Review: Beacons Festival

Nestled comfortably in the Yorkshire dairy hills, Beacons Festival was a less comfortable five hour car ride north away from one of London’s hottest weekends of the summer.  As the storm-clouds gathered and temperature dropped the further north we ventured, the stage was set for a most typical of wet northern festivals. Thankfully though this sense of predictability was short-lived from the moment we were welcomed by a minefield of cowpat in the car park and a colourful sign bidding us farewell before we’d even set foot on site.

Beacons was no ordinary festival mainly because we hadn’t anticipated how small it would be. Obvious benefits meant more space to camp, shorter queues for the toilets and quicker journeys to and from tent and arena. But the size also had a knock-on effect for other things. It’s taken as a given at festivals that there’ll be moody security guards, cattle-market-like conditions inside the music tents, extortionate alcohol prices and a lack of green grass to rest your dancing legs, but none of this was the case at Beacons. It made for a refreshing change, and that’s without even mentioning the music.

On Friday, Submotion Orchestra’s jazzy Dubstep was the perfect prelude to a raucous evening with new tracks like It’s Not Me It’s You standing up well alongside the best from their first album. And then lady-of-the-moment, Jessie Ware hypnotised a packed-out tent with her charming debut album the week before its release. Mount Kimbie must be tired of touring with material predominantly from 2010’s Crooks and Lovers but you wouldn’t know judging by the enthusiasm Dom and Kai still bring to their strictly live sets. A couple of new tracks were aired, but we’ll wait to hear the studio version before judging properly. Julio Bashmore was the only big name to withdraw but was there in spirit with his festival friendly Au Seve ringing out periodically from the Greendales Stage. L-Vis 1990 made for a worthy late fill-in, but it would’ve been nice to see Disclosure further up the bill to make up for the absence of House .

The next evening, standards were kept high on the dance front with a journey through Juke/Footwerk (Bok Bok), vast and bassy soundscapes (Stay + and Koreless), then anything worth shaking a leg to in Oneman’s set of the weekend. The latter two also get the award for the weekend’s biggest reactions. Koreless dropping New Order’s Blue Monday and Oneman with Rick James’s Superfreak was unexpected but inspired, given the crowd’s varied age range, no doubt helped by Toots & The Maytals getting top billing. And boy did they impress. The Roots Reggae of Frederick “Toots” Hibbert and his Maytals didn’t pack the audio punch of Maya Jane Coles, playing at the same time next door, but help from the crowd carried them over in some of the best sing-a-long moments of the three days. Other notable performances came from sample-supremo Star Slinger, the crooning King Krule, and the dependable and calming Willy Mason.

It wasn’t until Beacons mentioned on their Facebook after the festival that I realised it was their first year. A seasoned pro at first attempt, hopefully it will be a mainstay for many summers to come.

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