It’s not often a festival changes its name - especially one whose status as one of Europe’s best has already been firmly cemented. But NOS Alive did exactly that, switching over from Optimus Alive earlier this year; the latter – at least for some of us – evoking images of the gargantuan do-gooder leader of the Autobots raving to acid house or cutting some sick shapes in the moshpit.
But this, evidently, is a festival that doesn’t need to rely a name; its track record for hosting an eclectic lineup from prominent super bands to underground dance acts all but confirms that.
This year was no different.
It was clear from the onset that NOS Alive is a novel and creative creature, as elated punters passed through the gates of the Main Entrance Stage where rising talents took turns to welcome them with rock-fuelled matinees. Meanwhile, the headliners doing battle on the main stage were Muse, The Prodigy and Disclosure; three huge acts who of course needed no introduction.
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Once inside we quickly discovered there was even more novelty and creativity to NOS than first thought. ‘NOS’ branded cowboy hats, scarf-hoodies (scoodies?) and condoms were being handed out in abundance, keeping punters warm, unfertilised and STD-free for the weekend. What quickly became apparent though was the deluge of sponsorship around us. Adverts were played on repeat between each set on every stage, which was understandable in light of the low-costing tickets and agreeably priced beer.
Turning a blind eye to the flagrant sponsorship then, we settled down for a hearty and hit-laced hour of Metronomy, before tearing ourselves away so as not to miss the beginning of what turned out to be a flawless, resounding and visually captivating set at the hands of alt-J: a band who are now so self-assured it’s as though they have been touring for decades.
Muse followed, delivering hit after hit and delighting the largest horde of the weekend with a selection of new and old material that roused mass, Matt Bellamy-pitched sing-alongs and air-punching pandemonium. Bellamy’s surprise Freddie Mercury-style crowd galvanising went down remarkably well too, as did ‘Plug In Baby’, ‘Starlight’ and the similarly Queen-like curtain closer ‘Knights Of Cyndonia’. The benchmark had been set.
But then came the biggest surprise of the night, in the form of Flume, whose razor sharp and superbly sluggish set provided something completely different. An epic remix of Disclosure’s ‘You & Me’ was left right until the end, and proved to be the best seven minutes of the weekend.
Friday’s pre-headliner slot was occupied by Mumford & Sons: an unlikely support act for what was coming next, but a worthy one nonetheless. ‘I Will Wait’ had an early outing to initiate the swinging dance moves, which would have carried on uninterrupted if it weren’t for a bizarre and decidedly ill-received interlude by banjo player Winston Marshall, in which he attempted to win over any Portuguese skeptics by asking them about a recent high-profile football transfer. Mumford came to his rescue though, and the folk icons wrapped up a lively set with ‘Little Lion Man’ and new single ‘The Wolf’ to rapturous applause.
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The Prodigy began Friday’s headline slot with all the gusto you’d expect from a dance act who are basically already immortalised as Gods of the genre. ‘Breathe’ still sounded as fresh as it did all those years ago and ‘Firestarter’ still just as terrifying. It was turbo-speed but perfectly measured mayhem from thereon in; each drop inevitably triggering vast and devastating circle pits at the front and any Prodigy-tenderfoots probably to quiver with fear at the back. “Where my fucking fighters at!?” roared Maxim as the ever-petrifying Keith Flint continued to prance about the stage unrestrained. They weren’t hard to spot, moshing as one for the full hour and fifteen minutes right in front of him. The Muse benchmark had been met.
Saturday opened with the shouty-sweary Sleaford Mods playing to a rather confused looking crowd over on the Heineken Stage. It was essentially one man shouting into the mic as fast, grungy refrains from his laptop – and a man drinking beer – provided support. Love them or hate them, you have to see it to believe it. Mogwai then followed to prove that they are still capable of deafening their audience with insane guitar distortion throttling every track.
To complete the headline tripartite, Disclosure stepped up to enthral the masses with a live set based on their comparatively undersized compendium of material. Their election as headliners had been divisive among some revellers, but certainly not the throng of glittery face-painted festival greenhorns that had turned up and remained – seated at times – for/after Sam Smith’s performance three hours earlier. The young Londoner was propelled to fame thanks to Disclosure’s ‘Latch’ on which he features, but sadly for die-hard Sam fans it wasn’t meant to be. Instead we got a fairly unremarkable set which would be forgotten the moment Clash found their way to the Clubbing stage to witness Miss Kittin close the festival with generous helpings of timeless electro anthems.
But it was before Disclosure’s main stage outing that the festival reached its climax. Enter Chet Faker, invited back after a memorable performance in 2014, only to better it this year with an inch-perfect delivery of fruits from his most recent labour ‘Built On Glass’, among other tracks that are currently steering the Australian electronica star to international recognition. His stage presence – aided only by a piano and a dimmed drummer – was monumental.
NOS may have changed its name but it's most definitely still alive – and well and truly kicking.
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Words: Josh Taylor