Live review: Gatecrasher Summer Sound System 2008

Gatecrasher Summer Sound System was billed as the UK’s “biggest ever electronic music event,” and there was more anticipation in dance music circles leading up to the event than there is for the American presidential elections. In fact, political correctness, as well as the political landscape, couldn’t have been further from the minds of the crowd. With acts such as the Prodigy, Tom Middleton, John 00 Fleming, Mauro Picotto, Paul Van Dyk, Josh Wink, Armand Van Helden, The Chemical Brothers, Pendulum, Hot Chip, Soulwax, Mark Ronson, Chicane, Paul Oakenfeld and Dizzee Rascal on the bill, there was certainly no shortage of musical talent.

Held in the somewhat bleak surroundings of Turweston Aerodrome, setting up the festival had been a quite an enterprise. With massive marquees dotted across the field like giant palace shaped mushrooms, and cars and tents parked and camped as far as the eye could see, a large audience was expected. However, sunshine is one thing that festival organizers cannot bank on in the English “summer,” and despite the glossy advertising paraphernalia featuring blue skies, the weather was average from the start.

This was a festival in two parts. The first day was an extravagant assault on the senses, with a mixture of laser beams, booming sound systems, a diverse range of artists and DJs, and a crowd practically jumping with excitement despite the somewhat insipid weather, providing all the entertainment that you could have wished for. The second day was an entirely different proposition altogether. The weather had been threatening to break on the first day, and the wind was so strong that many tents had been flattened to the ground. Indeed, erecting my tent could hardly have been described as fun. The wind had been buffering my tent so much that until I finally managed to hammer tent-pegs into the ground, the tent actually more closely resembled a parachute. At one stage during high winds, I was lucky not to be lifted into the air, which would have been as natural a high as one could expect at a dance music festival.

Grass and pathways in the campsite were transformed into mud, and the campsite looked more like a tropical war zone than a festival campsite.

While wind is one thing, heavy rain an entirely different problem for campers. As the sickened masses awoke on the Sunday morning, it was clear to everyone that Wellies and ponchos were necessities as the rain alternatively tumbled, drizzled, and blew down. Grass and pathways in the campsite were transformed into mud, and the campsite looked more like a tropical war zone than a festival campsite. However, it was testament to the festival’s revelers that spirits were dampened, and as the afternoon wore onto the evening the excitement levels grew again. The differing wind patterns did have one thing going for them – the peculiar and somewhat rancid smell being blown in from a neighboring chicken farm did appear to ease.

The mood of the sodden crowd into the early evening of Sunday was not helped by the bad communication from the festival organizers regarding the late cancellation of the major acts The Chemical Brothers and Hot Chip apparently due to insurance issues related to potential rain-damage and the fact that the bands didn’t want to relocate to other stages. In general, it was nigh on impossible to work out which act or DJ was playing at each tent as cancellations and delays made the festival a logistical nightmare. The packed tents for the more popular acts spilt out into the open air and sundry rain, not a pleasant experience for those unlucky not to be inside.

Any festival with as good a line-up as Gatecrasher has its high points, and it was the old school powerhouses of dance music that provided the bulk of the entertainment for the audience.

Chaotic was the only way to describe the Sunday and unfortunately put a black mark against the event (as did the tragic death from a reported drug overdose of a male on the Saturday morning, although arguably this was out of the hands of the festival’s organizers).

Any festival with as good a line-up as Gatecrasher has its high points, and it was the old school powerhouses of dance music that provided the bulk of the entertainment for the audience. Chicane was particularly talented, and took me back to the glory days of dance music in the late 1990s. Most of the top DJs put on great shows, in particular Armand Van Helden and Paul Van Dyk, but some of the less trancyacts were also impressive such as Dizzee Rascal and Yoda’s Magic Cinema Show who is surely one of the more eccentric DJ’s that you can see. One of the newer dance music bands is Pendulum who hail from Perth, Australia, and they definitely delivered a mix of rock and drum ā€˜nā€™ bass. Pendulum relocated to one of the smaller tents and were only one of the main acts to perform on the Sunday; they definitely rewarded the crowd’s patience with a great show. DJ Marky also played a great set.

As the rain continued to fall into the early morning of Monday, it was clear that this was not a festival for non-campers. Faced with walking tracks fit for mud-wrestling, soggy tents, and “festive”-toilets, it was probably only the most-enthused festival attendee who didn’t have their spirits dampened at some point during the weekend.

As I packed up on the Monday morning, I happened upon a more apt for next year’s festival: Gatecrasher Wet.

Words: Tim Kernutt