Common People 2015
2008 saw Rob da Bank’s Bestival turn to a muddy hellhole, and reduced the festival to an event planners nightmare. Ever since, though, a series of British Indian summers have seen Bestival propel itself to the top of the festival tree; one of the best in the UK. The Bestival team’s new jamboree, Common People, got lucky on a warm May weekend with any rain-loaded clouds bypassing Southampton Common. And, although treading careful through a little mud makes you know your at a festival, sunshine and shorts makes life so much easier.
Bestival interjected some of their quirky, bohemian vibes into this new event, with the northern end of the site taken up by the main stage, and handsomely sized VIP area, and the Big Top. Common People included a horde of food stalls and curiosities including a sanctuary for knitters announced by a caravan covered in a cosy, and a giant, multi-coloured, knit-patched Rastafarian lion’s head. Not to mention a number of local businesses partaking including Southsea’s Pie & Vinyl, and Portsmouth’s nightclub The Astoria using a funky cocktail bus surrounded with hollowed out caravans for people to grab a drink and chill out in; all to the accompaniment of a DJ or two.
The south end of the site boasted the family area, allowing groups to mill around among the giant swings, and programmed activities. Although we didn’t spend much time there, it seemed to have that same Bestival-style attention-to-detail going on as the adults entertainments.
Being a great DJ, what Rob da Bank does so well is intertwine the great bands and musically talented artists with the electronic side of things, giving a rich tapestry of house and dance music. Common People was no exception with the likes of Clean Bandit, Grace Jone and Years & Years gracing the main stage, but DJs Fatboy Slim, Friend Within and Toyboy & Robin all playing sets with an eclectic mix of pop and house mixes. The festival site had a range of stages next to the Main Stage and Big Top; self-managed by different people to keep the local, independent feel. As well as the cocktail bus I mentioned earlier, stages ranged from Capital FM playing the mainstream hits to the People’s Front Room tent, where micro-acts performed to few sitting in armchairs adding to the chilled out vibe. The Uncommon Stage featured mainly acoustic artists.
Unfortunately we arrived late to Common People on the first day, so we saw DJ Yoda first. It wasn’t the first time we’ve seen the hip hop turntablist, but he was better than ever dropping his cartoony musical style with a number if big hits included. A let down, though, was he didn’t have his usual accompanying set video, like he had at Bestival last year. This adds something special to the London DJ’s performance. But, Yoda rocked the day festival nonetheless.
We spent some time milling around the vast VIP area, taking it all in. Festival season 2015 had started! There were loungers to sit on, and a tipi-style tent covering the bar; all make of canvas and wood. This is something Da Bank knows how to do. Add that quirky style. It’s not just a bar. It’s themed, of course.
With night falling, everyone was eagerly awaiting the great Fatboy Slim on the Main Stage. Norman Cook has been leader of the UK’s dance scene for over two decades, and when Southampton’s festival-goers where met with a choir, instead of a man behind a set of decks, there were certainly a few confused faces. However, the choir’s momentous vocal mashup of Cook’s super hits including ‘Right Here, Right Now’ and ‘Eat Sleep Rave Repeat’ certainly gave something special back to the audience. The dark figure on stage through off his hoody, to reveal a trademark Fatboy Hawaiian shirt.
Cook’s set was still as excellent as his younger days, adding ‘Kernkraft 400’, ‘Psycho Killer’, ‘Right Here, Right Now’, and ‘Born Slippy’ to the playlist. Giant acid-smiley inflatable balls were thrown into the group; gotta love that atmosphere. Giant inflatables never go amiss at a festival, exciting the kids, and to the drunker older folk. The beat jumped into, very appropriately, Pulp’s ‘Common People’, and this sent everyone into a mass singalong. The vibe on Southampton Common was great, but was still lacking something that Bestival creates, somewhat; I can’t quite put my finger on it however.
The choir floated back to the stage, and ‘Praise You’ started a frenzy. Fireworks began on the left of the stage, to end what was a great day for weather in Southampton. The epic headliner that is Fatboy Slim was a great closer for the festival, and picking one man who holds so much presence behind the mixing desk certainly made it a special day.
As we got to the site on Day 2 of Common People, BBC’s Sound of 2015 were playing: Years & Years. Their infectious pop tunes has done them proud so far in 2015, and the huge turnout for the young band showed it. Frontman Olly Alexander smashed out their hit ‘King’ with emotional intent, but Years & Years are definitely not the best band I’ve seen perform live.
After Years, we sauntered to Common People’s big dance tent to catch house duo Toyboy & Robin. The pair, originating from London, have done well together, and play the best in house and bassline. The tent was packed out, and with everyone waiting for DJ master Friend Within to come on after, the tent only got busier during Toyboy & Robin’s set. The pair bridge a gap in dance music that is unique. They are just on the balance of great house, as well as the bass scene. This results in sweet electronic rhythms complimented by altered R&B vocals.
Friend Within saw a completely full Big Top, and showed off a set of crowd pleasers that kicked the audience into overdrive. Disclosure’s new ‘Bang That’ certainly got things going. An extended mix of his remix of ‘The Renegade’ rounded off a great set, although the scale of production of the Big Top was small, with just a few lights and a simple DJ area. This, though, did not take away from Friend Within’s stella performance. I’ve found myself a new favourite DJ for a while.
Late afternoon saw much-loved Cambridge five-piece Clean Bandit step onto the main stage. Clean Bandit’s fusion of classical music with pop has been popular since their big break last year with ‘Rather Be’. Clean Bandit played a disappointingly short set, but still were a crowd-pleaser for Southampton.
The final hour, though, was reserved for the great that is Grace Jones. Jones’ master set was a remedy of improvised mania and choreographed showmanship. Grace Jones has a heart of controlled funk and disco, and her voice is second to none, even at 67. There are costume changes galore, precarious headdresses, African masking, a voodoo male pole-dancer and strongman, a trip into the crowd on a security man’s shoulders, theatrical demands for more wine, impressive hula-hooping stamina, a climactic tickertape spectacular, fireworks, and a killer final duo of “Pull Up to the Bumper” and “Slave to the Rhythm”.
We saw ourselves finish off a great weekend at the Cocktail Bus, which was supported by Portsmouth-based club, The Astoria. The vibe was great, and now I’m ready for the full camping, festival experience. Festival season 2015 is here!