Gazing out over a sunset of rolling Atlantic breakers, fluttering grass and sparkling sands of Newquay’s Watergate Bay, the dream-like arenas of the UK’s most southerly music festival, Boardmasters, attracts people from places as far afield as Manchester and Sheffield, in search of a weekend of cider-fuelled relaxation and revelry. Started during surfing’s boom years of the 1980s, the event has evolved into a national music, surfing and skate spectacle, which now numbers over 100,000 people in attendance.
The lineup improves year upon year: Basement Jaxx, Ben Howard and Tom Odell were some of the latest and greatest names to grace the Newquay shores. Strolling around to the other smaller venues and tents, you encounter other major acts such as the Etonmessy and Majestic DJ collectives, B Traits, Redlight and Bondax, whose throbbing progressive house melodies hung on the dusky sea breezes into the small hours. For those of an inclination to the heavier (and more ear-piercing) bent, one tent, ‘Mavericks’, was devoted exclusively to up and coming metal and alternative bands.
The event’s origins lie in a worldclass surfing competition that spawned a music festival: Kelly Slater, amongst others, is one of past surfing royalty to grace the breaks of Fistral Beach to compete at Boardmasters. This year, however, (perhaps disappointingly) the competition was downgraded to a smaller national tournament, as a consequence of main sponsors Vans and Relentless Energy loosening their support: some saw it as an opportunity for home-grown talent to showcase their skills, others as simply the result of a recession and the competition’s overshadowing by the burgeoning music festival. Either way, there is still some exceptional talent on display for this niche sport, not to mention the calibre of the musical acts who accompanied them:
With a set that ranged from pulsating house anthems to psychedelic, tingling album numbers: the full ensemble, featuring Kelis on centre mic, mesmerised the crowd for the entirety of their set. ‘Raindrops’, ‘Acapella’ and ‘Oh My Gosh’ were delivered with force and energy, whilst being interspersed with the cooled-down album tracks to moderate the mood. The thrilling set was accompanied by some spectacular stage technical wizardry, including a 7 foot tall robot that marched across the stage, cascading fireworks and enough lasers to keep James Bond occupied for a decade.
A slightly underwhelming live performance, with the chart hits ‘Teenage Icon’, ‘Wetsuit’ and ‘Post Break-Up Sex’ failing to recreate the buzz that they inspire on their numerous radio plays. Perhaps their echoing, slow-drums style does not suit such large venues or such a length of time, but lead singer Justin Young’s drawling, lazy vocals lacked the vibrancy needed to ignite the crowd. Iconic songs, lacklustre execution.
Howard combined his relaxed soulfulness with a vibrancy of delivery that electrified the concluding night of the festival. With the sunset peering through the flowing festival flags onto the stage, it was one of the few sets that swelled the crowd onto the neighbouring stalls. Tracks of particular note include ‘Old Pine’, ‘Keep Your Head Up’ and the now infamous ‘Only Love’, and his magnetic, upbeat acoustic sound perfectly encapsulated the spirit of the festival.
Stomping piano riffs and soul rich melodies started off Sunday evening with great aplomb. The man discovered by Lily Allen’s record label, and now regularly gracing the national radio waves, delivered a performance that moved and shook in equal measure, above all with the mournful yet uplifting ‘Another Love’, as well as the straight-rock thumping chords of ‘Hold Me’.
The surfer mentality is, above all, what characterises the feel of the festival: “chilled”, “epic”, “legendary” are just some of the washed-up beach bum adjectives used to describe this year’s festival on their official website, and there are few other words that do it better justice. Boardmasters is a spectacular, varied and unique festival that will most likely be taking its place amongst the most sought after summer events in the years to come, and one to which I’ll certainly be returning.
- Variety of genres: electronic dance to acoustic indie-pop to heavy metal.
- Internationally famous acts, as well as up-and-coming talent.
- Attractions and amusements during the day: surf competition, Newquay town, fairground rides, Watergate Bay beach.
- Distance of three miles between the surfing competitions and the main music arenas.
- Early finish of some of the best acts, at around 11.00.