LONDON A hip-hop festival in a trailer park?
The inaugural Dedbeat Weekender, a sold-out festival held this past Friday through Sunday two hours northeast of London in Great Yarmouth, married of the exotic and the mundane. It also proved that independence and innovation not a single corporate sponsor was tapped, and advertising was non-existent are viable options for large-scale events that can also create a unique concert-going experience.
The cozy atmosphere of Vauxhall Holiday Park, a summer resort in this seaside town reopened for the occasion, lent a distinctly British feel to the festival, which hosted a crowd of 2,000.
With a lineup stocked with live sets by Aphex Twin, Big Daddy Kane, Andrew Weatherall, the Pharcyde, Jeru the Damaja, Hefner, Red Snapper and more than 50 DJs, the three days were jammed with top names in hip-hop and electronic music. Sound wasn't the only source of joy at the Dedbeat, however, as the admission price included four-star "chalet" accommodations, while outdoor entertainment on the grounds featured such distinct offerings as maggot racing and ten-pin bowling.
"Years ago, festivals were low-key events. Glastonbury used to be about people going to a field and bringing instruments along," said Mat Carter, one of the Weekend's organizers. In the past decade, with festivals, especially in Europe, growing more massive and more commercially oriented, Carter and his friend Sam Reid decided to create one of their own.
"We found ourselves whining so much about them that we decided to go back and do something ourselves: a festival based on our sort of music in a holiday park."
Indeed, the summer trip to the holiday park a sort of all-inclusive "luxury" trailer park, complete with amenities such as supermarkets and gyms, located in coastal towns around the country is a staple of British family life.
The spirit of the weekend certainly distinguished the Dedbeat from other British festivals, but the music, too, was on another plane. Aphex Twin's (born Richard D. James) set produced the digital cacophony of often strident sound for which he has shown an affinity in recent years. With no visual accompaniment, James lay down on his stomach behind a fake palm tree, invisible to the packed audience, and triggered sounds from a laptop on the staqe floor.
On the other end of the crowd-pleasing spectrum, Hefner (the producer Lee Jones, not the English band) replicated tracks from his recent debut, Residue, with a five-piece band that included a drummer, keyboardist and bassist, as well as a singer, Josie, who was one of the Dedbeat's few female performers. Through his iBook, Jones fluidly mixed between songs, ingeniously incorporating elements of a DJ set, with each cut accompanied by a corresponding video projected behind the band that culled footage from Motown '60s artists such as the Four Tops.
The peaceful crowd was exuberant throughout the festival, especially on Saturday night during the call-and-response hours in the hip-hop ballroom, where hands were in the air for hours on end and the dance floor overflowed with enthusiasts. London hip-hop producer/rapper Roots Manuva, slow-beat maestro DJ Vadim (joined by his Russian Percussion outfit), Mr. Thing, human beat-box Kela, MC First Rate and Big Daddy Kane all appeared back-to-back in a beguiling display of underground hip-hop from over the years.
"I was intrigued by the idea of having a whole room of hip-hop next to an electronic room on a holiday camp in the middle of nowhere, away from London," said festival-goer Karen Pearson, a 22-year-old assistant producer of Gilles Peterson's world-famous weekly BBC radio show, "Worldwide." "When I first arrived I was pretty skeptical, it reminded me of a school disco. But when the weekend kicked off, the atmosphere totally changed."