Curated by Bestival founder Rob Da Bank, Common People was always going to be a success. This May Bank Holiday weekend, the high-profile DJ brought a diverse selection of bands to Oxford’s South Park, as festival punters were treated to a lavish array of tunes in the sun.
And it was this array – this enormous diversity of bands – which made the weekend so exciting. As with Bestival, where last year’s line-up ranged from Lily Allen to Underworld, it was the variety between Jamie Lawson’s middle-of-the-road sentimental folk-rock and the Sugarhill Gang’s raucous R’n’B bangers that stirred excitement in a crowd likely more used to going to festivals starring either white male guitar bands, or black artists playing R ‘n’ B and hip hop, such is the disparate and closed-minded nature of the industry. Common People offered bands from all ends and sides of the spectrum, celebrating the eclectically wide scope of music that should be enjoyed together.
Katy B’s dance-inspired pop set was lack-lustre to begin with – one lone figure singing over a DJ’s backing track is never going to feel particularly inspiring. But as soon as she was surrounded onstage by backing dancers, joining them in pumping out an energetic, high-intensity routine, it was easy to see why the fun-loving Londoner had been put so high up on the bill.
It was these more high-powered sets which brought the highs of the festival. Public Enemy’s constant cries of “Middle finger to the government!” and “Let’s fight the fucking power!” got the audience in front of the Common Stage riled up to an extent that the music they played took a backseat. I was instead far more intrigued by the hype-man who stood at one side of the stage, not saying anything at all, but twisting a little white handkerchief in the air for the whole of their set.
Admittedly, Craig David’s one-man show consisted only of him standing behind some decks, singing along to backing tracks for his TS5, which started as an exclusive pre-party event at his Miami penthouse. Yet something about the heavy sun that the crowds were treated to all weekend, the hefty club hits he was playing, and maybe the excitement for his name (he is Craig David, after all!), drew one of the biggest crowds of the weekend, and certainly the one most willing to dance. This sentiment sums up the festival – a need for stark musicality or innovation was not always the case. Rather, the crowds wanted big tunes, energetic dance routines, and slick performances.
It was in fact the acts playing the smaller tented stage, The Uncommon Stage, who should be noted for their musical originality. The Oxford music magazine Nightshift curated this stage, putting local bands on a pedestal which celebrated the Oxford music scene at its very best. Esther Joy Lane was a particular highlight of Saturday’s bill, her luscious voice crafting webs above bold synth beats, with the intricate concoctions of her synthesised instrumentation becoming even more apparent when they were left to sound out around the tent without her vocals over the top of them.
As headliners, it is safe to say that Duran Duran and Primal Scream are well past their best. Their sets were fun, but Rob Da Bank’s choice to have them fill his headline slots was not adventurous. Nonetheless, the old-school nostalgia that these safe-bets brought to South Park made up a lot of the charm of the whole weekend. Having two bands that have played the festival circuit time and time again perform their well-known anthems may seem counter-productive when attempting to curate a festival that is new, diverse and largely unheard in the current British music climate. But both 80s bands got the crowd roaring and moving as much as any other, and after a sun-tinged boozy weekend, that’s all you could ask for.