When the Biggest Weekend was announced, Beeb bosses claimed it would be “the biggest single music event ever attempted by the BBC”. No pressure then.
With Glastonbury taking one of its occasional years off to let the famous fields recouperate, the BBC thought it would step in with an alternative, with a four-day city festival for 175,000 people “on four sites, in four nations, across four days”. Belfast was the obvious choice for the North, but they chose Coventry, Perth and Swansea as the other cities, to take it away from the big cities. You can’t please all the people all the time, though, as locals around Perth have been bitching this week about traffic delays, and a no-buzz local paper in Coventry was warning of an outbreak of measles at the festival.
There won’t be much complaining from Belfast locals, as the council has jumped in feet first with support, and the Ulster Orchestra is even playing alongside Father John Misty.
One glance at the four-day spread and the BBC’s hyperbole doesn’t seem far-fetched — it’s bulging with stadium and arena acts, festival headliners and hall of famers. If the annual BBC 6 Music Festival is like a Sundance indie film slow burner, the Biggest Weekend is a Hollywood bells & whistles blockbuster.
Across the water they’ve got Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Sam Smith, Noel Gallagher, Liam Gallagher (different city!), Simple Minds, Craig David and Andrew Lloyd Webber (wtf!) among the acts.
But without doubt the Belfast round-up is the strongest musically — catering more for the discerning 6 Music fan over the Radio One crowd, and the few extra grey hairs that entails. It’s an inspired choice to have Orbital headlining tonight, if only for the Hartnoll brothers’ anthem Belfast — written in the early 90s after an all-inclusive rave in the city transcended the Troubles. Expect a run-through of their  techno classics, before they tour their upcoming new album.
After his joint headliner with Yeah Yeah Yeahs at 3Arena on Wednesday, Beck will show his true Colors with a festival set, mixing it up with his slacker hip-hop, leftfield pop, psychedelia and folk.
Manic Street Preachers haven’t played Belfast since 2013, in the grand old Ulster Hall, and they even missed the North on The Holy Bible tour 20th anniversary tour, so it’s a long overdue visit. But they’ll be going easy on the harrowing 1994 album, as they’ve been going on a greatest hits victory lap in the UK recently.
In the middle of the bill, it’s back-to-back alt-rock, with veterans The Breeders hitting the North before their Dublin show on Sunday, and Aussie grunger Courtney Barnett.
And with Father John Misty, Swedish dream-pop star Lykke Li and sample-heavy post-rock eccentrics topping off the main stage, that’s a lot for your £18. Yes, it’s £18 per day, so this is one occasion there’ll be no bitching about the BBC Licence Fee.
Tomorrow, it’s another techno veteran headliner with Underworld finishing up, with second on the bill Franz Ferdinand — who’ve also added plenty of electronic pop to their new album Always Ascending, along with their spiky indie-pop. Drum & bass pioneer Goldie will also give a masterclass in Timeless, epic electronics.
The BBC is really repping Sweden tomorrow as well, with folk duo First Aid Kit, electronic pop act Little Dragon and avant-garde pop legend Neneh Cherry, who’s gone down a freeform jazz and dark electronica route in recent years.
The only Northern band on the Main Stage, Ash are set to be one of the most uplifting acts of the day, with their fuzzy indie-pop classics. And not exactly ‘uplifting’, but Edinburgh trio Young Fathers’ outlier hip-hop and avant-garde noise-pop has fuelled one of the most intense live acts on Earth right now.
Aside from the Main Stage, the 6 Music Recommends stage has mega-hyped Superorganism, Derry teen punk heroes Touts, noise-rockers Shame, local hero DJ David Holmes and plenty more over the weekend.
- The BBC Biggest Weekend runs tomorrow and Saturday at Titanic Slipways, with tickets £18, from here
- Published in Irish Daily Star