The first renaissance began in the 14th century in Italy. It was a revival of the classical arts that would later spread across Europe continuing to the 17th century. Importantly it marked the transition from medieval to modern times.
Fittingly the label that was there in the beginning, Renaissance, would return ten years later with its old masters to revive the summer festival calendar on the grounds of a stately home. And there were a few Italian house classics in there too.
I arrived at Shugbrough Hall to the sounds of Dave Seaman at the helm of the Wild arena. This was the grand ballroom of Wild In The Country, complete with projection screens, mezzanine levels, chandlers and proper flooring. A thoroughly modern festival. Already the crowd was four thousand strong with an energetic vibe enjoying the selection of big party tunes. Dave’s continued support for Australian production (similar to his recent Renaissance Therapy Sessions compilation) was evident, with Infusion’s remix of Will Saul – Cliff, and their own Legacy vs Rez bootleg featuring.
Checking out the other festival attractions revealed a carnival atmosphere. Located between the Pacha and Shadow arenas were an array of rides and market stalls. Whilst the combination of a stomach of noodles and a quick spin may appear in logical opposition to each other, the punters weren’t perturbed and the night was soon in full swing well before midnight.
Returning to the Wild arena, James Zabiela kicked off with a phat breaks track sampling the catchy hook of ‘The Number 1 DJ and MC team’. Keeping the energy up James would scratch (often with both hands simultaneously), tweak the EQ’s and mess with FX, creating breakdowns before bringing the beat back with some classic old school techno sounds and killer bass lines.
From there James threw it into a funky acid electro tech (™ pending) section, this time winding the pitch before dropping it deep and reverberating the bass through the masses with the full force of the Renaissance rig. One of the highlights of the set was a remix of a Goldie’s ‘Inner City Living’ a big dance-floor favourite I am looking forward to hearing again.
Keeping with the Renaissance theme, Zabiela was continually inventive, in one mix moving from what sounded like a harpsichord to a commanding drum-machine and robotic female vocal. From there we were taken back into the recent past with a huge ravey rocky finish accompanied by some tight technical scratching. This penultimate tune was a monster with big-beat style breaks and the ‘Cellar Door’ sample from Donnie Darko (PJ Davy?). This time James swapped the scratching for panning moving the sound from left to right, opening a wormhole and pushing us even further into the future. On the other side was one of my favourite tunes of the year so far, Introvert vs Bjork – Joga, a highlight of his Essential Mix delivering a winding scratching euphoric finish.
As Sasha got closer to the decks, so to did the passionate and vocal fanatics, crowding the front barricade screaming the name of the holy one like a high school swimming carnival. The Involver started on a familiar note with Invisible Inc – Stars adding to the religious overtones.
Having missed his last set at Fabric I was particularly keen to hear some new material from the man. And this first instalment did not disappoint. Meditative monks chants and some superb new progressive tunes were overlayed with old school piano riffs and backed with Michelangelo’s classic renaissance imagery.
Although don’t allow this overly analytical review lull you into thinking this was head music for chin strokers. This was proper progressive, highly evolved and had a large crowd beaming and bopping. It was deep, twisted and a little dirty. There was something for your mind and plenty of new sounds to get you moving. Sasha was leading an instructional excursion of house, dropping it down before exploding out with a massive bassline.
After this solid first hour, John Digweed stepped up and continued the journey. The back-to-back style of these two heavyweights occurring over a longer time frame. Rather than alternating every other record, the transition between the two was more akin to a slow changing of gears. Perfectly in sync, taking it to the next level, giving it more drive.
After a few hours in the main arena, I took another exploration of the grounds, this time drifting out to see Infusion in the Shadow arena. The boys were well and truly rocking it; their unique synthesised sounds emerging from beneath a web of green lasers.
Unfortunately at this point a number of production problems in staging a large (albeit boutique) festival in the countryside became apparent. Volume levels would ebb and flow between the areas as decibels were distributed between performing artists or reduced in response to local noise complaints.
Infusion were still upbeat playfully engaging the crowd as they introduced two new tracks “Turn The Lights Up!” and “Where is the next DJ?”. The void left by a late Jon Carter was filled but their big finish piped by the lyrics of Lil Kim, “My neck, my back…” replacing them in the shadow arena, much to the disappointment of the crowd and the band
Returning to the Wild arena, Sasha was once again in control. Volume levels were rectified and all was very good. The 4/4 of his opening stanza now replaced with a reasonable midsection of electro rocky breaks (I think this is about were the Essential Mix recording starts). After a while the novelty wore off, and in the interests of a well rounded review I ventured to the Scissor Sisters who were finally hitting the stage in the Pacha arena after being delayed by fog in their journey up from London.
Pacha was home to the fashion kids of this festival. Asymmetrical haircuts, creative wardrobe-ing and few short skirts and heels, provided a fresh take on the typical house club crowd. At times the Sisters felt flat, the effects of two earlier shows that evening taking their toll. Remarkably for the most part the eclectic New Yorkers were energetic throwing down some big hits of crowd friendly retro styled pop. Their rendition of ‘Filthy’ was a highlight. Although many were just content to keep a watchful eye on leader singer Jake and his ripped naked torso, which was almost revealed from beneath his loose farmer boy overalls.
With the completion of the Scissor Sisters and the absence of Derrick Carter (fog preventing him from taking off in Manchester) what was left of the volume returned to the masters and the main arena. By this stage Sasha and Digweed were playing a more conventional back-to-back format, alternating every other track. The anticipated history lesson had begun, as a few early Renaissance Italian vocal house tracks made their way back onto the turntables of old, complete with the big piano riffs typical of the early 90’s.
Other tracks to feature in the home straight were Leftfield – Song for Life, Moonchild – VOAT and Bedrock – For what you dream of. The night wrapped up with a big old school vocal track (Kim Mazelle - Was that All it was), unashamedly cheesey and would have been out of place at any other time, but absolutely adored by the strong crowd hanging on till the finish. As the track finished Sasha and Digweed held their hands in the air like victorious boxers, all smiles, clearly having enjoyed a return to the early years.
- Published /
Wed / 16 Jun 2004
- Words /