Isle of Wight Festival, Seaclose Park, Newport

Canny mix echoes sound of past glories
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Big screen footage of Hendrix playing here in 1970 is the main reminder of this festival's hippy past, when fences were ripped down in clashes over selling out. Corporate-sponsored since its 2002 revival, it still feels close to nature, as many of the crowd ignore whoever's playing to bask in the island sun. Luckily the music, a canny mix of crowd-pleasers and bands on the rise, proves pretty fine too.

Goldfrapp are Friday's first highlight. Alison Goldfrapp's sugary vocals ride scrulching synths, returning fetish and flair to rock like a latter-day Bowie.

Placebo efficiently combine singer Brian Molko's faint androgyny with aggressive rock. But it's with the drama of Nightfall, and the arrival of the Prodigy, that real rock'n'roll thrill ripples through the crowd. They are drawn forward by the band's martial beats, and their rapper's voodoo vicar appearance. Co-rapper Keith, with his balding fluff of a Mohican, looks more forlorn, until "Firestarter'' gives him his moment. The tension of this rave-inflected rock music's constant pressure had people kicking the site's fences.

The next morning, Suzanne Vega is just what the prostrate, sun-bathing crowd need. Domestic violence laments "Luka'' and an a capella "Tom's Diner'' are a quiet triumph. The Proclaimers' rough-hewn Scottish rockabilly is also welcomed, as is the Upper Room's pleasingly frail 80s-style indie. The mystery of the Kooks' currently exploding appeal is then partially explained.

Their scratchy rock-and-roll is very post-Libertines, minus the latter's risk and ideals, but with undeniable, loose-limbed charm.

Real ex-Libertine Carl Barat and his Dirty Pretty Things follow, to frustratingly less acclaim. "Give me something to die for,'' Barat asks on "Gin and Milk'', but the ideals that seemed so natural in his old band have been damaged by Pete Doherty's dramas. There's grim effort to his work now. "Bang! Bang! You're Dead'', aimed at Doherty, is, though, vengefully brilliant.

Editors' doomy gravitas is a hard sell in blazing afternoon sun, but still proves popular. But it's Primal Scream who provide the weekend's spiritual link to the old Isle of Wight: music that's unpredictable, unself-conscious and unbuyable by corporations. Foo Fighters' relentless rock sees singer Dave Grol sprint along speaker stacks.

Sunday, and Procol Harum offer an authentic taste of the past, with a genuinely affecting, valedictory "Salty Dog''. Kubb then suggest that their singer's prettiness and tendency towards Coldplay-style softness hide potential for something nastier.

As torpor seeps in, Maximo Park's singer Paul Smith does his best to inject the crowd with his own wired energy. And with Lou Reed, Richard Ashcroft and Coldplay to finish things off, this festival's reputation as one of rock's most beatifically pleasant events rose a little more.