enjoyed by all. A strong offering across the site, only a few faults hold Common People back from excellence.

  • Pre Event Communication 7
  • At Event Communication 7
  • Travel to the Festival 8
  • Arrival at the Festival 8
  • "Festival Experience" 8
  • Toilets 7
  • Security & Crowd Control 6
  • All-weather Planning 7
  • Creative Content 7
  • DJ/Artist Line-up 8
  • Disabled Access 7
  • Food 9
  • Bars & Drinks 7
  • Cleanliness 7
  • Size/Scale 9
  • After-hours Entertainment 9
  • Value For Money 9
  • Technical Specification 8
  • Sound Quality 7
  • Lighting/Effects/Pyro 7
  • Extra Attractions/Activities 7
  • Local Scene Connection 10
  • Green/Recycling 8
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