Big Chill
2003

By Serena Kutchinsky

Fancy a weekend of fun and frolics in an enchanted forest? This year 10,000 Big Chillers packed up their troubles and headed to the Malvern hills for another Eastnor extravaganza. As hundreds of thousands of revellers rammed melting motorways en route to Knebworth, desperate for a glimpse of an overweight and undersexed popstar, chillers of all ages enjoyed a weekend of mellow magic in the breathtaking surroundings of Eastnor Castle.

DJ Magazine famously labelled the Chill “the best festival in the world ever”. There are no piles of rubbish, precious few drug casualties and very little crime. It is a different kind of event where people come to kick back and enjoy an unadulterated orgy of loveliness and calm. Creativity, friendliness, and above all fun are vital parts of the vibe at a festival designed for people who don’t like festivals anymore.

Eight years ago chill out music was sidelined as medicine for mash heads: soothing background sounds to fill the smaller rooms of large clubs. The Big Chill has since blazed an impressive trail, reenergising, redefining and cultivating a scene to create a credible, complete audio visual experience.

A medley of musical delights awaited all Chillers as the ominous rain clouds were chased away and the sun came out to play. Friday kicked off with newcomers Bussetti funking it up on the Open Air stage. Layers of clever samples and quality scratching added a hip hop edge to their innovative electro jazz sound, blending sweetly with the female singer’s darkly soulful voice.

Catskills, smoothies and veggie thalis were the order of the afternoon as the Club Tent nodded its head and tapped its toes to the tunes of the Brighton underground. Bushy’s genre bending blur of broken beats and swirling sounds unleashed some Friday fever into the swelling crowd.

London Elektricity lit up the dance scene this year. Billed as the saviours of drum and bass they injected a mellow vibe into dance music’s darkest form. But the Big Chill saw their star temporarily eclipsed by the shiny brilliance of nu jazz kings, Nu Spirit Helsinki. This Finnish DJ tag-team spun elements as diverse as future jazz, latin, afrobeat, house, hip hop and funk together in a mellifluous melting pot of musical magic.

Saturday was a day of sunshine, space hopper races and surprises. Original trip hopper AJ Kwame was a revelation, looping, scratching and twisting his way through everything from reggae to jungle with a detour through hip hop and funk. But Howie B’s overly experimental set left the suntanned crowd a little bemused though the vibe was rescued by the sheer presence of Nightmares on Wax who pleased all ears and eyes in a upbeat, funky way as the sun set over the valley. Warp's grandaddy of chill looked as content as the crowd of middle-class hippies who showed their appreciation by skinning up rather than standing up. Such is the Big Chill way.

Mr Scruff got as close to rocking a crowd as was humanly possible. Big, grins were plastered all over Big Chillers’ faces as his eclectic blend of happy clappy, housey breakbeats and Mr Men style doodles energised the Club Tent into the early hours. For those seeking to ward off the bitter cold the 24 hour Café remained resolutely open, offering comfy sofas, steaming cups of tea, tasty toasties and giant Jenga. The most civilised mash up I have ever had the pleasure to attend.

Sunday belonged to the best dressed band in funk. The Quantic Soul Orchestra dished up a delectable helping of deep fried funk that got the sun-dazed Sunday crowd jumping. Their sound is all about the live performance, no samples, no polish, just raw grooves and Alice Russell’s spine tingling vocals that come into their own on the classic 4 Hero cover, Hold Me Down.

If you criticise the Big Chill it's proof you don’t really get it. Yes, the homogeneity of the music policy bred a slight frustration at times, as people longed for some driving beats and dirty bass lines to keep them partying into the wee hours. But by Sunday everybody had caught the chill. Matthew Herbert’s Big Band stood resplendent in their full tails and phat headphones. Bugz in the Attic transplanted their West London broken soulful sound to the great outdoors and triumphed in the Club Tent.

What a weekend! Wonderful weather, the mellowest of music and the friendliest of crowds. Eastnor 2003 never really kicked off, it just laid back, chilled out and sucked you in.
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