The perception of what makes a great British festival seems to be changing with the times. The metropolis-sized Glastonbury remains at the zenith for obvious reasons, but discerning lovers of dance music are increasingly chasing a more intimate experience, a shared communal party where the same faces will appear over the weekend, all sharing joy in line ups that focus on quality music that might not necessarily be played by household names. Field Maneuvers, Terraforma, Nachtdigital and Freerotation are run in this vein, and a relative newcomer to the mix, Cosmic Roots, bounced off a highly successful first year with another edition to remember based on these values. The picturesque Norfolk site needs little work to make you feel at home, with its woodland passages carefully adorned with sweeping canopies, huge lampshades and comfy sofa hangouts. The lawn inside the walled garden sprawls and feels spacious but still maintains a cosy atmosphere, whilst the campsite lies a mere stones throw from the freaky yet enticing confines of the Pond Life tent on the edge of the woodland.
Couple the attention to detail on the staging with some truly excellent programming and you have a boutique festival that feels like a celebration of some of the UK’s best underground party crews, alongside a selection of carefully curated guest DJs. A nice touch for 2019 was to see many of the crews and DJ’s invited to play for a second year; RAMZi, Kiara Scuro, Super Hexagon, Jamie Tiller, Vio DJ and Flo Dill were just a selection of the artists making the journey back to East Raynham, all with an increased understanding of what kind of music works well in this farm estate in rural Norfolk. The festival also prides itself on giving peak time slots to the smaller DJs on the bill, making the more renowned DJs dig deep to play sets earlier in the day. This led to some of the best selections of the weekend from artists such as Izabel and Zakia, who channeled the afternoon vibe perfectly and made it their own. With such attention to programming and the site build, coupled with a small cap and killer location, we can only see Cosmic Roots going from strength to strength.
After impressing the Cosmic Roots team with a cracking set down at the Tropicle Popsicle stage in 2018, Leeds-based collective Brudenell Groove were invited to close the Pond Life stage on the first night and did a stellar job of doing so; mostly thanks to their eclectic and energetic records, and partly thanks to the fact about half the tent had come from Leeds that weekend. With a large partisan crowd egging on the duo DJing, they played the most raucous music that the tent probably saw that weekend, with tracks ranging from bumpy tech house and Maximum Joy disco cuts to UKG pumpers courtesy of Jeremy Sylvester and contemporary broken UK bass music from K-Lone and Ill Chill. The first night of a festival always feels the most charged thanks to the raw excitement of being away from the 9-5 grind, and the Brudenell Groove DJ’s Oli Walkden and Andrew Kemp reflected this perfectly with their record selections; the tent was popping all the way till the curfew at 3am and left everyone feeling energised and ready for the weekend ahead.
Heels & Souls
Charitable London party starters Heels & Souls played quite late on over at the lawn stage just as the heavens had started to open on Friday night. Unfortunately this stage only had enough cover for about 20 people which meant they began playing records to a grand total of about five people. However it was a testimony to the strength of their set that despite the rain and lack of cover, they pulled in an ever growing crowd over the course of the next few hours, with a considered selection of boogie, old school house, acid, bleep and even one of my favourite UR tracks ‘Journey of The Dragon’. Their parties have gained plaudits for their laid back and easy going atmosphere, and their infectious personalities were plain to see as they joked around on the decks, involving the the crowd in their fun as they grooved away in the rain.
This Amsterdam based Aussie has been quietly making waves with her label and mix series Lullabies for Insomniacs that champions the weirder, more esoteric side of music. Taking to the decks sometime late in the afternoon on the Pond Life stage, she quickly got into the groove, with a wide grin across her face as she swung through dubby oddities and slow burning waved out chuggers. The atmosphere in the tent invoked the feeling of the Giant Steps space in London; with plants, incense and soft lighting contributing to a warm and inviting atmosphere, that played right into the hands of DJs who wanted to experiment with more leftfield selections. Izabel kept everyone locked with intriguing tracks that seemed to pulsate as the afternoon entered early evening, masterfully swinging between styles with ease. Whilst no one seemed to know anything she played, there’s always room for a well placed classic, and the energy levels hit peak as she effortlessly dropped into Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’, providing a euphoric counterpoint to the sludgy grooves that underpinned her set.
Berlin-based Katiusha was another DJ who was invited back for the second edition after a barnstorming debut at Cosmic Roots in 2018. Just like the year before she was given a slot on the Worm Hole stage, a ravey den in the woods built out of hay bales, intense lasers, and fat Funktion 1 stacks. Most of the sets down here were fast-paced and energetic, and Katiusha embodied this to the fullest. Always in complete control, she kept the crowd on a shoe string, pulling them in and out with seamless transitions that flitted between trancey bangers such as Mind Control’s ‘Life For Ever’ and J-Zbel’s new acid breaks anthem ‘Tunnel Vision’. She played with pace, but it never felt frenetic or hurried even as the BPM counter edged around the 140 mark. Rather, the ravey tracks enticed even more people into the Worm Hole, which by this point was so smokey you could barely see, setting the stage up perfectly for Super Hexagon who ended the night with a barrage of dubstep and drum and bass.
After becoming extremely good pals with the festival organisers in 2018, one of the most vocal advocates for the festival was Montreal based Phoebé Guillemot aka RAMZi. She played a short DJ set early in the afternoon on Friday then played a live set on Saturday evening. Thanks to going too hard on Friday night I missed her live set on Saturday but I did catch the former as DJ Fati. Playing a number of records from her Canadian affiliates such as Ex-Terrestrial and Priori, her set was full of dubby grooves and compelling basslines, switching between organic sounding funk and dub and electronically produced house and downtempo with ease. Her energy both live and as a DJ is infectious and it’s easy to see why Cosmic Roots love her so much. No doubt she will be back for the 2020 edition.
Like Izabel, Zakia played in the Pond Life tent, but the difference in how they moulded the space to their tracks was a testament to how the mood in the tent could be easily manipulated by the well thought out selections of a DJ who understands how to tap into their surroundings. Where Izabel’s mood was deeper and more primal, and perfect for the onsetting twilight, Zakia played as the sun beamed outside, and the tent was full of light and people glowing from the afternoon sunshine. She responded with her usual blend of jazz, funk, soul and Afrobeat that has made her NTS show such a hit, and her infectious dancing behind the decks reflected the organic, uplifting nature of her record collection. Moloko’s ‘Sing It Back’ provided an apt sing along for the small but enthusiastic crowd of dancers who were basking in her good energy.
Photo credit: Georgia Fitzgerald, Tristan Searight and Casper Swindells.