By Jimmy Blake & Olly Douglas
July 6-8, 2012
After a short journey out of the big smoke we had arrived in the sleepy town of Pulborough, West Sussex. Our shuttle bus was no glamourous affair and dropped us in what seemed the middle of nowhere. The only suggestion that we had a arrived at the very first Nova Festival was the Cheshire grin of a luminous jacketed steward. “Up there,” he said, nodding down a tree lined path.
Having worked our way through a deceptively well-organized gazebo, the rolling pastures of the south downs–home for the next four days–greeted weary travelers with open arms. “Mate… I forgot my wellies,” pined Olly after his first encounter with Sussex’s finest bog. Struggling through the mud was to be a major feature of the weekend ahead, meaning the suede desert boots now cowering in his bag were a bad choice. Pitching up was made all the better by the picturesque setting with the luscious grass making for a comfortable bed. “Mate….where’s my sleeping bag?”–just as well really.
– ‘Sussex’s finest bog’
Getting aquatinted with the arena didn’t take too long. More florescent jackets put the finishing touches to the crazy golf course as the charismatic charm of The Valley Stage eagerly anticipated is first chance to shine. As the sky turned a similar feverish pink to the overpriced red wine, the first campfire session got underway. The pleasant mumblings of ‘Nick from the North’ gave way to an anonymous artist playing ‘the box’ and crying tales of East Anglia, the image of which fittingly summed up a festival still searching for an identity.
– Crazy golf
After a brush with hypothermia Olly thought it best to return to civilization to get the essentials and make the most of a cash point to facilitate taking on the first day of the festival. A light morning shower was enough to turn the arena into a treacherous mire, so we took refuge in the zen garden to build up some confidence. Nova prides itself on being a music and arts festival, with the programme listing numerous exhibits, but taking the time to explore every paper butterfly laden trail opened up a world of (not entirely orthodox) self discovery and recovery. Fair enough, Shiatsu (a form of ‘body work,’ “NOT massage”) made for a relaxing ‘movement of energy’ but ‘the healing hive’ was something else. As the pun suggests, bees are heavily involved in foot rubs and facials to help cleanse the soul. After downing a herbal tea we were invited to become a bee to make up for the fact that stall owner–Clive–had to leave his swarm at the gate. A woman resembling maid marion ushered us into a darkened cube and played buzzing noises through an iPod dock after forcing pollen on our tongues. It’s safe to say we didn’t feel reborn but the overwhelmingly passionate hospitality reflected a sense of community that glided around the site.
– Olly visits the Shiatsu tent
That said, the festival’s makeshift pub The Nova Arms remained the hub of the site as Sofar Sounds’ first opening slot of the Valley Stage failed to unite the masses. However, the innovative scheme that usually sees up and coming talent perform in living rooms around the world to allow genuine appreciation for the acts took up an afternoon residency in The Salon to more intimately showcase some incredibly gifted acoustic artists in the afternoon sun.
– Sofar Sounds
On The Valley Stage, Jono McCleery was the first recognizable name of the weekend. Despite a dispassionately small crowd, the singer songwriter produced a technically sublime jazz influenced set with the aid of ‘the Dans’ (on drums and bass) and gave fans the opportunity to witness a striking vocal from close range as cars still struggled to make the journey into the site.
Mercury Prize winning rapper Speech Debelle started to give the festival to a more vibrant existence. Making the most of being able to see the whites of the crowds’ eyes, she captivated families and teens alike with the first glimpse of a bass line, putting a lack of movement down to “wanting to stay upright.”
– Jono McCleery
– Speech Debelle
Her presumption was shortly contradicted as a record breaking turnout at the Valley Stage welcomed Crazy P. The funk influenced outfit gave revelers a well needed boost, providing the opportunity to forget about the mudslide behind them and join forces to appreciate the outstanding work of frontwoman Danielle Moore. Having been hooked on the additive throb of slap bass, the masses bopped across the arena as the Fearless Theatre burst into life. With the incentive of opener DJ Food, no one needed any excuse to immerse themselves in a audio visual DJ-off hosted by radio mix show Solid Steel. DK continued with impeccable taste, and as a 12-year-old went word for word with Nas there was clearly no sign of holding up. The highlight of the set saw JFB scratch his way into the hearts of a cross section of music lovers from over the last forty years. As Hexstatic struggled to match the quality of previous acts there was a chance to reflect on this bonding session that the festival needed to get acquainted, not only with tent neighbors but more importantly with the anything goes, ‘let’s forget about the outside world’ vision the organisers had when first penciling in July 5th -8th.
Check back tomorrow for Jimmy and Olly’s coverage of the final two days of this year’s Nova Festival .