No UK festival can hope to earn its credibility stripes without triumphing over at least one mud-fest and this year it was Blissfields’ turn. On Friday in particular it was a sliding, sinking, sometimes stinking sea of mud, the main stage a dark and noisy whale rising from its depths. The predominantly teenage crowd didn’t seem to mind a jot though and perhaps that influenced the festival gods as, miraculously and mysteriously considering occasional heavy showers, the site largely dried out during the Saturday.
There is a strange kind of innocence about Blissfields that’s hard to explain. The usual dope haze and frenzied party eyes are omnipresent of course, no self-respecting festival would be complete without these, but Blissfields somehow still manages to feel like an entry-level festival in many ways…and it’s none the poorer for that.
The Thursday and Friday crowd appeared to be comprised predominantly of sixteen to twenty year olds, many delivered to the campsite by parents in shining 4x4s, and their excitement and party spirit was contagious. I’m somewhat removed from their age demographic but I found myself magically drawn by their enthusiasm into the mosh pit for the Friday headliners Everything Everything who, to me, sounded and looked like a weird and uncool mix of Gary Newman and A Flock of Seagulls (who were seriously uncool in their time too). I ended the evening with a bit of wet-clothed dancing to a chilled out set by legendary DJ Norman Jay.
Saturday brought a different vibe, the crowd seemed to age a fair bit, albeit we’re not talking bus passes (ie. 20 -25 year olds), and the atmosphere became more studied cool than summer break. Unfortunately the weather was also studied cool and so the habitual festival daytime lounging-about-in-the-sunshine was not quite as lounging as it ideally can be.
Fortunately there was no shortage of things to do. Although on the smallish side, it has an 8,000 capacity, Blissfields manages seven or so (I lost count) dance venues and small tent stages, the relatively remote and aspirationally-arthouse Hidden Hedge area being a personal favourite. Some of the sculptures and installations there were exceptional, the naked-woman-machine-monster was strangely alluring for example, and the authentic plane cockpit was a spectacular home for the resident DJs.
It wasn’t until the end of the festival though that I finally felt that elusive I’m-privileged-to-be-here factor. Dizzee Rascal’s headlining set was truly excellent, his grime/garage/hip hop marvelously incongruous – at least to me – in the leafy Hamsphire countryside. Oh how we danced, all hands in the air and bouncing up and down for England (not Europe, obviously). Dizzee seemed to enjoy himself greatly too, telling us at least three times that it was his favourite gig of the year. He’s most certainly a charmer. He ended, all too soon, with a rousing rendition of – surprise – Bonkers, leaving us to sidle happily off for a few late hours of electronic music in one of the dance tents before dissolving away into the chill night.
(…Oh yes, one last thing, the festival bills itself as family friendly and, yes, I can see that it is geared up for children. But I didn’t notice so many families in attendance. There were some for sure, with babies sleeping in buggies and 3-14 year olds playing in the children’s area and running wild all over the place, but it seemed to me that the site was predominantly populated by mid to late teens and early twenties….)
Published on 14 July 2016 by Nick Carter