Ask yourself if there’s anything more wonderful than watching a group of mums find their feet at a gig, watching a union of faces that would never normally mix – because that was the case this weekend, when Clash made it to Manchester to check out the first BBC 6 Music Festival.
Four years after the digital radio network was threatened with closure, leading to a very public protest to the contrary from its loyal audience, listener figures have doubled. And that’s something to celebrate given 6’s somewhat niche public perception, beside the younger DJs and audience of Radio 1.
This is the first time 6 has taken the step into the festival market, following in the footsteps of Radio 1’s Big Weekend, albeit on a much more modest scale. It’s surprising that it’s taken 6 this long to go live in this fashion – with its array of music-loving DJs, not to mention its listener base, its brand is one that makes sense in the festival market.
The festival – held at Manchester’s Victoria Warehouse on February 28 and March 1 – attracts 5,000 people, making it a sell-out at the first time of asking. And the diversity of its bill is indicative of the eclecticism of the station: as punters are packed into the main room, dancing around to Kelis, a healthy crowd has gathered in Room Two to witness the ongoing solo evolution of Doves’ Jimi Goodwin.
It’s not just the main musical performances that make up the 6 Music Festival – it also presents a series of fringe screenings, talks and Q&As, including Creation founder Alan McGee in conversation with journalist John Robb about such topics as the Factory Records days. There are rising talents to check out beside the well-known names: Luke Sital-Singh and Outfit two acts to feature on the first day with bright futures ahead of them.
First day headliners in Room Two, The Horrors show us why they’ve always been a hot name on festival bills, as frontman Faris Badwan (pictured) and company sweep across the stage with luscious melodies from their back catalogue, as well as a selection of new material from the band’s forthcoming fourth LP, ‘Luminous’. These new songs mark a return to the synth-heavy sounds of 2009’s ‘Primary Colours’, albeit with a more optimistic lyrical slant, full of compassionate visions into the singer’s love life.
Over on the Silent Disco stage, Derrick May’s anything but uncomfortable with the strange, noiseless atmosphere – not the most common environment within which to catch the famed Chicago house DJ and producer, more accustomed to filling the main rooms of clubs worldwide. He’s in a headline role, but earlier on day one it’s a rather more primal force, Derbyshire brothers Drenge, that brings the event most vividly to life.
Following Kelis, Midlake are joined on stage by John Grant – but they’re up against Metronomy in Room Two, and the Brits steal away the festival’s younger attendees. Midlake’s brand of melancholic indie-folk might’ve been a better bet for the smaller of the main music spaces, but nevertheless they prove a fine warm-up for the headliner of the day.
Damon Albarn previews a sterling array of new tunes from his debut solo record proper, 'Everyday Robots' – which it’s taken him almost 20 years to make, stunningly – including one incredible-sounding tune inspired by an orphaned baby elephant the Blur singer met in Tanzania. The other new material sounds good too, if a little offbeat for a sold-out industrial warehouse space. Damon’s set at Latitude later this year feels like it will better suit these soft, subtle melodies and the big imagery of his vocals.
6 Music do something wonderful for British broadcasting – and this weekend only proves that the fans were right on this one when they fought to save the station four years ago.
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Words: Robbie Wojciechowski
Photo: BBC 6 Music