Review: Sunfall 2016

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“Nobody’s ever going to go to a festival in the centre of London and hear a soundsystem that sounds like Berghian. It’s just not gunna happen.” These words, from festival co-founder Andy Peyton showed an appreciation for the task at hand. Within London’s diminishing regard for nightlife culture, a day party just south of Brixton with a penchant for house and techno was going to need meticulous planning and execution to make a good first impression.

Arriving as the Yussef Kamal Trio eased us through the gates, impressions already felt lively. With the early finish clearly in the back of people’s minds and the strength of the programming throughout the day, many had ventured out early to hear the trio’s energetic performance. Next up, Mister Saturday Night, taking cues from the looseness of the live music, with laid back summer selections, mixing vintage Brazilian music with curveballs like Kendrick Lamar’s ‘These Walls’. The Main Stage, the only one of four blessed with the sun’s rays when it did occasionally peer through the clouds, had a MLA Martin Audio raised high and sounding crisp and punchy.

Moving north, you come to realise the festival has ample room to accommodate the 10,000 odd punters. Three large tents hosting varying styles of music completed the north, east, south, west configuration of the stages. The Knowledge Arena hosted by CDR and the on-site Record Fair were nice touches, though the prospect of lugging around a purchase was an obvious deterrent. For their backstage zen tepee Brilliant Corners too had pulled out the stops, equipped with a prototype Isonoe rotary mixer and the infamous Klipschorn speakers. Sadly though this was only available for those who’d upgraded their tickets.

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Entering the North tent, soulful choices from Rush Hour’s Hunee, such as Gerideau ‎–’Take A Stand For Love’ and Casual T – ‘Hands Off’ were precisely what was needed for people to earnestly start getting down. The crowd followed as he moved up through the gears into left-field squelchers like Aubrey’s remix of Yoshihiro Arikawa’s ‘008008’ taking things harder than expected. Working within the time parameters of noon – 21:30 was always going to make things feel somewhat rushed and, ducking out before Jeremy Underground was a shame, though not one to be unexpected when Kamasi Washington and his superlative band were finishing up their set with ‘The Rhythm Changes’, a stand-out from 2015’s aptly named LP The Epic. There was a unanimous appreciation for the delicacy of Patrice Quinn’s singing, and the virtuosity of every player on stage, which the thronging crowd demonstrated with rapturous applause.

After a lengthy wait as the booth was reassembled for Moodymann’s slot, Kenny Dixon Jr. slid up to the controls, his face obscured by the familiar black fishnet mask. Characteristically eclectic, the Detroit native played Egyptian Lover alongside, the late great Billy Paul and Liem’s ‘If Only’, before an altercation with the security guards over his level of interaction with the crowd avoidably soured the mood.

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Flitting into the other performance spaces reminded us of the range of sounds represented, with the South stagers like Josey Rebelle, Digital Mystikz and Goldie forming a delicate combination of electronic flavours from the UK’s illustrious dance music heritage. The West Stage was for those with techno leanings, with Ben Klock spearheading an offensive that also counted Shackleton and Ryan Elliott in its ranks. Even the record tent momentarily became a Balamii Takeover space in the aftermath of the fair, with the hastily formed mass of bodily moving gleefully to ‘Benga Benga’, still an affectionate stand out from the day.

Omar S seemed the obvious choice as the sun’s last rays peered through gaps in the North tent. The only other luminescence came from a backdrop designed by Squid Soup, the people behind Four Tet’s recent show at The Roundhouse and was indicative of a measured yet effective approach to lighting throughout the day. The sound, which had struggled to come through well when Joy Orbison and Job Jobse played B2B earlier, sounded much healthier now and up-tempo jams from Omar himself (‘Scene Was Set – Norm Talley Mix’) amongst others like Backroom Productions and Ron Trent were as gratifying in the dance as earworms for when we spilled outside come the 21:30 close off.

While there were some inevitable challenges posed by the festivals location, alongside some teething issues with bars and especially toilets, where long queues snaked throughout the day, warm faces excitably headed for respective after-parties, spoke volumes to the successes of the day.

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You really were spoilt for choice in that respect, with parties from the Dimensions, Deviation, Mister Saturday Night and beyond hosting night events across South London. We head to the Young Turks afterparty at Off The Cuff bar, an intimate venue in Herne Hill with bags of charm and a tiny arched back room. It was refreshing to see the party hosted in such a small venue considering the fact that Kamasi Washington could have filled nigh any venue in London. Supporting him, was one of the UK’s most exciting jazz drummers Moses Boyd took to the stage. Quite the title for someone of his young age but you could instantly see why he’s already a Mobo award winner. The energy he brought was undeniable, his drumming seemingly so effortless but undoubtedly complex.

OTC’s boiling point temperature wise was inevitable by the time Kamasi was due to come on. With space so tight, it was bound to be a stripped back troupe and the talisman entered with just one of his two drummers and Ryan Porter on trombone. Addressing the crowd, he wanted to take this opportunity to just create, leading them into a magical few hours of improvisation, a glimpse into the minds of these incredibly talented individuals. It’s quite an awe-inspiring thing to see musicians as gifted as Kamasi and his band up close and personal. What it brought though wasn’t just the proximity, but rather their sense of freedom and fun. As things progressed more members joined the mix bringing keytar and extra brass to add extra layers to the dynamic. Each was given time to let lose, many with riffs faster than anyone’s brain could process. They truly were at ease, purely feeding off each other’s energy and the fact that they probably rarely get booked to play in such intimate settings these days.

A special performance, and not one you’d expect to read about when talking about inner city festivals. The concept, of working alongside pre-existing hubs of nightlife to provide discerning music fans the chance to have that big festival moment during the day without needing to stay within the audio restrictions part at night, was a victory for London’s saturated festival market. With any festival there’s room to improve and grow, considerations which will no doubt be addressed. We came not expecting to hear Berghain, and what we found in lieu was pleasantly surprising.

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