Boardmasters 2023: Sun, Sea & some incredible music

Nestled in the picturesque town of Newquay, Boardmasters delivers an unforgettable experience for festival-goers. Juggling a mix of music, extra activities, scrumptious food, and jaw-dropping views might sound like an impossible feat, but this festival somehow pulled it off with ease! Every year, on the glorious Cornish coast of Fistral Beach, Boardmasters hosts the biggest international surf competition, alongside skateboard and BMX events. Boardmasters is like a musical melting pot that brings together folks from all walks of life who share one common love: music.

Originally founded in 1981 as a surf celebration, Boardmasters transformed into the beloved festival we know today in 2005. Broadcasting across over 10 campsites and 10 stages, it’s a diversity and inclusivity extravaganza. The music selection spans pop, drum and bass, hip-hop, electronic, indie, alternative, rock, and even a touch of country. In other words, there’s something for everyone to groove to. Boardmasters provides a place for mainstream artists to leave a lifelong impression on festival-goers, as well as somewhere for emerging and underground artists to display their astonishing talent. This blend of music and skill establishes exceptional community spirit which makes for a one-of-a-kind festival adventure.

The start of the lineup rolled around on Friday – the headliner of the day was talented singer and songwriter, Lorde. Known for her hit “Royals,” she confirmed the tone for a magical evening, enchanting the crowd with her exceptional vocals and poetic lyrics. She debuted two new songs among the nostalgic classics like “Ribs” and Disclosure’s “Magnets” and as she wrapped up her set with the iconic “Green Light,” you could feel the crowd swaying in bliss.

Before Lorde, echoing through the sunset was special guest, Ben Howard. Not known for being much of a crowd pleaser, Ben Howard warmed us with his original version of “The Wolves” for the first time in years muttering something along the lines of, “Since you’ve been singing it to me for the past 10 years, I thought I’d sing it for you”. The music offered a variety of glazed ricocheting guitar tones and poignant poetry as he delivered a set filled with older classics as well as his recent works. Walking off after to catch the end of SG Lewis’ set, I overheard a few people disappointed due to not hearing some beloved songs – it was a good early reminder to face the weekend with no expectations and to simply live in the moment.

Over at the DB90 stage, Vibe Chemistry hyped the festival-goers with his electronic set. For the moshers who thrive in chaotic drum and bass, Vibe Chemistry created a vigorous dynamic that exhilarated the mob. The rumble of his hit songs “Balling”, “Baddest”, “Chasing” and “Loca” hooked the ravers generating rich energy for his entire set. The aura of DB90 was the ideal location for Vibe Chemistry: the derelict style of the dockyard merged with the bustling of mosh-pits and the pounding beat conveyed a spiritual phenomenon.

Later, Cypress Hill, hip-hop legends, occupied the Land of Saints stage. They were welcomed with intensely vibrant strobe lights and their iconic dismembered skull logo beaming from the backdrop. Cypress Hill’s music has such a unique blend of tones that it is complex to describe: mostly crisp, thunderous drums and a wave of heavy bass over psychedelic spun gothic and limitless storytelling was their niche. They effortlessly energised the crowd by performing classic anthems from their “Black Sunday” album – one of the favourites being “Insane in the Brain”. The pulse vibrating from the crowd synchronised with the beat which made for a doubtlessly unforgettable experience. During the track “Jump Around”, Cypress Hill created a no-judgment zone to, you guessed it, jump around. Leaving this remarkable set without exhaustion and a hoarse voice would have been a challenge.

Saturday was another spectacular day of live music – with the headliner being the renowned Liam Gallagher. As he walked onto the stage, it became apparent that he had an overwhelming number of die-hard fans who cherished each second of his set. He brought bundles of his expected charm and charisma along with him – mentioning this, during the chorus of “Wonderwall” (which is a staple of British culture) he changed the lyrics to “there are many things that I would like to say to you, but I don’t speak fucking Cornish”. Liam offered a memorable performance playing his more recent songs as a majority while occasionally dropping an older banger into the setlist. For many, having the opportunity to listen to Liam Gallagher live was deeply moving.

Earlier on in the day, the sun beat down over Cornwall when Dylan hit the main stage. An aspect of her set that captivated me was her natural ability to own the stage. Roaming around with her guitar and iconic modern rock n roll persona, it was evident that this was her moment and poured every single drop of passion into her set.

Straight after, it was Little Simz’s time to perform. Little Simz characterises her music as rap and experimental – which certainly shows through her unique talent. Her set was on point: the flow, wordplay, style and stage presence were all quality. At times, her set radiated an emotional and powerful connection between all of us, especially when she came down from the stage to hold hands with the crowd. After watching Little Simz in her element, I can confidently say that her fierce talent and impactful storytelling will become a treasure to our generation.

I took a much-needed nap and grabbed some delicious food being served at my campsite; it was soon time for Raye to perform. The moment the chords began for “Escapism”, a sense of solidarity was created between the girls in the crowd. For many of us, this song holds an abundance of euphoric memories so it was clear to witness intimate moments between friendships reminiscing over these times. Raye’s sensational voice peeped through the crowd’s input who blared each verse until our lungs drained and vocal cords collapsed. The enthusiasm only grew when she surprised us with a live debut of brand-new song “Prada” which features cassö and D-Block Europe: Without doubt, this hyped everyone for the rest of her set.

Sam Tompkins’ angelic and delicate tones serenaded us over at the Land of Saints stage. I was truly taken aback by his set as it was apparent that he focuses on pure emotion and raw lyrics which flawlessly articulate his personal truths. An overwhelming magnitude of love poured from the crowd – notably when Sam Tompkins became tearful during his hard-hitting song “Lose It All” so we unified to continue it for him. I cannot emphasise enough how fortunate I felt leaving his set after experiencing his vivid and rich talent accompanied by his heart-warming poetry.

The sun lowed, and the ravers consumed the festival. The roar of wild drum and bass vibrated the core of the crowd: the beams of fluorescent light dazzled the vision of the masses. The DJs who owned the night consisted of Rudimental, Bou and Nathan Dawe who flourished in this atmosphere of beautiful mayhem.

The fogged sky glowed red with the car backlights of evacuees flocking out on Saturday night, much to our perplexity as the last day was moments around the corner. The next morning, we emerged from billowing tents to find flying gazebos and general carnage, four-day hangovers and come-downs evident on a few faces – Sunday was always lined up to hit us in the feels. Despite all this, the comedy of noticing my friend sat in the drizzling rain eating from a tin of cold baked beans and some boys tobogganing down a muddy hill were signs of a special kind of comfort and unity that arose throughout camp: the anticipation of Sunday’s lineup only grew.

Cutting straight to the essence of raw emotion, the headline act was Florence + The Machine. Angelically draped in all-white lace paired against her flaming locks of red hair, Florence blessed the festival-goers with her feathery and hypnotic tone. Creating holistic tranquillity within a territory of vast chaos, the indie rock band provided us with memories that will last a lifetime. Florence + The Machine provided a sacred and intimate moment when asking everyone to stop recording and relish in the moment: people tend to get caught up in the digital world and lose sight of reality so in doing this, everyone banded together to spread nothing but love and appreciation. Tolerating and eventually, growing fond of the downpour of rain and gusts of harsh winds, their dreamy set was full of pure serenading of beloved classics including “Dog Days Are Over” and “You’ve Got The Love” along with an array of newer songs.

Surpassing any preconceived notions of what it means to have stage presence, Squid left nothing in the tanks with an authentically unhinged post-punk display. The slow electric builds and perpetual drops mixed with a young audience and few die-hards, made for some confused mosh-pits. Although, once the ethos of the music had been cottoned onto, the mosh-pits in Land of Saints became some of the most rabid of the weekend.

For a total switch of vibe, Tion Wayne owned the main stage. A buzz of anticipation hummed from the crowd which soon turned into a manic thrill as he entered the stage and began with “I Dunno”: This tune was later runback as he pulled a fan from the crowd to perform it with him. A free-for-all of frenzy-filled mosh-pits and continuous jumping in the swampy sludge beneath us was only fitting as each song he played (a few being “Body”, “Keisha & Becky”, “Let’s Go” and “IFTK”) managed to bring even more hysterical energy.

If you were to control the weather at your favourite artist’s performance, what would you pick? Perhaps most would pick a warm evening with a golden orange tinge occupying the sky… but there are some artists where the gushing rain just seems fitting. Maybe it’s the sex appeal of looking like they’ve jumped into a pool fully clothed; maybe it’s the bleak and sombre tones elevating the feels; or maybe it’s the drops of water running down your face disguising the tears? Whatever the case, Dermot Kennedy is certainly one of those artists. During the current actuality of his older songs “An Evening I Will Not Forget” and “After Rain”, his powerful vocals ripped through those huddled together in ponchos around the main stage. The buzz grew as the crowd joined with his newer stuff “Something to Someone” and “Better Days”, leaving these melodies ringing throughout our heads.

Although the last day had come to a bitter-sweet end, over at the Unleashed stage, Bru-C pledged to keep the night alive. It was the epitome of the UK rave scene, the energy and euphoria present in the tent was unfathomable; a cloud of gun fingers above the heads of sweating bodies, passionate mosh-pits, blinding lasers of light and mountains of smoke pouring the machine. Bru-C put on a legendary performance, the crowd went berserk during each song and continued to feel the buzz even after he left the stage.

Although the bulk of the music is on Friday-Sunday, I could not review without mentioning the antics of the Tuesday and Wednesday arrival days. After setting up camps people set out to explore the festival and find their feet; be it plummeting 50 feet on a spinning bungee hamster-ball (not my cuppa) or making the leisurely stroll down to Watergate Bay and enjoying the stunning beaches where you can hire surfboards or get a drink at the iconic Wax bar. There is a feel-good air to the first two nights, as the campsite transforms into one big silent disco. Special mention has to go to Youngr’s set on Wednesday night as he enthralled the crowd with live bootlegs: singing, smacking some bongo solos and spinning banger after banger. Thousands gathered around the DJs at each stage, as they inspired some contagiously bad dance moves (I guess it’s sensible to do the worm before the mud sets in), while people got lost in the mixes or flicked between stations. It was a good laugh taking the headphones off and hearing the monstrous clash of Justin Bieber and Bon Jovi, or casually waiting for my chicken nuggets when some guy in the queue bursts into singing Katy Perry at the top of his lungs. Whether they are your thing or not, the silent disco at Boardmasters is a niche experience worth having and seems to bring forth a light-hearted spirit that sets the tone for the week.

Amid all the musical magic, it’s worth noting that despite being occupied primarily by a generation often praised for its environmental consciousness, the festival grounds resembled a hellish sea of wastage and litter – tents, chairs, and heaps of rubbish left scattered all over the place like relics of the weekend’s revelry. However, the lapse in eco-consciousness presented cannot overshadow the incredible spirit and unity that flourished at Boardmasters 2023 and may serve as inspiration to do better. Despite these challenges, the festival was a testament to the power of music and shared experiences. It was a place where strangers became friends, where artists left indelible marks on our hearts, and where unforgettable memories were made.

Written by Grace Sherring & Hollie King


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