Not so much a pop festival, more a way of life

The Big Chill | Wiltshire
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The Independent Culture

The festival that began five years ago with a small event in the Black Mountains dedicated to ambient or chill-out music, re-convened for the third consecutive year at the remarkable Larmer Tree pleasure gardens on the border between Wiltshire and Dorset. Entitled Enchanted Garden 2000, this was a considerably larger gathering than previously, but apart from a few worrying, corporate signs - ticket touts at the gates, occasionally stressed stewards, more litter and mess - the Big Chill still seemed more like a garden party for decorous stoners than a proper pop festival.

The festival that began five years ago with a small event in the Black Mountains dedicated to ambient or chill-out music, re-convened for the third consecutive year at the remarkable Larmer Tree pleasure gardens on the border between Wiltshire and Dorset. Entitled Enchanted Garden 2000, this was a considerably larger gathering than previously, but apart from a few worrying, corporate signs - ticket touts at the gates, occasionally stressed stewards, more litter and mess - the Big Chill still seemed more like a garden party for decorous stoners than a proper pop festival.

Taking elements from the New Age and arty ends of club culture, the founders Pete and Katrina Lawrence have succeeded in creating a music festival where music is the last thing on most people's minds. As long as the sun shines (and it did all day on Saturday, and on some of Friday and Sunday too), festival-goers seem happy to just sit in a field and absorb whatever comes along, while at night things get more seriously clubby.

As reviewing the music would be about as pertinent as reviewing the hydrangeas it's probably better to go with the flow. Thus, on Saturday night, you might have found yourself sheltering beneath the canopy of a tent dedicated to serving curry to the masses, while the legendary DJ Derek mixed up a menu of classic roots reggae from his single cassette deck; if anyone calls out "Rewind Selecta!", DJ Derek really does go into rewind. His faultlessly conceived set led to several High Fidelity moments. As Third World's "Now That We've Found Love" started to play, you could watch each punter's head move in time to the music incrementally, until the whole tent was nodding like Pavlov's dog.

Meanwhile, in the Club Tent, things were getting hot and sticky. After the Jazzanova DJs had melted our minds with a combination of old-school jazz-funk and endearingly brainless visuals, Mr Scruff sent us all into vinyl heaven. Scruff - whose barmy signature tune "Chicken in a Box" is a Big Chill staple - will play absolutely any record you might think of, no matter how beyond the pale. Hard hip-hop was followed by Northern Soul, and then by Elvis. After this, the tension over the next juxtaposition became almost unbearable; Scruff could have played "Hi Ho Silver Lining" and we would still have loved it. Instead, he played Smiley Culture. It was great for about 30 seconds.

When the spell of the music begins to wear thin, you can always take a night-time stroll down the Larmer's laurel tree walk. This picturesque enclave, where Thomas Hardy once kicked it large under the faery-lights, is the setting for the Big Chill's art trail. After stroking the nobbly grooves of some sub-Peter Randall-Page wood sculptures, you might find yourself face to face with a kinetic angel, or listening intently to a hair-driver driven electro-acoustic environment. Exhibitors are often so po-faced, however, that you begin to muse on the possibility of hiring actors to set up a mock army careers information booth. But would anyone notice? The charm of the Big Chill is that almost anything seems possible.

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