This year, Shakedown shook things up big time. The festival moved to a brand new home and took place far earlier in the year. It relocated from Stanmer Park to the lesser known location of Waterhall and it gave up its traditional last festival of the summer tag as it was brought forward from the end of September to the middle of July. But perhaps the biggest change was with the line-up.
In the past, Shakedown has always served up a pot pourri of artists, everything from Rizzle Kicks to Razorlight, from Example to Ed Sheeran. And whilst it’s always featured dance music and DJ’s, previously most of them were in the dance tent, rather than on the main stage. For 2014, the focus was sharply on dance music and DJ’s. In fact, there was arguably just one live band on the entire bill.
Of course this is a reflection of the popularity of dance music evidenced by the fact Calvin Harris earned more last year than the likes of Jay Z. So with a new home and an even more sharper music profile, how was the new-look Shakedown? Well, the simple answer was pretty good. Whilst it never threatened to be the best festival you’ve ever been to, what it did, it did very well.
Waterhall, the home of the Brighton rugby club, being used for the first time for anything on this scale, worked better than many may have expected. With access by car almost non-existent, there was a huge reliance on laying on transportation. The free buses from Brighton seemed plentiful and well-organised and the journey time was surprisingly short, even though there was quite a hike from the drop-off point to the festival gates.
The site itself, perhaps not as spacious as Stanmer Park, seemed to work fine. What was missing though was any sense of this being Shakedown. There was little or no branding anywhere, no signs, no banners and nothing to look at either by the dull-as-ditchwater stage, or anywhere else on the site. Despite this absence of visual interest, the atmosphere throughout the afternoon and evening was brilliant, better than any previous Shakedown. The weather helped of course and the rain that had affected earlier events, threatened, but stayed away.
A predominantly youthful crowd were up for it from the beginning to the end. They’d come to party and the party started the minute they danced through the gates. With such an exuberant audience, Shakedown had a great feel to it. If anything let it down, it was the absence of some stellar names on the bill and too many DJ’s who played good music, but added nothing visually to the event. In fact, apart from some of the audience, there really wasn’t a whole lot to feast your eyes upon. Jaguar Skills, Gorgon City, Duke Dumont and Groove Armada all provided the soundtrack and kept people dancing, but with no video screens, it was all audio and no vision.
Thankfully, that all changed when Basement Jaxx took the stage. Now I’d never have considered them as headline material, but I have to say they deserved their billing. Indeed, I’d go so far to say they put on the best performance Shakedown had ever seen. With actual musicians playing the music and those onstage actually performing, they showed that a live show is all about a great performance. They were also the first act to benefit from stage lighting and that alone made a huge difference in terms of spectacle.
Most important, their mix of old and new feel-good songs (including a handful from ‘Junto’ their first album in five years) meant Basement Jaxx had something for everyone and something to keep everyone moving. To my ears, the best of the bunch both came from the new record: ‘What’s The News?’ and ‘Never Say Never’.
To keep things interesting, their set included a succession of featured artists including 18-year old ETML (aka Elliott Marshall), exotic dancers and even a ballerina. The best, both vocally and visually, were Sharlene Hector and Vula Maninga. From the moment these two larger-than-life ladies took the stage wearing carnival-like costumes, colourful headpieces and even bigger smiles, Shakedown became party tropical. Musically, it was vibrant and energetic dance-pop and a lot of that was down to Ben Edwards on trumpet. Not only did he add sheen to the music, but he did so dressed in a crow’s outfit!
So Basement Jaxx ensured that Shakedown ended on a high note. If it can build on its achievements (and moving venue and date clearly seemed to work) and assemble a more enthralling line-up, it will cement its place in an increasingly crowded festival market. If it can add some much-needed visual interest too, it will also be as good to look at it as it was to listen to.
With its refrain of “And the music brings me right back” Basement Jaxx’s ‘Never Say Never’ was not only the soundtrack of this year’s Shakedown, but its mantra. For more than anything else, it’s the music that will bring the crowds back to Waterhall next year.
As good as Basement Jaxx were, what was disappointing for me was realising afterwards that their show (outfits and all) was almost exactly the same as they played at London’s Somerset House almost exactly one year earlier (although they got an extra sax player!)
Photo by Images Out Of The Ordinary
Words by Gary Marlowe