On the anniversary of Scottish music festival T in the Park’s 20 anniversary, two impressions might have struck those few who like to analyse their festivals rather than just file the memories away for a rainy day. They both go hand in hand – namely, that this is a festival which has exorcised the two-decade shadow of The Stone Roses’ ghost following their long, long-awaited headline appearance last year, and that it’s consequently one of the first to embrace a belatedly 21-century line-up in which futurist pop has at least as big a role to play as trad guitar rock.
The headliners partly affirmed this suspicion. Of course they don’t come much more trad than Friday night’s headliners Mumford and Sons, returning to another top-billed slot after closing Glastonbury two weeks ago, and they remain a mystery to this writer – both why they’ve achieved such inexplicable popularity and why so many hold them in such low regard. They possess a couple of lovely, anthemic songs in I Will Wait and Lover of the Light, and beyond that they’re both pleasant and moderately unremarkable in this setting.
Sunday night’s headliners The Killers are the precise opposite in this regard, another group who conform to the typical rock dynamic but with a slew of anthems to pump out for ninety minutes, yet it was on Saturday that the really edgy choice lay. Both Jay-Z and Beyonce have previously failed to headline T when they appeared in recent years, but in 2013 it’s been decided that international pop behemoth Rihanna is the woman to bring the mainstream to the main stage.
Following on from the jovial cockney torch singing of Paloma Faith, the comedy gangsta bad guyisms of Snoop Dogg (featuring a blast of reggae from his new Snoop Lion project, a greatest hits set of classic West Coast rhymes and a sour note of childish misogyny in the dance sequences) and The Voice judge Danny O’Donoghue’s band The Script, it was as if a Saturday evening television programmer had arranged the same timeslot’s festival bill.
Yet Rihanna can undoubtedly be counted as a success, her set an only at times puerile (witness the guitarist and keyboard player soloing yearningly while she was offstage) collision of crunching, hyper-synthesised beats, vocals arranged from odd time signatures and sharply sloganeering lyrics, and dazzling style – both from her backing singer in a sleek black Cleopatra-meets-Funkadelic garb and from the strutting, painfully confident Rihanna in a tiger print dress and hair like Charlie’s fourth Angel. Her opening track, the Victoria’s Secret co-opted Phresh Out the Runway, was a manifesto for the rest of this almost always captivating spectacle.
The rest of the running order bulged with similarly alien delights, including two Scottish contenders in Discopolis and the about-to-explode Chvrches, yet there was also a sense that the anniversary year had inspired the organisers to throw a bit of everything in. A volley of place-specific anthems emerged over the weekend from classic Scots representatives including Deacon Blue, the Proclaimers, Texas, the View and the Fratellis, while the reconvened My Bloody Valentine and Kraftwerk’s stunning 3D set provided highbrow highlights. Least anticipated of all came rock ‘n’ roll’s fists-flying next generation revival on the small Transmission Stage, as Ireland’s well-coached Strypes (average age: 15) gave an unexpectedly devastating impression of Dr Feelgood in their prime.