T in the Park, Strathallan Castle, Perthshire
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IT IS a truth universally acknowledged that, at Scotland’s biggest music festival, the best things happen on the smaller stages.
T in the Park has championed independent, home-grown talent since its inception: the T Break tent gives unsigned Scottish bands a unique opportunity to play to a festival audience, while the newer BBC Introducing stage can be a goldmine for music fans keen for an early listen to the festival headliners of the future.
Of those, allow me to tip Glasgow electro artist HQFU who performed one of the sets of the day in far too early a time slot, turning the striped circus tent of the BBC Introducing stage into a hedonist’s den with her witchy vibes.
Come early evening, those smaller stages gave festival-goers a peek at the entire spectrum of Scottish musical talent. The Van T’s – the core line-up of Hannah and Chloe Van Thompson now expanded into a four-piece, for the ultimate in throwback grunge vibes – closed out the BBC Introducing stage in fitting tribute to their current position as the best young band in Scotland, while at the other end of the rearranged arena the Bay City Rollers built on last year’s sold out Barrowlands comeback shows with a slot in the King Tut’s Tent.
And where was I? Huddled under a straining tarpaulin canopy while what can only be described as Biblical rain lashed around me, picking at what should have been a cheese and bacon toastie, but which inexplicably contained baked beans. With my little sister, home for the summer from her teaching job in Dubai and silently questioning her life choices, by my side, I could hear the almost prophetic voice of charismatic Kaiser Chiefs frontman Ricky Wilson, laden with more meaning than he could ever know, sing directly to my soul: “Oh my god, I can’t believe it. I’ve never been this far away from home.”
There comes a point at every T in the Park _ and when the weather is bad it’s usually on Saturday afternoon, when you’ve been trudging around all day and the damp has seeped through all three of the layers every festival fashion guide told you to wear _ that you start to crave the sort of brainless guitar music that, in the middle of a festival crowd of fellow travellers, determined to make the most of it, seems to ascend to something greater: a communal experience, as hard-wired into our collective DNA as our arms and legs.
Kaiser Chiefs, appearing at their sixth T in the Park, know the drill – they sneak in a couple of songs from their new album, out in October, but pay their dues with a straight run through Ruby, Modern Way and I Predict a Riot.
The inexplicably popular Catfish and the Bottlemen, following the northerners on the Radio 1 stage, do their best to stick to the same formula, but without Wilson’s effortless cheer, songs like 26 provided little more than a breezy distraction as we waded through thick, oozing mud towards the main stage.
There, London four-piece Bastille seemed to be reflecting the general mood, with mournful new song Lesser of 2 Evils. After frontman Dan Smith picked up a bottle of Buckfast, took a good swig and launched into Snakes, with its lyrics urging us to “drink to escape our minds” and find “distraction, even for just one night”, I started to wonder what I had wandered into.
Of The Night, the band’s bizarre mash-up of Eurodance hits of the early 90s given baffling second life as anthemic indie rock, perked everybody up considerably. As I still remember pretending to like the source material in order to fit in in Primary 7, I probably wasn’t the intended audience, standing at the back of a dancing crowd feeling nothing but a heavy ennui during set closer Pompeii.
After last year’s complaints of cramped conditions, the festival arena has been reorganised for 2016. While it mostly works well, the new location of the King Tut’s Tent – to the back of the site, in the shadow of Strathallan Castle – made it difficult, especially in the squelching mud, to reach the headline sets of Travis and Calvin Harris.
Topping a bill predominantly of guitar bands, the Dumfries-born DJ was a strange choice of festival headliner, as was clear from the streams of campers waiting to enter the arena for the first time that day as we left. Perched atop what looked like the console of the Starship Enterprise, and accompanied by a spectacular light show, Harris certainly got the crowd moving with snippets of songs by Rihanna, Alesso and Adele – and a surprise appearance from Dizzee Rascal, to perform the pair’s new collaboration Hype.
And yet, the idea of a skinny bloke jumping about on stage to bits of other people’s songs as the best that Scottish music has to offer right now can’t help but fill me with despair.