I've been to a lot of festivals in a wide and diverse range of locations and genres and if you were to believe the hype surrounding all of them then you would be disappointed by many of them. Naturally the PR machines aren't going to tell you that their festival is set on a barren tarmac airfield with all the character of a Cyberman's boudoir or that you shouldn't bother turning up until 9pm each day because nothing happens of note before then, but these days we have to take the claims made with a pinch of salt and try to take each festival as you find them. There have been very few that haven't had at least one redeeming feature, even if it is that it is so bad that you will be dining out on anecdotes about it for years so it's best not to prejudge. So when I was on the way to Beach Break Live for the first time I skimmed over the hype:
"Set on an award winning beach" - what was the award? It could be the award for the country's dirtiest beach!
"The best UK student festival" it's not likely to say anything else, really, is it?
"Fun/great music/extreme sports/activities" etc. etc. Been there before ...
To add insult to injury it was set to be disastrous weather and in Wales, home of really wet conditions.
Well, having returned from Wales in almost one piece I can honestly say that for once the festival outdid its own PR. Even working for the whole weekend I found Beach Break Live an absolute joy; great atmosphere, beautiful setting, brilliant crowd, amazing beach, my list could go on and on. I'm not one to gush, on the contrary I am closer to a miserable git than a platitude-ridden sycophant, so to be complimentary so early in a review is rare indeed, but I think that Beach Break Live deserves it. Here's why:
Beach Break Live takes place in Pembrey Country Park, a 500 acre reserve on the south coast of Wales, close to Llanelli. This huge area is free from almost all signs of human life, save a few paths and roads and the festival site is nestled between the pine forests and sedge dunes just 400 yards from the beach. It's hard not to be impressed by it, but the real star of the show is the eponymous beach. In 2009 Beach Break Live was set in Kent and had an artificial beach created on site by shipping in a load of sand, the following year it struggled to get a venue but settled at Pembrey, which is the epitome of a beautiful British beach.
With the requirement for the short walk to the beach (it really isn't far at all) it would be easy to just not get round to visiting it unless you were there for some of the extreme sports that were put on over the weekend, from Wakeboarding to Windsurfing. Unfortunately the weather was punishing for two days with 20-50mph winds gusting in from the sea and bringing harsh rain with it, so any trips were rewarded with being sandblasted and soaked.
The collective will of 20,000 people and all the associated staff and crew all crossed their fingers for a break in the weather and we were rewarded with one beautiful day of sun on Sunday which got everyone moving down to the beach. That was when it really came alive. The beach is so big that you could never fill it, but that didn't stop them from trying. There were people running into the sea, sunbathing, burying each other in the sand, playing sport, listening to the music being played on the beachside stage "The Wreck" or just lounging around trying to recover from the previous night's over indulgence. It was a sight to behold. The problem is that now I think that every festival should have a beach.
Students get a bad press, and the prospect of being surrounded by 20,000 of them is enough to send a shiver down many a spine, but I find them to be a great, easygoing crowd. If you mix in with them a load of dance music fans (some of the happiest punters around) and add extreme sport enthusiasts who are up for almost anything then you get an amazing range of people who are there to enjoy themselves for the whole weekend and nothing else. I didn't hear so much as a raised voice or tetchy snap anywhere, the only violence was in the Student Games, where consenting adults smacked seven bales of shite out of each other with massive boxing gloves.
This wasn't your usual class of fans, they seemed to do things with a bit more style and excess, and you've got to admire their attention to detail and will to celebrate the end of the year as strongly as possible (there must have been some serious alcohol consumed over the weekend). The best illustration for this is that you would always get people trying to climb the flagpoles at a festival, sometimes they are quite good and can get all the way to the top - once I even saw one person bend the pole flat when they reached the summit. At Beach Break Live they climbed up in seconds and performed acrobatic poses and pole dance moves, holding horizontal and upside down freezes like human flagpoles. Now that's stylish. It didn't go down well with the security, but I will go into that later.
The people of Beach Break Live have been officially added to my list of favourite crowds. I would like to give a special mention to the Bath Gymnastic Squad who I bumped into on Sunday night who did this little pose for me. It kind of summed it all up.
Beach Break Live was crammed with things to do, and it's not just your usual professional drinking or fairground rides (although they were there). Aside from the beach games you could take a trip to the dry ski slope for a touch of skiing or snowboarding - and it was a proper 130m slope with jumps and massive stunt bags so you could try some acrobatics without worrying about breaking yourself into a hundred pieces. There was Zorbing, tobogganing, windsurfing, mountain boarding, powerkiting and a load of madcap activities in the Celtic Games like human curling (thanks to the naked guys for hurling themselves down the course for a laugh), four way blindfolded mixed boxing and some revolting eating games. If you weren't up for trying them there was loads of mileage in simply watching them or any of the professional extreme sports that were going on.
I could reel off a long list of other activities in workshops, but you get my point. There was even a hot tub at the highest point of the site, but frankly I never got up there, there was just too much else to do which is testament to Beach Break Live's attention to detail when it comes to keeping people out of mischief by letting them have some proper mischief to get on with.
There's no easy way to describe the music genre in one sentence, but it was geared up for the young crowd with a rich vein of dance and urban running through a mix of well established and up and coming acts from indie and folk to rock and grime. This doesn't do the range justice though. The headline acts on the main stage reflected this quite well with Chase and Status bringing their dance music on Friday, Dizzee Rascal filled the air with rap on Saturday and Friendly Fires closed on Sunday. Each of these acts generated the largest crowds, as you would expect, but there were over 200 acts on from Thursday to Sunday, so they were far from the only thing on.
The line-up was crammed with popular artists, many of which are rising fast in the industry such as: Delilah, Random Impulse, Maverick Sabre, Ghostpoet, DJ Fresh and Dry the River. There were a number of strong established bands such as The Maccabees, Labrinth, Wretch 32 and festival favourite Scroobius Pip whose response to a fan shouting "down it, down it!" when he picked up his bottle of wine of "no I'm not going to down it, I'm not a fucking student" was a joy to hear.
There were a number of highlights from the main stage, Brother and Bones was a real surprise after a slow start to their opening song. "Mumford and Sons have a lot to answer for" I remarked, but when the song's tempo upped the band came alive and delivered a brilliant set, more so because it was such a bonus. Mix Mumford and Dry the River and you'll know roughly what I mean (see their gallery here).
For all the wrong reasons Levi Roots made an impression, mainly because he launched straight into his Reggae Reggae Sauce song before even taking a breath in one of the worse examples of blatant commercial exploitation of a product that I have ever had the displeasure to sit through. I was hoping for a collection of reggae tracks to prove his musical calibre and to end plugging his sauce in a fun way, not to get right to it as a priority. And we didn't get any samples. Bitter.
Ben Howard was the big pull on Sunday, coming on before The Maccabees and Friendly Fires, but still drawing a crowd as large as any of the weekend. Great voice, smooth songs, good personality and very, very popular in a way that Ed Sheeran was this time last year. It was almost like déjà vu, from the point of view of his genre and the number of screaming girls in the crowd. I blew one girl's mind when I asked her who she preferred, Ed or Ben. I imagine she is still mulling that one over like the famous "Daddy or Chips" advert. Bless.
My personal highlight was Irish comedy rapper Abandoman (above) who took to a sparsely populated stage early on Sunday afternoon and knocked everyone's socks off. I knew he would be good, but seeing him rap about any item you handed to him eloquently, accurately and funny without so much as a pause in his "What's in Your Pocket" track was amazing. The guy is a genius - and he rapped about one of the cotton buds I keep in my bag for cleaning the camera. By the time he was finished he had beguiled himself a sizeable crowd, which would have been much bigger if they weren't mainly down the beach.
There were stages and dance areas all around the site, Chai Wallahs, the Leeky Sheep and the Ghetto Palace never seemed to stop, but around 7pm Merlin's Forest stage started its evening of strictly dance music. With big names acts like Skream, Benga, Toddla T, Nero, Rodigan, Jakwob, Netsky and many more the tent heaved well past the 11pm curfew on the main stage.
Before you think that this is just platitude heaped on platitude you have to know that my weekend was far from free of problems. In fact it is, without doubt, one of the worst catalogues of errors that I have had to deal with in some time. Ignore the fact that I forgot some key items that I needed to work and couldn't get a phone or internet signal all weekend that's nothing to do with the festival. It took me an hour and a half to get in and I got sent from pillar to post by security who didn't know where anything was, my car got locked into the park and ride car park with all my stuff in and I couldn't get to it until the next day and I was threatened and pushed around by the disgusting Coast 2 Coast security thugs for daring to ask for water to give to the crowd at the front of the barriers before getting kicked out of the tent (more on this in a separate article, I don't want to sully Beach Break Live with this).
I tell you this, not for sympathy, but to illustrate that despite all of these things that could scupper many a festival for a whole weekend, I still came away having had a brilliant time with a fantastic impression of Beach Break Live. It is testament to the festival that a hardened and frequently surly old git like me now holds it close to my heart as a festival that I would highly recommend with the following caveats:
Don't go to Beach Break Live if you can't stand young people having a great time, or if you want a line-up filled with poptastic acts like JLS or One Direction, or you like to throw your beer into the crowd, or you're an early morning person and hate music going into the night, or detest nature's finest scenery, or if you only listen to Radio 2,3 or 4 or if you just hate fun.
Beach Break Live is without doubt a favourite festival of mine now. It showcases all the best things that a festival for young people should be and is already circled on my calendar for next year. It is a rare and precious thing when a festival lives up to its own hype but Beach Break Live manages it with room to spare.
Thanks to Full Fat for looking after me all weekend
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