V97: Hyland's Park, Chelmsford
THE traditional festival values of peace, love and muddy kaftans were absent at V97 over the weekend. Instead we had Virgin Cola, MTV and saturation advertising on the big screen. A large proportion of Saturday's crowd seemed to have little interest in the idea of a festival anyway. They spent most of the time camped out in front of the main stage, waiting for local lads Blur to make their headlining appearance.
In fact the major acts on both days hailed from Essex - Damon Albarn and his cronies from Colchester, and Sunday's showstoppers, the Prodigy, from Braintree - but it is Blur who have made more of the connection, turning out some vicious attacks on southern suburban stereotypes in their 1995 album The Great Escape. Unable to resist the opportunity, Albarn introduced the squawking Globe Alone as "a song for an Essex man".
But the most interesting material in Blur's energetic two-hour set was from their recent, self-titled LP. Over the past couple of years guitarist Graham Coxon has immersed himself in the American lo-fi rock scene, and has clearly been influenced by his collaborations with quirky New Yorkers Pavement, who played an intriguing set in mid-afternoon.
The new depth in songs such as Death of a Party and MOR betrayed the ways in which Blur's horizons have been stretched - both musically and, in the instance of Country Sad Ballad Man, geographically. This is a band with a history of writing big singalong choruses - from There's No Other Way to Parklife - but they're now in the unusual position of being able to play adventurous music to a mass audience. Liam Howlett's techno tribe the Prodigy have moved in the opposite direction. Their new album, Fat of the Land, offers stripped-down, beefed-up breakbeats and not a lot else. Reproduced here almost exactly, it's a far cry from the more imaginative sampling techniques to be found on earlier work such as Everybody in the Place and One Love, but you can't deny that it's powerful stuff. Breathe, in particular, came across like a shot of straight adrenalin.
All the bands at V97 were playing at two venues - Chelmsford's Saturday line-up transferred to Leeds for the Sunday and vice versa - but as Maxim from the Prodigy glared threateningly out over the crowd and pronounced, "We're back on home turf now. This is the place", you felt a bit sorry for the Leeds lot. Perhaps the organisers can persuade the Inspiral Carpets to reform in time for V98.