We spent the last weekend in Newquay at Boardmasters Festival along with 30,000 revellers on the clifftops at Watergate Bay. Every festival has its own unique charm, but this year Boardmasters has gone above and beyond to offer a truly unique festival experience.
In previous years it had been said that there was something – a special and indescribable quality – missing from Boardmasters. Something that is hard to put your finger on but which, in its absence, made the festival seem like it had more to offer, room to grow and the potential to improve further.
However this year, they got it spot on!
Boardmasters 2016 proved to be a truly top tier festival, held in the most beautiful of locations in Cornwall, with an electric and energetic atmosphere throughout the entire five day event.
Music is a very subjective quantity at a festival and with over 300 acts playing across 10 stages it is impossible to see everyone. Besides that, each and every person at the festival will have had their own experience of acts across the weekend. From the small local bands to the dance megastars in the Unleashed arena. The acoustic acts on the View stage to the world class headline acts, everybody will have experienced a different selection of music at Boardmasters. So we aren’t going to talk about individual bands too much in this review. It seems futile to summarise the entire lineup in a few paragraphs – so instead we’re going to focus on our top ten things over the weekend that truly showed Boardmasters has come into its own on the festival scene.
So, without further ado, here is the Soundcheck Top Ten of Boardmasters 2016…
Number 10: Net Loft
New for 2016 was the addition of the Net Loft stage, offering festival goers a destination for local talent with the help of BBC Music Introducing Cornwall. Around forty acts played over the weekend including local favourites Stone Roots, Wolf Note and The Black Tambourines amongst plenty of others. Promoting local acts so prominently at the festival this year shows a true faith in the local music scene from the Boardmasters organisers and it also gave the many talented musicians the opportunity to showcase their sound to a whole new audience.
The Net Loft itself was a wonderfully themed stage with fishing paraphernalia and rope netting adorning every possible surface inside. This in turn created an exciting and unusual space which attracted plenty of festival-goers inside to experience the music on offer. A new addition to Boardmasters but certainly one we hope to see back again in the future.
Number 9: Saints & Staff
Okay, this may not be the most exciting scoop of the weekend, but I’ve gotta say the staff at Boardmasters this year were brilliant. Friendly, helpful and amusing – everybody we came into contact with over the weekend seemed passionate about ensuring we had the best time possible. From the security jokingly getting people to ‘drink up’ before losing their drinks to the stall holders charming you into buying their food, this year everybody got into the party spirit.
But it wasn’t just the staff that stood out this year, for the first time (as far as I’m aware) half of the festival site at Watergate Bay opened on Wednesday and Thursday. This newly created ‘Land of the Saints’ area was open along with the Silent Disco, Net Loft, Keg & Pasty and View stages for two whole days before the music officially kicked off at Boardmasters. Getting people to explore and enjoy the festival before it’s even officially begun was a fantastic idea which is reminiscent of Glastonbury and other bigger festivals who offer entertainment for the full five days.
Number 8: Surf & Skate
Any review of Boardmasters focussing soley on the music at Watergate Bay would be missing out on one of the most unique and entertaining aspects of the festival – all of the world class surfing and the skating that happens at the Fistal Beach site. Starting early Wednesday morning, the competitive side of the festival encourages the world’s best surfers to come down to Newquay and compete for The Boardmasters prize. This year saw the hugely talented Alice Lemoigne and Edouard Delpero scoop the top prizes, beating stiff competition from around the world.
Tens of thousands of people flocked to Fistral Beach to enjoy the sunshine and to soak up the competition, with regular shuttle busses going between the two Boardmasters sites to transport festival goers from one end of Newquay to the other. Revellers could even enjoy a taste of the music on the beach too as everyday Boardmasters provided the Beach Sessions which featured talented local artists performing right on the beach.
Number 7: Audience
Wow, okay, this is a big one. The audience. You guys. Yes, you! No matter which stage we found ourselves in front of, the audience were getting into each and every act. Whether a smattering of people laying on the grass soaking up some acoustic tunes or a mosh-pit that sprawled across half of the Land Of Saints Stage tent, the audience were brilliant this year.
But one moment undoubtably stands out from the whole weekend – Catfish and the Bottlemen. This is a band who have been billed to play the Boardmasters main stage for the past two years, but who have been unable to due to hurricanes and unexpected recording schedules. Third time lucky certainly applies to these guys though, as the audience went absolutely nuts for them. From the half dozen inflatable alligators in the crowd to the seemingly endless supply of multi-coloured smoke flares scattered throughout the audience, the atmosphere was 100% electric. The roar of the singalongs, the simultaneous bounce of 10,000 people jumping up and down in unison and the staggering sight of the sun setting in the distance – I think this was one set that everyone there will never forget.
Number 6: Weather
Okay, so I suppose this isn’t *technically* Boardmasters’ responsibilty but still, the weather made this years festival feel perfect. Yes, it wasn’t wall-to-wall sunshine the entire weekend, but perhaps that wouldn’t have been the best anyway – sometimes you need a stray cloud to offer a momentary shelter from the UV! This year we had both a fresh breeze and glorious sunshine, the perfect mix to encapsulate the weekend at Watergate Bay & Fistral Beach.
The only slight downside of this was the ‘slight breeze’ (a quote from the weatherman there!) that turned out to be far, far more substantial and resulted in a slightly hairy experience setting up our camp this year. It’s certainly a challenge in itself trying to pitch a tent that’s trying to become a parachute!
Number 5: Unexpected Nightlife
Land of Saints. 11.15pm. Just between Chase & Status finishing and Wolf Alice starting their late night slot. Nothing to see except a few merry revelers dancing in front of the food stalls you’d expect? Wrong. So, so wrong. This year Boardmasters surprised and entranced late night festival goers with two live shows on a new stage in the middle of the Lands of Saints area.
The Lords of Lightning stopped us in our tracks and gravitated us and many others towards the stage. Unsure of what to expect we sat, entranced, as two men began easily the most visual performance of the entire weekend by shooting 4 millions volts of electricity between each other in an epic and, at times, un-nerving battle upon giant tesla coils. Unexpected, inhuman and breathtaking. What a treat to find in the middle of the evening. And it got better still, following their show another duo took to the stage, this time performing fire stunts like you’ve never seen before. A true delight and a real case of being in the right place at the right time. What a show!
Number 4: Secret Sets
Another twist on the traditional Boardmasters festival now, the addition of some very sneaky Secret Sets! A pre-billed ‘Special Guests’ slot was due to open the main stage on Sunday, which turned out to be a surprise performance from rising stars Sunset Sons (much to the delight of the audience), but the real treats were found in the most unassuming space – the Finisterre UK tent. Barely big enough to fit a dozen people in, a small sign appeared on the Friday afternoon subtly mentioning a secret performance in the next couple of hours…
Anybody walking past would probably have missed the sign, but anybody who happened to be hanging around at the right time would have been treated to a stripped back and extremely intimate performance from Sunset Sons themselves. A repeat of this happened on Sunday too with another sign appearing advertising a secret set, but this time it was the turn of Australian acoustic star Hein Cooper to perform to a handful of lucky people. Moments like this can’t be predicted, can’t be recreated and only exist in their exclusivity. I hope Boardmasters learns from the success of these little spontaneous sets and adds more around the site next year – they make for absolutely unforgettable moments.
Number 3: Music All Night Long
It’s quarter to eleven at night, Deadmau5 has just blown the roof off the main stage and there are at least 20,000 people looking to continue the party long into the night. The mouse has left the stage, but the music and lights continue long into the night, carrying the party on until way into the next morning. This proved an incredibly sensible move as the Unleashed tent was jam packed the night before when Chase & Status finished, to the point where thousands of revellers were left outside, unable to fit in. Keeping the main stage going into the night gave everyone a chance to plan their next move, whether that was to see Kano in the Unleashed tent, Example & DJ Wire in the Land Of Saints Stage (a superb set!) or down towards the Point and Corona Sunsets stage to dance into the next morning.
Everywhere you went there were options for music, dancing and partying. Gone are the days at Boardmasters when you either go to the dance tent or get the shuttle bus into town for the afterparties – there’s more than enough happening on site at Watergate Bay now to keep everyone in that party spirit all night long.
Number 2: View Stage
It’s hard to explain just how much I love The View Stage. Every year this is the sanctuary, the place to come and reflect, the spot to sunbathe and the location for some of the most reflective and relaxing music of the whole weekend. The acts may not be world famous (yet!) and the stage might not be the biggest (far from it actually), but on this far edge of the site you can relax with a cider and bask in the sunshine while you enjoy some of the finest acoustic music in the country.
You’d be wrong to think this stage was uninteresting, in fact over the years it’s played host to some incredible artists just before they made the big-time. The best example I can think of was three years ago when a certain George Ezra played a magical 2pm slot to about eighty people, many of whom had never heard of him until that point. This year we had the pleasure of laying back against the hay bales and watching acts including Lewis Watson, Sivu and Johnny Borrell & Zazou (the Razorlight frontman’s new band). A complete joy.
Number 1: Scenery & Sunsets
How do you pick a single highlight to be in the number one spot? Well when it’s Boardmasters there is one thing that ALWAYS makes this place special. Something that sits alongside everything else, reminding each and every festival-goer that we are partying in the most beautiful part of the world. Quite simply it’s the view across Watergate Bay and the rest of Newquay. The endless ocean rushing against the cliffs, the golden beach covered in sunbathers and the sun that sets majestically over the site.
In fact, the sunsets over Boardmasters are something that prove impossible to describe. The natural beauty of the sun searing the sky with deep reds and oranges, set against whatever music you’re listening to is, simply, perfect. I can try and summarise this in a photo, but I can tell you now it won’t do it even 10% justice. You just need to be here next year, with 30,000 over revellers to experience this, along with everything else Boardmasters has to offer.
Tickets for next year are available now, do you really have an excuse not to come?
No, I didn’t think so.
See you in 2017.
Review & Photos by Jacob Woolcock and Sapphire Clarey for Soundcheck South West.