Situated in the grounds of a 15th Century Monastery-turned-winery, embedded in a cliff side across a valley from Ronda, Spain is Uva Festival. A relatively unknown gem of a town, Ronda is two hours north of the hen/stag-do-infested Malaga. The drive to it evolves from the arid dust of the Costa del Sol, into the rolling luscious vineyards of what could be described as a blend between Napa Valley and Tuscany (before you pull away in disgust at this, I have been to neither of these places).
The organisers are adamant in their aim to have the festival be simply an extension of a family gathering on holiday; albeit this holiday includes three stages, international DJs and clear-as-day sound systems. Two of these face directly on the town of Ronda across the valley and, to the shock of this British attendee, is openly welcomed by the Ronda chief of police as well as the residents of Ronda, who see the festival as a wonderful acknowledgement of their town. The surroundings are serene, the crowd is international (a real novelty), they sell on-site red wine, and, again to a British person’s shock, the security are lovely.
The opening concert for Uva took place in Ronda’s amphitheatre opposite the oldest bullring in Spain. Rather poetically, the amphitheatre was built and designed by the same people who run the winery on which the festival is situated. The audience seating looks out across layers and layers of mountains going back miles. As a prelude to a weekend of dance music, the opening concert set a civilised and welcoming tone for the local residents, as it was a free event, more central to the town with more of an approachable lineup of music. As the night went on, we were guided through the accessible to the experimental to the political.
The late finishes and long set times for the program ahead were a liberating prospect albeit foreboding as it was unlikely we were going to see much of Ronda at all.
Following a sunset backdrop, Steve Reich-influenced live set from Carmen Morales, guitarist Raul Cantizano (below) began with what one assumed to be a crowd-pleasing array of traditional-leaning Spanish folk music. As Raul’s set went on, he would slowly throw in a few “out there” stylistic change-ups, occasionally swapping to electric guitar, taking ever so slightly more extended solos, and moving between lighter shades of Spanish-style folk, to harder, distorted rock influences.
As Raul’s set went on, he utilised more and more guitar pedals, adding drones, shimmers, looped embellishments and eventually beats. As his set began to climax, the rapid soloing accelerated to a rattling, his fingers just making banging sound on the frets. Moving to the rest of the guitar, banging on the wood, he grabbed the guitar by its waist, shaking it violently, the sound of something rattling within (I believe he somehow stuck things in there during this erratic process). Raul continued shaking his guitar, much to the amusement of the audience, but enough time passed that the amusement turned to intrigue and whooping. The noises started sounding like a crunching texture, on and on with additional bangs on the frets and it suddenly became an incredibly abstract set of live experimental electronic music.
In retrospective, Raul curated a presentation and deconstruction of Spainsh folk. He acknowledged southern Spain’s Arabic history – especially Ronda’s history as one of the last Islamic strongholds of the region – with quarter tones and Middle Eastern singing styles. It was, as part of a free opening concert for the people of Ronda, a perfect marriage of what locals would find accessible, and the sounds of what Uva will bring as a week-long guest to the serene Spanish town.
African Acid Is The Future
The Mancuso-esque Hidden stage was the place to be all weekend if you just wanted to enjoy dancing with your friends without thinking too much about who was playing or even, what they were playing. The quality of music at this stage all weekend was extraordinarily consistent. AAITF held it down for nine hours on the Friday night, treating a packed dance floor to highly obscure cuts and clearly feeling totally unshackled by standards of “slickness” or linearity. We were treated to everything from building techno from Atom, to reggaeton, to 145bpm percussive workouts from Nigeria. A Berlin-based collective that were uninterested in anything else you think you wanted to hear, instead focusing on being as diverse as possible and somehow keeping a packed dance floor moving for nine hours.
The first big name of the weekend’s programme – and one of three members of Ilian Tape – Skee Mask quickly pulled a significant fraction of the 900 or so capacity within a few tracks. European crowds (and with them, festivals) often have a reputation for having ears more attuned to “straight” beats, that is, 4/4 house and related genres less associated with a “UK” sound. Skee Mask blew that out of the water with the hardest work-out of the festival. He moved through Baltimore breaks with sassy drag vocals, to pitched up electro funk, to Drake, to James Blake, to footwork remixes of Alicia Keys, grime, Kode9 and eventually ending on some gorgeous Djrum. Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve ever danced so much at a festival, ever. Skee Mask also showed up the headliners Zenker Brothers, who were no doubt capable, but they had about 3% the fun factor of Skee Mask and none of the melodic content. New fan for life.
Winds and Skins
A trio that really played across the board (the major theme running through all the sets at the Hidden stage), with tasteful and often unpaired selections, less about catering to the “western” pallet, instead jumping through rough and ready Middle-Eastern sounds, with the occasional straighter tune thrown in. As with all the best sets of the festival, it was the risky decision making of DJs that made for the most fun and the most enticement. It does genuinely take bravery to pull out of a Luke Vibert tune into mad percussive workouts with quarter tone melodies. Some of my favourite IDs of the festival came from this set, including ‘Is This The Future?’ by The Fatback Band, ‘Body Count’ by DJ Haram and ‘White Lines (Don’t Do It)’ by Grandmaster Flash. Packed from start to finish, and how can anyone be surprised. It’s sets like this that make you favour “festival” style sets over the calculated, obscurity-pulling sets within the confines of a structured club nights.
Gary J Funk Jazzinho IV b2b Nico Fifyfour
Yes this will be the third standout set at the Hidden stage. This is not to say there weren’t other standouts at other wonderful stages (the Jungle stage had absolutely flawless sound), but y’know, Johnny Rock, Central and DJ Sports aren’t short of shoutouts elsewhere.
Sunday’s Gidden stage continued on the house party vibe. People are tired, they haven’t slept enough, their energy levels can’t possibly reach that of Friday. They wanna head to the festival, have a few ice cold drinks, smoke some local hash and maybe hear some hip-hop. Is that too much to ask?
As we made our way to the last dance of the weekend, across the valley we hear ‘U.N.I.T.Y.’ by Queen Latifah (“who you calling a bitch?”) blasting out. Our footsteps quickened as it was probably one of the first 90s hip-hop track we had heard over the weekend. Arriving at the stage, it was as it says on the tin. House party time, with nothing too stretching, nothing too wild but a crowd you could sit comfortably within until it was time to go home (or go to Johnny Rock’s excellent closing set at the Jungle stage). Choice cuts were the Club Dub of ‘Slave to The Vibe’, Peven Everett’s ‘Put Your Back Into It’ and ‘Boy’ by Hnny.
Again, it’s sets like this that really make you assess what one values in dance music, and the spaces where one experiences it. DJs that play music which causes dancers to turn and dance with one another, that play out lengthier tracks in a way that says “get comfortable, you’re gonna be here for a while”, really turns a dance floor into a communal zone. At a festival where dozens of languages are going at once around one’s ear, this approach breeds an air of genuine camaraderie, or even just a big family holiday.
Listen to 85 tracks heard at Uva Festival 2018.