Festival Report by DJ Skirtbag
This year, like every other year, DJ Skirtbag hit up Europe’s biggest reggae festival, the only place for hardcore reggae fans to be found in mid-August, for its ‘Celebrating Africa’ special. If you didn’t make it out to Spain for the sun, sea and sound systems, don’t worry! DJ Skirtbag has got you covered with this ridiculously in-depth report of the facilities, concerts and every minute detail you could wish to imagine about how the beach, bars and beats went down at this 24th edition of the legendary Rototom Sunsplash festival 2017.
- ✓The tickets for Rototom Sunsplash were still super reasonably priced and represented amazing value yet again this year. The most you could pay for an 8 day festival ticket with camping included was a mega low 240€, which worked out an absolute steal at the bargain basement price of just 30€ per day. You basically got a whole 8 days of festival for the price of a standard UK weekend festival ticket – not to mention the guaranteed sunshine – with not a welly in sight. At prices like these it’s no wonder that Rototom Sunsplash is the largest reggae festival in Europe.
- ✓If you see yourself as somewhat of a professional bargain hunter and are also fairly organised when it comes to making plans in advance, then you would have bagged yourself one of the of the first 1,000 8-day festival tickets, which were priced at a measly 130€ (with camping!). These deals generally sold out within minutes, so you’ll have to be quick if you want to nab one for next year! If you are a bit slower off the mark and miss out on the first 1,000 tickets, don’t fret! There are still some seriously discounted tickets available if you book online in advance. You just need to purchase by the first week of February to pocket an 8-day festival ticket with camping included for just 180€.
- ✓For those who didn’t fancy the whole 8 days of reggae, you could opt for anything from a 1-7 day pass and could pick which day your pass started on. We were given a coloured wristband which indicated the last day you were allowed to access the festival site. If you were also camping you were given a separate camping wristband. This year we opted for a 4 day ticket starting on the Tuesday. This worked out quite well for us at just 100€ each in advance and we got to wear the neon orange band which really complimented our tans!
- ✓On top of these dirt-cheap prices, entrance to the daytime beach parties was completely free!
- ✓Rototom Sunsplash also offered free entry to local residents, which is a lovely perk and creates a good mix of people at the festival.
- ✓Special tickets were also available for certain groups. Check before you arrive as certain rules apply but in general: Kids under 12 years old go free, 65 yrs olds and over go free, Free entry for wheelchair users and up to 65% off for attendees with other disabilities, with one free carer wristbands available for each disabled guest.
- ✓On the last Saturday of the festival local unemployed people were able to enter the festival for just 5€.
- ✓If you only wanted to turn up at the festival once the party is in full swing, you could benefit from a night ticket at the extremely modest price of 15€ per night. These tickets were available to purchase at the ticket booth from 1:30am until 6am and allowed you to enjoy the festival right until the closing act at 7am. Bearing in mind that a lot of the parties didn’t really get going until gone 1am anyway, if you were happy to miss out seeing the acts on the main stage (which normally finished at around 2am), then you could definitely still get your money’s worth with these late entry tickets.
- ✓On my second day at the festival I realised that I had chosen to let the ticket booth agents attach my festival pass wristbands to the wrong arm and needed to get it switched over! The ticket agents were totally fine about this when I went in to get it changed and understood my very basic Spanish of ‘cambiar por la izquierda por favor’!
- ✗ There were so many different types of ticket that it was slightly overwhelming to choose the right one and make a festival plan, especially without knowing the line up at the time of ticket purchase!
- ✗WARNING: If you buy online and arrive on the first day of the festival be prepared for MASSIVELY LONG queues to pick up your tickets, in the blazing sun with no shade (hello sunburn my old friend), a few vending machines for refreshments and maybe 1 or 2 portaloos available for the thousands in the queue! Aim to collect your wristbands at a different time. Having been burned (literally) by this before we decided to turn up on Tuesday morning instead to avoid the mad rush on the weekend and it worked a treat – we were blessed with no queue at all to pick up our wristbands in record time!
- ✗It can be annoying to have to wear a separate wristband for entry to the campsite – I would have preferred to wear just one wristband which showed both the last day of the festival I was allowed to enter with entry to the campsite embedded, as sporting an armful of synthetic and plastic wristbands on the beach in 35 degree heat can become rather sweaty and uncomfortable. Perhaps a striped wristband could work in this scenario.
- ✗The ticket booth entrances were a bit confusing and it wasn’t totally clear where you should be lining up to collect your wristband.
- ✗The security guards did not move the barriers depending on the size of the queue for tickets, so even if when there was no-one waiting ahead of you they still made you snake along all of the barriers, carrying all of your stuff in the heat. This was not the best welcome to the festival after a long journey from abroad!
- ✗I’ve been to Rototom five times now and still haven’t figured out for sure which day you can arrive to start camping at the festival. Every year I see and hear about the opening night party at the campsite, which seems to take place the day before the ticket holders arrive. It’s really unclear whether ticket holders are allowed to arrive the day before the festival starts or whether these are just workers parties. It would be good to have some clear information around this when buying the tickets as could help enormously with cutting down accommodation costs if it was possible to camp there for an extra night.
Getting to and from Rototom Sunsplash:
- ✓Again this year, Rototom Sunsplash coordinated with Mediterraneo Holidays to put on coaches to and from the nearest major airports to the festival site. This included Barcelona airport, Reus (which Ryanair serves) and Valencia airport. These buses are very convenient if you are travelling from overseas as they deliver you right from the arrival terminal directly to the festival entrance. These coaches do run on time though so don’t be late!
- ✓The festival site is only about 2km away from the train station, which made using the rail connections a sensible option. The festival organisers provided much easier pedestrian access to the train station this year than in previous years, with some sign posts from the train station leading down a secluded pathway, terminating right at the festival entrance. With tarmac paving all the way along this shortcut really helped disabled travellers and those rolling suitcases, by keeping festival goers off of the rocky terrain and, most importantly, away from the path which runs alongside the high-speed roads next to the vehicle entrance to the festival.
- ✓If arriving by car you could use one of the enormous car parks around the festival site. Cars were directed to the back of the festival this year to ease congestion for acts and buses into the main vehicle entrance.
- ✓There were more Mediterraneo coaches available for passengers arriving at the festival on the opening weekend, with far fewer journeys scheduled for the closing days of the festival, so you needed to be quick to book if you planned to use the coach for your return trip to the airport as seats go quickly.
- ✗This time, we didn’t get the opportunity to use the Mediterraneo Holidays coaches, as these are only available for passengers who are travelling on the first and last days of the festival and as we were arriving mid-week we had to make other travel arrangements. This worked out fine in the end as the train actually provided better value at just 6.50€ for a single journey from Valencia Estació del Nord.
- ✗The trains which run to Benicassim from Barcelona and Valencia were few and far between, with sometimes only 2 scheduled per day! So it was really important to check the timetable in advance otherwise you could end up waiting around at the train station for a reeaaaaaaaaaalllllllly looooooooooong time!
- ✗The train station in Benicassim is fairly inaccessible by public transport. When were arrived at the station there were no Rototom buses ready to collect us to take us to the festival site, which is very poor organisation considering that there are only 2-3 trains arriving from both Valencia and Barcelona per DAY. It wouldn’t take much to arrange for a bus to be waiting each time a train arrived from a major destination. The organisers do try to schedule buses to collect rail passengers on arrival at the train station for the first two days of the festival, but for people like us, who arrived mid-week, this service was lacking and with no taxi rank or other public transport serving the train station we had no choice but to walk to the 2km to the festival in the desert heat with our bags and luggage – not cool!
- ✗Last year Rototom had managed to organise a 30% discount voucher for rail passengers to the festival to download, however I couldn’t find such a voucher for the Renfe trains this year. In all fairness, Spanish train fares are waaaaaaaaay cheaper than anything we are used to paying back home in England, so even without this discount the journey is not exactly going to break the bank, but with the pound to euro rate falling faster than Usain Bolt can run for a bus, and with the high rate of unemployment among young Spaniards, every little discount helps us all to enjoy the festival and really get our money’s worth!
- ✗For drivers who left their cars or camper vans parked on site, I doubt they were prepared for the thick covering of dust waiting to engulf their wheels in the worst ever version of pimp my ride imaginable – after just a few days, the blankets of dust were like you would never have thought possible. I’m sure there are still some dreaded rasta types circling the festival car parks searching for their redecorated cars. If you hadn’t already gathered, the festival site is EXTREMELY dusty – it is basically a rocky desert and the dust shows no mercy.
- ✓There was a regular bus service to all of the beach parties this year. This included a more regular service to the Rototom Solé beach bar at Playa del Gurugú than in previous years, probably because some of the best day-time festival events were happening down there this year such as dance classes, volleyball tournaments and dub acts, which was a new site of the festival.
- ✓In addition to being regular, the buses were very clean and came with much-needed air con!
- ✓The bus drivers were very nice and often played reggae music to keep the bus passengers happy 🙂
- ✓The bus fares were very reasonable – only 1.50€ per journey, or 15€ for an unlimited bus ticket, which came in the form of a red, gold and green fabric wristband.
- ✓There were some bicycles for hire, including these crazy surfboard and rasta themed bikes!
- ✗The new bus routes around town have made it harder to stop off in town to collect supplies from cheaper shops/cash/food/medicine/sun cream before hitting the beach parties. You can still get to the high street in Benicassim if you walk from the festival site, otherwise you would have to sit on the bus and wait for it to complete the circuit past all of the beach parties until you could get off at the last stops on the high street. Then, to get to the beach parties, you would have to get back on the bus and return to the festival site then switch onto another bus headed back to the beach – very tricky and time-wasting! The service was much better for stopping off in town in previous years, when the bus stop outside the large Mercadona provided an interchange for buses driving both back to the festival and down to the San Vincente and Heliopolis beaches.
- ✗Poor access for disabled guests on the buses: From the bus window, I saw a man in a wheelchair waiting for a bus on the main high street in Benicassim at the peak travel time of around 5pm. He was trying to return back to the festival site for the evening. I saw the man in the wheelchair arrive back at the festival at around 8pm, it took him around 3 hours to get a bus back to the site – for something like a 25 minute walk. I felt very sorry for this man, and felt that the needs of wheelchair users should have been taken into account more in relation to transport to and from the festival, as otherwise the festival site seems to be fairly accessible for wheelchair users due to the nature of the tarmac flooring at the festival site and the various ramps and walk ways provided at the beach party sites.
- ✓The ‘Glamping‘ facilities are basic but adequate but do not constitute the typical English vision of the glamping experience. The tents are simple, 4 man tents, lined in rows and numbered, so locating your tent is easy, even after a night out, and each come with a combination code padlock, a lamp and an inch-thick camping mat. We were very pleased with our tent this year, it was cool, I could stand up in it (but I’m a real shorty!) and it came reserved and set up for us at the rock bottom price of 90 euros for the whole week! SO much cheaper than staying in a hotel or renting an airbnb.
- ✓This year the glamping area was quieter and seemed to have expanded out towards the north of the site, which I believe was a previously unused area of the campsite.
- ✓There seemed to be a new camping space dedicated to one day campers. This is the first time I’ve seen a one day space, but it is a great idea as it can become difficult for campers arriving mid-week to find any space in the camping grounds, especially when others have set up camp and spread out into any remaining space. This new feature must save new arrivals to the festival precious time hunting for tent space in the heat.
- ✓There used to be a wild area of ground with some shrubs and bushes between the festival site and the camping entrance. These bushes used to harbour mainly drug dealers and shady individuals who were up to no good. This year the scrubs had been cleared away, meaning that nobody could lurk in the bushes and cause any problems. This did seem to curtail a lot of trouble and kept the route between the festival and the campsite relatively peaceful and safe.
- ✓More security were present at the camping area this year with some fairly heavy-duty guards at the campsite entrance conducting random checks on new arrivals at the entrance. There was a female and male officer, and they were very thorough in their searches. In general the security around the festival had been pumped up, which was reassuring given the heightened threat of terrorism we are sadly experiencing at tourist resorts these days.
- ✓There is a bar at the campsite which seemed to be open 24 hours! This bar sold large bottles of water for 2€. This was very handy as we could grab a nice cold bottle of water on our way back to the tent after a night of partying and didn’t have to worry about going to the shops to buy water before we left town. It also meant that if you woke up early with a stonking hangover you could stumble along to the bar and grab a freshly squeezed orange juice and a pastry for breakfast without even having to leave the camping area.
- ✓The kitchen facilities at the campsite seemed well-organised and clean for people who brought their own food.
- ✓There was a first aid tent at the campsite entrance, as well as a facility to rent portable mobile phone chargers – we have used these chargers before but as we were only staying for 4 days we didn’t need them this time around.
- ✓The toilets at the campsite were different again, for the 3rd year in a row! Rototom are really trying to find the best toilet set up for their campers! These new ones came complete with sinks, running water and mirrors and were always fully stocked with loo roll and I didn’t see any queues for loos at the campsite at all this year and blocked loos were very rare so think Rototom really found a winning solution with these toilet blocks this year!
- ✗Due to the increased presence of security at the festival, the usual entrance for campers to access the festival through a little shortcut in the gate was no longer accessible. Instead, campers had to walk the long way around and enter in the main festival entrance along with everyone else. This was annoying if you were used to zipping through the shortcut entrance, especially at the end of the night when you had danced so hard all day that you didn’t think your little legs could carry you the extra few hundred metres to walk the long way around.
- ✗Access to the festival itself was well guarded with armed soldiers at the gates, ultraviolet lights to scan wristbands, and sometimes overly eager security guards at the entrance searching bags. For example, on one night they wouldn’t allow me entry to the festival with my anti-bacterial hand gel as they maintained it was a fire risk due to the flammable contents. This did annoy me, not least because I had already entered the festival on previous nights with the same hand gel, but also in the absence of any hot water or soap at the festival to allow me to wash my hands, but especially since my boyfriend had managed to stroll undetected through the gate parallel to mine, anti-bac and all! The inconsistent and stubborn approach of some of the security guards was over-the-top for such a placid crowd, but I did appreciate the extra efforts that had been put in place to keep us all safe from harm.
- ✗The camping is great if you can handle the outdoors mixed communal cold showers. Despite more efforts to shield the shower area with screens to help maintain washers’ privacy, these showers were still very much out in the open and for those who dare to bare! There were a couple of private showers, when I say private I mean that everyone can still see you through the shower curtain as it blows in the breeze, so it really is better to embrace your inner nudist and get your bits out – no-one is looking, honestly! But you never really get all the dirt off with just cold water so really need to scrub!
- ✗The cold showers are fine, you actually get used to them after a few days and find them refreshing, until you need to wash your hair that is! In the past I have cheated and was probably the only Rototomer in the history of Rototom to book a hairdressers appointment for a wash and blow dry towards the end of the week! Sometimes the cold water just won’t shift the dirt though and with all the sun lotion, sweat and sand it’s only hygienic to have access to warm water to wash yourself in.
- ✗Rocks are EVERYWHERE all around the campsite. The Glamping Company put their tents up over some large rocks, they didn’t have the courtesy to clear away the rocks before setting up the tents, which meant finding a comfortable sleeping position on the bed of rocks in the was very difficult! The pathways around the campsite are full of piles of rocks and form very dangerous stepping grounds, particularly at night, when the paths are not well-lit. Navigating piles of rubble and rocks in the dark after a few drinks to get back to your tent is a sobering experience to say the least. The funny thing is, the security guards would sit in their chairs right next to these rocks around the clock, yet none of them took the initiative to clear the paths of the rocks during the whole time they were sitting staring at them day and night for 8/9 days (maybe more)…
- ✗Wasps were a pest at the campsite. I would advise anyone camping that under no circumstances should you bring any food back to the camping area. The wasps were persistently up and at you from the moment the sun rose until sunset. We learnt that the best approach to take with these unrelenting wasps was to not hang around near the tents, get yourself out of there, and in the event of an unshakable wasp pursuing you take the advice of the local people ‘stay still’ and once the wasp realises that you are not edible it should fly away peacefully.
- ✗Ants, ants and more ants: The campsite seemed to host every type of ant going, all of whom are after your crumbs and will form an orderly queue to invade your tent and make your life a nightmare for even the tiniest scraps of food or juice. Some people don’t seem to care and will leave their tent doors wide open all day, only to come back and find an organised trail of militant ants devouring their tents! Some of these ants can squeeze through the tiniest of holes in your tent’s ground sheet so the advice is just don’t take ANY food to your tent WHATSOEVER and sellotape or plaster over any holes you find in your ground sheet (better still – ask to swap to a hole-free tent if you find any when you move in!) and you will be sure to experience an ant-free festival!
- ✗Due to the screens attempting to protect the modesty of those having a good ol’ scrub in the shower area, the shower entrance nearest to the glampsite has been closed off. Instead of using this shortcut you now have to walk all the way past the loos and up a path which runs alongside the urinals, past the sinks until you reach the shower entrance. I found this to be quite inconvenient, mostly due to having to walk past the stench of the urinal wall after I’d just cleaned myself fresh as a daisy and personally I would have preferred if direct access to the showers could be made available for the glampers.
- ✗Although the toilets are clean and well maintained, they are very basic all across the festival sites and it can be difficult and embarrassing for girls and women to dispose of their used sanitary products across all of the festival’s loos. There are no hygiene bins provided in any of the cubicles. In 2017 I would consider access to adequate facilities to handle the menstruation cycle to be a fundamental right for all females and to be an integral part of the planning for hygiene units at such a large festival.
- ✗A few years ago, there was a little raised area near the kitchen with shade provided by camouflage tarpaulin, serving crepes, beers and burgers, which has not been back at the festival for the last couple of years. I think it is based in the same area which is now kept clear for opening parties at the campsite on the night prior to the festival. It is a shame, as that was a great place to sit in the shade with a cold drink while you waited for your friend to finish getting ready, or while they were in the shower/loo etc. Also it was a great place to grab a decent breakfast and listen to some tunes if you woke up too early to get the bus into town. I miss that area! But to be honest, this year, we just got up and went straight to the beach, so wouldn’t have used it that much anyway. And maybe the music bothered people camping nearby so I can see why they might have got rid of that area.
- ✗I’m not sure why this happens but nearly every day there are loads of announcements over the tannoy for people to go to the information area. Instead of reading out the names in one long list, the voice reads the sentences out over and over and over…’Pablo Fernandez, please make your way to the information point. Andrea Martinez, please make your way to the information point. Carlos Garcia, please…’ Not only that but the lists are read out in multiple languages and are about 50 people long so eventually it does your head in!
- ✓This year the Dub Academy featured an in-built seating area covered with artificial turf, which ran all the way around the edge of the dance floor between the three sound systems. This was a much-needed addition to the Dub area, as skanking on your feet all night for 8 nights in a row will take its toll on even the most dedicated dubster dude. These seats also provided the perfect place to get comfortable, chillax and nod your head to the bass for a while.
✓Another new feature of the Dub Academy took the form of a wall of shipping containers stacked in a U-shape around the back of the speakers in a semi-circle enclosing the venue. We can only assume that these were put in place to act as a sound barrier, to protect the other areas of the festival from the serious sound clash which had been present in previous years, and to stop the deep vibrations from the Dub Academy from reaching up to the people sleeping at the campsite. It definitely worked for this purpose. Happy campers.
- ✓With the DJ and MC booth at the epicentre of the dancefloor revellers still had the opportunity to stand around the epicentre of the Dub Academy and get up close and personal with the artists as they selected tunes, manipulated the amps and took to the mic.
- ✓There were a handful of seats available at the entrance to the Dub Academy, which were made from repurposed materials, such as plastic crates and potato sacks. Reusing items in this manner co-ordinates with the environmentally friendly ethos of Rototom Sunsplash.
- ✓I found some secret girls-only toilets at the back of the Dub Academy, complete with mirrors! Result!
- ✓Blackboard Jungle provided endless hours of entertainment at the dub academy as a solid fixture at this stage, stepping in to cover for late DJs at the last minute.
- ✓Dubfiles played a long set on Friday night, and treated us to a super extended mix of their Kingston 6 riddim, featuring Hempress Sativa and the likes – seriously this same tune went on for about 40 minutes and hypnotised us all into a dubbers trance!
- ✓For me, the best night at the Dub Academy was when the lyrically proficient YT and Solo Banton teamed up with Blackboard Jungle and drove the crowd wild!
- ✗There was definitely less space to dance overall at the Dub Academy this year, and the bar seemed to have been pushed a lot closer to the centre of the area, so it did become very crowded there at times, especially at peak times such as when the popular Aba-Shanti-I played.
- ✗This venue did feel slightly fenced in when you were down near the speakers and you did lose some sense of being out in the open air due to the high wall surrounding the dancefloor.
- ✗There were less clothing outlets to buy merchandise from around the Dub Academy than in previous years and the majority of t-shirts and jumpers on sale catered to men. I tried some of the tops on, the #BornToDub and #AllDayDubs logos were COOL AS, but alas, the shape of the cut was ill-fitting on me 😦
- ✗The Smoking Dub DJ booth next to the Dub Academy was closed most times I went past it and it was not clear what was happening there. On one night I saw Smoking Dub branded deck chairs out the front and DJs playing inside the marquee, but didn’t see them again on any of the other nights. It seemed to me that this space could have been put to better use as a chill out area near to the Dub stage.
- ✓This daytime attraction is a hub of activity and filled with humble students attentively soaking up the words of legendary acts imparting their wisdom, experience and knowledge of reggae music.
- ✓The interior walls of the Reggae University were lined with iconic photographs from the ‘Reggae – The African Connection‘ collection, showcasing reggae stars behind the scenes and on tour on the African continent as well as portraits of African/Jamaican musical collaborations such as Fela Kuti and Peter Tosh.
- ✗The reggae university would be better attended if it were hosted at the beaches, as most people hit the beach during the day time while the festival site is roasting hot during the day.
- ✗The Foro Social and the Reggae University next to the Dub Academy are out-of-bounds while the sound systems are playing. It is a real shame as these areas provide hundreds of white plastic chairs which are in high demand throughout the night, however security guards patrol the area and stop weary festival goers from resting their souls, even momentarily, in these otherwise unused seats.
- ✓As ever, the daily dose of dancehall masterclasses did not fail to disappoint. This 10pm slot is a permanent fixture in my Rototom festival routine. The combination of the excellent sound system, the slight downwards slope leading to the stage to help even the shortest of shorties (such as myself) to see the happenings on stage, coupled with the good vibes from the hosts Unity Sound and the energy and talent from the series of professional dancers on stage; these classes are the life and soul of Rototom and are without a doubt the best way to kick off your evening with a sure-fire ticket to party central.
- ✓The dancers teach the coolest moves to the latest and most banging dancehall tracks, and cater for many levels of dancer.
- ✓On Tuesday night, Sir Ledgen (who has performed for ‘Wild Thoughts‘ star Rihanna), got the crowd going with a nice routine to Assassin‘s ‘Nothing At All‘. He chose to teach us some simple but powerful arms movements and got the evening off to a great start with his great smile and attitude.
- ✓On Wednesday night, reputable Jamaican dancer Kimiko Versatile took us through some bad gyal moves, including Watch Your Pum – (instructional video here if you fancy giving it a go!) all to the soundtrack of Stop Watch di Pumz by Razor B. Kimiko used some quality tunes throughout and taught us some killer moves, all with her unbeatable stage presence. Her class was the busiest one I went to, for one obvious reason – Kimiko Versatile is fiercely awesome fun and knows how to get a party started!
- ✓Of all of this year’s dance classes, I found Damion BG Dancer‘s Thursday night class the most accessible as a beginner dancer (even with a leg injury). With Alkaline’s Red Eyes on the La Vida riddim as the backing track, you couldn’t help but try out the moves. By the end of his slot, Damion BG had the whole crowd fully involved and moving around to the sounds of Bob Marley with his ‘greetings’ move and had infected everyone with his love of dance.
- ✓Friday night saw dancehall queen Irie Queen of Spain’s Got Talent fame mash up the dancehall stage with her show-stopping booty antics in her Shake Your Bam Bam masterclass. During the class, dhq Irie Queen guided us through a mind-blowing EIGHT different ways to wine your waist up, including Make It Clap, Turbo Wine and the art of bubbling. At one point she even mounted the turntable to demonstrate her bootylicious moves! In this well-planned lesson, Irie Queen selected the best bum-shaking dancehall anthems, including Spice’s ‘Indicator’ and the recently remixed Sister Nancy hit ‘Bam Bam’ released by RDX.
- ✓During all of the dancehall shows, the Unity Sound crew proved the perfect hosts as they helped the crowd to keep time to the beat and remember the upcoming moves. It is evident that the DJ and MC share great relationships with the dancers and together they really animated the crowd to keep the party vibes well and truly flowing throughout each session.
- ✓The best dancehall DJs tended to perform later on in the night, with acts such as King Turbo from Canada and Superlock feat Spida (Supersonic) and Tommy (City Lock) mixing and selecting some of the best dance floor fillers and most popular dancehall tunes from the last few years, with acts starting at around 2am.
- ✗This year the dancehall stage seemed to be lower than in previous years, so it was slightly harder to see what was going on on stage, making the dance classes slightly tricky to follow at times if you couldn’t quite see.
- ✗The main acts, Bugle and ‘Yeah Yeah‘ star Aidonia, arrived on stage very late – up to half an hour later than their scheduled start time. This was slightly annoying as their shows were scheduled to start at 2:30am – it was hard to maintain enthusiasm when you were still waiting for them to start gone 3am.
- ✗The resident dancehall crew of Lampadread of One Love Hi Powa and Michelle and Fyah Ed from Northern Lights were slightly underwhelming. They seem to play old school dancehall, and unfortunately did not have the charisma, connection with the crowd, and stage presence of the other sound systems at the dancehall stage. After the dancehall masterclasses had warmed up the crowd and people were raring to go, Lampadread would take over the decks from 11pm and the dancehall yard virtually became a ghost town. In my opinion, it would have made much more sense to shuffle the line-up around a bit and schedule Lampadread at 10pm to set the stage for Unity Sound and the dancer team to pump up the crowd from 11pm onwards instead, ready for the headliners to hit the stage from midnight onwards. I’ve thought this every year! Personally it would make more sense to me to switch things that way around.
- ✗There are no seats available at the dancehall stage – the nearest seating area used to be the Ti Punch bar opposite the entrance to the dancehall yard, but that bar was nowhere to be found this year and had been replaced by an Italian restaurant with table service. It must be the first time I have ever seen the combination of an Italian cafe alongside a dancehall stage at a reggae event and to be honest, I’m not quite sure what the organisers were thinking there!
- ✗Lack of decent drinks in the dancehall area: There is a bar with a limited selection of drinks on one side and a beer kiosk to the other side, but to me, the dancehall yard deserves to be accompanied by a top quality rum bar serving up freshly made cocktails, think rum punch/pina coladas etc, to give a more authentic dancehall yard experience. I tried to buy a cocktail from the Italian cafe: they didn’t know what they were doing and eventually I bought an alochol-free pina colada for 7€ (including the reusable cup) as the somewhat scatty barmaid had forgotten to add rum to my drink! At a reggae festival! The nearest (and only) place to get a rum punch at the festival was luckily only a few yards away, from Wayne’s Jerk Kitchen, just behind the State of Mind stall. This place was my saviour and at 5€ for a decent planteur punch was an absolute winner.
✗The decorations at the dancehall yard were very outdated. The ‘DANCEHALL’ stencil on the floor at the entrance which was bold and vivid a few years ago has completely worn away, presumably bleached by the intense Spanish sun. And the palm trees in the dancehall yard which are normally lit up were left dreary in the dark this year. I think it would have been fairly easy and cheap to at least paint over the Dancehall logo and wrap some fairy lights around the tree trunk to provide some low maintenance spruced up decorations for the area.
- ✗Some of the biggest dancehall tracks of the year, and dead cert tunes which I had expected to hear played at the dancehall yard, were unfortunately missing from the dancehall yard playlist. Namely the top hits from current dancehall sensation Shenseea along with massive tunes out of Jamaica such as Vybz Kartel, Masicka and Russian’s ‘Infrared’ – I had definitely expected to hear that tune drop more than a few times, but didn’t hear it once!
Rototom Solé Beach Bar, Playa del Gurugú:
- ✓The lounge area at Solé beach bar had been renovated for this edition of Rototom Sunsplash, with a new area for sun chairs and four-poster day beds, as well as an extended seating area for diners and drinkers.
- ✓Sun beds were cheaper to rent than at other areas of the beach, for example 4€ per day per slatted wooden sunbed with head shader, or 10€ per day for a day bed with rattan roof compared to 15€ for 2 padded sun loungers at more central town beaches.
- New decorations had been added to the beach bar and lounge area, to give a fresh look to the place, including the super-sized LOVE letters, which provided a great photo opportunity.
- ✓The ladies toilets were fairly well maintained and showers were available to wash off the sand and sea water.
- ✓The beach here is excellent for swimming with soft sandy and shallow clean waters.
- ✓The new addition of shows, beach parties, sound systems and dance classes really livened up this previously isolated beach bar.
- ✓The daily dancehall dance classes were a totally
excellent feature of the Solé bar, with Madrid’s Unity Sound at the decks hosting from 4:30pm every day and top dancers teaching you how to shake what your mama gave you in the sun and sand, all while assistants hosed you down with cold water. These classes really picked the beach bums up out of their slumbers and onto their dancing feet and got the party started off with a bang for the day.
- ✓On Wednesday Flora Saez gave an afrobeat special dance class for this ‘Celebrating Africa’ Rototom edition. Flora chose to make us move to one of Nigerian Wizkid’s latest tunes ‘African Bad Gyal’ from his latest album. Unity Sound used their charisma to help keep up the dancers’ momentum and encouraged them to keep going through the sweat and heat until the end of the class.
- ✓Following Flora’s unique class, heavyweight MCs YT and Solo Banton took the mics, playing to a relatively intimate crowd, they gave us more of their dubtastic vocals.
- ✓On Friday afternoon dancer Damion BG was back, this time teaching us his ‘One Don’ class on the beach. After his dance class the previous evening I had expected his daytime class to be fairly easy to follow, but at times I was lost and the moves were too fast for me to keep up! It was still great to take part and was a lot of fun learning from such a talented groover.
- ✓Straight after Damion BG, German dancehall sound system ‘Glockwork Posse‘ fired up the speakers with some street-party style dancehall crackers. Think Vybz Kartel hit medleys galore (Fever, Taxi and more) and you can probably imagine the girls twerking like crazy in their bikinis. That was one of the best beach parties I went to this year!
- ✓I was sad to miss the Solé beach party on Thursday as the line up looked particularly epic – Kimiko Versatile with her ‘Authentic Social Dancehall’ class followed by dub academy regulars Iration Steppas! Bet it was HUGE!
- ✓A good choice of food and drink was on offer at the bar such as crepes, burgers, tapas, salads, tacos as well as beers, juices and MOJITOS!
- ✓The beach bar is next to an airfield, so can you enjoy watching light aircraft taking off and landing and also see paragliders floating down in the surrounding skies.
- ✗There is a lack of shade at this beach bar, so unless you are in the seated area or are lucky enough to nab one of the highly sought-after sun beds you will need to take a parasol. There were simply not enough sunbeds to meet the high demand – they were all reserved, and it was not clear how to reserve the beds.
- ✗I didn’t see any disabled access toilets and heard that the men’s toilets were often blocked.
- ✗The food and drink on offer was slightly pricier than elsewhere and the service was quite slow – to be fair it was 35 degrees heat (and then some!) so people did tend to be on a go slow!
- ✗The bar didn’t play the Radio Rototom live session as advertised on the festival schedule. Instead they played the same roots reggae playlist on repeat until the dance hall classes started up at 4:30pm. The CD became very tiresome if you spent more than one day at this beach.
- ✗The speakers are very far away from the sea, around 150m, so you really can’t hear the music if you venture down for a swim, which was a shame, as sea dancing is one of my favourite activities!
- ✗This beach is very far out-of-town in an isolated area so if you need any supplies or equipment you will need to come prepared as there are NO shops at all within walking distance.
- ✓This beach has been blessed with some brand new decking which extends all the way from the pavement to the beach showers and sun loungers down on the sand and provides a great platform to overlook the Rototom tent on the beach.
- ✓With lots of convenience stores, restaurants, supermarkets and cash points nearby, this beach is accessible and is a suitable location for running back to the shop to grab a cheap, cold can of San Miguel.
- ✓There is very regular bus access to this beach and it is very easy to grab a ride back to the festival from the bus stop at this beach compared to the more central beach San Vincente.
- ✓A great act we saw at this beach stage were Barbass Sound, who played some party starting tunes and whipped the crowd into a frenzy! They certainly got me up and interested despite only having had 1 hour’s sleep the night before!
- ✓As the stage faces the shoreline and is only about 10 metres from the sea it is possible to be in the water swimming and still hear the music at this beach – absolutely amazing!
- ✗The Rototom stage here is based on top of the beach slope, making it hard for people lower down near the shore to see what is happening on stage.
- ✗This area is rife with loud what we call ‘Agua Cola Fanta’ men, as well as persistent sarong sellers and masseuses, so don’t expect to get much rest at this beach.
- ✗The sand here ends at the water’s edge where it becomes very sharp shingle, making it tricky to enter and exit the sea at this beach. I actually cut my foot here on the shingle, like tiny blades.
- ✓This is the most popular beach by far, and is also the most central, meaning the crowd at the Rototom stage here is a melange of regular tourists, local residents, street sellers and festival goers.
- ✓The beach here is flat which is great for watching the festival shows.
- ✗There is a peninsula here slightly away from the stage which has coarse sand, but the terrain in the bay near the stage is rocky and large pieces of shingle.
- ✗The sun loungers here are the most expensive in town.
- ✗It can be very windy on this part of the beach and the walkway to the beach stop can become a wind tunnel.
- ✗The shops nearby the festival stage charge extortionate amounts for beers and ice-creams. If you can be bothered to make the mission to the nearest Consum supermarket about 5 minutes’ walk up the main road, it could save you a few euros for your efforts.
- ✗There is a lack of shade at this venue now, as for some reason the shaded areas under the trees which people normally shelter under were cordoned off with tape and were out-of-bounds. This left people with very little shade from the scorching sun and the reason behind this restriction was not obvious to me.
- ✗There is a ridiculous amount of ‘Lookie Lookie’ men at this beach, some of whom are very aggressive and are not to be reckoned with. Girls relaxing on the beach in particular were groped and harassed by these men in an unsettling manner which did not fit with the overall festival vibe at all and should not be tolerated on these beaches.
- ✗It was difficult to catch a bus back to the festival from this beach, as the buses tended to fill up at beaches further down the road from Playa del Gurugú or Heliopolis, so the wait times for a bus here could be long and the buses very crammed once you do finally fit onto one.
- ✓The sharwarma shack has been at the festival since at least 2010 and is a safe option for a meal which is good value and easy to eat on the move.
- ✓Wayne’s Jerk Shop was the only authentic Caribbean food outlet on the festival site. Their jerk chicken has people waiting in queues up to 20 metres long! But it is SO worth the wait! If you can’t handle the long wait, then try one of their goat curries or order a decent rum punch while you wait instead.
- ✓There are plenty of fresh juice bars around the festival site, which are perfect for perking you up during an energy slump to give you your second wave, or if you are starting to suffer from dehydration.
- ✓For this year’s ‘Celebrating Africa’ special, I noticed more African food vendors at the festival than before, such as an Ethiopian food stall in the African Village.
- ✓The Pizza Elf stall in the back end of the market area is an absolute gem – whacking out around 10 vegetarian pizzas per minute, this place is fast, cheap and simple.
- ✓Mojitos seemed to be on sale EVERYWHERE. The best place I found for these crisp and minty concoctions was the Canna craft beer stall, where a freshly made mojito in classic, watermelon or strawberry flavour would set you back a reasonable 5€.
- ✓Rototom operates a reusable cup scheme, whereby you pay a 1 euro deposit for your cup and when you order your next drink you can either choose to refill your original cup, or exchange it for a clean cup. This is a great scheme as it cuts down on waste, unnecessary cleaning and compliments the environmentally friendly ethos of Rototom City, under the project name Greensplash. And the price is the same whether you have a large or small cup.
- ✓Every year Rototom releases a new design logo on their reusable cups and this year was no different with a ‘Celebrating Africa’ cup design available for collectors. The deposit scheme is great if you are trying to collect the different versions of the cups, as you can swap your cup until you find the design you want to keep.
- ✓Another change to the cup system this year was the chance to donate your cup to charity. At the entrance and near the Caribbean Uptempo stage were large boxes where you could post your cup according to the charity you wished to support.
- ✗The seats at Wayne’s Jerk Kitchen are very hemmed in and close to where the queue forms – it would be nice if the diners could have some more space to eat in.
- ✗The Pizza Elf would serve pizzas on thin cardboard, if the pizza was hot or moist enough it would melt through the cardboard!!!! Queue hot cheese running down your legs – ouch!
- ✗I know I’ve mentioned this already but it is an important point – There was a distinct lack of a decent rum bar! Considering this is Europe’s largest reggae festival, authentic Caribbean food and drink was disappointingly hard to find.
- ✗The sorbet coco stall in the market area serves rum, however I noticed that they hide the rum underneath the counter and never have the bottles on display and never show the brand of rum. Once I even asked the guys on the stall (who are French Caribbean) in my perfect French with Caribbean accent what kind of rum they were using. Their answer: Rhum Vieux. Simply, dark rum. They were very blunt and not interested in prolonging the discussion so personally I avoid this stall as I believe their rum to be of poor quality.
- ✗There were a large number of artificially made mojitos for sale, which are blended in slush puppy style machines. As these drinks look pretty chemically, I preferred to find bars making up fresh mojitos with raw ingredients instead.
- ✗This year the cup deposit scheme was slightly different, and for the first time the 1 euro deposit was non-refundable. This was a surprise as in all previous years which featured this cup arrangement the deposit was refundable. I suppose in previous years it may have been a bit of a brain buster for bar staff to calculate cup deposits for large rounds so this new idea must have eased this confusion.
- ✗The charity cup donations idea is lovely, however there were some very persuasive and relentless ‘chuggers’ at the festival entrance, who would approach you to try to convince you that tonight was the night you should donate your cup. I did not appreciate this method of raising funds for charity, as I had planned to donate my cup on the last night of the festival, so being bothered about it every night as I went into and left the festival was quite exhausting. It also made you feel bad for trying to take your cup home as a souvenir, which was a shame as I have always liked to collect the cups since they were introduced at the festival a few years ago.
- ✓Available to purchase were ‘Celebrating Africa’ 24th Rototom t-shirts and limited edition of exclusive handcrafted African design vest tops and a specially designed range of cushions and garments made from African fabric, with proceeds donated to promote community gardens in Senegal.
- ✓The prices of items were mostly unchanged from previous years.
- ✓Many of the items on sale are available for purchase year round on the Rototom Sunplash web store.
- ✗Some of the stock has been hanging around for years and is becoming a bit out of fashion
- ✗The sizings of the clothes vary signficantly, e.g. a large bikini is the equivalent to a size UK 10.
- ✗The limited edition items sold out so quickly, by the time I got to the merchandise stall there were none of the special edition items left! Sad face!
- ✗There are far more items of clothing on offer for men than for women.
- ✗It is not possible to buy any artist merchandise at the stall, only Rototom themed goods.
Main stage event reviews:
Often the top acts are saved for the weekend slots, but this year saw a killer line-up take to the stages of Europe’s largest reggae festival mid-week!
- ✓As part of the specially curated ‘Celebrating Africa’ special edition of Rototom Sunsplash this year it was only right to invite Kenyan singer Treesha to make her first appearance on the main stage. Treesha’s vocal talent is second to none, and her vibe is friendly, humble and relaxed. As a relative newcomer to the fore-front of reggae artists, Treesha’s own hits were limited to a handful, however that didn’t stop her from engaging the audience with certified crowdpleasers such as Dawn Penn’s immortal ‘No No No’. Treesha did take the opportunity to drop in her gun crime conscious hit ‘Don’t Do It‘ until she was able to top off her charming set with her energetic smash hit ‘Rude Gyal Swing‘. Her slogan ‘From Nairobi to Kingston’ really summed up the atmosphere of this year’s #CelebratingAfrica edition of the festival.
- ✓As ever at Rototom, whenever a Marley is on the main stage the rest of the place lays all but empty, and Tuesday night was no different when Ky-mani Marley performed with popular German reggae act Gentleman on the main stage. The unexpected rapport between these two artists is strong and as they whacked out hit after hit from their joint album ‘Conversations’ as well as solo hits from Gentleman such as ‘Superior‘. I found a seat in a quiet area nearby to listen in while eating my dinner and relaxing after an already lively evening while they played out their set to some classic Bob Marley tunes.
- ✗This was the night I had been impatiently waiting for all summer: KING OF THE DANCEHALL – BEENIE MAN playing on the main stage at Rototom Sunsplash! As a huge dancehall and Beenie fan, I had expected to be overcome with awe at Beenie Man’s performance, however I was left somewhat underwhelmed. First of all, his set was scheduled first on the main stage line-up that night, FIRST! At the ridiculously early 8:30pm! This meant having to leave a very good beach party prematurely to rush back to the campsite and get ready for the festival MEGA early, so I naturally after I’d put in all this effort to make it to the show dressed up and on time I was expecting for my tiny mind to be blown. Unfortunately, there was something off-key about the sound system for his set – the music was quiet and I couldn’t hear any bass line, considering that many of Beenie’s tunes feature a heavy bass line this was a disappointment. Beenie Man’s vocals were harsh and abrasive, which I think was down to the sound engineers poor control over the event. There was hardly any crowd, I’d say around half the size of a standard main stage show. There were just no vibes. That said, Beenie definitely churned out ALL of his hits!!!!! King of the Dancehall, I’m Drinking / Rum and RedBull, Romie, Dude, Girls Dem Sugar, you name it, he sang it! Including my favourite Who Am I (Zim Zimma). Basically I think the main stage is not the right venue for a dancehall artist, the Zagga Zow Band are great, but there is just something about this genre which does not work well with a band on stage. I probably would have preferred for Beenie to stick to the dancehall stage and work with a DJ and sound system specifically set up for his style of dancehall music.
- ✓Later that night silky smooth crooner Christopher Martin sang on the main stage. Chris gave a great show including his 2011 anthem ‘Cheaters Prayer’ and more recent hits such as ‘My Love‘ on Rvssian‘s 2016 Crown Love Riddim and half-way through was joined by King Beenie himself in a surprise appearance.
- ✓✓✓Hempress Sativa on the main stage was by far the highlight of the night. Her stage presence commands your attention, in a fashion rivaled only by the mighty Jah 9, who graced the same stage the year before. The mood was sombre, I thought that the crowd were feeling a deep connection with the hempress, however, when she started to speak of ‘standing up to terrorism’ etc, I started to wonder why she would want to create such a buzz kill when introducing her hit song ‘Fight for your rights’. It was not apparent to me at the time that her performance was only a few hours after the terrorist attack on Las Ramblas in nearby Barcelona. Many of those in the audience probably came from Barcelona or its surrounding areas, and for some the terrorism attack was probably too close for comfort. That night I also heard MCs at the Dub Academy speaking of the need for us to unite in the face of terrorism, and selectas playing tunes to reflect the serious undertones of the day’s events. Security at the venue was ramped up another notch, with army style guardia civil at the festival perimeters and newly erected fences and barriers to prevent any vehicles from ramming the crowds. The meaning behind all of this was not apparent to me until the following day, where somehow I managed to connect with reality and get an overview of the sinister events that had happened the previous day. It is easy to forget that there is an outside world when you are living in the red, gold and green bubble of Rototom City. Nevertheless, Hempress Sativa rocked the crowd with her dub anthems ‘Boom (Wa Da Da Deng)’, produced by Paolo Baldini Dubfiles on the Kingston 6 riddim, ‘Skin Teeth‘, ‘Rock It Ina Dance‘ and a big hit with the sensimillia-smoking crowd was her refix of The Fugees ‘Fugee-La’ tune, Hempress Sativa style ‘Oh la la The Weed Thing‘. Overall, she oozed power and had an excellent command over the audience. Hempress Sativa is an act who will be gaining a lot more attention in the years to come, for sure.
- ✓Rototom regulars Mellow Mood from Italy provided an upbeat show were joined the odd friend on stage, which warmed the crowd up perfectly for the headliner The Wailers to take over the stage for the final slot.
- ✓✓✓The firmly-established top reggae act Chronixx and the ZincFence Redemption band dominated the stage on Friday night. The arena was jam-packed and it was difficult to get a glimpse through the dense crowd of Chronixx and his wild eyes, especially with his shoulder-length dreads loose and dancing around his face. His look was more business-like than usual, donning a freshly pressed bright white shirt. At the tender age of 24, Chronixx took us through his impressive back catalogue of hits such as ‘Sell My Gun’, ‘Here Comes Trouble‘ and ‘Capture Land‘ from his 2014 ‘Dread and Terrible‘ EP, as well as newer tracks including ‘Smile Jamaica‘, ‘Spanish Town Rockin’, ‘Majesty‘, ‘Likes‘ and ‘Skankin’ Sweet‘ all from his recently released Chronology album (entirely produced by Chronixx himself!). Not only that, but he treated us to renditions of his biggest collaborations with Protoje for ‘Who Knows’, before finishing off with his show-stopping Moombahton slash Rock floor-filler ‘Blaze Up The Fire‘ from his international collab with Major Lazer. Chronixx, who has been on his global tour virtually all year, gave it his all in this lengthy performance and demonstrated his incredible talent for his ever-growing and loyal fan base.
- ✓Aptly named after Rototom’s mascot, the dread lion, the Lion Stage was the setting for some of the coolest shows at the festival.
- ✓We didn’t hang at this stage so much this year, but managed to catch a bit of Nattali Rize who seemed very popular with the crowd.
- ✓Mungo’s Hi-Fi blew up the stage with their unique blend of dub meets garage meets dubstep and their MC guests including YT and Eva Lazarus wowed the crowd with their mad lyrical skills!
- ✓Following Mungo’s was French West Indian Cali P, who hails from Guadeloupe (Gwada 971). We managed to get very close to the front for some of his show and were very impressed with his cool demeanour on stage despite being a relatively new reggae star.
- ✗I would have liked to have seen Britain’s Got Reggae winner Claire Angel play but as her set didn’t start until gone 5am that night sadly I couldn’t quite stay up so late!
- ✗We also missed the one-off Rototom x Ethiopia musical collaboration ‘Ethnopia‘ on the Lion Stage, whereby a delegation of Ethiopian artists put on two special concerts at Rototom Sunsplash this year.
Every year the set up of Rototom is slightly different and the experience is never the same thanks to its special annual editions. This year, in its 24th edition, the festival shows no signs of slowing down, if anything it is expanding year on year and preparations are already under way for the festival to take place in Benicassim again next summer. As the closest experience to feeling that you are in the Caribbean whilst still being firmly planted in mainland Europe, Rototom will remain a firm fixture in my festival calendar and will no doubt continue to attract their cool, conscious and continental clientele while still embracing their philosophy of solidarity and peace, roots and culture.
BRING ON ROTOTOM SUNSPLASH 2018!!!!!!!!!!!!