Loose Lips

Waterworks @ Gunnersby Park - 25/09/21

Event Review

Waterworks @ Gunnersby Park - 25/09/21

Right, hello friends and compatriots, I am back with my fourth post-lockdown event review. As a rule, dance music event reviews tend to focus on the DJs, but I feel tempted to talk more about the promoters and organisers, at this moment in time, when I feel so clearly aware of the fact that Dance Music is a collaboration, between the DJs, promoters, organisers, and the dancers. At its best, Dance Music is a space that feels right, that feels different, an elevated place that floats upon resonant frequencies, vibrations as particular as a fingerprint that just hit, such that your inner body can ripple in geometric patterns, such that you can forget about making people laugh or impressing people or drinking more or taking more drugs, such that you can be at one with this moment.

This is not easy to do right now. London was a tense, over-crowded city before lockdown and now it’s tense in a totally different way, we don’t have the same swathes of tourists and rush hour commuters, but the city’s residents are out, and they really want to have fun, but they’re also wary of eachother. Whether you’re wearing a mask or not, you wonder what do they think of you, what do they think you think of them, and of course, do they have covid. Am I going to have to isolate for 9 days and get really ill because I came out and had some fun. This fun better be fucking fun. On top of this, festivals in London tend to be a bit iffy at the best of times, but right now there's a mad pressure on them, as they're safer than clubs for covid and less-triggering of post-lockdown claustrophobia. 

As I said in my last couple of reviews, one of the main challenges to finally having some fun has been the fact that the logistics of making events happen are super confused right now. Of course they are, we’re in totally uncharted territory and have no idea what the next day will bring, what will leave you feeling excited or deflated. This brings me to Waterworks. Aaactually first I want to talk about Naked City.

Naked City was a roughly 5k capacity festival that had its second edition a couple of weeks ago, and it was really good. The promoters behind it are named Krankbrother, and they have a lot of experience putting on club nights, an industry they focussed on after previous attempts at setting up oyster restaurants fell through, buoyed by the enormous wealth of their family. I’m not calling them out or anything, it’s just interesting context for the return to events, post-lockdown, post-blacklivesmatter, after the electronic music scene looked back at itself (via Instagram) and wondered aloud how it could exorcise its stark reflections of colonialism. Krankbrother’s solution to this was to organise a festival with a genuinely diverse lineup; the four stages’ headliners were The Paradox, LTJ Bukem, Moodyman and Sherelle. This means a lot in London day festivals, because the headline slots are when the sun goes down, the last two or three hours of the day when people become a bit less self conscious, and you start to see some proper full body dancing. It is also important because of the fees; your lineup isn’t really diverse if a sliver of the money goes to non-white-male DJs.

Anyway, the thing that really made Naked City was its location, a funny slice of South East London’s Beckenham Park with a proper mix of terrains, from the sloped floor infront of the main stage to the intimate area opposite, overcast with trees. A couple of my mates went to a two-day drum’n’bass event at this same site run by Hospitality, and they had an amazing time, enjoying a kind of relaxed excitement that they hadn’t had in years. It’s interesting that the same site worked for both festivals, but I guess it makes sense as they were both focussed on electronic music, whereas the most recent edition of Field Day was utter balls, as it has been absorbed into rock festival All Points East, with all the DJs shoved onto these sound-systems built for bands.

Naked City felt natural, the music sounded good, the crowd : space ratio was right, the space was special; particularly at the end with Baby T & Sherelle’s explosion of breakbeats on the small leafy stage, followed by The Paradox on the main stage. The Paradox is basically a smooth jazz improv band with a rocket stuck up its arse via Jeff Mills’ drum machines. It made so much sense after the other Jazz bands that had played on the main stage earlier in the day, as if the falling dark had lured jacking rhythms from the ground. It felt right. 

*takes a sip of water*

NOW we come to Waterworks. I went down to the first ever edition of this London festival yesterday, wearing a white t-shirt with ‘Love saves the day’ on it. I thought this would be a cute reference as the co-organisers of this festival, Team Love, cut their teeth with a Bristolian festival named Love Saves The Day (plus a great bar called the Love Inn, and recently a Croatian festival called Love International). I got this t-shirt when I volunteered at Love Saves The Day five years ago, and have treasured it ever since because of how great it was, and moreover how lovely the people were. I was a crowd steward, I was given a pink high vest and asked to watch out for people who were in trouble. Most of the stewards were pretty young (I was 21), and Team Love told us that they knew we were going to get drunk and all that, just don’t do it on shift. Wearing my Love Saves The Day t-shirt at Waterworks, I would occasionally have chats with strangers about the festival, who invariably had not realised it was from the same people. 

Love Saves The Day is always a big full colourful production, with headliners ranging from Little Simz, Little Dragon and Lilly Allen, and dramatic rave stages like this one. Waterworks 2021, Team Love's first festival in London (created in collaboration with the always-reliable London promoters Percolate) had a different aesthetic, less hedonistic and more earthy. And yet, when I told people that the festival was from the same people, their faces lit up. Of course it’s from the Love Saves The Day people, it has that special feeling, it just hits different. You see, Krankbrother’s choice of bookings and venue for Naked City were great, they demonstrated a great understanding of what’s important right now, clearly they have been reading the right Instagram stories. Team Love, on the other hand, made an amazing festival through individual vision and perseverance.

Waterworks’ 7 stages (Siren, Hi-Hat, Water Tower, Orbit, Cedar, Pressure and Commune) each felt very distinct, even though they weren’t particularly colourful, they were just structured differently. Team Love didn’t have an exciting terrain to work with like Krankbrother did, or rather not any more; when first announced back in February 2020, a lot of the hype with the festival was its 'untapped location', one the team found after 'many hours on Google Maps and satellite views', which inspired the whole idea for the festival (indeed, the location was named 'Lee Valley Waterworks'). With life being what it is, they had to switch to a different space, a section of Gunnersby Park which is essentially a flat field with some trees. But they built a dynamic environment over it, using three different sound tech suppliers. It was crazy how much noise they managed to pack into a site that took about 2 minutes to walk end-to-end, a real adult playground that made it really easy to browse vibes until you found a space that felt interesting, a place where you felt comfortable.

Some of Waterwork’s stages were small and focussed, with a thick cluster of dancers nestled into the bass, such as Cedar, a concrete parking strip whose dancefloor was lit up by a neon exoskeleton, and Siren, a wooden hut that was nestled into the trees. I had a great time there during early sets from Jossy Mitsu and Fauzia, when it was easy enough to slip into the front of the space and dance among blasts of bass and dry ice, where I could occasionally leap into the air to watch cheers rise from an impressively huge 2pm crowd. Jossy did a great job warming us up, teasing with the occasional blast of high energy, inspiring before returning to a canter, so it felt appropriate for Fauzia to get straight fucking into it with her set. I got particularly hyped when she dropped a breaksy remix of Ojerime’s Give It Up 2 Me that kept the magic of the original, a perfect chill-banger that manages to feel ravey despite being totally appropriate for a daytime Jazz FM show. I returned to the Siren stage later on in the evening to catch Sicaria Sound and Novelist, at which point the crowd had tightened into a clearly finite cluster of dancers packed into the field of the stage’s speaker-stacks. As Joe Muggs says in his oral history of soundsystem culture, Bass, Mids, Tops; “Those long, deep vibrations of air delineate a space in three dimensions, creating one of the most basic dividers between being within and without a musical experience… 'if your chest ain’t rattling, it ain’t happening' used to be the slogan of Bristol club Subloaded."

I had a great moment standing at the base of a tree at the edge of the throng, watching Novelist rap his exquisite 2020 banger Active. My mate started complaining about how live rap vocals often don’t sound as good, I ranted at him that Novelist produces all his own stuff, often in the studio inside his car, he’ll just pull up somewhere and make a track, and he doesn’t swear at all, like JME before him he’s trying to do hard cold grime in a positive way, butttttt then Novelist got the crowd to chant ‘N O V E L I S T’, and to be fair we did want to have a space to dance with volume to dance to, so we walked on, pausing to take some cute photos, and then suddenly ran to the Orbit stage, because we heard that sick as-of-yet untitled track which everyone has been posting to the Identification of music group lately.

We got to Orbit, had a little bounce around along to said hot track, and then something beautiful happened. We were stood at the very edge of the crowd, my mate was saying that he should leave soon as he’s got his own flat’s housewarming party to go to, so he started taking his stuff out of my backpack, and then HOLD UP, what track do I hear from the DJ? It's Active by Novelist. Ah well mate, if you weren't sure about that track earlier when it had live vocals, give yourself over now to those perfect, consistent, serene studio-recorded bars. "I'm a love transmitter, so don't come around talking litter." We can hear the track perfectly because there are speakers surrounding Orbit’s dancefloor, pointing into the central dancefloor and creating pockets of clear audio at the edges. My mate wasn’t done unpacking and chatting, so I left him and strayed back into the nearest pocket’s kernel of bass, where a couple of other dancers had been summoned like moths to the flame. This was the most beautiful bit for me, dancing with two strangers for twenty minutes, gradually becoming more comfortable in eachother’s presence, bouncing off eachother’s moves, responding to eachother and to the sound, until it was time for my mate to leave, and they wanted to get a drink, so we exchanged numbers, hugged, took a photo and parted ways. 

That was a moment made possible by the DJs whose sets spanned that time (Pearson Sound and Shanti Celeste), who were really playing around genre-wise (here's a cute edit that Shanti played), and also by the Orbit stage’s nebulous sound-design. The same dappled dynamic was created by the Water Tower stage, but inside out; this tower had the DJs in the middle, surrounded by a speakers pointing outwards. The main section of the crowd were focused on one side, because - unlike the speakers - the DJ decks were facing in a particular direction. This meant that we were able to find a spot facing the DJs side-on where we could simultaneously watch people losing their shit to the untz untz, during Moxie and Peach’s B2B back when the sun was still up.

I rate Moxie and Peach so much, they’re sick DJs who demonstrate that it’s possible to play cheeky bangers music with style and panache. Like you know how a lot of UKG classics have this balance of musical sophistication and rhythmic rudeness, of experimentation and swing, they find tracks from various genres that have that wonderful balance. I still remember the excited grin on Peach’s face when I saw her play out her transcendent track Silky, supporting Jon Hopkins at Phonox back in 2017, as the crowd confirmed that this moment was really special. Part of the fun of Waterworks for me was that it gathered a lot of DJs who I’ve been following for a long time, DJs who have still not quite crossed over into full-on-fame but have utterly mastered their craft. What can I say, I’m a fanboy, I own both Peach and Moxie t-shirts. The first time went to a night curated by Moxie in 2016, she was playing in Edinburgh’s Sneaky Pete’s alongside Josey Rebelle, I remember thinking to myself, yes mate this is just fantastic, I could sit and listen to these sets on a beanbag or I could rave to it in a massive warehouse or I could wack it on whilst going for a run, exquisite. My favourite track this time was a garage remix or blend of... Ojerime’s Give It Up 2 Me! Love it, and love to see it utilised in two totally different sets from two totally different DJs, who are similarly sick.

And then we come to Josey Rebelle, the DJ who finished my day at the Water Tower. If you read my review of Labyrinth's inaugural festival in August (where Josey closed the smaller stage), you might remember me saying that she ‘would have been perfect on the main stage’s massive speakers.’ Well I was fucking right; leaping around like a loon to her strung out selections was so much fun. Josey had no interest in playing classics or keeping to a consistent tempo, her set was bouncey, expressive, even funny at some points, it would have felt wrong to stand there and bop your head or two-step, you had to get a bit freaky. She treated the dancefloor like a flannel, soaking it in tension and then ringing it out and swinging it around. It’s poetic that this set essentially finished my summer, as it reminded me of the DJ set that started my summer from Jayda G; totally different sounds but a similarly organic flow, as unpredictable as a storm. 

Remember those dancers who I exchanged numbers with? I recently asked one of them what their favourite parts of the festival were, and they said “It's gotta be the dancing!!! It all rolled into one big fat experience for me ahah”. That sums it up so well for me; it was great festival to walk around as a music nerd clutching the clashfinder (updated and shared on the morning of the festival, another top quality moment from the promoter), but it was way more fun to just go on moments of gut instinct, to listen to yourself and what you’re feeling, to roam. Massive shout out to everyone who made it possible, it's not an exaggeration to say that you left me feeling excited, elated and empowered. I guess that's what happens when you find your resonant frequency.

Check out Will's other articles here. He was did not receive payment or free tickets to any of the post-lockdown events reviewed on Loose Lips, this is all for the love.