High Voltage Festival… a review/comparison

If you are one of the 3 people who read this blog, you may have come across my Sonisphere bashing. Well, Soni wasn’t the only fest I attended this year.

The festival organisers of the bigger festivals in the UK have been on record referring to these smaller, more intimate affairs as “boutique festivals”. They explain this term as meaning smaller, more specialised, in terms of the music and the core audience. They are also almost definitely aware of just how shit it makes them sound, like an art bitch’s dearest haunt to buy lace and retro clothing. This is what we call a sneaky marketing ploy. Of course the truth of the matter is that neither Download nor Sonisphere have a much broader audience, being so firmly rooted in whatever decade of music is popular with the kids at the moment. Oh, Download has made efforts to expand its horizons to the older generation, but it dare not compromise its safety net of 16-25 year olds who want to get hammered and listen to something they saw on TV. High Voltage doesn’t seem to want to compromise like this. It’s early days yet, being only in its second year, but already it’s known for one very specific thing: the attitude that REAL rock music never dies.

The launch of High Voltage can be traced back to a fairly specific event, ripping it off in a manner that is as ruthlessly cold and businesslike as the larger festivals slyly belittling High Voltage in interviews. It started after Download 2009, where for the first time did Download not only sell out, but also had a day full of classic rock (and a field full of Dads). I was at this festival, and it was phenomenal. People stood up and took notice. Classic and Prog Rock fans were not only still willing to go see their heroes, but now they were middle aged, they also had that special rarity at a non-Glastonbury festival. I’m talking about disposable income.

The double whammy of the unexpected success of Download, came from the fact that younger audiences actually really liked this music too. This wasn’t Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd playing, this was ZZ Top, Journey and Whitesnake. These weren’t the bands that television had been banging on about since the members stopped playing, these were some of the finest artists still touring. And someone took notice. The next year, in association with Classic Rock magazine, High Voltage was launched, with a lineup to make every neck beard itch, and every anorak sweaty. With ZZTop and ELP on top billing, High Voltage was here and taking no prisoners. And I didn’t go. Why? It cost £150, that’s why. This year, the weekend cost £99, which already improved things a lot. It showed that these guys might actually listen to the punters.

This festival, a mere 30 mins or so from my front door, is good. Like, really fucking good. It’s reduced size, and more laid back audience members make for a great atmosphere. The shop to arena size ratio works nicely. Everything is flat, but nothing is hard to see. The televisions are at the proper height *cough*Sonisphere*cough*. The main stage compares to the Download second stage, in terms of size and capacity, but believe me when I say that it’s enough.  They send you your wristband in the post to speed up entry into the site. This festival is, actually, really really good.

Bar? Well, either no queues, or fast moving ones. NO PEAR CIDER. Same prices as Sonisphere. They give you your drinks as they come, which for me was in cans (ice cold). Considering I was drinking strong lager in a field in East London, I don’t think I could have felt more at home. So, what was bad? Well, it’s certainly a two day maximum jobbie. There isn’t enough shite for another day, although I doubt that it’s ever going to be an intention. There were a few sound cock ups, human errors I think, but some were pretty bad. Not much shade, but welcome to festivals in Britain. Oh and there was no sniffer dogs or any sort of in depth check like that. Perhaps sniffer dogs die from shock in East London, but lets just say you don’t need a super keen sense of smell to notice the additional atmosphere that was floating about your head. For me, this was sorta nice, because although I didn’t participate, it made me wonder how many aged hippies and rockers were happily reliving their youth. I’d like to have that kind of experience when I’m older. I can see it annoying other people though, so I think its contribution to the festival kinda has to stay on the fence.

So yeah, I had a good time. I guess the elephant in the room is the fact that this is a no camping festival.  If you aren’t local, this fest could easily run up a large festival sized bill in both accommodation and transport (if you couldn’t get any local accommodation). I live up the road though, so fuck that!

I saw more bands than I did at Soni, so here’s a roundup:

Michael Monroe: Great opener, looks like a melted Pamela Anderson, climbed the stage

Rival Sons: Amazing new band, very LedZep/Free influenced, give them a listen

Anathema: Prog. Not to my tastes, but seemed to play quite well.

Thin Lizzy: Far exceeded expectations, played every song I wanted them to. ‘Nuff said. (sound problems)

Slash: Very good, didn’t change my world, but didn’t hit a bum note.

Judas Priest: Incredible, so much better than the last time I saw them. Gonna miss these guys.

Furyon: I think it was these guys I saw… their songs seemed to be a string of pinch harmonics interrupted by some drumming. At least, to my old git ears.

Heavens Basement: Dull whippersnappers, did the best with the clearly-not-interested older crowd, but failed to impress. Not for me, but they did have a lot of energy. Your mum will fancy them.

Saint Jude: What a voice! Great new band, give them a see if they’re playing near you. I need to catch them again. Do it!

Michael Schenker : Fantastic showman, great musician, brought on Rudolph for “Rock you like a Hurricane”, and closed on “Doctor Doctor (Please)”. Had bad sound problems.

Thunder: One off reunion (apparently). Absolutely amazing, but had even worse sound problems at the beginning.

Black Country Communion: Far exceeded expectation, played “Burn” by Hughes’ Deep Purple just as I actually was.

Dream Theater: There’s only one Dream Theater in the world, for a good reason. Blinding gig and showmanship, but as with anything like this, it’s an endurance test to witness. Only band not to play the obvious hit, which was actually slightly disappointing. DT drum solo kinda made up for it though.

In conclusion, much better. Might be at Newquay Boardmasters in a few weeks, so watch this space.

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One Response to High Voltage Festival… a review/comparison

  1. Skin also played very well. Not really knowing them, i’d say they were pretty decent, didn’t know any of their stuff mind.

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