A few things have changed since the very first time I went to Splendour. From the relatively intimate, two-day outdoor party of 2002, Splendour has become a four-day, 30,000-person behemoth – and one of the biggest youth culture marketing opportunities in the country. In 2013, it’s basically Westfield, outdoors, with bands (very, very good bands). The hippie markets of 2002 have been replaced by The Small Mall (where you can shop at pop-up Vans, Dr Marten’s and Top Shop stores), there are hundreds of food stalls, and I counted individual bars for at least six different liquor brands. Not that any of these things are bad – the wide variety of food and places to drink are a huge improvement on previous years (Jamaican food stall, you saved my life at least twice), and if people really want to spend their festival day browsing in Top Shop then they’re most welcome to. It’s good to see the festival grow and strengthen, even if the new site and massive numbers caused inevitable teething troubles, namely long queues for camping and wristbands.
Besides the fact that you can no longer walk into Byron town centre (although that didn’t stop some people from trying), there’s not much difference between Belongil Fields and the new site. It’s still a cross between a magical bush fairyland and the Somme, where shell-shocked youth stumble dazedly through foul smelling mud. But Splendour will always be about getting sunburnt, then rained on, then coated in mud that never comes out – what’s important is that they consistently book an incredible lineup of bands. Personal highlights in 2013 were TV on the Radio and The National, who delivered a phenomenal hour and a half of thunder and lightning on the Saturday night, with criminally-shy Matt Berninger pacing the stage like a caged animal, wringing his hands and psyching himself up for the next display of rock star bravado (including leaping into the crowd).
Seeing TV on the Radio play Splendour the first time in 2006 stands out in memory as one of the greatest festival sets I’ve ever seen, and their 2013 performance didn’t disappoint – the huge, complex sound, the harmonies between Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone, Adebimpe’s cooler than fuck dancing, and their sheer professionalism, especially coming off the back of Babyshambles’ set. Pete Doherty and co. were also incredible – watching Doherty from side of stage before he went on, it looked like the guy was about to die (as he’s wont to): pale, pudgy, dripping with (presumably, withdrawal) sweat and smoking desperately, he looked ready to pass out at any second. So when he got up to the microphone and delivered an A-Grade performance it was a relief and genuine pleasure, complete with gobbing on the stage and tossing everything into the crowd he could get his hands on.
Cloud Control delivered a flawless homecoming performance and seemed genuinely stoked with the crowd’s reception of their new (excellent) material which, excluding lead single ‘Dojo Rising’, no one in the crowd would have heard. Jagwar Ma also delivered a stonking homecoming set for two in the afternoon, which reached its peak in awesome acid housey rave-ups. When they can add a few more members to the band and play more elements live, they’ll truly become a live force to be reckoned with. While it was disappointing that headliner Frank Ocean dropped out, by Sunday night it seemed most people were too delirious to really care. All in all, classic Splendour – exhausting and exhilarating in equal parts.