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Creamfields and other festivals are under pressure to diversify

Rupert Howe
Friday 04 July 2008 12:25 BST
Creamfields is set to stage dance and rock [JULES ANNAN/RETNA]
Creamfields is set to stage dance and rock [JULES ANNAN/RETNA]

Following the disastrous conclusion to Gatecrasher’s Summer Sound System event in May, when a rainstorm forced Hot Chip and The Chemical Brothers to cancel their sets on the Sunday evening, organisers of similar large-scale dance parties this summer will be nervously watching the skies. Yet there’s also a feeling that dance promoters are facing other, less elemental pressures.

Creamfields, due to celebrate its 10th anniversary this August, is hoping to attract over 40,000 visitors with “the most diverse line-up ever seen at a UK dance festival” – one which sees rock act Kasabian headlining the main stage.

In some respects, the diversity has been forced upon them. Big-in-the- Nineties dance acts like Paul Oakenfold, Sasha and Underworld can no longer be counted on to draw the kind of stadium-sized audience needed to populate a vast clearing in the Cheshire countryside. The alternative? Think small. So, while Creamfields has expanded into a global franchise – this year staging similar events in Argentina, Brazil, Poland andMexico – for July’s boutique spin-off from the Isle Of Wight-based Bestival, Radio 1 DJ Rob Da Bank has opted instead to set up camp in a park near the village of Lulworth in Dorset.

Camp Bestival isn’t a dance event as such – instead it’s a “knees-up”, as the organisers describe it. The mix of live bands, DJs and cabaret is intended to celebrate the increasing diversity of club culture, from the presence of psychedelic rockers The Flaming Lips to nu-disco idols Hercules And Love Affair and Andrew Weatherall playing a rock- ’n’roll set. Then there’s Erol Alkan, in his Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve incarnation, with Richard Norris, the duo promising a four-hour set of “craziness of the highest order”. Given Alkan’s tastes run from Sixties psyche rock to hammering acid house, it should be quite a party.

So far, Alkan and Norris are best known for their work transforming other people’s music. The same goes for New York duo Ratatat, who released an excellent bootleg “mixtape” of hip hop mixes in 2004 and, more recently, turned Björk’s “Wanderlust” inside out,weaving her vocal through buzzing guitars, ticking electronics and wobbly theremin-like harmonics. Their mostly instrumental new album LP3 (XL) never quite scales such heights, though “Mirando”, a mix of Daft Punk circa Discovery guitar noodling and clicky Autechre beats, comes pretty close.

Neither Alkan nor Ratatat feature on David Bowie remix collection Life On Mars (Rapster). If they had, their presence might have increased the ratio of good moments to ordinary. But the highlights are worth seeking out, in particular Matthew Dear’s sonorous reading of “Sound &Vision”, which pitches his voice down and the glacial synth melody up, and a pulsing take on 2003’s “Looking For Water” conjured by techno legend Carl Craig in collaboration with twitchy, and aptly named, Detroit post-punks Zoos Of Berlin.

Growing up in Detroit in the late-Eighties, Craig was an early disciple of Derrick May, one of three sonic visionaries from the city (alongside Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson) credited with creating techno’s blueprint in the late-Eighties. Much of May’s brilliant, if frustratingly sporadic, output can be heard on his newly reissued 1998 album Innovator (R&S), its vainglorious title justified by the accompanying transmissions from beyond the dancefloor, still-fascinating fusions of chattering drum machines and icy synthesisers.

One of many highlights is the haunting “Kaotic Harmony”, written in conjunction with Craig in 1991 – a year when, on this side of the Atlantic, upstart duo Ragga Twins were busy hot-wiring reggae and rave with north London producers Shut Up And Dance. Indeed, the brothers’ exuberant blend of reggae and fizzing breakbeats, now revisited on Ragga Twins Step Out (Soul Jazz), could almost be read as a challenge toMay’s studied elegance.

In today’s more compartmentalised music scene, there isn’t really an equivalent to the Ragga Twins’ underground/populist hybrid. In saying that, jungle’s DNA is still evident in post-breakbeat grime and dubstep, or even the startling electronic dancehall created by free jazz saxophonist-turnedreggae producer Kevin Martin, aka The Bug. His hyper-urban sound is hard as concrete, but he’ll still be venturing into the countryside this summer – performing on the Overkill stage at the Glade festival. Weather, of course, permitting.

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