Two-part music festival and mountain biking event features great acts but low turnout
One of 2012’s new kids on the festival block, Downhill Downtown showcases both established and emerging Scottish musical talent, whilst piggybacking on a truly international event – the Scottish stage of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup, which draws the elite of cycling’s adrenalin-fuelled athletes and a massive audience to one of the holy sites of two-wheeled insanity: the terrifying downhill track in Fort William.
With the aim of unifying the cycling party people and the distinctly up-for-it locals, the weekend-long festival is a two part affair, with pop-up performances and musical shenanigans at the bike event during the day, and an indoor mini-festival in Fort William in the evenings. This year's party kicked off on Friday night, with Stanley Odd wrong-footing the Fort William crowd for all of about 30 seconds before getting them on side and on their feet. Bombskare followed and kept up the momentum with their does-what it-says-on-the-tin brand of dancefloor ska. Saturday’s cycling was punctuated by numerous musical tasters for the night ahead, with Stanley Odd returning to rock the beer tent at the bottom of the bike track. Other performances though, were perhaps just a little too subtle to have the intended impact: Steven Milne of Aberdeen's The Little Kicks busking an acoustic set half-way up a hill seemed a strange counterpoint to the riders testing the laws of physics and self-belief as they passed by at implausible speed every 30 seconds; and charming as they were, The Second Hand Marching Band – a kind of low-key Scottish Polyphonic Spree – ambled through the crowds (they don’t exactly march, though you couldn’t possibly hold it against them) without appearing to make much of an impression on the there-for-the-racing bike fans.
Saturday night’s short but impressive line-up was split between two stages, with performances staggered, so that for the very moderate price of admission it was possible to see all seven bands. The main stage played host to impeccable sets from Admiral Fallow, Glasgow’s magnificent Phantom Band and national treasure King Creosote. They all worked hard to lift the crowd which, on account of being disappointingly small, was a bit lacklustre. On the second stage, lack of audience numbers didn't appear to dim the spirits of The Little Kicks, whose shifting dynamics, brilliant delivery and hat-full of songs were underpinned and uplifted by a bass player fighting tirelessly to get out of his disco closet. Glaswegian four-piece Homework – one of those bands who seem to have an on/off switch permanently stuck in the 'on' position, and whose screeching synths set them apart at an event dominated by guitars – absolutely stormed the place!
There were great bands, and even recognisably summery weather, but a turnout rivalling only the local government elections (coinciding with Rockness clearly didn't help) lent Downhill Downtown the air of a great party which never quite got started. Let's hope next year is as big as it deserves to be.