The Big Chill: day two – review

Eastnor Castle, Herefordshire

After a gorgeously sunny Friday, there are clouds in the skies, and one wonders if these augur trouble ahead. Surely Saturday will be busier than Friday, goes the festival chatter, but these rolling hills are still remarkably empty – which, oddly enough, makes it feel rather special. Space to roam around the festival's many tiny tents reveals the range of music on offer, although today's bill seems more targeted towards younger, punchy pop. Teenagers wiping hot dog sauce off their face-painted cheeks, and temporarily tattooed limbs, would certainly suggest so.

First up, a family crowd watches Dionne Bromfield. Her voice is still not particularly distinctive, although she finishes with a strong cover of godmother Amy Winehouse's Love Is a Losing Game – despite tears welling up in her eyes. Back on the main stage, New York production duo the Knocks are having a head-to-head drum battle – a great live spectacle to pep up their festival-perfect electronic pop. "We hope that all woke you up," they say as they leave, many hungover heads clanging painfully in agreement.

The costumes are coming out in the Enchanted Garden – bodystockinged superheroes with full, hole-free face-masks, and two rotund Gene Simmons. After them, the Global Local stage still manages to be an eccentric treat. Plaster of Paris feature a singer with a Carmen Miranda hat, and music that funnels weird, woozy blues. Folk singer Sam Lee dances like a man possessed, in neon orange trousers, and describes a song in which a man blames catching the clap on naughty water sprites. Further into this free-wheeling, hippyish area, Aquamanda plays an ancient monochord and sings of "kisses like whispers", while the London Snorkelling Team project animations in a tiny hut in the trees, and play whirlygig tunes full of keyboards and lively trombones.

Then – wow – here's Janelle Monae. A top-hatted jester introduces Monae's head-nodding string quartet, and three figures in capes with their backs turned to the crowd – the central figure is finally revealed as Monae herself. The field fills up with excitable punters, even though Monae lacks a massive, international hit to properly showcase her talents. Of her own songs, Tightrope comes closest, but her covers of Nat King Cole's Smile and the Jackson 5's I Want You Back reveal just how versatile her voice is – stunning, sultry and aching on the former, falsetto-perfect on the latter.

Over at the People's Revellers Tent, rapper Devlin is urging the youngsters to go "fucking mental"; the little pogoers respond in kind. Then, a lineup pile-up necessitates a whizz back to the main stage for Metronomy – whose lovely songs sadly get lost in the huge field – before many people nip back for Katy B.

Her set is meant to start at seven; at nine minutes past, she has just left the stage. "Whole stage gone forward half an hour, love, innit," says the security guard, spectacularly unbothered. Three young girls and their mum stand next to me, wet-eyed and dumb-founded – and there are many more people like them. You consider the £75 day ticket price, and how unfair it is to alter schedules without any announcements. You then dwell on the lack of big screens on the main stage, and how this affects everyone's involvement, and enjoyment, in the shows.

Later, after a brilliant set from South African rapper/singer Spoek Mathambo at the People's Ear Stage – whose house interpretation of Joy Division's She Lost Control is one of the festival's greatest moments – comes a precarious moment: Kanye West's headline slot. Half an hour late on stage, he sings his first song from the sound tower, which hardly anyone can see. Then he arrives at the front of a completely white stage, dressed completely in white, in front of billowing white smoke machines, the sky lighting up with white fireworks.

He plays all the hits – Jesus Walks, Diamonds from Sierra Leone, Gold Digger – but when he starts to speak, as he does often, things fall apart. A 10-minute rant about a video award he won some years back, which he annoyingly had to fly for 12 hours to receive, sinks into a mind-melting ramble against phoniness. This is met by huge boos, and fleeing people. He is so honest, he protests, as he strikes poses before a backdrop of Greco-Roman statues. Then he puts the icing on his cake: "People treat me like Hitler," he raves. That, you feel, is that.

Many of the people remaining seem to be gawping at him, rather than enjoying his performance. Then, when you think things can't get any more This Is Spinal Tap – This Is Spinal Rap, perhaps? – West's encore begins with a massive white sheet falling on to the stage, smothering all of the dancers, to the strains of the theme to Chariots of Fire. Is their billowing shape meant to signify a mountain? A glacier? Few seem to know; fewer still seem to care.

Long before West wraps up with the day's second tribute to Winehouse – preceded by a me-me-me speech about how he met her, of course – a group of girls go past, shouting something many people are feeling. Wriggling their glitter-sparkled bodies, "Kanye West is a knobhead!," they squeal. A performance there, one senses, that many people can agree with.


Jude Rogers

The GuardianTramp

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