This weekend saw 15,000 people descend into the foothills of North Wales for the 2017 edition of Festival No. 6, and we went along to see what all the fuss is about.
No review of No. 6 would be complete without talking about its location – set in the stunning Italianate village of Portmeirion, it’s almost certainly the most beautiful setting for a festival in the UK. The quirky village (including a stunning central piazza, dome gallery and endless corridors and alleyways to explore) overlooks an estuary, mountains, fields and contains over or 70 acres of woodland.
Activities are hosted right across the huge site. From woodland forest raves to paddle boarding on the water. Everything you would want from an Italian-style festival… well, it certainly sounds picture-perfect but the reality, as always, is a little different.
Early in the festival poet Rosy Carrick takes to the Central Piazza to announce “You’re in the cultural bit – I know this is all probably a bit too cultural for you,” without the slightest hint of irony, before launching into a dreary poem about her ankles, delivered like a real life David Brent. If this was her idea of culture, then it’s one that definitely won’t be appropriated.
This announcement seemed to symbolise the feel of the whole weekend: music and fun were second to the notion of “culture”. Sure, there was music, and lots of it. But the good stuff was hidden away.
The No 6 Stage underwhelmed with a headline performance from Mogwai that didn’t have a big enough crowd to create an atmosphere. Bloc Party failed to deliver when Kele Okereke lost control of his loop peddles and voice simultaneously. And most shockingly of all, bland-soul-by-numbers Rag ‘N’ Bone Man drew the festival’s largest crowd by far, despite sounding like a karaoke singer. It’s hard to tell if this was indicative of the festivals poor curation, or if it’s due to the crowd it attracts; however, one thing is for certain – it was definitely the worst main stage we’ve experienced in our 15 years of festivals.
But the No 6 stage was not all bad. The Bootleg Beatles and The Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra put in a stunning performance with their live rendition of The Beatles‘ classic album Sergeant Peppers Lonely Heartsclub Band, complete with jabs at Oasis (“they’re a lovely tribute group”). The orchestra adding subtle strings, dramatic drums crashes, and floating harps throughout the performance genuinely rivalled the album itself in terms of quality.
The Cribs brought a stellar set to the grand pavilion, and Charlotte Church’s “late night pop dungeon” (note: at 6.45pm) gave the festival a much-needed lighthearted lift; by the end of her performance the whole crowd were singing along.
Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard outdid himself with not one, but two sets throughout the weekend, mixing the electronic style Hot Chip and The 2 Bears are best known for. Meanwhile jungle and D&B Pioneer Goldie surprisingly stole the show for the weekend, performing two DJ sets as well as partaking in an hour long lecture – charming the crowd with his love of yoga and anecdotes about collaborating with Skepta.
Away from the music we feel obliged to mention the exceptional street performances from Kitsch N Sync, Flip Flap Fly and Unlimited Theatre as they paraded through the village as spoof politicians, wasps, bus drivers and welsh maids that looked like something straight out of Doctor Who.
So what’s our verdict? As an uplifting and entertaining weekend getaway in a stunning location, it’s definitely Festival No. 1. The non-musical entertainment was excellent, the village has a charm unrivalled and the boutique nature of the festival means all your creature comforts are catered for. But does it live up to its intentions as a music festival? Not quite – and in that respect “Festival No. 6” describes itself just about right. Here’s to next year; with better curation there’s no reason why this can’t be the UK’s best festival after Glasto.
Words: Aaron Whyte
Photos: Liam Brady