I've been hearing people talking up Rockness as better than T In The Park. One cursory look at the line-ups for both festivals will tell you this isn't true, at least in the quantity and sheer size of artists playing, but what Rockness can boast is an atmosphere to match TITP in scaled down format, with a greater emphasis on DJs and dance acts. The organiser's boast that it is 'the most beautiful festival in the world' is entirely vindicated by the picture postcard view of Loch Ness and the lush glen spreading out behind the main stage, with the weather mostly brilliant sunshine.
Given the dancey bias elsewhere on the line-up, you could be forgiven for an apprehension that The Flaming Lips might struggle to captivate an audience not so familiar with their back catalogue - Friday night headliners, they're actually only the second act on the main stage after The Aliens. Fortunately, Wayne Coyne and his men specialise in festival spectacles, the frontman taking his giant bubble on a ride across the audience whilst Teletubbies invaded the stage, before they opened proper with 'Race For the Prize'. New song 'Silver Trembling Hands' showed future single potential with its insistent snare-driven urgency and catchy chorus, as a werewolf hoisted the frontman atop his shoulders. Coyne of course dominates proceedings like a hyperactive ringmaster: musing on topics such as his belief in Nessie's existence and Barack Obama; getting the audience to sing 'Happy Birthday' to guitarist Steven Drozd and firing off a giant balloon or confetti into the crowd whenever he had a chance. Onstage antics and Wayne Coyne’s child-like enthusiasm helped to maintain the interest of an audience mostly unfamiliar with old cuts like 'Mountainside' and 'Lightning Strikes The Postman'.
If it seemed towards the end that the Teletubbies, lasers, exploding balloons and confetti were begin to take centre-stage (and who doesn’t want to see how Dipsy reacts to a bottle to the face?!) a closing trio of ‘The W.A.N.D’, ‘She Don’t Use Jelly’ and ‘Do You Realize?’ brought the music back to the fore. The latter song in particular was rendered only more life affirming by the beautiful environment and was the perfect conclusion to a set raising the bar extremely high for the following nights’ headliners.
South London's Chew Lips took to the main stage to a paltry crowd at 1pm, doing their admirable best to charm with their It's Blitz-style electro-pop, but lacked the hooks that the big players in their field (La Roux, Little Boots) can boast, although single 'Solo' did stand out thanks to it's stately chorus melody. Wave Machines suffered a similar fate over in the Fat Sam's Tent where even the sublime Hot Chip-meets-Talking Heads lo-fi funk-pop of single 'I Go I Go I Go' failed to get the small crowd on their feet, never mind into their dancing shoes.
Thankfully a few hours later the same venue was packed out in the now sweltering heat for Frightened Rabbit. Whether the huge increase in audience size was due to Frightened Rabbit's home country popularity or the dead finally awakening from the previous night's indulgences is debatable, but crowd reception was certainly as warm as the weather, each song from The Midnight Organ Fight-heavy set hailed like a full-blooded anthem. They came racing out the blocks with a fierce performance of 'Fast Blood' which was enough to get everyone hearts pumping faster before following it up with a swoon-worthy rendition of 'Good Arms vs Bad Arms'. At points Hutchison strained to sing in key, but it mattered little give the ramshackle charm with which the band ran through 'The Modern Leper', 'Heads Roll Off' and 'The Twist', during which Hutchison swapped guitar for piano. The set seemed to be finished in no time, culminating in an at once hilarious and poignant not-quite-mass sing-along of "I'll get my hole" during set closer 'Keep Yourself Warm'.
Dizzee Rascal swaggered on to the main stage with the bravado of man enjoying an all time high in popularity. The whole festival site shuddered to the beats of 'Fix Up, Look Sharp' and a freestyle to the strains of 'Paper Planes' had the massive crowd in raptures. He even introduced his own novel form of crowd control after some violent outbreaks in front of the stage: “Every time you start fighting I am gonna put on some R&B and teach you crowd a lesson!"
Over in the Fat Sams tent, Super Furry Animals took the absurd decision to play a set consisting almost entirely of new album Dark Days/Light Years. This didn’t impress the noticeably bored the audience and the only real crowd interaction was when Gruff Rhys held up notices saying 'Woah!!!' or 'Applause'. By the time they returned for an encore which included 'Rings Around the World' and 'The Man Don't Give a Fuck' a large portion of the crowd had already left. The Furries could do with taking a few tips from The Flaming Lips.
Opening the main stage on the Sunday were Official Secrets Act. The sparse audience could probably be put down to hangovers again, though the festival layout didn't help smaller bands hoping to gain new fans, with the various side-attractions and bars (known as the Ness‘tival Area) to traverse before arriving at any little known indie bands. Nonetheless, OSA had a good go at it with their energetic Rakes/Good Shoes-style angular guitar pop, with the singles 'So Tomorrow' and 'The Girl From the BBC' boasting their most memorable hooks, both musical and lyrical.
The Magistrates' funk-lite soul pop WAS more successful in getting the front row grooving (there wasn't really a second row of which to speak). However, while frontman Paul Usher's falsetto gives songs like 'Heartbreak' a gleaming pop edge, over the course of a whole set the sensuality began to feel rather forced and artificial. The Whip's mid-afternoon slot in the Clash Arena drew a reasonable crowd, who lapped up every derivative hi-hat shuffle and fuzzy indie-dance bassline, and who put their hands in the air right on cue every time someone pushed the modulation wheel on a synth to max. Calculated and totally unoriginal their music may have been, The Whip do AT LEAST deserve some credit for bringing some atmosphere to one of the smaller stages in one of the earlier slots.
There was drama abound during Placebo’s set as the band stormed offstage after their fourth song, 'For What It's Worth'. The reason for this was, to use Brian Molko's own words, was "some twat" throwing a pair of scissors at him. The band returned on condition that the crowd refrained from throwing anything else onstage (typically a cup of beer was soon forthcoming). Amusingly, it has since transpired that the scissors were left on stage by a member of the crew. To be fair to Placebo, they got on with business, continuing a set that was largely dominated by their more recent albums. Two unexpected highlights were 'Special K' and 'Black Eyed' from 2000's Black Market Music: on record spiky angst-pop nuggets laden with cringe-inducing couplets, but here they were examples of Placebo at their anthemic and melodramatic best. The main complaint (other than Molko’s Status Quo-esque ponytail) was the lack of an encore, if only in the sense that we were deprived 'The Bitter End'’, 'Bruise Pristine', 'Nancy Boy' or 'Pure Morning' . Instead we were left with the dreary 'Song To Say Goodbye' from Meds and a slight feeling of having been short-changed.
It was left to the The Prodigy to bring the curtain down on the main stage, and it was pretty obvious what to expect - the old Nineties, a clutch of newer tracks, Maxim and Keith Flint throwing themselves around like a pair of menacing clowns while Liam Howlett does his thing in the background. 'Warrior's Dance' and 'Omen' sat perfectly alongside the likes of 'Breathe' and 'Firestarter', which was possibly the problem - they don't really do anything other than 'unrelenting', but that said I guess that makes them perfect for the non-stop party atmosphere that Rockness prides itself upon.
Photos by David Love flickr