Afterburner will light up RockNess

NOW endorsed by BBC Radio1 who come on board this year as media partner and featuring in lists of the best festivals to check out this summer, RockNess is now firmly established as one of Scotland's premier music events.

The challenge for festival director Jim King now is not to create a new festival, but to deliver a better event each year.

"We always take great pride in listening to the feedback we get from our customers and then acting on it," he said.

"Last year people wanted a slightly different music offering. They wanted some non-music activities as well, which featured quite strongly, especially with people who were there for three days."

To meet these requests, RockNess 2010 which starts today is welcoming some new additions, including spectacular multi-level stage the Arcadia Afterburner and new pub/comedy venue Howard's End.

"The Arcadia Afterburner is all metal and flames. It's kind of Mad Max meets a Prodigy video. It's incredible," King declared.

"I saw it at Glastonbury last year and then it was at Bestival on the Isle of Wight, which we run, and it's really good fun.

"It looks great with flames coming out of it, but it's also a serious musical offering as well. Because it sits in the middle of the field it's a 360 degree experience. You walk into it and you're surrounded by speakers and get engulfed by this audio experience. That's going to be something that's fantastic but pray for it to be dry because it's going to be outdoors!"

Offering a slightly more restrained alternative is the Howard's End Pub which replaces the familiar Black Isle Brewery Pub.

Though it will still serve Black Isle beers, the new addition will also have comedy on tap. It will be hosted by Howard Marks, once Britain's most notorious cannabis smuggler, who has turned his tales of life on the wrong side of the law into his own one-man show.

"I'm sure he will have some interesting stories to tell about the last 40 years of his life," King said.

"The comedy will be a really good addition to the show, especially the likes of Saturday and Sunday afternoons when people regather themselves for

another night of great music and DJs."

Helping provide that non-musical respite are rising Scottish stand-up star Kevin Bridges, who played a sell out show at Eden Court last month, Scott Agnew, Rob Heaney, Papa CJ, Marty McLean and ?more.

King believes that the food on offer to festival goers has also improved from last year, with the return of the Loch Fyne Highland market, but the most important element is as always the music and this year King pledges there will be a lot of new music on site. This year the organisers have upped their music budget and King believes that shows.

"I think it's the greatest line-up we've had," he said.

"There are some great new bands like Pendulum, some classic favourites for RockNess like fatboy Slim, you have the Doves, a really good festival band, and then you have The Strokes who are just going to blow it away on Sunday night. I can't think of a better band to play.

"We're really pleased with the way the Sunday Stage has been programmed. We have Twin Atlantic, a really great emerging Scottish band, The Maccabees who have had a fantastic year and then Blondie. That for me is a great way to lift people's spirits. Then we have the Doves, Vampire Weekend and then The Strokes."

Saturday's highlight, in a festival famous for its electronic music, will be the first festival appearance in a decade from Leftfield, whose debut album "Leftism" King rates among the finest albums in any genre from the last 20 years.

"I'm really excited about the show this year," he said.

"Tickets are selling well in a difficult market, so it's definitely going to be the busiest RockNess we have had in some time and I think that definitely reflects the music we have on site."

While keeping to its established formula of rock and electronic music, including the emerging talent of the goNorth stage, the classic rock of Blondie seems to stick out, as King acknowledges it was intended to.

"I fell in love with Debbie Harry in 1977 when I was about six and Blondie's music has stood the test of time," he said.

"Very few bands have had the ability to do that.

"We could sit here and go through 20 classic records that everybody knows the words to and for a Sunday evening people have been there for two and a half days it's what is needed to raise those energy levels before the run in to the end of the festival.

"It's not just pop hits. These are classic pop hits that appeal to everyone. There are four or five sets that are going to be the talk of the RockNess forums over the next 12 months. I've got a feeling that is going to be one of them."

He also hinted RockNess might see more crowd pleasing veteran acts like the New Yorkers in future years.

"The show is building out," King added.

"Considering we started out four years ago with what was essentially a Fatboy Slim concert with a couple of DJs as support, if you look at the amount of acts and the quality and breadth of acts we have performing, it's a much broader base than we have ever had before."

The aim is to give the festival crowd the incentive to do something different so they do not spend the weekend listening to the same type of music or with the same group of friends they went with the previous year.

King also believes the festival reflects its Highland setting which website Virtual Festivals awarded 10 out of 10 for atmosphere.

"It's very open, very friendly and the location is incredible," he said.

"We shouldn't play it down just because we are used to it. I've produced 50 festivals around the world in the last 20 years and RockNess has no equal.

"The setting puts everyone in a relaxed mood, especially Scottish people because Loch Ness is a part of their heritage."

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