Live Review: Big Love Festival

7th May 2016

Big Love Festival

To try and quantify the success of a first time festival like Big Love is always going to be difficult, but speaking for myself; it left me zoned out on the sofa and feeling all emotional on the Monday after it had all ended, which I think is a pretty good measure of a cracking weekend.
Sitting in the office this morning, back in work, with remnants of glitter still dotted around in awkward spots of my beard, there is already a strong romanticism being associated with my memory of Big Love and what took place in Baskerville Hall, but the best starting point for this review of the event is a brief history of its origins.

Big Love came about as a consequence of the split of one of Wales’ cult music festivals, Troyfest, into two opposing factions – one being Big Love and the other being Truefest – and although there were some worried whispers beforehand that the festival itself might not live up to expectations, especially following the announcement in the week prior that headliner Norman Jay would not be playing for ‘personal reasons’, the efforts of those involved with organising, volunteering, building and helping out at Big Love made sure that those of us who made the trip to Hay-on-Wye were rewarded with a weekend that was nothing short of spectacular.
Kicking it into life on the Friday was a host of DJs and various live acts including Beans On Toast, whose comic songs about a casual Netflix and chill were in complete contrast to the slick work of the Bump ‘N’ Grind collective. Accompanying the various representatives of music at the festival were a host of street food vendors, some of whom have been pivotal in the rise of prominence and quality in the Cardiff street food scene, such as the well-known chicken powerhouse that is Dirty Bird, and The Parsnipship who deserve credit, not only for their vegan haggis, but for their efforts in volunteering at the refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk as well.
Big Love Festival Poster 2016Given the trepidations about how the festival would go, which wasn’t helped by the fact that when we arrived there only looked to be about a hundred people or so, the setting of Big Love itself quickly dispersed any worries we had. Set in the iconic Baskerville Hall, one of the spiritual homes of rave culture in the UK, a beautiful building that is a surreally perfect venue for a weekend of festival life, it looked as though the worst case scenario was not many people would attend and we would have the whole place to ourselves for what would effectively be a private party. Fortunately as the night moved on and into Saturday, any questions over the attendance were addressed as a boatload of people turned up to join in the festivities in the sunshine.
As will no doubt be the case across a number of music festivals this year, there were numerous tributes and acts that dedicated themselves to commemorating the music of both Prince and David Bowie, one of whom made for one of the highlights of the whole weekend. Working their way through a set of the best of Bowie was The Fantasy Orchestra, an eclectic collaborative effort from natives of Bristol and the surrounding areas and lead by the accomplished multi-musician Jesse D Vernon, which culminated in one of the biggest crowds of the whole event. Having spoken to a couple of the members over the course of the weekend, the project that drives The Fantasy Orchestra is definitely something that we could do with more of – people coming together to pay musical tribute to their heroes, driven out of love for the songs they grew up with.

One of the other standout acts of the weekend also performed on the Saturday afternoon, with Woolwich’s Afrikan Boy having taken to the stage in the Hide & Seek tent, and perhaps this performance was the best analogy for the fears of the festival’s attendance. Initially having started to play to roughly about four or five people, Afrikan Boy eventually finished with a capacity crowd. It never ceases to amaze that one of, if not the best qualities of live music is its ability to transcend the stereotyping or assumptions that go with being holed into a specific genre of music. Suffice to say that not everyone there was a grime fan, but there wasn’t a single person there who wasn’t moving to the music and credit is due to those people who did journey up to Big Love this weekend – while not every band would have played in front of a big crowd (one band were sadly left to play to genuinely no more than four or five people for the whole of their set), every band were given nothing but – pardon the cliché – big love by the crowd for their efforts.

As the party moved into Baskerville Hall on Saturday night, the various rooms offered some of the best in electronic music with the likes of Bodhi hosting a raver’s paradise in the warehouse, and Big Swing Soundsystem leading the madness in the hotel’s music room. The proverbial icing on the cake that metaphorically represented the night’s offerings was TEAK, a covert and acclaimed club night that takes place in secret in Cardiff, featuring Melbourne’s Francis Inferno Orchestra and Telephones, a native of Bergen. If the music alone wasn’t enough of a giveaway that Saturday was the big night for everyone at Baskerville, the subdued feeling around camp the next day was a reliable indicator.
In spite of everybody’s sore heads and its slow beginnings, Sunday eventually blossomed and revealed itself to be the best of the three days, with incredible performances coming from Johnny Cage & The Voodoogroove, Ibibio Sound Machine – their percussionist, Anselmo Netto, deserves a mention for what was a sensational performance on his part – as well as festival closers and legends of jungle music, the Ragga Twins, accompanied by Wrongtom. Aside from what was an outstanding finish to the live music acts, there was also an absolute stormer of a set from another Cardiff DJ collective, Groove Theory, before the final disco which was hosted by the two people responsible for putting on the whole weekend.
For such a small festival, it was something that produced a great many memories and experiences for everyone there, and it is testament to the spirit of the weekend that as I’m sat here now recanting it all the only place I want to be is back there. Whether or not Big Love survives into next year remains to be seen, but it is my hope that it does – there are so many things that haven’t made it into this piece, but were equally as valuable in their contribution to what was an incredibly special weekend. If ever there were a festival that embodied the importance of enjoying the here and now, that didn’t care who you were and that promoted nothing but positivity then this is it. Unforgettable, really.

Words by Sion Ford

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