After a drizzly and uninspiring Friday morning in which a ‘lay day’ was apparently called on the surf events, I headed out along the coastal roads of Newquay past beachfront chip-shops and streams that trickled through shaggy grass as they snaked their way out to the lapping coastline.
Arriving at the top of Watergate Bay, I saw Relentless Boardmasters sat proudly at the peak of the surrounding hills, with car parks and campsites that peeled away down the gentle nearby slopes. All in all, the music festival’s footprint was quite small, although this site didn’t include the extreme sports areas which were centred on Newquay’s Fistral beach.
Boardmasters featured an alternative crowd, much fitting with the surfer-central location – the prevailing uniform being that of flat-peaked hats, hoodies, board shorts and the occasional skateboard, even on the more mature members – some of which looked like Angus Young tributes.
Walking to the main stage having just been stunned by an extreme mountain biking demonstration on top of a campervan, something caught my eye. I was amazed to see the undulating swell of the Newquay waters catching the sun as they rolled onward, before crashing into the craggy Cornish rock face. How many festivals can offer such an incredible location?
Once the music got underway, many people were disappointed to hear that Tinie Tempah would not be performing due to being, “double booked” according to an article online, but by all accounts Pendulum’s stand-in DJ set proved an energetic and well received replacement.
Later in the evening, which for the most part had escaped the seaside drizzle that had loomed overhead, Seasick Steve took to the stage, delivering his trademark sound. Stripped-down, raw and very infectious, his rhythmical blues music got everyone’s toes tapping and heads nodding under the occasional shaft of warm summer sunlight.
Later on, a chat with the barmaid in the plush, leather-clad VIP area revealed I had narrowly missed a 30 minute private set by Newton Faulkner, who sprung the impromptu jam on unsuspecting onlookers shortly before he took to the main stage for Friday’s headlining slot.
Having seen Faulkner play live before, I remember being very impressed by his intricate guitar playing and emotive vocals, but in the run up to Boardmasters I doubted whether his act would suit the closing slot at an extreme sports festival. My suspicion was that he would play too ‘clean’ a sound, perhaps lacking in the edge or impact associated with previous Boardmasters acts like Cypress Hill or Groove Armada. But whilst he did prove a different sound that wasn’t in keeping with the ‘extreme’ and explosive edge I expected from the festival, the audience welcomed him with great warmth. On reflection, his music is ideal for the campfire/surfing crowd, in a vein similar to that of Jack Johnson. Singing, clapping and enjoying his set were the same crowd of rockers that I suspected would not be interested; it was a pleasure to see his fine music prevail and capture all those present.
During the closing songs of his set, including his now trademark rendition of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, rain started to fall lightly over the anthemic scene beneath. The sea breeze whipped sheets of fine drizzle across the stage as the lights illuminated it in dramatic columns, increasing the ambience as the set reached a memorable crescendo.
Following this most iconic closing of Friday night’s main stage line-up, we embarked upon the ‘Relentless’ stage, enclosed by a large white dome that sheltered those within from the chill of the descending darkness. Inside, voices roared and strained veins pumped as the audience parted to create a ‘mosh circle’ that seemed to run through both the entrance and exit in a loop, providing a racetrack for drunken, angsty individuals who fancied a tussle with their tattooed brethren. Seized by the moment, we too joined this circular fracas, and enjoyed the few minutes of adrenaline it provided without turning into a full-blown brawl. The crowd then reunited with rejuvenated energy and continued to rock, whilst we ventured out to see what else lay ahead.
A very small dance tent was packed to the extent that the party continued outside its perimeter, playing more upbeat nightclub style tunes. This offered an enjoyable contrast that whilst not necessarily needed, was good fun. Nearby, the chilled Jager bar offered cool refreshing shots for those that wanted a pick-me-up or two. Above the bar was a room accessible by stairs, which appeared to be frosted up along the windows. People inform me it was indeed as cold as the windows suggested, chilled thoroughly from the centre out for a unique experience. Whilst a sunny day would make this an ideal and novel spot to relax, it proved cool enough already outside and so the chance to visit that ‘ice-room’ was overlooked in favour of the fairground rides that beckoned me with their neon lights.
Spinning ruthlessly in one large ride proved great fun, raising great amounts of laughter whilst being hurtled round a mechanical colossus at ridiculous speed and crazy angles, subjected to G-forces like ragdolls in a washing machine. Afterwards, target hitting games with footballs proved competitive fun and provided a cheap plastic whistle in return for our endeavours, which is fantastic news for anyone after a few samples of local cider.
Returning to the dance tent a friendly blonde girl offered me kaleidoscope glasses which gave an interesting sparkle to the environment, and upon the tent closing down at a fairly early hour, we followed the bassy calling of a dubstep rhythm. This drew us into a previously unseen tent covered in camouflage netting, packed with people enjoying the last few minutes of music until this tent shut down too, like a domino next to its fallen dance tent brother. We exited through a meandering corridor of camouflaged fences; an inspired and interesting touch that added mystique to what was otherwise a disappointingly early exit from the music.
Stumbling across a small awning, like that of your grandparent’s caravan, a momentary return of beats appeased the masses, but that too was closed in fairly quick succession. Watergate Bay was winding down, so after a sociable ramble around the campsite in which fleeting yet often entertaining friendships were made, we returned to our canvas hotels. After a short stint of restless sleep I decided to change room for a suite that looked remarkably similar to the front seat of my car. Such is festival life.
Saturday also struggled a little against the weather, which rendered the journey to Fistral beach events a less tempting prospect than I had wanted, and so after taking the chance to recover from the previous night, I went straight for the juggernaut; Watergate Bay.
The first act I saw was rising star Example, who gave an enthusiastic if not stellar set in which his energy often carried songs that whilst by no means were bad, weren’t quite AAA anthem-quality.
Chase and Status proved an interesting experience, and really injected some energy and action into the evening. Having not heard their music before, which I find quite hard to believe given their prominence in the current scene, I was looking forward to finally catching up with everyone else and seeing what all the fuss is about. High energy drum and bass followed, charged with testosterone, provoked and inflamed professionally by MC Rage. “Where’s the mosh pit?” he screamed at the audience, upon which many vacuums appeared within the crowd, allowing those that wanted to get involved their opportunity. From afar, I could see some chasms that had formed in front of me and I was watching the shoving and vaguely restrained aggression unfold, only to turn quickly after receiving a firm push to the shoulder. To my surprise, I found my back had been facing another separate pit which had formed, and I was right on the open edge – people were staggering, pushing, smashing and riling each other right behind me.
Whilst initially everyone played the mosh pit game respectfully, it soon descended into something a bit darker. The rhythmical bounce of the crowd was lost and the music becoming irrelevant as fights broke out and the atmosphere became charged with a primal, violent static. Drunken guys pummelled each other in the face whilst people tried to tear them apart as quickly as possible. Eyes around the crowd darted nervously, anticipating the next eruption. Fortunately, after a few particularly intense brawls had dissolved, the air was clear and the music was embraced with a renewed and heightened energy. A strange sense of security prevailed amongst people, as if it was assured that the violence was now over, much like the clearing of tension in the air after the explosion of a tropical storm. The Daily Mail reader in me disapproves of the incitement to violence from the MC, and the animal beatings delivered by drunken Neanderthals.... however, I enjoyed the adrenaline rush that pumped through me as the crowd teetered on the edge for those few fleeting moments!
Chase and Status were widely regarded by many as one of the highlights of the festival, even for those that emerged with blood on their shirts and their nose casting an unfamiliar shadow under the evening sun.
A brief gap in proceedings allowed just enough time to buy a slightly overpriced pizza, as well as a hugely extortionate but unfathomably delicious burger, and then join the eager crowd for festival headliners Leftfield. I was instantly roused by their music as a wave of nostalgia rocked me – these tunes had formed a consistent part of the soundtrack to my life.
Despite their pounding energy, which was ably launched at the crowd by a heavyweight sound system, the audience was strangely relaxed and respectful even when raving out. Perhaps this is because they were more likely to be a few years senior on the previous rabble of adolescents-with-agendas who flocked to Chase and Status. This unexpected restrain amongst the audience allowed us to leapfrog through gaps to get ourselves right to the front barrier of the whole audience! I had a great time raving to arguably some of the finest electronic beats ever crafted, as did those around me, whether they were leaping up and down, riding on friends shoulders or just awash with the impact of the music driven straight into their willing bodies!
After a superb retrospective set which was clearly enjoyed by the energetic team onstage, they left their instruments briefly, before reconvening for their behemoth ‘Phat Planet', often known as ‘that song from the Guinness advert’. As the bass shook through the Cornish cliffs and reverberated in my chest, I remember looking round to see the huge amass of people absolutely transfixed in the moment, arms up in the air as the lights and lasers danced over their illuminated outlines under the night sky. This was the closest I have ever been to living the 'Zion rave' scene in the Matrix Reloaded.
Once Leftfield were finished, I headed to another gem in Boardmasters crown – the ‘Bungee Rocket’. This contraption sees you strapped into a spherical chamber containing two seats, and then catapulted into the air by huge bungee cords, with the experience peaking at easily over 100ft high. This proved a fantastic way to end what was a superb weekend.
Boardmasters is a very unique festival, and one that is both tailored to and compliments its environment. It features a variety of appeals ranging from the surfing and extreme sports to the beautiful coastal location in the heart of Cornwall, the diverse array of music and fairground-style attractions on offer. The manageable size allows for more intimate crowds more akin to a gig, rather than the overwhelming masses at other festivals. Local touches like the classic Pasty, Rattler cider, quaint local architecture and rugged surrounding landscapes all add that extra dimension of authenticity to the very distinctive experience. I will certainly return to Boardmasters, and look forward to discovering the wealth of entertainment that eluded me this time, as well as re-discovering that which I enjoyed so much.
9 / 10
Darren Paul Thompson
Photos: Andrew Thompson