Rockness Festival - Loch Ness - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

Rockness Festival - Loch Ness

by Louise Harlow Rating: Release Date:


Having chewed up and spat out a good 400 miles of tarmac (Nottingham to Inverness = one tank of fuel, boom!) we rolled into the summer's largest north-of-the-border knees-up - Rockness. Our impeccable timing had allowed perfectly for a smooth tent pitch, beverage consumption based primarily on speed not appreciation and a gallop to the arena just in time for Friday night's headliners. It was a nasty surprise then, to go on to somehow manage to miss the one woman nut factory that is Crystal Castles' Alice Glass. The emergence of press shots of Glass brandishing her bottle of whiskey like a cross and wearing the clothes she presumably killed your granny for have done little to dispel my fear that we may have missed a brain-breaker of a set.

We also seemed to have missed out on a rather bizarro "warm welcome to Rock Ness with Howard Marks and friends". Obviously suppin' warm lager with Britain's most charismatic convict is the ideal festival warm-up. (as it was we improvised with heinous cheap gin in our tent and the unexpected pleasures of the full-flush VIP toilets).

Having meandered into the nearest tent we came across the continental wares of the two-man French sonic machine that is Housse de Racket. This almost certainly would never have happened had we first checked our line-up- the tent moniker 'Bollywood Presents 'Oui France'' sounding far too culturally intense for first night teatime treats. Resembling a hip-enabled toothpick in head to toe white duds, skinny front man Pierre works a (disappointingly) sparse audience with charming Euro-panache "Come on, ze Scottish people!" What's not to love from an outfit who distinguish their sound as 'glam/emotronic and tropical'?

Darkness descended and so the default setting became dancing like a lamebrain to the Norman 'Fatboy' Cook hoe-down at the main stage. Cook delivers a well-balanced set of winners from the You've Come a Long Way, Baby days, and more recent tracks from his Brighton Port Authority alias. The spectacle of Iggy Pop's leathery torso gyrating on the huge stage screen during the PDA collaboration 'He's Frank' put me right off my stride and demonstrated that Nessie may well not be the gnarliest thing loch-side tonight.


Twelve hours in and the distinctive festival hum has already permeated all my clothes, worn or otherwise, and the heady mix of mother's ruin and five hours sleep on a velvet-effect plastic pillow have left my face looking wrongish. One cup of piss-water coffee later, however, and I'm tip top, bounding towards the main stage to soak up Leeds' perennials Sky Larkin. Shot blocked- Larkin and the dubiously named Coronas have both cancelled due to illness, which leaves us with Hip Parade. They do a decent enough line in indie tinged pop and, despite being slightly lyrically challenged ("Dynamite/ you're f**king dynamite/ dynamite/ you're f**king ..". and so on), their home crowd laps it up with a similar flair- 'ere we, 'ere we, 'ere we f**kin go'.

Got myself into a pathetic mess after a quick sit down by the loch turned into an unfortunate coming together between my bum, my line-up sheet and some chewing gum that isn't even mine. The balance is redressed by the appearance of the charming Drambuie promotions lady and ensuing free cocktails- here began a heady and financially damaging whiskey-liqueur fling. I'd like to also blame drinking lunch out of paper bag for our rather embarrassing misjudgement in the Go North tent, which led to an ear-bleed run-in with Zombie Militia. The name was a clear warning which we ignored, as was the vast expanse of space down by the barriers.

Backed by a well-drilled live band and sporting a terrifyingly tight black tux, Plan B gave a smooth set back on the main stage, proving he has the live mettle to back up the soul curveball of this year's The Defamation of Strickland Banks. Following him in a weirdly early stage slot, (Soulwax after sunset, always for the best) 2ManyDJs worked up the boisterous crowd with their trademark mash-up panache. Beyond dapper in his n' his white tuxes, the brothers Dewaele bled one steamroller of a track into another one, climaxing with 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' and the shameless dispatch of confetti all over their crowd. Pure magic, but never going to excuse the fact that they shirked all press obligations on the Sunday and refused to leave their Dores hotel until the rain stopped, err..... So that's just a flat out 'no' then? Le French brat.

We retired back up the hill to savour the primal charms of Ian Brown, King of the Apes. In spite of a set littered with more false starts than a year six sack race, Mr B gets the job done, and it will be a sad day indeed when the 'where's-the-towel handshake dance' fails to amuse. Leftfield then hit us all over the head with their big dance stick, and owing to an ever-changing succession of guest vocalists, (particularly a silver onesie-clad blonde firecracker) everyone was having too much fun to lament the absence of Paul Daley from his deck duties.


A badly judged giant gin nightcap does nothing to improve sleep quality, and we are lavished with flat-out rain from five am onwards. Secure a much superior cup of java this morning following the discovery of a coffee bar right beside the piss-water purveyors of yesterday. Having manned up to the rain we watch The Xcerts, who open up the main stage to a sizeable crowd in spite of the bad weather scene. Murray MacLeod cuts a dynamic and impassioned front man, and the trio stamp out a series of the taut power pop oeuvres which presumably caught the attention of mentor Sam 'Get Cape' Duckworth.

Possibly the only fresh individual left on site by this point, Katie of Pearl and the Puppets brought a sparkle to the gloom resplendent in a glittered playsuit, armed with a large glass of rouge and the flag of St Andrews. Her engaging stage persona and gossamer Cranberries-esque vocals on tracks like 'Because I Do' tick all the right pop pleasure boxes. The weather relapsed again as The Excerts' label mates Twin Atlantic's stage time arrived, the home crowd's yen for Scottish artists being more than satisfied by the final day's line-up, and the teen-heavy crowd lapped up the melodic rock that has secured them a tour support billing with Blink 182 this summer.

We slunk into the 'Sunday Best' arena to wring out our soggy minds and regroup, and had our feet galvanised by the insistent charm of James Smith and the genre-splicing steamroller that is Hadouken!. As the closing day cloudburst passed the 12 hour mark with no sign of relenting, The Maccabees turned out a chipper and endearing set on the main stage, balancing their output between older material and last year's Wall of Arms. By now feeling more or less back on the programme, we skipped over to the Clash arena to kiss yet another Drambuie based delight and shake out the Sunday afternoon slump with the Daddy of Bestival, Rob Da Bank.

Things take on a strong transatlantic bent from here on out, as Blondie arrive on the main stage, with Debbie Harry channelling 'sexed-up Witches of Eastwick' with surprisingly peachy results. Kicking off the closing American one-two, an exuberant Vampire Weekend gave the jazzed-up crowd a healthy work-out including a deranged banshee-wail sing-along to 'One (Blake's Got a New Face')', as the eyes of Contra's preppy poster girl shot red laser beams out over the audience.

The bombast of Julian Casablancas' ego was almost tangible even before New York's favourite sons finally took to the stage, (to 'We Will Rock You'- really, Julian? Really?) but in the face of what was essentially a one hour 20 minute greatest hits set I'm willing to put indulgent mid-set pitter patter and England baiting football quips to one side. New material was conspicuous by its absence, but the most exclusive boys' club in the world took us on an invigorating if waaay overdue refresher course on what used to be great about guitar fuelled garage rock.

As the Strokes were presumably whisked away back to Aldourie Castle to live out some Laird-based aristocratic fantasies, we were left to bask in the reflected glory of a bang tidy festival weekend.... 3 days of sonic bliss from over 200 artists across 9 stages, broadcast to a 30,000 strong volcanic crowd force on the shores of the mighty Loch Ness. Thank you, Scotland, for the how-to in festival based rapture, smell ye at 57 latitude this time next year, yeah?

Check back every day this week for more Rockness reviews of sets by Friendly Fires, Hadouken!, Blondie, Vampire Weekend, The Maccabees and The Strokes.

Comments (1)

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This had me laughing out loud (not LOLing!) Grrrreat piece of writing, as Tony the Tiger might say.

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