This summer has been something of a festival adventure for me. From the Valencian coast to the Garden of England, I’ve experienced a whole mixture of music, workshops, performers, and events, but V Festival is by far the biggest festival yet, and definitely the most commercial. The style of the festival has definitely changed since it’s conception 21 years ago. Although Kaiser Chiefs took the MTV stage, and Jake Bugg played a beautifully executed set of Country Rock and Roll on Sunday, the presence of typical rock, indie bands or simple singer-songwriters seemed almost banished from the premises, different from the days when Kasabian, Paul Weller and the Courteeners would take the stage. The festival this year boasted iconic pop headliners instead, with Justin Bieber taking the Saturday slot in Hylands park and Rihanna closing the Chelmsford site on Sunday, their 90,000 people capacity can definitely be seen packed across the various stages.
V Festival is one of the main chapters of the British festival season. It’s increasingly popular, features a lot of various stalls from sponsors, and a tonne of fairground rides. For a festival this size there are only two campsites, which though both incredibly large, are meticulously separated at ticket purchasing. When buying a V festival ticket You can choose to camp in either red or yellow, and if you have friends in another campsite or make some there who happen to have chosen differently, too bad, the security will probably bite your head off for suggesting you pay them a visit. This being said, the campsites themselves are pretty well organised, lit and have their own food vendors to satisfy their chosen ones, not to mention your fellow neighbours are friendly enough. Contrary to many rumours of tent burning, I saw absolutely no mindless violence or foul behaviour, but maybe that's because they were all in yellow camp, so I guess I’ll never know.
V is technically only a two-day festival, but with the vast majority of punters arriving on the Friday, the Arena is open, which at this point fairly clean, and the Radio 1/MTV stage showcased the likes of the incredible DJ EZ and Eric Prydz, who although had an incredible light show, played a set perhaps a bit too house inspired, and the silent disco is open until 1am to subdue the crowds and simultaneously adhere to the residential sound level of the Chelmsford area.
Saturday rolled around, and boasted a whole load of dance acts, such as the Smirnoff house stage, where Tinie Tempah’s DJ (if you could call him that) somehow wowed the crowds with his repetitive mix of hits. On the live music front, however, Rick Astley made a comeback with an incredible live performance. A big turnout and lots of fun, he threw in a cover of Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk before ending his set with his beloved classic Never Gonna Give You Up, he certainly didn’t let us down. Also on the MTV stage, John Newman blew away expectations with new track Olé, as well as some classics and his Rudimental beginnings, also throwing in a surprising lone acoustic song written only a week previous, and performed for the first time on that stage. Emotional messages for loved ones graced the lyrics of the song, and although widely unexpected, it was a touching moment in an otherwise jam-packed show. Saturday also saw the likes of pop princesses Jess Glynne and Zara Larsson play, as well as the actual Tinie Tempah, and the elusive Sia’s strangely captivating stage show, which although fifteen minutes late was incredibly entertaining.
Performers at Sia
But really we need to talk about Justin. Rumours about a cancelled set were floating around on the Friday, and when he took the stage Saturday evening it was clear to see why. Looking desperately hungover, and clinging onto signs of life in his various backup dancers, any energy was almost non-existent and he’s half-hearted miming to about half the set was not fully appreciated by the crowd. This, paired with the fact he kept treating the whole show as another stop on the Purpose world tour; and calling the crowd ‘London’ over and over again, made for a pretty disappointing set, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, advise him to take an Alka-Seltzer next time and put it down to illness.
One thing that V festival has upped it’s game on is the food vendors around and inside the arena. After some freshly ground coffee, a chicken Caesar Salad with soft poached eggs and (my favourite) a four-cheese Mac N Cheese topped with Jerk Chicken, I can safely conclude you will be able to find something amazing to eat, which you’re going to need to keep you going as you power walking through the absolutely massive festival site.
Sunday came around even quicker than expected and brought with it a lot of more guilty pleasures. All Saints made their reunion on the main stage, and my childhood was made in the few minutes it took them to perform Never Ever and Pure Shores. Following on the Girl Band theme of the day, Little Mix also took the main stage, though opening with Salute and rocking khaki leotards, took a very Destiny’s Child turn, which, alongside a bubbly, high energy stage presence, worked for them massively, as well as bringing Lethal Bizzle on stage with them, driving their fans wild. The main stage also saw the likes of Travis, which though nostalgically fun, didn’t really fit with the other artists, and Example, who seemed to be experiencing some technological issues around his sound, but was fun to watch all the same.
Over on the MTV stage, Big Sean brought the fire and got the crowd going, ending with his signature ‘I don’t F**k with you’ – a big favourite among the Adidas, flower garland-wearing crowd. Katy B also hit the MTV stage, performing a few of her old tracks, as well as some new ones. Jake Bugg played the MTV stage shortly after, which although backed up by only a band, some simple lights and a colourful backdrop, blew the smaller crowd away with his faultless voice and mesmerising lyrics. David Guetta was the second to last act on the mainstage, just before Bad Gal RiRi herself closed the festival, taking inspiration from the art deco style of the 80’s with her stage show, and seemingly channelling Michael Jackson from beyond the grave, she gave a show-stopping performance. A set which combined the Dirty Diana/ Billie Jean styled tunes of ANTI – Desperado and Love on the Brain amongst my favourites, alongside a lot of fan favourites, including a medley of Run This Town, Live Your Life, and Love The Way You Lie. Although the mass amount of crowd around us were rather uninteresting and seemed content at watching the show through a smartphone, her voice, performance and crowd-pleasing setlist was enough to make us move and put the biggest, guiltiest smile on my face.
The crowd and general atmosphere of the whole festival was pretty boring, a lot of the festival goers seemed a lot more interested in their image than the acts, which was a bit of a first for me. Because the Lineup at V is so commercial, you don’t really get to stumble across many new bands or acts, as I’ve been lucky enough to do at other, smaller festivals. The smaller stages boost either DJs, already established artists or other acts such as comedy – which although enjoyable – doesn’t scream the festival atmosphere I enjoy. Where I appreciate that V is one of the most expensive of the British festivals and therefore needs to pack in a crowd-pleasing list, it's lineup is actually pretty small, and doesn’t hold nearly as many artists as one of its main rivals, say Reading + Leeds, who still manage to support and showcase new bands.
I knew from the get-go that V wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, and with this in mind, I did still have a great time. It’s sheer size and sponsorship means that they get some big names, and they know how to accommodate them, the stage show for each performance fairly mesmerising and well planned. There’s also a fair amount of things to see and do (provided you’re willing to pay) but if as long as you like the music, walking, camping, and are adamant that you want to be surrounded by like-minded Instagram happy crowds, then V is the one for you, and you will definitely have fun.