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Rockness - June 7-9 2013 (Live Review)

Friday, 14 June 2013 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

Rockness continues to carve out its own niche, and this year it re-established its position as Scotland's premier dance music festival after a more open field last year. Basement Jaxx and Fatboy Slim were at the forefront of things and proved to be a big draw at a festival capable of providing something different.

In a nice role-reversal for festival-goers in the UK, the weather behaved. Campers were greeted with an extended walk to the campsite beneath clear skies and in sweltering heat. No mud and no rain made for an upbeat and amiable festival, but the end-of-day dehydration, sunburn and sudden changes in temperature (a drop of 12 degrees each night) meant the late-night raves at the Afterburner stage were a surreal experience.

The atmosphere in the Sub Club tent, which became the Red Bull Takeover stage on Sunday, was just as ablaze. Deep house producer Huxley kicked off the party here with a hypnotic and varied set, putting several bigger names on the bill to shame. Fatboy Slim, for example, took a while to pull out of first gear in his “featuring” slot, a tag that reflected the fact that he didn’t roll out the hits. Right Here, Right Now sadly didn't extend beyond the intro, and the first half of his set featured monotonous, recycled loops. Not that Mr. Cook looked anything other than enthused. He lacked the imagination displayed on his last trip here (a fantastic Glasgow show in February), but by the time he'd donned his own mask, the mantra of Eat. Sleep. Rave. Repeat was well drilled into the crowd.

But what of those trendy, trendy dubstep sounds? Genre-twisting Monsta did a decent Skrillex impression, perhaps only because they are signed to his label, while Madeon and Bristol hotshot Redlight threw in the odd wonky drop. But dubstep aficionados were best served by the old guard, such as garage veterans Skream and Benga.

The biggest show of the weekend was delivered by Basement Jaxx who, having disappeared off the radar for a while, seemed to throw in everything but the kitchen sink.

Good Luck, Romeo, Where's Your Head At and Red Alert are the sort of crowd-pleasing tunes that only Fatboy Slim could have contended with, and a million different singers sporting  ridiculous feathery costumes ensured this was the grandest spectacle on display.

Unfortunately for them, Above & Beyond still managed to blow them away. As they mixed classic tunes like Can't Sleep and Sun & Moon into their transcendent and exhilarating set, it was easy to wish that more DJs followed their example. Instead of rushing into breakdowns every few bars, the trio demonstrated the power of building up to a crescendo better than anyone else on the bill. Perhaps their sound isn't trendy anymore, but the rapturous reaction suggests they still have a huge following.

For the moments when the crowds weren't dancing, the festival combined two popular features this year with a day's worth of comedy at the famous Black Isle pub. As ever, it was hit and miss, with Scottish mainstays Billy Kirkwood and Alan Anderson as sardonic as ever, and Stuart Mitchell proving the most comfortable 'newcomer' to the stage. Big names Dylan Moran and Daniel Sloss also warmed up the crowd even more on Saturday with some cynical celtic observations, particularly on festivals.

There was nothing cynical about everyone's favourite dreadlocked troubadour Newton Faulkner, who gave the sleepiest performance of the weekend, even by his standards. Let's just say that those wondering whether to purchase anything by him, don't. That said, his interpretation of Massive Attack's Teardrop remains a solid cover that highlights everything that is, or rather could, be good about his sound. Bombay Bicycle Club, conversely, seem to be improving album by album, and cuts such as Your Eyes and Leave It sounded impeccable live. They were certainly more refreshing than the Futureheads, who decided to play no less than three A cappella tracks in the middle of their set. It’s easy to respect the fact that they're trying to move on from the flavourless NME crowd that they emerged from, but their set only really recovered when they reached their cover of Hounds of Love which, unfortunately, remains their best song.

Alabama 3's eccentric mix of acid house and blues rock (and gospel and soul and punk and whatever else), was a bit out-of-place on the main stage, although their rollicking blues tracks worked a lot better than their pseudo-political commentaries. Madness, on the other hand, embraced such a slot by throwing in every skank-friendly tune in their catalogue. Newer songs worked surprisingly well alongside classics Night Boat to Cairo and One Step Beyond.

Running from Madness to Netsky was quite a change of scenery, but the Belgian drum ‘n’ bass man proved to be a highlight of the weekend. With an effective hypeman, incredible live band and a good mix of tempos and styles, from funk to dancehall, Netsky closed off one of the hottest festivals in living memory. Though it lacked the controversies of last year, RockNess is as exciting as ever, providing you're there to rave regardless of what the weekend throws at you.



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