ROTOTOM SUNSPLASH 2018 REVIEW

Festival Report by DJ Skirtbag*

IMG_5334Every August finds a veritable pop-up city of around 200,000 temporary residents, all embracing the philosophy of one love, peace and unity, set among dusty fields of pomegranates bushes and almond trees scorched by the intense Spanish sun, at the foot of the Parque Desierto de Las Palmas in Benicàssim, Costa del Azahar, Spain. Yes, I could only be talking about the legendary Rototom Sunsplash, which continues to state its claim as Europe’s largest reggae festival. For this episode, Rototom celebrated its momentous 25th edition with the slogan ’25 Years of Walking Together’. Read on to find out how the reggae, roots and culture went down at the silver anniversary of this renowned celebration of all things reggae.

*includes links to buy songs and albums mentioned on Amazon Music

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Main stage:

  • ✓The main stage now features a new screen installed behind the sound engineer deck, where spectators at the back can still see what is going on on-stage. People seemed to enjoy spreading out on the floor in front of Radio Rototom to watching the screen at the back and soak up the atmosphere of the main stage while relaxing.New screens at Rototom Sunsplash main stage
  • ✓On Thursday night, the main stage was set alight by veteran Cocoa Tea, who lead his protégé Koffee to join him on stage with her hit song ‘Raggamuffin’ (on the Real Rock Riddim) following on from her mentor and friend Cocoa Tea’s ‘She Loves Me Now’. I only saw Koffee stay on-stage for two songs, Raggamuffin and her über-popular debut hit ‘Burning’ which introduced us to this rising starlet as an artist just last year. Despite her tender age, petite frame and teenage braces, Koffee held the stage with a presence, ease and maturity well beyond her 19 years. Koffee is highly touted as the one to watch, an up-and-coming legend of Jamaica with great hopes being pinned on her, and she seems to be rising to the challenge with natural flair and modesty.
  • ✓On Friday night Sly and Robbie’s ‘The Taxi Connection’ show was INCREDIBLE and featured a host of special guests including Junior Natural (from the Netherlands) and other stars who need no introduction: King Yellowman, Bitty McLean and Johnny Osbourne. Their set was a mammoth TWO HOURS long as they knocked out classic after classic from an extended stage version of Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare’s ‘Unmetered Taxi’ to open, Yellowman’s ‘Zungguzungguguzungguzeng’, and finishing up on Johnny Osbourne’s classic on the Sleng Teng riddim ‘Buddy Bye’ and anther Real Rock riddim anthem ‘No Ice Cream Sound’ to close. This show was an education in reggae music from beginning to end, performed by living legends and I feel privileged to have witnessed the whole thing!
  • ✓Sunday night was fairly quiet with spaces in the crowd when Kabaka Pyramid and The Bebble Rockers band took to the main stage. He played a host of hits from his recently-released album including the title track and hot new single with Damian MarleyKontraband’ and ‘Reggae Music‘ (watch the performance video here). Kabaka kept the crowd interested and involved by incorporating well-known reggae hits from Ini Kamoze and Tenor Saw’s ‘Ring The Alarm‘ alongside his own work throughout his set . During the show Kabaka brought forward one of his guitarists from The Bebble Rockers who had incredible vocal talent to sing Sister Nancy’s ‘Bam Bam’ which was one of the highlights of the show.
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    Press conference with Kabaka Pyramid

    After his performance, Kabaka Pyramid hosted a press conference for his latest album ‘Kontraband’ and spoke about how he made the tune with Damian Marley (apparently Marley suggested that he sing about something other than politics, which lead to the idea of Kontraband) and how Kabaka himself would not be interested in becoming a politician due to the level of corruption in Jamaican politics – however he could consider a role for himself as a government policy advisor, which I believe he would be well suited to.

Dj Skirtbag and Kabaka Pyramid Rototom Sunsplash 2018

Kabaka also provided a dubplate for Rototom, likening the festival to the Mecca of reggae in his new track, ‘Reggae Music‘ from his new Kontraband album: https://soundcloud.com/radiorototomsunsplash/kabaka-pyramid-reggae-music-mix?in=radiorototomsunsplash/sets/rototom-specials-2018

  • ✓Kabaka was followed by David Rodigan and the Outlook Orchestra, who looked impressively smart in their tailored outfits – the musicians covered the stage while ‘Ram Jam’ Rodigan introduced a string of special guests including Bitty McLean, Hollie Cook performing Dawn Penn’s ‘No, No, No’ as well as Tippa Irie. The accomplished orchestra played a wide range of reggae and dancehall inspired-music, right up to the drum ‘n’ bass remix of The Fugees‘ take on Johnny Osbourne’s ‘Ready or Not’! I had half expected Protoje to pop out for a little cameo for David Rodigan as he had done at the Outlook Orchestra’s London gig and since he was due to perform at Rototom the following day, alas he was still on tour in the Netherlands that night and unable to make it.

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    Hollie Cook onstage with David Rodigan and The Outlook Orchestra
  • 20180820_224954.jpg✓On Monday, evening Protoje tore up the main stage – His show was amazing (as usual); he doesn’t drop a beat and showcased some of the tunes from his new album ‘A Matter Of Time’. Catch a video of him performing ‘Hail Ras Tafari’ here.
    Protoje performing on the main stage
    Protoje performing on the main stage

    Protoje even held an impromptu press conference after his performance and a quick costume change, which was already no mean feat considering that he had already performed in France, Italy and The Netherlands that week and had just travelled 26 hours in a coach to reach Rototom. This is a man who works seriously hard, but still maintains an air of cool as a cucumber. 20180821_001706.jpgHalfway through the press conference his manager interrupted the discussion and signalled to Protoje that he had 4, no, 3 (we assumed questions) left. It turns out that Alborosie was performing on the main stage with members of The Wailers at that time (so THAT’s why it was so quiet everywhere else!) so Protoje had to abruptly leave the press conference to run on stage to perform ‘Strolling’ (from the freedom fighter’s 2016 Freedom & Fyah album) with Papa Albo himself! We had not expected Protoje to return to the press conference and most people just left, but low and behold as he is SUCH a pro, he actually RAN BACK to resume the press conference as if getting up and performing on stage was nothing! This really showed great respect on Protoje’s part as I think most artists wouldn’t have bothered returning so hats off to him! During the press conference, Protoje explained that his latest single release ‘Like This’ had been selected for the BBC Radio 1 playlist, which was a first for him (normally his songs only reach the BBC 1xtra playlist). At the time of writing, ‘Like This’ is still resident on the C list for BBC Radio 1, which shows how popular and mainstream reggae is becoming in the UK. In contrast, both Protoje and Kabaka Pyramid noted that in Jamaica (and I quote) ‘dancehall still runs the streets’. According to Protoje, although the youth in Jamaica can still appreciate the younger reggae artists like Protoje and Chronixx, it is not at the same level of popularity as the dancehall artists (I mean, who can compete with Vybz Kartel?). Protoje does have a strong following in Europe and the US though, while Kabaka Pyramid believes he is most popular in Ghana. As for Kabaka’s press conference, the focus was on their newly-released album, Protoje’s new EP ‘A Matter of Time’, which lead to a question about the theme of time running through all of his album names (Seven Year Itch / The 8 Year Affair / Ancient Future). Protoje explained the reason behind this is his obsession with the concept of time and his constant quest to spend his time doing things which he thinks are the best use of his time (which he says he asks himself 10x per day).20180820_223502

  • 20180822_223821.jpg✓ On the final night, Wednesday 22nd August, Tarrus Riley and Konshens conquered the main stage. Konshens fans will be surprised to hear that he didn’t perform what I consider to be one of his biggest tunes, ‘Gal Tan Up’ the lead track on the Bashment Time riddim. Obviously though, no dancehall party in 2018 is complete until someone has played Konshens’ anthem ‘Bruk Off Yuh Back’ on the Moskato riddim (co-incidentally, both of these hit riddims were created by the none other than the Jamaican rhythm masterproducer that is Rvssian/Head Concussion Records) and Konshens’ show was no exception to this rule.  Sporting his signature tight-knit red curls, Konshens (real name Garfield Palmer) showed why he is one of dancehall’s biggest exports right now (with his multiple releases this summer alone such as ‘Bassline’, ‘Hard Drive’ (alongside current dancehall badgyal sensation Shenseea and, again, the unstoppable combo of Konshens x Rvssian) and ‘Turn Around’ on the World Vibes Riddim all attaining global success. A highlight of Konshens’ show was when he brought out top Jamaican dancehall queen (dhq) Aneika Headtop. Bubbling on stage, living up to her name of dancing on her head top, even dancing down on the floor in front of the crowd to ‘Bassline’ – Konshens invited her to the stage twice and and dhq Aneika gave the audience a taste of a true Jamaican dancehall party. Watch her wicked moves here:20180822_223438.jpg
  • ✓Following Konshens on the main stage was smooth crooner Tarrus Riley. The songs which links these two artists are the popular showstopper ‘Good Girl Gone Bad’ released in 2009 and the gratifying ‘Simple Blessings’ released last year. ‘Good Girl Gone Bad’ has aged well and the crowd went crazy, not only when Konshens played it (see video here), but also later on in the evening when he returned to the stage to re-perform it with Tarrus himself. Tarrus Riley’s solo show was impressive from start to finish; he sounds EVEN BETTER on stage than in his records (no, I didn’t think that was possible either!). But somehow he manages to achieve this effortlessly. With such an extensive backlog Tarrus Riley I didn’t even see him perform all of his most popular songs, even ones from last year such as ‘Don’t Come Back’ from, you guessed it, Rvssian’s Crown Love Riddim, it was missing from his set, however Tarrus did treat us all to an exclusive first-ever performance of his new song, a rendition of Black Uhuru’s ‘Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner’ Watch the video at this link. Tarrus also performed a dubplate for Rototom of ‘Don’t Come Back’ which I heard played on the last night at the dancehall stage, dubplates lyrics include ‘If you feel like your festival badder than Rototom then YOU’RE WRONG’ and ‘You Must Come Back’ – listen here.

 

Dancehall:

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  • ✓The dancehall stage has received a well-overdue makeover! It now boasts a raised stage (much easier to see what’s going on on-stage, even for shorties like me!) with two new platforms on each wing of the stage, both complete with railings it was a more suitable stage setting than we have seen in previous years. The new side ramps created a perfect spotlight for the dancers, who now had podiums to perform on across the stage and meant they could be seen by the crowd. Central to the stage is a new DJ booth with plasma screens fitted above and below displaying the dancehall slogan ‘A we seh family’ and the Jamaican flag. Refreshed artwork has also been installed on the stage backdrop, making the stage seem grander and much more of a spectacle than in previous years. OLIR1480
  • ✓Rototom have (finally) improved the timing schedule for the dancehall stage by moving the dance class from 10pm to 00h30 (I feel like they may have read my review of last year’s festival as this was something I recommended there!) which creates a buzz at the stage and draws in the crowd in, then keeps them there in time for the main act to follow on directly from the dance class. This is a much better running order as in previous editions the dancefloor was cleared after the dance class when Lampadread took to the stage and spoiled the vibes created by the dancers crew and Unity Sound.20180821_005505.jpg
  • ✓The best dance class was on Friday night when the instructions were clearer, slower and repeated to a soundtrack of Don Andre’s ‘Tom Cruise’ and on Monday night but I don’t remember the music, I was too busy trying to dance. Watch the video and try the moves for yourself here.
  • ✓The opening night at the dancehall stage was absolute FLAMES – the first main act was the biggest female dancehall act out of Jamaica – Spice – who opened the festival with a feisty show of female empowerment and shenanigans. Introducing her Team Spice dancers ‘Dancing Rebel’ and ‘TC’, who proceeded to climb the railings and dance upside down on their shoulders and climb the riggings like Spiderwomen only to jump back down to the stage into the front spilts (OUCH!) – cue the crowd going KER-AZY! Spice put on a ridiculously lively show, including the chart-busting ‘Under Fire’ (see video here), getting girls who could ‘wine’ up onto the stage to challenge her dancers over her party-starting ‘Indicator’, inviting unsuspecting men to dance with her dancers on stage and she even jumped into the front row of the crowd at one point, even though she was apparently feeling unwell. I swear that the festival security guards didn’t know WHAT to do when Team Spice hit the stage – their eyes absolutely popped out of their heads – they were NOT prepared for the outrageousness in any way, shape or means! But her fans were – I managed to bag a spot right at the front and was surrounded by ardent fans who knew every word of every song, despite English not even being their first language for many of the girls there. #TeamSpice was out in full force showing Spain how its done, Jamaican dancehall queen style. Spice sang a number of her hits including her duet with Vybz Kartel ‘Romping Shop’ and her more recent ‘No Worries’ song on the Money Mix Riddim with Beenie Man’s ex-wife D’Angel (a.k.a. Boss Lady) and her number one crowd pleaser ‘So Mi Like It’. Songs which I thought were guaranteed to be part of her set but I think were missed out included Siddung and Sight & Whine.
  • ✓Spice was followed by Barcelona’s New Level crew, who announced their set with their dancers parading the stage with enormous flags. Their dancers are top-notch and include Flora Saez, who was one of the dance class teachers at last year’s ‘Celebrating Africa’ edition. The mixing skills of the New Level BCN DJs are not to be contested; I watched in awe at their skill and timing. It is safe to say that A LOT of thought, planning and practice had gone into this set as they whacked out dancehall banger after banger at top-speed in what I can only describe as a ‘dancehall hyper-mix’, keeping the crowd well and truly LIT. The energy of Spice is a tough act to follow but the New Level BCN crew managed to step up to the challenge and pulled it off with ease. Check them out here! At one point they even pulled out water pistols during ‘Under Water/Under Fire’!
  • ✓The best show of the dancehall stage this year was, in my opinion, the Reggae Rajahs’ very own General Zooz, accompanied by dancer Dhq Ms Sheriff on Wednesday night. What started as an unsuspecting DJ set turned into the main event of the night! Hailing from Mumbai, General Zooz wore a military green tunic while mixing old school bashment tunes better than the DJs at Notting Hill Carnival. 20180823_014833.jpg Before long General Zooz took to the mic and invited Ms Sheriff to the stage to demonstrate her Bollywood bellydance meets dancehall fusion dance form with a Million Stylez ‘Miss Fatty’ dubplate over the Panjabi MC’s ‘Mundian To Bach Ke’ riddim (see video here). The result was captivating. The Reggae Rajah theme continued through the show with Ms Sheriff and General Zooz performing their tune ‘Mumbai Gyal‘ (see the performance in the video here) and a dance piece to Charly Black’s ‘Indian Girl’ on the World Vibes Riddim. MS Sheriff has got all the moves, which you can see in this video here. Eventually all of the resident dancers from Mouv’ment crew were invited on stage to assist DHQ Ms Sheriff in leading the crowd through a host of dancehall moves while General Zooz recited a hilarious story of how he and Ms Sheriff had caught the plane from Mumbai (cue ‘Signal The Plane’ dance move) – the whole show was tongue-in-cheek and felt like it had been curated by a comedian – a comedian who knew a HELL of a lot about dancehall music. I laughed A LOT but genuinely enjoyed the show and tried all the dance moves – you couldn’t not – they had a real buzz about them and with their exotic good looks to boot, I’m sure these two will go far. Watch their energetic and entertaining performance here:
  • ✓ The dance teaching crew Mouv’ment Dancer’z ran the nightly dance classes, and pulled in a lot of energy and fun! Watch one of their opening dance classes here. The sounds were provided by French team Blaze Up Sound, who had nuff tunes and plenty of dubplates to keep the party going. These guys worked REALLY hard, out of all of the acts at the festival, these crews were working day and night for the whole 7 days, so maximum respect for that!
  • ✓A new dancehall sculpture of women ‘twerking’ has been introduced just uphill from the dancehall stage – which can be used as a meeting point.
  • ✗Blaze Up Sound crew who hosted the dance classes were slightly less entertaining than the previous dance class hosts Unity Sound, and didn’t help the audience to follow along to the dance moves in the same way that Unity Sound used to. The dance classes at the dancehall stage were a bit hit and miss to follow along to this year unfortunately as sometimes the dancers would jump down onto the dancefloor so I couldn’t always see what they were doing.
  • Bad Gyal played a DJ set after the dance class on Friday which I have to say was not to my taste at all, I found it quite boring and did not rate her DJ skills (she was pretty much playing songs the whole way through and not even really mixing them into each other) and she was playing downbeat tunes which didn’t match the same upbeat vibe of other dancehall stage performers.
  • ✗There is no dancehall merchandise stall, although Rototom have come up with their own ‘Pullll Uuuup’ slogan for the dancehall gear at the official merch stall (it felt rather naff and out-dated as a slogan to me in all honesty) there was no State of Mind stall this year and absolutely no dancehall artist merchandise available to buy.
  • ✗The ‘DANCEHALL’ stencil on the floor at the entrance has now completely worn away, presumably bleached by the intense Spanish sun. The dancehall area still remains fairly dark and some extra fairy lights wrapped around the palm trees wouldn’t go amiss to brighten to place up a bit.
  • ✗There are no seats available at the dancehall stage – the nearest seating area is up by the dancehall sculpture, set a few hundred metres uphill from the stage.
  • ✗Lack of decent drinks in the dancehall area still remains: 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/piña coladas etc, to give a more authentic dancehall yard experience. The nearest (and only) place to get a rum punch at the festival was luckily up near the dancehall statue, from Wayne’s Jerk Kitchen, but the queue was often not worth the wait.
  • ✗Dancehall heavyweight MC Ding Dong’s ‘Flairy’ and ‘Fling’ were played at almost every DJ set at the dancehall stage – Fling was mostly played as everyone who’s anyone knows the viral ‘Fling Yuh Shoulder’ dance move which accompanies the song – Usain Bolt, Shenseea and Chronixx have all been recorded doing the ‘fling’.  Watch the Mouv’ment Dancer’z teaching the ‘fling’ at the dancehall stage here. Other overplayed tunes included Sean Paul’s ‘Temperature’, which I heard at the beach dance classes two days in a row….

 

Lion Stage:

  • ✓Accordingly named after Rototom’s mascot, the dread lion, the Lion Stage was the setting for some brilliant shows throughout the festival.
  • ✓On the opening night we saw the Santander-based Lone Ark Showcase show, headed by Roberto Sánchez and featuring a host of talented artists, including Inés Pardo, and Benjammin’ (whose tune ‘Sons and Daughters’ has been a MASSIVE hit for dub fans this year. Their show was impressive but the crowd was unusually sparse – all the better for me to get down to the front! I think maybe this act should have played later on in the evening or had some mic sessions at the Dub Academy instead of the Lion Stage as this is more their target audience.
  • ✓ French-speaking Mo’kalamity drew a moderately large crowd for her late night performance on Friday, with a style reminiscent of Jah9 and Hempress Sativa and vocals as smooth as Sade, she held the mic with sovereignty in the centre of the stage.

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    Mo’kalamity at the Lion Stage
  • Skarra Mucci drew the largest crowd of any of the Lion Stage artists I saw this year, it was extremely well-attended considering it didn’t start until 2.15am on a Sunday! Really, I’ve never seen that stage so busy – I think he should probably have been scheduled to play on the main stage as he could probably fill it! His show included remixes of big reggae tunes such as Wayne Wonder and Buju Banton‘s Bonafide Love and the renowned World A Music / World Jam Riddim among others.
  • I would have liked to have seen Biga Ranx and Samory-I play but unfortunately missed them!

 

Dub Academy:

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  • ✓This stage has blossomed over the years, from humble beginnings as the Dub Station in the back field with just a small sound system in 2010 and around 100 people at peak times (of which I was one til 5am every night!), to moving to the larger space occupying the geodome on the grass in 2011, then to the space near the Bob Marley statue in latter years; the Dub Academy has grown at a rate of knots to now become one of Rototom’s main attractions – even hosting its own off-shoot festival of International Dub Gathering in Bigastro, Spain.
  • ✓The new site layout saw the Dub Academy in yet another new position this year and was tucked away in a snug corner between the dancehall stage and the market (previously roughly where the Juanita club was placed).
  • ✓Being enclosed by a high wall of cargo crates stacked in a wide U-shape behind the sound system speakers sets encircling the venue created an effective sound barrier and prevented any soundclash at the nearby Dancehall stage and stopped the low-frequency vibrations from the Dub Academy from disturbing sleeping campers (but really we all know that ‘Nobody Nuh Sleep Inna Rototom City’).
  • ✓The Dub Academy has been pimped with some new decorations, including enormous IDG logos, LED screens with IDG images and eye-catching IDG posters plastered in rows. This brightened up an otherwise dark and dingy corner of the festival.20180821_013454.jpg
  • 20180821_013407✓The dates for the next International Dub Gathering festival were promoted around the Dub Academy so if you are a serious dubster dude don’t miss out on that festival, which will hold its 4th edition 18th-20th April 2019 in Bigastro, Alicante, Spain.
  • ✗This year the Dub Academy did not feature any seating area as the Foro Social and Reggae University are no longer neighbouring sections to the Dub Academy, which was a great shame as for me it is the perfect place to sit down, make yourself comfortable, and meditate to the bass for a while to recoup your energy after being on your feet dancing non-stop.
  • ✗The new layout felt much more hemmed in that in previous years, and it felt as though there was less space to dance. In particular the entrance and exit to the Dub Academy felt far too narrow and caused bottleneck footfall, which put me off entering the Dub Academy at times as I couldn’t face having to push through and salmon upstream against the people flowing out.
  • ✗The dominating sound wall of shipping containers can make you feel fenced in and borderline claustrophobic once you get inside the main arena and you can lose some sense of being out in the open air. I personally would like to see the Dub Academy position itself back up by the Bob Marley statue, or where the Lion Stage currently is, as it is one of the last stages to close anyway, or if it stays in its current position, perhaps to change the orientation of the arena to allow more space for revellers to flow in and out and feel less penned in.
  • ✗The DJ and MC booth was position right at the very back of the Dub Academy arena, and also was at the bottom of the incline, which made it impossible to see the happenings inside the tent unless you were right up the front and much less accessible than in previous years. This could make it difficult to tell who was playing and compared to previous editions you lost the ‘up close and personal’ connection with the artists (the artist booth used to be in a more central position at the epicentre of the arena for everyone to circle around). I think it may be time for the Dub Academy to set up a raised stage area for the artists to give everyone a chance to see them.
  • Iseo and Dodosound were last minute special guests at the Dub Academy, but we only found this out from a handwritten scrawl on a board behind the Reggae University. It was probably advertised online, but as we are camping and abroad we aren’t often able to check our social media accounts for updates – there needs to be a better way to communicate eleventh-hour performances to the guests already at the festival.
  • ✗ No toilets were available at the Dub Academy, you had to leave the venue and head up or down the hill to get to the nearest toilets, which was slightly inconvenient. I think all stages should house their own toilet block.
  • ✗There was only one dub-specialist clothing outlet to buy merchandise from around the Dub Academy and the majority of t-shirts and jumpers on sale catered to men only. It would be more inclusive if the popular ‘BORN TO DUB’ tops were made available in female shapes and sizes, or preferably on a unisex beanie hat (I would wear that ‘All Day (Dubs)’). It would also be great to have artist specific merch available to purchase for any fans.
  • ✗We were bitten to pieces by mosquitoes one night while watching DubDadda (who talked quite a lot over the music), so might be a good idea to wear insect repellent if you are heading into the Dub Academy.
  • ✗We didn’t spend anywhere near as much time here and we normally do, mostly because we felt quite cramped and stifled in the Dub Academy this year. When we go there we want to feel free and enjoy the sensation of being outdoors, which unfortunately I feel is a quality the Dub Academy has started to lose.

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Reggae University:

  • ✓The Reggae University found a new home for Rototom 2018, sandwiched between the main stage and the dancehall stage. This allowed more artists to speak at the reggae university desks and attend press conferences than in previous years, as they could directly access the Reggae University forum from the main stage backstage area.
  • ✓The Reggae University seating area was open as long as the main stage was on, which was helpful, especially on the nights it rained, to have a seating area under cover inbetween the main musical arenas.
  • ✓Screens showing Radio Rototom live interviews and the performances on the main stage were set up inside the Reggae University, which provided a comfortable place to still enjoy the music and not allow you to miss any of the important acts while you took a break from being on your feet in the crowds.
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    TV screens inside the Reggae University

    The television service was extremely well put together and included regular reminders of the set times for the artists performing on each stage, including their photos, and switched seamlessly between radio footage and main stage footage – overall this was an excellent addition to the festival.

  • shlt3045.jpg✓ I attended the Reggae University for its opening session, in which Original Koffee and Inés Pardo talked about their careers and their experiences of being women in the music industry. Koffee came across as an extremely sweet and innocent and honest girl, verging on naïve, although for her tender age of 19 she held herself well and spoke confidently to the audience and her natural ability to engage people shone through. Her manager was on hand for guidance and encouragement too. 20180816_184316.jpgThe organisers played some of Koffee’s music on the Ouji Riddim, while Koffee explained that ‘Burning’ was a metaphor for her burning passion for music. Finally Koffee treated us to an exclusive acapella of a new track from her upcoming album due out in September.  Watch the video here.
  • ✓Inés Pardo also spoke at the Reggae University and provided Koffee with some wisdom about how to navigate the music industry as a young woman, commending Koffee for having risen so quickly in the music industry without having to use her femininity to gain attention in a sexual way. Inés herself talked about her philosophy of sisterhood and choosing to name her album ‘One Sister’ while the organisers played the title track which includes the lyrics ‘Sister We Are One’. The reggae university also taught me that Inés, like Koffee, also has a musical link to Cocoa Tea via their combo track ‘Fuego‘  where Inés lended her sweet vocals to add some latina flavour to the track.
  • ✗As the Reggae University was positioned in such a central and musically-busy area, exceptionally loud soundclash from the main stage and dancehall stage could be heard inside the Reggae University during the press conferences, which made them virtually inaudible. It was actually quite embarrassing on the part of the organisers that stars had come all the way from Jamaica only for everyone to struggle to hear what they were saying at the press conferences over the booming stages. The excessive background noise would have probably been frustrating for the artists speaking too, as they would have been tired from performing on the main stage and need to take care of their voices and hearing due to the line of work they are in, so this amount of noise should have been avoided. It would be better to host the press conferences once the main stage has closed, to keep sound clash to a minimum, or to move the Reggae University to the space currently occupied by the skate park or stage left of the main stage.
  • ✗The early evening Reggae University sessions on the first day of the festival were marred by the sound tests for the Dub Academy and Dancehall stages – Original Koffee and Inés Pardo were hosted by the editors of German ‘Riddim’ magazine and were speaking about their experiences of being a woman in the music, but it was difficult to hear them over the sound tests.
  • ✗The advertisements for the Reggae University schedule is often a bit flaky, for example, on the Monday prior to the festival the Rototom Facebook page announced that Spice would be speaking as a guest at the Reggae University on the opening day of the festival. As Spice’s appearance was a late addition to the Reggae University schedule it was not advertised anywhere at the festival site that Spice was due to speak and therefore was not well-attended. Even I somehow managed to miss this announcement at the time despite checking the Rototom page and website daily in the runup to the festival – luckily the announcement was forwarded to me so I was aware of the change to the line-up. The lack of audience worked in my favour, ss I seemed to be one of the only people who was aware of that Spice was due to speak so I duly turned up to the Reggae University to see her at 6pm as advised online where dozens of seats were vacant, even in the front row (lucky me!)
  • ✗After being extremely chuffed at being so organised to bag a front-row seat for Spice, you can only imagine my disappointment when we were told at the beginning of the session that Spice had dropped out of the Reggae University talk because she was tired and wanted to save her energy for the show. Apparently, the festival organisers had tried to convince her to come but she wasn’t up for it at all. What a huge disappointment and frankly a crappy way to kick off the festival with my favourite artist not showing up to their agreed session. The organisers really need to be sure that an artist will show up before they advertise to the fans.
  • ✗During the press conferences for Kabaka Pyramid and Protoje, I felt that the female presenter spoke for too long, her questions were at times rambling and she seemed slightly ill-prepared. She often asked so many questions that by the time the microphone was handed over to the audience for a question and answer time we had no relevant questions left to pose.
  • ✗More media and journalists should be invited to the press conferences to help give artists more exposure to promote their new album releases and extend their reach.

 

Beach parties:

Rototom Solé Beach Bar, Playa del Gurugú, Benicàssim:

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Solé beach bar

 

  • ✓For this 25th edition of Rototom Sunsplash, the beach parties were ONLY held at the official festival beach bar, Solé. The festival bus still stopped at Playa Heliópolis, but there were no beach parties held there, nor at San Vincente beach in town.
  • ✓The booking system for the sun beds was clearer and was written up on a chalk board with an attendant present to assist you with the sun beds rental, who was very helpful and tried his best to squeeze people into any sun bed slots, but there just aren’t enough beds to cater to the high demand of them in the first place.
  • ✓Sun beds at Solé were cheaper to rent than at other areas of the beach, for example 10€ per day for a BalInése daybed with rattan roof compared to 16€ for 2 padded sun loungers at La Playa beach bar on Gurugú beach.
  • ✓The beach here is excellent for swimming with soft sandy and shallow clean waters and gentle waves.
  • ✓The Solé beach bar played reggae and dub non-stop all day, and some mornings they logged into the special festival broadcast of Radio Rototom Sunsplash. I was lucky enough to be at the Solé beach bar when my mix was aired on Radio Rototom as part of the Radio Rototom festival line-up, which obviously was a MAJOR highlight of the festival (slash my life:-)!!!

Watch the live stream of my mix being played at Solé beach bar here, in which I explain some more of my experiences at Rototom 2018:

  •  ✓The sound system was provided by Barcalona’s Greenlight Sound making the bass pop and the sounds travel across the sands, great sound quality overall for the beach acts.
  • ✓The dancehall dance classes were a fun feature of the Solé bar from 4:30pm every day where dancers from Mouv’ment Dancer’z crew (based in Martinique 972, the same West-Indian island I lived on in the Caribbean) performed as you followed along – think dancehall style aerobics class in the sun and sand – all while assistants hosed you down with cold water to keep you cool. 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. Catch their vibes in this video here. And this video shows a typical warm up before the dance class begins.IMG_5357.JPG
  • ✓My favourite dance class was the ladies special with Marion on Monday, which got us up and dancing to Popcaan’s ‘Wine For Me’ and Hoodcelebrityy’s ‘Walking Trophy’ for the warm-up, then to routines current dancehall smash hits including Shenseea x Konshens x Rvssian’s collab ‘Hard Drive’, Spice’s ‘Tik Tak’ and Vybz Kartel’s ‘Under Water’. The class ended up under water itself once the water hose came out to play! Following the dance class, Jamaican DJ set Coppershot took to the stage (albeit 1.5 hours late) and played a lively set of absolute tunes and dubplates. I think one of the guys really likes women cos he changed the words to Mr. VegasI am blessed’ to ‘I love breast, every day of my life I love breast’ – not really the Rototom vibe to be honest but people didn’t seem too bothered. Watch the video here.
  • Selecta Kza from France played a daily set at the Sole beach bar, which included big tunes from Supercat, Cocoa Tea and a host of 90s bashment and dub music to set the scene for the dance classes to start.
  • ✓On Sunday afternoon dub act Kibir La Amlak and the Brazilian singing trio of MCs Dawtas of Aya performed at Solé beach. Singing about female warriors, struggles and freedom, reminding us that we are lucky to be free in these times; Their vibe was serious and captivating, commanding your attention, and their message of redemption and emancipation was powerful and strong. During their set a violent incident took place, which Kibir La Amlak condemned whilst acknowledging that violence comes from a place of pain and struggles. Very wise and insightful, their set was a pleasure to experience and left me with a lot of food for thought. Highly recommended. Watch some clips I took of their jumping beach party on my Facebook page and here.
  • ✓A good choice of food and drink was on offer at the bar such as crepes, tapas, salads, tacos, mojitos (also available alcohol free and mixed with fruit puree). The beer at Solé beach bar was slightly cheaper than the beers up at the festival site (4€ at Solé as opposed to 4.5€ at the festival) cañas were 2€ instead of 2.5€.20180817_132622.jpg
  • ✓Lots of merchants had set up stalls along the pavements around Solé bar, which livened up the place, especially the African fabric stall, which really brightened up the place hanging their colourful cloth prints on a line between the palm trees.20180820_192349.jpg
  • ✗Anyone who had been to previous editions of Rototom Sunsplash and had planned their accommodation to be nearer to the original beach party sites of San Vincente beach and Heliópolis beaches would have been EXTREMELY disappointed to find that this year, despite no word from Rototom prior to the festival about this, there were NO BEACH PARTIES in the town beaches – ONLY at Solé. This meant for anyone who had a hotel or Airbnb at Heliópolis, to reach the beach parties they would either have to take a local bus back along the beach (if such a thing even exists!) OR face a trip up to the festival site, then onto a bus heading to Solé – cue massive disappointment for those organised enough to think they had the beach parties at their hotel doorstep. Rototom could have forewarned us about this change – I was constantly checking the beach party schedule online and it said ‘TBA’ right up until the week of the festival. I only actually saw the full Sunbeach line-up on a poster at the campsite entrance and at the bus stop at the festival site, which made it impossible to plan in advance which days you wanted to attend the beach parties.
  • ✗There is still a lack of shade at the Solé beach bar, so unless you are in the restaurant seating 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 at all times.
  • ✗The ladies’ toilets were very poorly maintained well and with only 3 female toilets for the thousands of people at the beach there was ALWAYS a long queue for the ladies, and on several occasions on one of those three toilets was functioning! I had the misfortune of queuing for these loos – it took about 40 minutes! Then when I finally got into the cubicle it was covered in blood and was just disgusting. This is particularly bad as the Rototom bar staff who make the food also only have access to these toilets, so hygiene down there is really rock bottom – it’s pretty gross and unacceptable really.
  • ✗I didn’t see any disabled access toilets at the Solé beach bar – the toilets at the beach bar are up a steep set of metal stairs which, again, is a major fail on behalf of Rototom in terms of catering for their disabled guests. It’s also very bizarre as there is a disabled access ramp at the entrance to the Solé beach bar and wooden boardwalks down to the beach for disabled access – it just needs a bit more thought and attention from the organisers.
  • ✗Sea water here is very warm and murky, probably due to the thousands of people pissing in the waves due to the lack of adequate toilet facilities.
  • ✗The food on offer was slightly pricier than elsewhere, e.g. 10euros for a burger without chips – I actually heard people complaining about this.
  • ✗The bar didn’t always play the Radio Rototom festival broadcast as advertised on the festival schedule, which I believe was down to technical issues and internet access failures.
  • ✗The soundtrack for the beach party dance classes was provided by Blaze Up Sound Crew from France, who slightly lacked the charisma and vibes of the Madrid’s Unity Sound crew who had previously hosted the beach parties with, I have to say, more energy and interaction with the crowd. Otherwise, Blaze Up Sound played top notch Jamaican dancehall and dubplates and the crowd were always massively pumped when Blaze Up Sound were on!
  • ✗The limited playlist from the DJs was a bit of an annoyance, for example, at the Tuesday beach dance class for ‘middle school’ dance moves, the DJs played the first verse of the Vybz Kartel tune ‘Addi Truth’ in excess of 30 times! I even went for a sea swim after getting bored of it, came back and they were STILL selecting it on repeat!
  • ✗The dance classes were fairly hard to follow as a novice, because the moves were not broken down and ‘taught’ as such, more they were performed and you had to dance simultaneously with the dancers. Also it was fairly difficult to catch a glimpse of what the dancers were even doing – the sand is flat so your view to the dancers is mostly blocked by people in front of you, meaning you have to rely on the person in front doing the right moves in order for you to follow along. In addition, at times the dancers didn’t seem completely prepared for the routines that they would follow, e.g. with up to 3 dancers leading a class at a time it was often unclear who the main dancer to follow was, and sometimes they wouldn’t be prepared for the next move they were going to do.. A little bit confusing really despite them obviously being extremely talented movers. Sometimes the moves were WAY TOO hard, such as kneeling on the floor, slut drops etc! You definitely need to limber up before and after these classes!
  • ✗There was no beach party for the pre-festival on 15th August, however, Greenlight Sound played a set at Solé bar the day after the festival on 23rd Aug (the day everyone was leaving!) which again, in typical Rototom style, was not advertised ahead of the festival. Rototom made it clear that the campsite had to be vacated by 4pm on Thursday 23rd August, so most people had planned to travel back home that day rather than to the beach party, otherwise we may have been able to plan our transport and accommodation to enable us to see this show (which I very much would have liked to!).
  • ✗The Solé beach is very far out of town in an isolated area of town so if you need any supplies or equipment you will need to come prepared as there are NO shops at all within walking distance.
  • Although I have pointed out some of the aspects which do need drastic improvement at Solé bar, don’t get me wrong, it is still one of the coolest party locations I’ve ever been to, so please do make sure you pay a visit! Check out this video to see what a typical afternoon at the Solé beach bar looks like!
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DJ Skirtbag hanging at Solé bar

Changes to festival layout:

  • ✓In previous editions of Rototom, the Roots Yard, Jumping, Caribbean Uptempo and Juanita Club were all set side-by-side alongside the market. This used to create a terrible soundclash which was at points unbearable and I used to feel very sorry for the marketstall holders who had to put up with this noise, or who lost customers. This issue was remedied for the 25th edition as these nightclubs have now been split up across the festival site and the market is now free of sound clash, which provides a much more enjoyable shopping experience.
  • 20180823_025429.jpg✓For this 25th edition of Rototom, the Roots Yard has been repositioned to the back field, where Pizza Elfik and the craft beers and artisan craft stalls are located. Once the main stage had closed this provided a really chilled out area where people had the option of getting up to dance at this intimate stage, or just sit in the seating area and take in the vibes. Sets from Fly Sebo Selector and Gudaridub were some of the highlights at the Roots Yard stage. Rototom even hosted a competition for DJs to submit a mix to win the chance to play at the Roots Yard stage this year (I didn’t enter but will maybe have a go next year if the competition is still open!).
  • ✓ The noise around the market was much more bearable this year, making for a quieter shopping experience.
  • ✓ The Juanita club didn’t feature at Rototom this year, which was a good move, as there just isnt’ the space to fit all these stages, african village and nightclubs, food stalls, seating areas, etc so something had to go.
  • ✗ Speaking of the nightclubs, these have now been moved to the area where the Bob Marley statue stands, previously the Dub Academy’s home. This made for a quiet area to chill out early on in the evening until about 9pm when the nightclubs opened and the soundclash filled the air – meaning this area was unusuable. I would recommend for future editions that Rototom organise just one stage per area, otherwise the soundclash is just too annoying.
  • ✗ Whenever the main stage was playing at the same time as the Roots Yard stage, this created a horrible soundclash, which completely spoiled the artisan market area for me – In previous editions of Rototom I have enjoyed listening to the main stage while eating a pizza in this area, but this year you couldn’t hear the main stage properly due to the Roots Yard stage, yet you couldn’t hear the Roots Yard music properly either due to the main stage! Plus the chillout feel of the area was absent due to the soundclash, which made it a fairly stressful place to sit and eat peacefully.

 

Radio Rototom Sunsplash:

Rototom Sunsplash Radio 2018 festival programme featuring DJ Skirtbag
Rototom Sunsplash Radio 2018 festival programme
  • ✓Radio Rototom Sunsplash have a great presence at the festival, slap bang in front of the main stage – Their revamped radio booth makes for a great photo opportunity.
  • ✓ Radio Rototom Sunsplash ran a special festival programme schedule, which was also streamed live and direct from Benicassim on Rototom TV and on the Radio Rototom Facebook page, for anyone unlucky enough to miss the festival you could still catch the vibes online.
  • My latest reggae mix aired on Radio Rototom Sunsplash as part of the festival programme in the Selecta Mixtape section, and was broadcast during the festival on Mon 20th August (see above schedule). Leon Selector of Radio Rototom explained that my mix was scored and chosen by 3 judges from a high number of entries. I was also the only female DJ whose mix was selected, and it was the first time any of my mixes were ever played on the airwaves, so I felt especially stoked to be part of the festival this year.

Listen to my mix here:

My mix also features on the official Radio Rototom Soundcloud page Mixtape Selection playlist for 2018 here:

See the full track list of my mix below including links to buy the songs I selected:

10: Journey To Jah – Gentleman feat Alborosie
15: Herbdub – Alborosie
18: Ready Fi Di Road – Kabaka Pyramid
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Other:
  • ✓The sound systems used across the festival are high grade – none of that going to bed with your ears ringing, even after standing right at the front for the big shows – a blissful tinnitus-free experience overall.
  • ✓There was slightly more clothing available for females at the official merchandise store this year.
  • ✓If you go to the info point you can pick up a Rototom newspaper in a variety of commonly-spoken languages as well as a detailed breakdown of the daily schedule for the line-up across all stages and daytime festival events.

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    Info Point at the campsite
  • ✓Entry to the festival is reduced for Benicassim residents, disabled guests, unemployed people, which is a great way to embrace the local residents and ensure everyone gets to participate in the festival. This is also well advertised, with plenty of posters plastered all around town so people don’t miss out.Reduced entry for local residents
  • ✗The official Rototom Merchandise stall didn’t have much on offer by way of 25th anniversary stock. A good idea would have been to run limited edition re-prints of all the previous 24 Rototom logos, or a special 25th anniversary poster could have been on sale to amalgamate them into one.
  • ✗One of the official Rototom t-shirt designs of the tricolour red green and gold block stripe top with the Rototom lion emblem on the front and ‘94’ (the year of the first ever Rototom) on the back was not available to buy at the festival and was only available to purchase online ahead of the festival. This was a major omission from the merchandise stall and left man, many people disappointed that they hadn’t caught this ahead of the festival. It does seem to miss the point if people who haven’t even attended the festival can buy the limited special edition shirt online, but people at the festival are left empty-handed.DSC_0001DSC_0002
  • ✗Many tunes were overplayed across the festival site, such as Collie BuddzCome Around’ (on the Last War Riddim) which I found very surprising since his latest release ‘Love & Reggae’ is a quality tune, so I would have expected to hear that played but didn’t hear it once!. And Cocoa Tea’s ‘18 and Over’ on the Tonight Riddim, well, I must have heard this song about 5 times a day across the festival sites, but don’t really mind as it is an absolute TUNE! It can take a while for the newest tunes to get enough exposure and following before they are played at Rototom, although the dancehall stage in particular did seem to be playing more up-to-date releases (this year has been another bumper year for dancehall tracks) and the main stage did feature a lot of artists like Protoje, Chronixx and Alborosie who all have new albums out this summer.
  • ✗Often the top acts are saved for the weekend slots, but this year weekend line-up was slightly weak, which would be a shame for those people who could only attend over the weekend.
  • ✗The Rototom newspaper doesn’t include the Rototom Radio Schedule or a bus map – both of which would be good to have to hand. And the line-up in the paper is often out of date, for example it did not include the late addition of Romain Virgo to the main stage on Saturday night.

 

TOP TIPS:

  • Pace yourself
  • If you go hard on the first night and stay at the dancehall stage until 5am (like I did!) you’re going to wear yourself out!
  • Going into the festival too early can also be a big mistake, as you just won’t have the stamina to see out the main acts at the dancehall, lion stage and dub academy which don’t reallyget up and running until 2am.
  • Remember that it can still rain and be cold in Spain, even in August! This year saw incredible thunderstorms and torrential rain on the first few nights of the festival, particularly up at the campsite since it is located at the foot of the mountains. Unfortunately this unseasonal weather caused flooding in parts of the campsite and our tent was unlucky enough to be flooded. We had to take our bedding down into town to the launderette to wash and tumbledry it! I didn’t have an umbrella or waterproof shoes or jacket and had mostly packed bikinis and sundresses and hot pants, which just didn’t cut it some nights at the festival and I was cold to the bone! So even though you are going to sunny Spain remember to pack something warm clothing or bedding in case of adverse weather and maybe a pack of cards as there is not much shelter or many things to do in the daytime at Rototom during a downpour!
  • It is not possible to withdraw cash at the festival site (there are no ATMs as in previous years) so make sure your wallet is loaded with enough cash to see you through the whole night!
  • Tobacco is not sold on the festival site, only smoking paraphernalia is available to purchase, such as rizlas, lighters etc from the Rototom stalls, so if you want to smoke you will need to bring the tobacco with you.

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    Rototom Smoking stall
  • Buying weed or drugs from random men who approach you is ill-advised and we have seen people buy these drugs which then turned out to be laced with something else.
  • I’ve been to Rototom 6 times now and have only just figured out that you can arrive at the campsite the DAY BEFORE the festival starts – in this case 15th August – where your glamping tent will be ready for you. This is a good time to arrive in order to bagsy the best camping spots if you are taking your own tent. This year we attended the mythical pre-festival, where two of the on-site festival nightclubs – Jumping and Caribbean Uptempo – opened the festival at midnight on 16th If you hold a festival ticket for 16th August you can attend this pre-festival party, although it wasn’t clear from information on the festival website until literally a week before the date, which for some people this would have been far too late notice to rearrange travel plans in order to attend. It would be helpful to have some clear information around who and how to attend the pre-festival night and the dates you can enter and leave the campsite when buying the tickets.
  • Avoid arriving on the first day of the festival as you will face queuing for hours to collect your ticket in scorching heat without any shade and very limited toilet and refreshment facilities! Not the best start to your time at the festival. Avoid peak time trains and arrive before or after the first day and avoid midday sun.

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    The Looooong queue for tickets on the first day

 

Food/Drink:

  • ✓The sharwarma and falafel 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. Don’t begrudge the festival workers who get cheaper meals and fast-track queue service at this food stall.
  • ✓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 20metres long! But it is SO worth the wait! If you can’t handle the long wait, then try one of their goat curries or saltfish and rice or order a decent rum punch while you wait instead. This year Wayne’s Jerk Kitchen had more space, so the seating area was set away from where the queue forms – to give diners a more comfortable space to enjoy their meal. Also, Wayne’s Jerk Kitchen was moved downhill slightly to sit right next to the dancehall stage, which I really feel is its natural home, and gives a more Caribbean feel to the dancehall stage with the scent of hot chicken grill barrels filling the air.
  • ✓For this year’s edition, I noticed an Ethiopian restaurant in the African village was extremely popular – always had a queue. We didn’t try this restaurant, mostly because spicy food and I do not mix, but it did have a marquee area where you could sit down and enjoy your meal in relative peace.
  • ✓The Pizza Elf stall in the back end of the market area is an absolute gem – whacking out around 20 vegetarian pizzas per minute, this place is fast, cheap and simple and this year they have improved the layout of the serving area, so you can see the pizzas through clear Perspex when they come fresh out if the oven, people can’t breathe on them! This place also sells beer (only), but you have to form a separate queue to the left of the shop front, and they only have one tap so service can be slow. The pizzas were slightly dearer this year at 6€ a pop, but still a reasonable price for a freshly-cooked, thin and crispy pizza.
  • ✓Mojitos are a popular choice around the festival. One of the legendary stalls, next to the shawarma stall, pours up to 20 mojitos at a time, inducing a Mexican wave style rumble of applause when it is ready to be served up to all of the customers eagerly watching the cocktail maker.

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    Round of mojitos being made
  • 20180817_221838My favourite place to pick up a crisp and minty concoctions is the Canna craft beer stall, where a freshly-made mojito in classic, watermelon or strawberry flavour would set you back 6.50€ (up a sharp 30% from the reasonable 5€ last year) I had to approach these as a one per night treat due to the price rise, BUT it is worth every god-damn cent (although I heard people complaining that they were paying 6€ plus for mojitos this year which were mostly ice) I am never going to complain about these mojitos, which quite rightly stand up to their claim of being the best mojito at Rototom!
  • ✓Rototom has a great environmentally-friendly outlook under the codename ‘Greensplash’. For this edition of the festival single-use plastics were not allowed onsite and all bins were multi-purpose recycling points. Many posters were displayed at the food stalls reminding guests of the eco-friendly nature of the festival.
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Rototom ‘Greensplash’ eco-friendly systems
  • ✓Once again this year Rototom operated a reusable cup scheme, whereby you pay a non-refundable 1€ euro deposit for your cup and when you order your next drink you can either choose to refill your original cup, or switch it for a clean cup, or you can exchange your cup for a cup token to use the next time you order a drink. This is a great scheme as it cuts down on waste, unnecessary cleaning and compliments the environmentally-friendly ethos of Rototom City. The cup deposit price is the same whether you have a large or small cup. 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.20180817_213350.jpg
  • ✓Each year Rototom releases a new design logo on their reusable cups and this year was no different with a 25th edition heart cup design available for collectors. The cups also had the dates 16 – 22 August without the year 2018 printed on the cup, which makes sense as the cups can also be reused for next year’s edition, which also falls on 16-22nd August in 2019 – another tick for Rototom’s environmentally friendly ethos.20180822_230448

INSERT PIC OF CUP HERE

  • ✓For the 2nd year in a row, Rototom gave punters the chance to donate their reusable cup to charity – this year the charity was Open Arms, which provides rescue boats for stranded migrants in the Mediterranean sea. Large boxes where you could post your cup to you’re your support for the charity were found dotted around the festival site, at the entrance and next to Radio Rototom. Charity workers were easily identifiable in their red and white Open Arms t-shirts, and they presented on the main stage to explain what the cause is about. When they said they wanted our cups, which would be turned into donations to the charity hundreds of people started throwing their cups on stage, which just shows the support for this charity and how the Rototom family appreciate the work this charity is doing to help refugees and asylum seekers. We donated our cups on the last night of the festival. The charity workers were much more relaxed this year than in the previous edition, and didn’t feel as ‘chuggy’, but more like genuine supporters of the cause. It really did make me think how lucky we are to live the lives we live in freedom, whenever I dipped into the Mediterranean I couldn’t help but think of all the refugees who had lost their lives in the same waters. It is crazy to think about and thanks to Rototom supporting this cause I feel empowered and inspired to do more to help this line of charity work from back home.20180823_040240
  • ✗I know I’ve mentioned this already and also in my report from last year, but it is a VERY important point – There was a complete lack of a decent rum bar at the festival! Considering this is Europe’s largest reggae festival, authentic Caribbean food and drink was disappointingly hard to find. The best mojitos used Havana Club rum, which is Cuban – there are PLENTY of Jamaican rums and other drinks which could be served to match the music. There is also NOWHERE which makes a decent piña colada, which I’m sure would go down a storm if only it was available.
  • ✗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.

 

 

PICTURE OF BUS ROUTE HERE

Accessibility:

  • ✓A very regular bus service to reach the Rototom Solé beach bar at Playa del Gurugú was in operation this year, as all of the festival beach events were happening down there.
  • ✓There was a friendly bus warden at the festival in the mornings and at Solé beach in the evenings, directing passengers to the correct bus and organising which buses would pass through town and those which would drive directly to the festival.
  • ✓In addition to being regular, the buses were spotlessly clean, comfortable 52-seater coaches 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 purple fabric wristband with red, green and gold tags. This included use of the night bus.

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    Wristbands for festival, glamping and bus
  • ✓If you needed to go into town rather than to the beach party you could hop onto the pueblo bus, which stopped at Heliópolis, near the Burger King and at the Mercadona before heading back to the festival site.
  • ✓A new night bus service was in operation between the festival and town, however we didn’t catch this so unclear whether this was a helpful service.
  • ✓The buses were waiting for us when we reached the train station, as they had been scheduled to collect Rototomers at the arrival of all long and medium distance train arrivals. Extra buses had also be scheduled to drop Rototomers back at the train station on the last day of the festival.
  • ✗It is not possible to stop off in town to buy supplies / cash / food / drinks / medicine/ sun cream / tobacco etc before hitting the beach parties as the new Solé bus route skirts the edges of town on the dual carriageway to hit the beach bar without stopping off in town first. You can still get to the high street in Benicassim if you walk from the festival site, otherwise you would have to catch a bus into town, hit the shops, catch a bus back to the festival site, then ride the Solé bus to reach the beach parties – Which in all honesty is a complete mission in 33 degree heat! Not to mention a massive waste of your precious holiday time – it is a major annoyance actually so I would recommend to anyone camping to stock up on supplies for the next day AFTER the beach parties if you can, then you’ll be well-equipped to head directly to the Solé bar in the morning without faffing about on a merry-go-round of buses around Benicassim!
  • ✗The buses did not stop at San Vincente, as in all previous years, which was a very strange development – San Vincente is the main beach in Benicassim, with a Consum supermarket nearby, and was a very popular daytime hangout for Rototomers. It was not advertised until a week beforehand that the buses wouldn’t be stopping here, which I am sure will have marred a fair few people’s holidays as they would have sought to book rooms in some of the larger hotels close to San Vincente beach and the bus stops. With not festival transport from that part of town to the festival Rototomers were faced with a good 30 min walk to the festival site, or the option of walking 15 mins to the Mercadona on the main high street to get a bus up to the festival from there – overall this would have been a massive disappointment for those hoping to have the beach parties and buses to the festival on their doorstep.
  • ✗Again, it would be much more helpful if Rototom could confirm the bus routes well in advance of the festival dates, so that people can make informed choices for the most convenient accommodation option.
  • ✗Poor access for disabled guests on the buses: This is a regular issue at Rototom – One day I saw two wheelchair users waiting for a festival bus at Heliópolis beach, at the peak travel time of around 7pm. The buses were full – the drivers had not noticed that disabled passengers were waiting and let able-bodied people flood the deck, preventing the wheelchair users accessing the designated space for them on the bus. The bus driver had pulled up at an awkward point of the pavement where the wheelchair accessible side door was blocked by a lamp post on the pavement. On one bus the wheelchair ramp seemed to be faulty so a group of people had to lift a man in a wheelchair onto the bus. All in all, I feel that the needs of wheelchair users must be taken into account more seriously in relation to transport to and from the festival site, especially as the festival has a relatively high number of disabled punters as the festival site itself is otherwise fairly accessible for wheelchair users thanks to the tarmac ground and the various ramps and walk ways provided at the beach party site, just the transport seems to be lacking for these guests from what I have seem.
  • ✗Some Rototom buses between the festival site and Castellon were advertised, however it was not clear where to catch these from or what times they ran. This would have been useful to know as a lot of Rototomers stay in the cheaper hotels in Castellon throughout the festival.

PICTURE OF CAMPSIRE HERE

Campsite:

  • ✓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. Each tent comes 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 90euros 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 west of the site, which I believe was a previously unused area of the campsite.
  • ✓More security were present at the camping area this year with some fairly heavy duty armed civil guards at the festival and campsite entrance, possibly due to the heightened risk of a terror attacks following the Barcelona attack which occurred during the Rototom festival week last year. The campsite security guards were conducting random checks on new arrivals at the entrance, although I noticed that these seemed to be more targeted at ethnic minorities and I overheard a French man of African descent saying to the security guards that he had been stopped twice a day since arriving – in contrast, we were not ‘stop and searched’ once during the entire 8 days, but we are of white British ethnicity…
  • ✓The bar and food stall with seating area at the campsite opens 24 hours a day.
  • ✓A new feature in the form of a water dispenser was set up at the campsite bar. Users could pay 0.50€ for a large water using their own bottle or reusable cup. This was worked out significantly cheaper than buying the cold bottled water from the campsite bar, at around 1/3 of the cost, and allowed us the option of reusing our festival cups or bottles (Rototom is the most environmentally-conscious festival I’ve ever been too and wholeheartedly encourages reducing plastic consumption).
  • ✓The shared kitchen facilities and washing up sinks at the campsite were never crowded and seemed to be a good option for anyone on a budget who wanted a space to make their own food at the campsite.

    IMG_5299
    Kitchen at Rototom Sunsplash campsite
  • ✓There was a first aid tent at the campsite entrance, as well as a facility to rent portable mobile phone chargers and also a set of rentable lockers for storing valuables.
  • ✓In previous years, wasps were a tedious pest at the campsite, normally buzzing up in your grill first thing in the morning and during sunset, however this year the wasp situation was completely under control and they were not an issue at all during the whole 8 days I was there. Which was a huge relief, as they normally go for me.
  • ✗The camping is great if you can handle the outdoors mixed communal cold showers. There are a couple of private showers (literally two) and when I say private really I mean that everyone can still see you through the shower curtain which blows in the wind! The cold showers are fine, you actually get used to them after a few days and find them refreshing, especially in the humidity which we experienced for the first half of the festival – until you need to wash your hair that is! This year the water felt particularly cold and people were definitely not as shy about getting naked as they have been over previous years, so I would advise that the campsite is not for the faint-hearted. Sometimes the cold water just won’t shift the dirt though, what with all the sun lotion, sweat and sand it’s only hygienic to have access to warm water to wash yourself in, which just isn’t available at the Rototom campsite.

    IMG_5295
    Campsite at Rototom Sunsplash
  • ✗Rocks are EVERYWHERE all around the campsite. The Glamping Company put their tents up over some large rocks, they never have the courtesy to clear away the rocks before setting up the tents, which means it is always difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position on the bed of rocks jabbing into your hips, shoulders and back. 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 and if you are wearing sandals. 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)…
  • ✗Due to the arid terrain, the campsite can become uncomfortably dusty. This year we were lucky with the dust for the first few days as the torrential rains dampened the ground, albeit temporarily – the ground here is so dry it is comparable to that of a desert and within 15 minutes of the rain clearing the dust picks up again. This can make for a very comfortable stay for anyone in the campsite with breathing problems or dry eye conditions. I find I often have to cover my airways with a cloth to prevent from choking on the dust kicked up by trucks and wind around the campsite and a top tip is to take eye drops and nasal spray for anybody who is susceptible to dry sinus problems.
    DSC_0016
    Arid fields of Almond trees surrounding the festival

    DSC_0017
    Rows of dry pomegranate fields neighbouring the festival
  • ✗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 LIVING 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 the contents of their tents! Some of these ants can squeeze through the tiniest of holes in your tent’s ground sheet and even through your tent’s mesh, 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!
  • ✗This year the urinal wall for men didn’t feature a water fountain so you can only imagine the bog of eternal stench which you had to navigate past before and after your shower. I found this to be quite inconvenient and would have preferred for glampers to have direct access to the showers at the opposite end of the shower area to the urinal.
  • ✗The toilets are very basic and small, with just a toilet in each cubible – There are NO hygiene bins provided in any of the cubicles at the festival AT ALL – so it is tricky and embarrassing for girls and women to dispose of their used sanitary products all across the festival sites. I consider access to adequate facilities to handle the menstruation cycle to be a fundamental right for all females and should be an integral part of the planning for hygiene units at such a large festival, especially in 2018. Camping on your period is hard enough for us ladies, so with the added stress of nowhere to change it can become impossible. Hygiene seems to be a low priority for the festival organisers in general, as soap is also not provided at the majority of toilets (limited soap is available at some of the festival toilets but runs out quickly). Rolls of toilet paper are not provided in any of the cubicles, rather industrial-sized toilet rolls are attached to railings outside the toilets, meaning that when you are queuing for the loo everyone can tell whether you are about to squeeze out a number 1 or a number 2 just by looking at the quantity of loo roll you are tearing off – HOW EMBARRASSING *blushes*! In some areas of the festival toilets are split into fe/male, but the campsite toilets and showers are all unisex.
  • ✗There were less sinks available for toothbrushing this year – only 6 (for 1,000s of campers!), and they were positioned RIGHT NEXT to the stale stench of the dry urinal *blurgh* hence I had to find other places to brush my teeth which didn’t make me wretch.
  • ✗The toilets at the campsite were not as well-maintained this year as last year, and felt quite dirty. It would be interesting if Rototom could extend it’s environmentally-friendly outlook to the campsite hygiene facilities in the form of compost toilets for the next edition.
  • ✗The campsite was full until Sunday, which meant some latecomers had to set up their tents in a make-shift campsite in the communal areas near the toilets (YUCK). This would not have been a nice place to wake up on a boiling hot morning. The campsite could be better organised with specific plots laid out to ensure the ground space is used to its optimum capacity.
  • ✗Two days before the festival I saw an announcement on the Rototom website that you could now rent a Rototom-designed tent for 30€ for the entire festival, or you could buy the tent outright for just 50€. This would have been a considerable saving when compared to the 90€ (plus 40€ deposit) for a bog standard 1-2 person glamping tent. It could be an interesting option for anyone on a tight budget who doesn’t mind faffing about finding a decent camping spot and putting up and taking down the tent. Had I known about this offer in advance of booking the tent hire from The Glamping Company, I would have been tempted, but in reality it was unclear where the tent stall was to buy/hire the Rototom tents, plus by opting for the glamping tent all the hassle is taken away, the hard work is already done for you and you can travel light without having to lug a tent around in the heat.

 

Overall:

In its 25th edition – one of the biggest and best Rototoms to date – the festival has proved it can stand the test of time and remains a prominent leader in the field of reggae music celebrations. Not to mention it has to see off some stiff new competition in the form of multiple emerging reggae / dancehall festivals across Europe. There is still, to my knowledge, no other reggae-oriented festival on the continent which can compare to Rototom in terms of size, reputation, organisation, nor provides that feeling of genuinely being in the Caribbean which only Rototom can.

BRING ON ROTOTOM SUNSPLASH 16 – 22 AUGUST 2019!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

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