Four days seems like a great idea on paper but the pressure on the legs alone makes standing for the final day a triumph of will. You look on those people with the fold-up chairs sitting in the middle of a jumping crowd with a little less scorn (though it must be said, still with some scorn). Possibly the most untimely and unpleasant booking this year is the deathcore of Bring Me The Horizon. Playing on the Odeon stage, their punishing sound can be heard 500 metres from the festival entrance and with nothing else of volume on at 12.30pm the hideousness carries to every corner of the site. Surely even the most ardent of deathcore fans have little interest in this at noon on day four?
With that trauma on our delicate frame over, it’s off to Afrocubism’s blending of, logically, African and Cuban musicians. As gleaned from the album, it proves a seamless mix – the brass of the Cuban adding a bit of glitter to the mellow, paced Malian sounds. Live however, when it steps out from being music playing while you do something else, it becomes quite boring for a standing 3pm audience.
Back to the newest, smallest Gloria stage and in the really hot tent, the only seat is on the tiered bench seating at the back, against the wall. Julianna Barwick is just beginning to layer her own sampled vocals on top of themselves and like a one-woman-choir version of Sigur Ros she makes the most chilled and melodic sounds, less song-like and more dreamy (but not in the new-agey-massage-soundtrack way). So dreamy in fact that State is not ashamed to admit that with the heat, the act of sitting and the calming atmosphere we drifted off to a very pleasant 20 minute snooze, drifting in and out of Ms. Barwick’s set. Surely a compliment.
Lucky enough we had that rest under the belt to prepare us for Screaming Females. One screaming female to be precise, the extremely young Marissa Paternoster has more coiled up energy than the six piece Iron Maiden, in the shell of a lady half the size of the none-too-tall-himself Bruce Dickinson. She’s the magnetic centre of the three-piece band despite an observer needing to be about five-inches taller than the person in front of them to see her. The garage rock sound they have in much more inventive and hook-laden than you might expect and Paternoster’s twisted yelping and screeching at various moments, always lands back in some melody despite her best intentions to rip the throat out of it. The gig was un-leavable.
The quick run through the site to Big Boi certainly gave our sense of smell a wake up call. With yesterday’s rain, and the resulting dry heat the farmyard smell overtook and mingled with the foodstalls leaving us in a perverse hungry/oh-not-hungry-actually state. There’s no mistaking you’re at a professional rap show as you near the Arena tent. Where most rock shows (bar the occasional mass sing-a-long) are an every-man-for-himself event, a show like Big Boi’s is an all-inclusive, back-to-the-tentpoles party. For all the swearing at the crowd it’s hugely feel-good and it’s no surprise that the audience are going nuts for not only the old Outkast numbers, but even the mention of the name. Before you know it there’s nine examples of Danish ladyness plucked from the crowd and brought on stage to dance. Faultless, dumb fun.
Gold Panda has rammed the Gloria stage with people who prefer a bit more electronica to what’s going on in Arena nearby, though the tent is at a perhaps dangerous level of heat (which is something the organisers should note for future bookings) and while the water teams are racing around the crowd handing out as many cups as they can, it’s beyond comfortable especially considering we’re looking at one guy (Derwin Panda) and a glowing Apple logo on his laptop. When your musical entertainment starts to look like the daily view from your office chair you’ve got to seek something else.
Getting in to the Cosmopol tent early to get a good spot for Janelle Monáe is the next priority, though even 15 minutes before the show the mid-area is packed. Easily the most sartorial of the weekend’s events, the white-shirted, black trousered and tied ensemble look fantastic and it is only because Ms. Monáe herself looks like perfection incarnate that she stands out. Everything that’s good about a show is here – costumes, dancers, a surprise entrance by Monáe (sadly no Big Boi for ‘Tightrope’) and the warmest, most uplifting hour you could possibly have. Soul. Rock n Roll. Cabaret. Early on she delivers what becomes two cheery, but unnecessary and obvious covers (‘I Want You Back’ and ‘My Cherie Amour’). Crowd pleasing as they are, it’s when we hit ‘Tightrope’ in the five-song encore that things really take off. ‘Cold War’ also draws an insane crowd reaction with surely the last of the festival’s energy. The tent is literally brought to its knees and boom, we’re up again for a final out-of-body dance. The cheering won’t stop even though we know we won’t get any more. Monáe looks a overwhelmed and claims, like James Blake the day before, that it was one of the most amazing gigs, and with a bow, the 18-strong band wave goodbye to cheering that never seems to end.
Catching the last of Battles served as the ice down the back of the neck straight after Janelle Monáe and their prog/rock/electronica is being studied by a relatively sparse crowd more than anything. A duo of tall screens helped fixate us on the stage, as well as their odd instrument alignment but Battles have worked better in a smaller space – all the better to harness the energy they create. State’s photographer was enthralled from the outset however and had to be dragged out of the pit after his three songs were up by all accounts.
Out of duty we find our way to the pit for Kings of Leon. They played five years ago in the pouring rain, but it’s a clear night for them tonight plus they have the cover of darkness to make full use of the big Orange stage to pull us in like The Strokes did so well the evening before. We probably approached the Kings with the same apprehension we had come to The Strokes with but while we were blown away by the later, Kings of Leon did nothing to persuade us that apart from writing the odd catchy tune that sounds great on the radio, they have little to give in the way of a performance. For a band playing some of the biggest stages rock can offer, they give nothing and it’s only for the audience loving and getting behind the music that there can be said there’s any real energy there. The fans will of course enjoy hearing some classics in this setting, and workman-like versions of ‘Bucket’, ‘Knocked Up’ and ‘California Waiting’ wouldn’t have disappointed those simply wanting to hear those songs live. But when you’ve seen Neil Young, Kanye (for his faults) and even (tears forming with the memory) Prince’s epic slot on the same stage here you’ll know what it takes to not only be that big but to to make it something that deserves to be that big. When Caleb says “I don’t know if you guys can tell, but we’re having one hell of a time up here,” well, you know, we can’t tell. As the main stage shut down for another year we went back to the bar for one final mojito and quite unawares, caught ourselves singing ‘Purple Rain’.
Photos by Jakob Bekker-Hansen