Upon entry to Ashton Court, the vibe is calm, bucolic almost. It’s clear that the lush surrounds of Ashton Court allow for a more scenic and spacious festival than the previous editions in the tight pocket of Eastville Park. The grass is long, there are beautiful views of Dundry, the south of the city and the nearby treetops, creating a more roomy and free atmosphere.
Musically, things kick off with a heartfelt singalong of the Bee Gee’s How Deep is Your Love at the Karaoke Caravan. This is quickly followed by an unconventionally-sung version of Sophie Ellis Bextor’s Murder on the Dancefloor, which successfully thaws out the summer dance moves which have been in the deep freezer over winter.
In a far corner of the arena, some doting old dears coronate me as their new King, complete with inflatable crown, velvet cape and dildo sceptre. My sidekick and I are then beckoned through a crawl-tunnel into a secret space – the much-mysticised ball pit, throbbing with dubstep energy. I vault into the pit enthusiastically, am told to remove my shoes, and then sink hopelessly into the quicksand of the balls. I am drowning in plastic spheres already wet with the funky sweat of pit moshers, but I am pulled to safety by my companion, and we escape back into the safety of the outside world.
We slip backstage at Teachings in Dub to enjoy the sun-kissed 7 inchers of Downbeat Melody, the shade and shimmering bass of early dub, reggae and soul the perfect antidote to the blazing afternoon heat. This year there is plentiful shelter at Love Saves the Day – useful for downpours or, in this instance, heatwaves.
Next up is noughties superstar-turned-Californian-farmer Kelis, who serves up the perfect festival set. All the big hits are whacked in – Millionaire, Trick Me, Milkshake – plus a medley of frenzied, disparate covers including Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, Donna Summer’s I Feel Love and Bicep’s Glue. The consummate Legend slot is completed with 2009 dance hit Acapella, delivered to a largely oblivious crowd, which is instead focused on chatting and getting fucked up.
Now in full party mode, we then hop up to the hidden-away Shambarber stage for the Felix Joy/Feel the Real house and disco masterclass. While Nia Archives and Andy C pull huge crowds at the main stage, the two local selectors pick out a blend of crowd-pleasing favourites – Bad Girls, Blue Monday, Don’t You Want Me – with acid tinged house. A more mature crowd dance away, despite the best efforts of the underwhelming Sham Queens to dampen the mood, to a backdrop of sunset over the city.
Follow-up Artwork’s initial track build-up of an acapella version of Sylvester’s You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) falls flat when a technical fault halts the music. A simple human error which the superstar DJ ungenerously blames on the young, nervous-looking sound tech – much to the detriment of Artwork himself.
We skip through the wasteland of KO’d youngsters and lad pissing in the bins to reach the main attraction – Fatboy Slim. And he does not disappoint. Flanked by pyrotechnics and visuals of a dancing Christopher Walken, he powers through a rave-tinged acidy set of reworked classics interspersed with the likes of Queen, Talking Heads and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. The refrain of “Right Here, Right Now” remains a constant backdrop. The crowd thins as the party casualties rack up, but the spectacular closer of Funk Soul Brother mashed up with the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction shows why Fatboy is still a master at work.
Sunday dawns and the weather is perfect. When you’re enthusiastic about public transport, every bus is a love bus. Ashton court offers more space, with the organisers having taken feedback on board from last year. Stages retain the artistic build while offering much more protective coverings from the elements. Also, it’s next to a David Lloyd so if it all gets a bit much you can calm yourself with a £17.50 swim.
The stages are impressively designed, vast instagrammable sculptures extending into the sky, and cleverly designed to minimise sound bleed. It feels like more attention has been paid to welfare than previous years with poncho stall (donation if possible), sun cream etc.
Having endured the elements last time your non intrepid millennial reporters dressed overly cautiously, dying a thousand cowardly deaths clad in various technical fabrics. While the assorted Zillenials, striding around bare chested lived one glorious life.
First stop was the Brouhaha stage for Katie B’s ravey dubstep flecked bangers. Being on this early is a potentially tricky slot but she is a charismatic performer with a warm stage presence, despite playing a half an hour set on a stage which seems designed for DJs. B’s taste level was on point as she delivered a garage-y retake of ‘Good Life’ by Inner City. Although having a half an hour slot seems a bit miserly, Katy B delivered on crowd pleasing hits. Surely having the summer of 2008 in an absolute chokehold should come with a lifetime award of at least 1 hour set times.
The Katy B crowd quickly migrated at the end of her set to the Love Saves Stage. Girl power has not yet run its course. The Sugababes blast onto the stage with ‘Freak Like Me’. Their band is tight, their vocals are sweet and their cargo pants are voluminous. The crowd goes wild for classic hits like ‘Push The Button’ and ‘Too Lost in You’. It’s heart-warming, legend slot stuff which delivers to both the young ravers and the old misbehaviours. One of the joys of LSTD lies in the well curated smaller stages, exemplified by local DJs Ellie Stokes and Chez de Milo with a chunky spiky late afternoon B2B house set to an enthusiastic crowd.
As the evening began to set in, we had a strategic break, fuelled by some Korean loaded fries. Entertainment was provided by watching people take photos in/around/on the LOVE SAVES sign. Careful observation revealed a clear hierarchy of the best letters to choose to pose on, with E offering the most stable platform, while S and O were deceptively treacherous. Bring a friend and you might be able to take a cute couple’s pic on the twin spikes of the ‘V’.
(A couple of barechested lads to illustrate the folk who sat atop the Loves Saves lettering)
The Big Top is a new stage set up for the festival, offering roof coverage and trippy visuals. Setting the tone, Overmono’s set offers more questions than answers. Can you be for drug legalisation apart from cocaine, just because it makes people annoying? Is Two Guy House established enough to be an identifiable subgenre? Following the well worn path of Mount Kimbie, Disclosure, Bicep et al the Welsh brothers offer up ravey,synthy albeit functional tech house. Fresh from headlining Coachella, Four Tet offered a more varied set with chunky grooves undergirded with plenty of bassweight.
To finish we left via the Shambarber stage to catch the end of CC:Disco’s set. Pumping out some crowd pleasing disco and house to the game punters, the night happily disintegrated into Robyn singalongs, group danceoffs and informal limbo competitions to bring everyone home. Supported, but not supplanted by the stunning weather Love Saves has kept evolving while staying as Bristol’s premier electronic music festival.
Joe Fraser & Alice G