Reviewed: Creamfields Festival
Festivals are BIG business nowadays. It’s not even a season anymore. It’s all-year round! Every major town has one. Some cities have several. London has at least a dozen! But despite all the new kids on the block, despite competitors having come-and-gone, including the likes of Global Gathering, Creamfields has remained the one constant. It is still the UK’s undisputed premier electronic music festival. The measuring yard for all the others. In terms of the public consciousness, it’s probably only just edged into second place by Glastonbury. This year is the biggest Creamfields to date, stretching to a mammoth fourth night for the first time. We went to see what makes Creamfields the market leader.
Ah, ‘The North’. Industrial towns, chevrons and funny accents. Home to Madchester – the spiritual home of acid house. Liverpool, arguably our city with the most musical heritage. And home to Creamfields, of course, the jewel of the August Bank Holiday.
… Exasperated, I sigh. We had under-estimated the bank holiday traffic. The predicted journey time offered by the satnav gave us false hope. The journey from the south-east was arduous. Navigating the M25 was a success in its own right. Beyond that, the M1 wasn’t any better. And after sitting bumper-to-bumper in stuffy conditions for the majority of the way, when we finally catch a clear run on the M6 we’re left with empty pockets as the toll wipes out our loose change. Would we ever reach Daresbury?
It seems fate is out to get us, as we take a wrong turn on the M56. Ultimately we miss the deadline for last admission. This is not how it’s supposed to be!! The thought of camping was daunting enough; the reality of having the spend the first night sleeping in the car park more so. To rub salt in the wound we use the last of our battery to watch clips of Chase & Status conquer The Steelyard. The only solace is that their set has been recorded for the Essential Mix. 11.5 hours in the car, and a whole day of raving missed…
10am finally arrives, and we put the disappointment of the day before behind us! There’s some serious catching-up to do! But first, we have a tent to erect. The good pitches are now few and far between. It’s a fair walk to the other end of the campsite. Getting back later could prove interesting…
Eager to put our dancing feet through their paces, we’re left waiting until 2pm until the music is scheduled to start. Good things come to those who wait… and it’s right off the go, as Cristoph opens proceedings in the All Gone Pete Tong arena, treating us to cuts from his new album. Eats Everything soon follows, and he serves up a right audio feast; the tent practically bursting at the seams! He drops ‘Dancing (Again!)’ and the roof is blown off. Everybody is dancing – and singing. XOYO’s new resident in waiting Heidi is up next. Eats is a tough act to follow, and we wonder whether we peaked a little too early. But Heidi has full control of the hot seat, spinning her trademark Jackathon sound. We wander to the ANTS arena where duo Eli & Fur are laying it on thick with some seriously bassy tech house. The energy is palpable, and the crowd lap it up. Back to AGPT in time for Steve Lawler, before our Master & Chief, Pete Tong MBE shows up in time to introduce Hot Since 82. If yesterday was a wasted day, then we’re more than making up for it now.
Music aside, what is it which elevates Creamfields above the rest? There are several factors to consider. Cream’s longevity at the forefront of the scene is a key factor to the continued success of their festival. Their experience gives them an edge. Let us not forgot that they clawed the festival back from the brink in 2012, when adverse weather conditions and severe flooding were almost the writing on the wall. The second day was rained-off, and the third day was cancelled completely. It left a financial black hole, and brought their reputation into question. Lesser festivals wouldn’t have survived. But the setback was used as a catalyst to bounce back stronger. Whilst the sheer size scale of Creamfields is worthy of admiration itself, it’s the diversity of its offerings which provide the real bragging rights. No stone is left unturned. There is something for everyone. The whole spectrum of dance music, from commercial EDM to the underground to happy hardcore (well, we are in ‘the North’!)
Backstage it’s treacherously muddy, but the ingenious use of wood chippings in public areas makes the going relatively dry underfoot. The bars take cash, not tokens, and they are even equipped to accept contactless card payment! Few things in life are certain: death, taxes, and queuing for the toilets at festivals. But the queues here are bearable and move relatively quickly. Portaloos are plentiful. And well maintained. On several occasions, we spot tankers emptying the cesspits, instead of allowing human waste to overflow out, as is sadly too often the case at other festivals. But the most impressive part of all is just how well organised the festival is. There are lots of stewards, and they all appear fully briefed on the operation. More than that, though, there is a real sense of togetherness. Of family. This is not merely teamwork, but perfect synergy. Each cog with a mutual appreciation of all the other components in a well oiled machine.
We take a detour to see what’s happening on the other stages. Weaving through the crowds, we stumble upon Avicii’s final UK appearance on the Horizon stage. Far from being the mournful affair you most associate with goodbyes, there are only grinning faces to be seen here, transfixed by their idol. Fighting our way through we veer off in the direction of the site’s other outdoor stage. There the last remaining remnants of Swedish House Mafia are doing what they do best. Axwell & Ingrosso blast out of all of their hit singles and wow the crowd with some hefty production. We are taken back to that midsummer’s night of 2012 where the pair (along with their brother, Steve Angello) said goodbye to Milton Keynes Bowl. A flare is ignited in the middle of dancefloor as ‘Reload’ plays and the crowd goes nuts. Nostalgia aside, we get the feeling other arenas are beckoning us.
There is a brief visit to Jam Packed where TV’s spoof radio crew Kurupt FM are dishing out performance somewhere between a comedy skit and DJing. We’re not quite sure which, or where the parody ends and reality starts, but either way, it’s brilliant! This sets up nicely for a man whose ability need not be questioned: DJ EZ, and his own unique take on UKG. There are few sights as joyful to behold than EZ pounding away on his controller. Yet despite this spectacle, we are again drawn back to where we had invested our earlier time. Closing duty falls to none other than Sven Väth. Come the 4am finish we’re dying for more, but there’s still a whole full day to come tomorrow. Reluctantly we make the (seemingly endless) pilgrimage back to our tent and get our head down for a few hours.
Early morning dew forms on the inside canvas of our tent. It can only be 6:00 or 7:00am, but already it is blindingly bright. The climate inside switches from chilly to muggy. Quickly. We treat ourselves to a wash. Or a “festival bath” for the more informed. The air is fresh, other than the occasional hint of stale mud. We poke our heads outside and a quick surveillance of the campsite reveals a few casualties: discarded food trays, the last stragglers from the night before limping in the direction of home. A few nearby tents have been indecipherably branded with neon paint. The general mood is upbeat, though. Girls wander through campsite in pyjamas & onesies. Friends exchange anecdotes from the day before. Already people are chomping down on burgers, or returning with fresh slabs of beer.
As we wait for the arena to open we’re coerced by an eccentric gentleman into witnessing a wedding service! (no, really) The ceremony takes place inside an inflatable chapel! The minister has definitely been on the sauce. The newlyweds are both wearing white. Awkward! He pulls it off slightly better than Her. It’s without doubt, the surrealist moment of the entire weekend, and we find ourselves watching the betrothed exchange vows before the whole congregation poses for a group photo. We are made aware that the gates must be opening, as the crowd outside flocks towards the entrance. There’s no questioning where we’re heading first.
We enter the imposing, indomitable Steelyard – a vast, cavernous industrial structure custom-built for techno. The sound levels are less restricted here. The light barely penetrates. And it is a playground for ravers. Techno stalwart Alan Fitzpatrick on early doors. The Whistleblower boss has surely reached a status where he should be closing these stages, instead of opening them, but the early start hasn’t put many off. There is already a raucous atmosphere as Fitzpatrick belts out Nicole Moudaber’s remix of ‘Give Me Luv’. The veteran DJ builds like the seasoned pro he is, before ending on his latest offering from new label We Are The Brave, ‘We Do What We Want’. It’s the first of several times we hear the track over the course of the next 10-hours, and the most rewarding. Truly one of the take home moments of the weekend.
We take a breather, escaping into the sunlight and exploring deeper corners of the arena. Galantis are holding court over on the Horizon stage, and breeze through their collection radio-friendly productions, setting the stage perfectly for Oliver Heldens. The clientele is predictably younger here, but no less up for a party. We head back to more familiar surroundings, but not before catching a glimpse of Annie Mac’s instantly recognisable hairdo bouncing rhythmically on the giant screens of the Arc stage. The familiar vocals of Gyptian ‘Hold You’ play out as Radio 1’s First Lady of dance music crafts an accessible set to a bustling dancefloor.
We return to the Steelyard for the Dane, Kölsch. His signature melancholy sound is a little less uncompromising than his predecessor’s, but his melodic selections lifts the arena to celestial heights. The baton is passed to Beyer, and the throbbing crowd indicates this being one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend. The Drumcode boss wastes no time in thumping out banger after banger, continuing the momentum picked up from his last few English dates. We’re still being warmed-up for the finale, though. A brief changeover only adds to the tension before a glowing blue beacon, otherworldly in nature, illuminates the stage. Alas, it is now the only light as darkness has fallen, marking the arrival of our Pryda host, Eric Prydz. His intro alone is worth the price of admission. The laser & light show breathtaking as it presides over a sea of mobile phones held aloft to capture the moment. Then the beat drops, and everybody around us loses it. Even amid all the chaos we’re pretty certain we just had our Creamfields moment!
There’s still so much to see, and dragging ourselves away is a true test of willpower. It’s only a short hop to the neighbouring tent, and its headliner is about to take the stage. ‘Bird of Prey’ rings from the sound system and the appearance of Fatboy Slim’s silhouette behind the decks gets a huge reaction. Soon the entire tent is in motion and chanting along to ‘Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat’. A tidal wave of acid smiley balloons drop from the roof. Norman, having lost none of his charisma over his lengthy career, is still the most animated man in the room, and his enthusiasm is infectious. We’re tempted to stay to see how this ends. But Creamfields 2016 is close to an end, and there’s still the small matter of Calvin Harris.
Fighting our way through the crowds, we’re only in time to catch the tail end of his headline set. A helicopter hovers overhead and pointing bystanders speculate that this might be the Scot’s private taxi home. Creamfields 2016 is brought to a thrilling conclusion by a spectacular fireworks display engulfing the night sky, perhaps more befitting to a Hollywood blockbuster than a music festival. But it’s fair to say, that if Hollywood is the showbiz capital of the world, then Creamfields just might be electronic music’s equivalent.
It’s a(nother) long drive from Chesire back to Kent. We daren’t speculate about the likelihood of queues as we walk towards the exit. Concrete and tiredness await us. That is inevitable. But the one other certainty is that we’ll be back in Daresbury for Creamfields 2017!