September 17, 2012
Surveillance dishes on street corners ask where you’re going. Human chess games are held daily in the central piazza. Airborne drones patrol the beach, bizarre election rallies march around the ornamental gardens and, to ominous recorded church bells, a procession of giant luminous skeletons and lampshade-headed women winds through the Mediterranean arches and chocolate-box promenades of Portmeirion. The boutique festival concept has long needed to venture beyond fairy-lit forests full of drunkards dressed as Jabberwocky, and the debut of Festival No 6, themed around The Prisoner TV series, filmed here in 1967, is a stylish new season finale.
Appropriately, considering the dream-like surroundings, the weekend displays a surreal bent. Down in the village you find Simon Day on a Roman colonnade, imagining Portmeirion cottagers being “noshed off by a harlequin”, and the Welsh male voice choir is belting out Blue Monday while swathed in bubbles. Liverpool’s Stealing Sheep play neo-pagan pop tunes beside a rainbow-festooned estuary. In a village-fete site above the town, revellers roam fire gardens full of flame-throwing crocuses, and Carl Barât strolls from behind the screen of a Libertines documentary and bashes out acoustic Libs numbers while scary clowns catcall requests for The Lady in Red. Fittingly, Friday’s headliners Spiritualized deliver a brain-frying, sturm-und-drone set, the elemental punk-gospel euphoria of Hey Jane and Oh Baby sounding as if they are being blissfully suffocated by floating white orbs.
Festival No 6 is built on protected indie heritage land, with Primal Scream rattling off career-vaulting hits and advocating musical revolution (“if you hate the royal family, clap your hands,” nursery-rhymes Bobby Gillespie), Richard Hawley oozing intoxicating psych-rhinestone croons, and New Order donning Patrick McGoohan jackets and sprinkling famous Prisoner dialogue over the industrial electro throbs of 586 and Isolation. But it’s dotted with the finest rising outposts: the subaqueous synth pop of NZCA/Lines and Everything Everything, the sizzling Monks rock of Race Horses, and Palma Violets’ charming 21st-century take on Orange Juice. If the estuary bars didn’t close early, Festival No 6 could rival Montreux as the most sophisticated in Europe. When is No 2?