The final review of Rockness 2011 goes to Garry McCartney.

SCOTLAND’S biggest pop-star closes the world’s most beautiful festival with his final track “Last Request”. Fireworks light up the loch, Paulo Nutini slides backstage for the VIP party, and thousands of his high spirited fans mud slide towards their own campsite parties. It’s the fifth Rockness, and no one wants the party to end…

Festival organiser Jim King’s tongue-in-cheek prediction that “this is the Year of The Ness” seemed more than a little pretentious during the frenzied build-up to the gates opening last Friday. However, at least 35,000 fans of underground DJs, indie bands and mainstream monsters such as Kasabian and The Chemical Brothers would agree, the Loch Ness phenomenon is up there rocking with the best UK festivals.

Following the example of T-in-the-Park, Rockness introduced a third day two years ago. Originally, this was a “warm-up” evening, starting with less popular acts – no music royalty headliners. This year, Friday was on a par with the rest of the weekend with a heaving bill of must-sees culminating in Kasabian – the perfect choice of strings and processed beats for an indie/dance festival.


Let the good times roll…

DSC_0865Arrivees tied jackets around waists in anticipation of an all-weather weekend. Thousands of hedonists flooding through the gates at four o’clock were immediately taken aback by the new festival site layout. Rock n Roll Circus, a tent new for 2011, loomed between the VIP campsite and the Howard’s End Bar. Shame then that this was often poorly attended with some great acts playing to a vast emptiness.

Two “dance tents” (Goldenvoice and Sub Club) and the Arcadia Afterburner had been moved up the hill giving the festival map more of a village feel. Ravers never had far to walk to find a venue to shake their glow sticks. The Goldenvoice arena proved particularly popular and the removal of its side panels meant the funnel necking crushes of prior years were not repeated.

The biggest change was the VIP area, now awarded prime position at the top of the hill with a spectacular view of the main stage and its award winning backdrop.


Fairground rides, a huge variety of food stalls and more bars than the LA strip meant everything was in place to accentuate the performances of a stellar line-up…

Nero kicked off the festivities at Goldenvoice energizing a throng of hyper kids with sonic boom dubstep and drum n bass. Reverb pulsed through rib cages as the bouncing mass chanted “whoop, there it is!” before remixes of Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” and Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing In The Name Of” brought the set to a mosh-tastic finale.

The tent emptied and re-filled in minutes as hip-hop clown DJ Yoda took control. Cheesy grins as Yoda cut and scratched everything from rap through mumbaton to the James Bond theme tune. Tongue-in-cheek cut ‘n’ paste.

Back up the hill R&B stunner Yasmin played to a near empty Rock n Roll Circus tent. Her super polished soul deserved more. How did this rising star end up in an empty tent with thousands passing her by en-route to the VIP campsite or main festival site? The Rock n Roll Circus needs a re-think…

Meanwhile  Ha Ha Ha enthralled the Sub Club tent, warming up a decent sized crowd of ravers for Perth duo Clouds. Ben complemented his heavy mental mix of stumbley techno with a frenzied drumstick attack on real electronic skins.

Then Clouds grabbed the Sub Club tent by the throat and shook it ‘til the inhabitants ears bled. Their set was funky with lashings of dark electro and techno. Clouds beefed up familiar tracks like “Robot Rock” and “Nott”, mixing in their own and generating low end rumbles of earthquake proportions. Outstanding ambassadors for Scottish electronic music, these boys will go far.

A dash across the field to a unique spectacle in the Goldenvoice arena. A giant orb sits centre stage. Mid-nineties trip-hop giant DJ Shadow emerges from behind. Acknowledges the filling tent. The Californian sample master climbs into the orb cockpit. And launches in to a compelling set of instrumental hip-hop matched only by the psychedelic projections on his orbital spaceship.

This outstanding set entirely justified Shadow’s surprise inclusion on the bill. He displayed a technical prowess unmatched by any other DJ at the festival. Tracks from his innovative ‘Endtroducing’ album drew the biggest cheers before he stepped up a gear with his own drum ‘n’ bass. “Organ Donor” brought a mesmerising performance to a close amidst a display of scratching mere mortals could not hope to achieve. Genius.

Friday finished with an unfortunate clash of club giants: German electronic experts Modeselektor in the Sub Club corner versus indie/dance wizard Erol Alkan in the Afterburner corner. Modeselektor fought valiantly with a dark selection of mean and moody techno. Their own track “The Black Block” was one heavy highlight in an intense set that deserved better than the eventual exodus many made to Soma’s Afterburner party.


The atmosphere at the Arcadia Afterburner, however, was electrically irresistible. Ravers squeezed in to every available spot between immense speakers and flame spewing lamp posts. Alkan played at a slower pace than his contemporaries in the Subbie. Some say he pulled no surprises from his wizard’s sleeve. But Erol kept the kids dancing and brought the curtain down on Friday with a set of electro and techno in the true spirit of the outdoor rave.


“Insomniak! I must sleep…”


Saturday was always going to be a hard act to follow after an incredible Friday that left thousands stunned…and extremely hungover. Rain promised for the weekend materialised with a vengeance. Many huddled in sleeping bags around stereos for much of the day. The festival site quickly turned into a quagmire with mud splattered zombies wandering from tent to tent in search of warmth. A few gripes materialised, particularly from those who had paid for early bird Christmas VIP camping tickets. Band t-shirts of your choice turned out to be Rockness T-shirts only. Free massages were not available. Promises of luggage transportation had not been kept. Most of all, a heavy “undercover” police presence in the VIP campsite meant a few innocents were unfairly harassed and tents invaded.

Those that braved the damp and cold of Saturday afternoon were rewarded by performances from Japanese Popstars and Magnetic Man on the main stage, Chapel Club and Sound of Guns at the Goldenvoice arena.

But even the rain retreated in face of the mighty Chemical Brothers. This was the kind of set that Rockness was made for, proven by the mass of starry-eyed believers stretching far, wide and way up the hill. Tom and Ed lived up to their reputation as dance music Gods with a seamless visual and aural extravaganza. Classic after classic was pulled from their bottomless bag of break beats covering a career spanning eighteen years. Songs such as “Chemical Beats” and “Saturate” more than satisfied fans old and new. The Brothers often hinted at songs, using hooks, samples and melodies to create a mash-up of their own sound, teasing rather than playing out in full. Mind blowing visuals blasted retinas – shooting stars, paint splashes, robots, clowns, gospel choirs, kissing faces and Lord Kitchener in perfect sync to every block-rocking beat. The guys had arrived surrounded by green spinning lights, spaceship fashion. By the time these lights reappeared to take them away, an opened mouthed audience had experienced the high point of the festival. Like fellow rave dinosaurs The Prodigy in 2009, this was the memory bank of the year.

But Saturday night was still young. The Arcadia Afterburner attracted ravers like moths to a flame and they flapped on until 3 a.m., dancing in the dark to Soma’s Funk D’Void and Germany’s number one techno DJ’s Pan Pot. Soma succeeded in celebrating the label’s twentieth birthday with another bonafide rave in a field for the

hardcore that couldn’t stop dancing. Top one, nice one, sorted.


The final fling…

Sunday meant the final push for roughians waking up to sodden tents and muddy walkways. The excess of the last two days was shaken off as soon as the beat started again and the sun warmed the site up in anticipation of another incredible line-up. Day three of Rockness was always going to be messy but mud and insomnia was never going to stop the famous Highland clans from partying…

Sub Focus assaulted a few banging heads with some middle-of-the-road drum ‘n’ bass at a well attended Goldenvoice arena. Their invisible “Breakstep” screaming MC sent anyone with taste running for the cover.

Glasgow institution Optimo were much anticipated by the Sub Club faithful but a late sound check (a recurring feature of the tent) meant a poor initial turnout as folk wandered off to find music playing. The Subbie gradually filled as the Optimo lads started off slowly. The set took off with a typical Optimo wildcard: an obscure eighties electro track with German vocals. The weirdness was followed by everything from original acid-house to Prince’s “Kiss”. By the end, the tent was full of eclecticheads satisfied to hear something completely different.

Meanwhile the Howards End Pub took a break from comedy with a slot for the local DJs. Ross Lyall and his Filth cohorts stormed the stage and played a typically banging set. Pity about the sunlit venue, it wasn’t right for the Filth fans accustomed to “Dancing In The Dark”.

The local acts might have benefited from an earlier slot as they were up against their own heroes Simian Mobile Disco at the Goldenvoice arena. SMD seemed slow in comparison to some of the 4/4 techno playing elsewhere, particularly during the squeak and thud of “It’s The Beat”. But the fidget pioneers built up a bass-laden set with plenty of electro/techno and more hits like “Hustler” to satisfy a healthy crowd of low frequency fiends. And so to the great Nutini…

A bouncing mass of electro lovers sought enlightenment – “Who the f**k is Paulo Nutini?” – before disappearing in to the black hole that was the Goldenvoice arena. Thousands more poured down the hill to sing-a-long to Paisley’s finest crooner. But those who made it to Boys Noize made the right choice in bringing the weekend to a raucous finale. A technical glitch at the beginning of the set caused some frantic onstage scrambling for five minutes before Boys Noize’s thumbs up and continued aural assault. The German blasted the tent with fidget originators from his LPs “Oi Oi Oi” and “Power”. Stuttered beats and violent bass lines melted the darkened arena, lit up by explosions of spinning yellow lasers Bizarrely, fireworks could be heard signalling the official end to the festival during a brief lull in the sonic blasts. But Boys Noize ended Rockness his way…ten minutes later sending thousands of ecstatic ravers to join the festival exodus.


Rockness 2011 was the best yet. The muddy, bleary-eyed Monday morning leavers dragging their gear through the campsite fall-out, felt their post-festival blues were well worth it. Some argue that Rockness is becoming too commercial in terms of cost and line-up. But as long as it caters for underground AND popular acts, everyone will be back in 2012. Even the rain and wind failed to take the shine off the Year of The Ness.

As The Chemical Brothers said: “All I wanted was a little fun…(Let’s)DO IT AGAIN”

By Garry McCartney