25 - 26th May
Eastville Park, Bristol
Just like avocados, rollies and signet rings, Love Saves is a Bristol student essential. Two usually sun-blistering days packed into the end of exam season, Love Saves is as much a music festival as it is a wacky fashion show. Dungarees, glitter tits, neon rompers, mesh, knit dresses and bucket hats - nothing is too extra here. The signal is shit, it's impossible to find anyone (so don’t wander off) and prepare to wait or walk for at least an hour at the end of the night to get back into central Bristol.
The sickest part of Love Saves is the variety of music it offers, obviously enough jungle, baseline and jump up to keep the DnB heads happy - Subfocus, Holy Goof Chase & Status and the crowd favourite Shy FX of course. Peggy Gou, though, was a rare treat. The Berlin based DJ whipped out tune after tune of deep house and dreamy tech-electro in the stifling tropical tent. There’s plenty of chiller acts that can be enjoyed with a tinnie and a rollie in hand too, the ‘quite exciting’ Jimothy Lacoste and soulful Ray BLK played earlier in the day. Ocean Wisdom was unbelievable on the main stage, the huge crowd he amassed were left gasping as they tried to keep up with his rapid rap. Old school hip hop influences, jungle and grime beats reign in his discography. His speedy melodic rhymes have an inescapable catchiness and flow, that your average fucked festival go-er can not begin to attempt to match, although some unfortunately tried. You will probably find artists wandering around the site, so if you aren’t yet off your face keep an eye out - this year we spotted IAMDDB and Octavian partaking in the festival vibes.
If you miss this one because of exams don’t worry, Tokyo World has essentially the same vibe, price and location - and is on par with Love Saves, just as much of a student essential welcoming us back in late September.
31st May - 2nd June
‘Imagine yourself in a tiny grassy village, rising high above the seemingly endless sea of spruce and pine trees and little lakes around you. The clouds appear to be almost at arms length. You’re far away from the nearest highway, only narrow rocky roads lead to this place. The light of the sun seems to illuminate forever, and you have forgotten about your daily existence.’
The above is an exert from the Solstice festival website and I am inclined to agree.
Rukatunturi, a fell in Kuusamo which in the winter months is a ski resort, was the location of the first edition of the festival and hosted incredible panoramas across the Finnish countryside (reaching far across the border to Russia). Taking place in late June, during - you guessed it - the summer solstice, the festival showcased some of Finland’s best electronic music DJs and producers alongside overseas names including the formerly Bristol based Shanti Celeste, DJ Nobu, Mama Snake, D.Tiffany, Buttechno and Spekki Webu.
The music spanned over three nights and stages: the peak and valley stages, and the ambient tipi. The ambient tipi laid host to a relaxed, convivial and thoughtful environment decorated with disco balls and enchanting projections accompanied by a mellow soundscape spanning experimental to soul. Some DJs performed sets in the tipi alongside other stages, granting them the opportunity to explore sounds away from dance music. Open to all elements, the valley stage found itself in beaming sunshine, thick cloud and even rain at one point, though it was always grounded with infectious disco grooves, pumping house kicks or futurist sounding electro. The peak stage was the height of not just altitude, but ruthless volume and a taste for a harder sound. It delivered thundering techno and even trance from the likes of DJ Nobu and Mama Snake, resulting in utter frenzy.
Given the extremely northern location of the festival, the sun did not set throughout the duration of the festival. This dynamic created an other-worldly feel, especially when paired with the beautiful surroundings, truly making for a unique festival experience in which time seemed to lose all meaning. The intimate several hundred capacity meant many faces were familiar ones by the end, all beaming with the same expressions of enjoyment and pleasant disbelief at what Solstice had offered up to us. With the closing night shrouded in fog, I was not surprised to see people tearing down posters to take home as mementos (myself included), needing something tangible to prove it really happened.
31st May - 2nd June
Balter: ‘to dance artlessly without particular skill or grace, but always with great contented enjoyment’. This pretty much sums it up. Look out for ridiculous outfits, sick skanking and some dubious decisions.
‘Born in the woods of Devon, raised in the clubs of Bristol and matured in the fields of Wales’, Balter festival is a world of misfits, underground sound and free party culture. Although it’s a small-scale festival, it’s definitely a fan favourite in the south west. For only £130 (or cheaper if you catch the earlybird ticket) I had a blinder of a weekend in an atmosphere of complete madness. No one takes themselves too seriously at Balter and there is certainly ‘little room for modesty or censorship’ to quote the official tagline.
The site’s shape is pretty unique compared to other festivals; the 10 stages all surround a single field, with a central walkway leading to the campsite at the far end. This means its really easy to navigate, there’s no long walks between sets and its quick and easy to find your mates, even if the worst happens and your phone dies.
This year’s headliners included Black Sun Empire, The Mouse Outfit, Floxytek, Eva Lazarus and Gardna, Neurokontrol and Randall, but you can find everything from drum and bass to tek, techno, hip hop, ska and garage. My favourite set of the weekend had to be the raggatek and jungletek duo Vandal b2b Mandidextrous which got so lively their set was shut down early, for the second year in a row. There’s plenty of opportunities to get a bit silly between sets and stages too. You could compete in the ‘Miss Balter’ drag queen contest, maybe get hitched or receive an exorcism at Rev Shnider’s travelling church. If you’re a festival fiend, this one’s for you.
26th - 30th June
It’s about 6am on Saturday morning and we’ve ended up in a forest queuing for something but we’re not sure what. Someone up ahead shouts out that you can skip the queue if you can count to three in Irish. ‘One, two, tree!’ I shout at the top of my already severely overused voice. Much to the surprise of the people around me the crowd parts and we are summoned to the front of the queue and ushered through a tunnel. As our eyes adjust to the candlelight we discover we are in a large mud cavern, filled with people bobbing along to the jig of an Irish folk band. This is not a dream. It’s just one tiny corner of the biggest festival in the world.
I think the amazing vibe at Glastonbury partly stems from the fact that it’s so hard getting tickets. Everyone is overexcited to be there. The massive range of ages also makes the festival special. From the 60 year old man who puts his camping chair up in front of the pyramid stage to read the Guardian, to the barefoot baby standing on her dads head for Stormzy’s set, everyone contributes to what feels like one big happy family.
Stormzy’s set embodied the spirit of Glastonbury. Like his audience, he seemed overwhelmed to be there and his set was a rollercoaster of emotions. He had the crowd close to tears with stories of the struggles of black artists and then suddenly switched the mood with a ‘reload’; everyone jumping up and down, shouting the words to ‘Shut Up’. Ezra Collective were also incredible, with their unique blend of jazz and afrobeat. But perhaps my favourite musical moments at Glastonbury came from the smaller up and coming bands who you happen to see by chance on your way to get a bacon bap or an ice lolly (including our very own Marla Mbemba who played bass in Shunaji’s band). The sheer size of the festival and the variety of music and activities means there’s something going on for everyone at all times, Glasto is a fab festival to explore, if you manage to bag yourself a golden ticket.
12 - 13th July
Gunnersbury Park, London
Lovebox is perfect for those who love festivals, but can’t quite bring themselves to commit to sleeping in a stinking, muddy field with zero personal hygiene alongside thousands of other smelly festival goers. You will, however, have to commit to a sweaty, packed tube journey across the city to Acton Town.
A chic day festival in West London, you won’t find that much glitter or typical festival gear at this one. Attendees are dressed in summery day clothes, in preparation for the ridiculous 32 degree heat. Rap and R&B reigns here, this year’s headliners were Solange and Chance The Rapper, yet the real acts that carried this year played earlier in the day. The main stage was graced by festival-classic Loyle Carner, with his usual, somewhat recycled set - though flawlessly executed. Then the recently released J Hus and boyband Brockhampton, delivered good sets though perhaps unworthy of the hype that preceded them. Giggs was unexpectedly electric however, more than comfortable just a hop skip and jump from his hometown Peckham. Strangers were boogieing together, a couple of whines were caught, as the grime star’s fierce bars flowed over heavy beats.
Meanwhile, FKJ warmed up the Noisey tent with his mellow house electronica in preparation for Kaytranada’s set. The following house grooves and J Dilla beats jazzed up the atmosphere to a blistering height. One guy climbed a pole to continue jiving cheekily to the roars of an enthusiastic tightly-packed crowd as ‘Vivid Dreams’ bounced around the tent. Early on the second day, Lizzo delivered a staggering performance, which was much needed by the tired, hungover crowd. Belting out her songs of infectious self love, the crowd positively glowed both literally and metaphorically, in the afternoon sunshine. After an astonishing flute solo, Lizzo had us belting ‘I just took a DNA test turns out I’m 100 per cent THAT bitch’ with huge grins. By the end of her set I felt like I’d been in a beautiful therapy session, albeit one that centres in R&B and gospel soul.
Drinks were upward of a tenner, of course (London festivals are ridiculous), so we ingeniously bought screw top capri suns the night before and emptied them out. We then filled the empty cartons with sauvignon and pink gin, and sellotaped them to our thighs and stomachs. Worked like a charm, and we received many amused compliments as we de-sellotaped ourselves in amongst the crowd.
26th - 28th July
It may have been the first crashing mosh pit I witnessed created by a saxophone solo, or the children laughing and dancing around as their parents looked on from their ingenious tiny porta-tents, or the fact that me and my girlfriend had a serendipitous encounter with a favourite artist on the return from a stage. Either way, Truck is undeniably the inclusive and intimate festival.
You can actually feel this festival’s smaller size, only boasting an attendance of about five thousand people. This made a lot of things easier: toilets were always nearby, getting a decent view of the stage was nearly always possible, and despite our lateness to the campsite we still managed to pitch up pretty close to the stages. Still, the weekend of music from the ‘big indie Mecca’ was loud, sweaty, and full of atmosphere.
Bristol punks IDLES got the weekend off to a blistering start with their characteristic violent wall of sound, wrapping up reflective and sometimes laugh-out-loud lyrics. There was a killer set of headliners this year including Nothing but Thieves, Wolf Alice and Foals; the latter only somewhat ruined by a shouty woman who requested all five thousand Truck-goers stand still so she could avoid the major inconvenience of a slight nudge every now and then. Johnny Marr caused die hard Smith’s fanatics to lose their minds with a surprise cover of ‘How Soon is Now?’, and Dodie’s legion of fans were suitably entertained by her drawly folk-pop, whilst a larger-than-life set from Easy Life blew the top of the Market tent off. This was indeed the first time I had witnessed a saxophone incite so much mayhem.
The subtly-named Psychedelic Porn Crumpets were a personal highlight. The Australian quartet’s blistering riffs had drinks flying and won the hearts of the crowd who, after the band’s set was mercilessly cut off just before a climactic finish, roared in anger and indignation. The organisers were reluctant but eventually the Porn Crumpets returned, and the air of prevailing justice added to their big finish.
Tired out by the jam-packed days, we didn’t make much use of the nighttime’s DJ sets but there were plenty of other people enjoying the big array on offer; especially the one who tripped over our tent at 2am. We did manage to make it to the Silent Disco, where ‘Live Forever’ and a spectacular firework display provided a whimsical final night.
To finish up, I’ll leave you with some Truck tips that we learned the hard way if this has persuaded you into making a trip down to Hill Farm next year. Don’t get extorted £9 for a burger. Go to the charity food hall and pay £2.50 for a healthier and morally superior jacket potato. Don’t sleep facing down a hill-slope. Get to the front of crowds by being just twenty minutes early. Don’t leave your cracked, case-less phone in a puddle. And for god’s sake, get to your Monday morning shuttle bus early so you don’t spend five hours getting sunburnt in the middle of a car park.
We Out Here
15th - 18th August
You wouldn’t have thought there was room for yet another festival in the saturated UK season, yet the first year of We Out Here carved itself a worthy space. Located in the former Secret Garden Party site, this festival was predicated to be a fusion of jazz and club culture, a locus of crossover where live instrumentals meet sound-system. This was realised in the refreshingly diverse range of acts, experiences, and styles; from the laser-lit dramatic downpour that befitted Mala and the Outlook Orchestra’s heavy dubstep showcase, to the upbeat horn instrumentals of afrobeat collective KOKOROKO.
The days were filled with the easing soul of Yazmin Lacey, saxophone melodies from Nubya Garcia and sun-drenched Sunday afternoon reggae from Channel One Soundsystem and Dennis Bovell. Alongside this soundtrack daytime activities were boundless, with a wild swimming lake, life drawing sessions in the Lemon Lounge, a film tent and Near Mint record fair. You might’ve even spotted artist Gina Southgate painting the jazz sets in real time amongst the crowd, capturing the energy of the music in colourful semi-abstract canvases.
If the days were easy going and lively, the nights were heady and deep. Grounded in thumping techno sets from Objekt B2B Call Super, punctuated by jungle drops from DJ Randall and lifted up by glimmering disco in the Love Dancin tent. Nu Guinea’s hybrid DJ and live keys set was a haze of flashing colour and twanging sound, and Mr Scruff finished the way a festival should be closed, with a collective groove of euphoria to Aretha Franklin’s rendition of ‘I Say a Little Prayer’.
We Out Here was executed seamlessly, with all the intimacy and excitement of a new venture. The atmosphere was pregnant with a sense of beginning and a promise of more to come. This is one to watch.
22nd - 25th August
The sun is shining and I’m stretching into ‘downward dog’ in my bra and pants as a stranger does ‘tree pose’ on top of me, half naked, as Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ is playing across the festival. This might seem a bit strange but inhibitions have gone out the window and no one cares because it’s a Sunday afternoon at Shambala.
Although my memories are a bit vague, the people, ethos and music at Shambala festival this year made it an unforgettable weekend. Jam packed with those who are ‘spiritually enlightened’, Shambala has a do-whatever-you-feel-like vibe which makes it the most chilled, but also the most artistically extravagant festival I’ve been to. Being a small festival it can’t boast the biggest lineup, but regardless of whether you’ve heard of everyone on the poster, you’ll find something you love. As I wandered around the amazing venues with stunning visuals, I was stunned by the jungle duo Aries and Kelvin 373, the jazzy beats of the Electric Swing Circus and the light dancehall of reggae legend Sister Nancy.
It’s the perfect size for a festival – small enough that you can comfortably wander between music sets and your campsite and it’s easy to run into people if your phone dies. And if you’re vegan or vegetarian then Shambala is the festival for you. There is no meat allowed in the venue and nearly all the food stalls are vegan. Aside from the music, there’s so many workshops and talks that you could easily spend the whole weekend at this part of the festival. From protecting the environment, to healthy living, to making art, you could even visit goats whilst learning how to plant your own vegetables.