Last summer’s debut Junction 2 was lauded by everybody from fans to commentators to industry insiders. It was the success story of 2016. After hearing stories through the grapevine, there was no way we were missing their sophomore outing. The festival’s name derives from its location under a bridge near J2 of the M4 motorway. The setting conjures up images of a wasteland future. A future in which the planet reclaims the Earth from a dwindling human race. In short, perfect for a techno party!
Arriving early to make the most of the day, we disembark the train at nearby Brentford just shy of 13:00. There’s already a steady trickle of revellers making their way to the site. The pace is leisurely. The weather, glorious. We struggle to recall the last time mother nature shone so favourably.
Picturesque Boston Manor Park located in the London Borough of Hounslow is our destination. It feels like we’ve never wandered this far from East! The home soil of Shoreditch & Bethnal Green feels like a million miles away; though the transit time is little over an hour. It’s a welcome change of scenery. Of course, our journey to J2 can be traced as far back as February. It was then we partied all-day-long with Adam Beyer at Printworks. It certainly felt like a long time coming.
We check the set-times. The timetable serves as both a thing of beauty and annoyance.
Beauty. The line-up is impeccably crafted. From the whimsical leftfield house of DJ Koze to the industrial Berlin techno of Rødhåd, it’s a convergence of underground styles. Equally impressive is the curation of the individual stages. Special mention must go to the festival’s newest (and smallest) stage Into the Woods, for drafting in deep tech [a:rpia:r] affiliate Praslea as headliner. Not only is the wide spectrum of house & techno represented, but the wealth of talent on show might well be unprecedented. As a result, it means set-clashes from the get go. Annoyance.
When visiting a new venue, usual protocol dictates getting a sense of bearing as the number one priority. Clocking signs to the Drumcode stage, intrigue gets the better of us and we deviate from our tried-and-tested script. Quite unintentionally, we’ve taken the ideal approach in exploring our new surroundings. We stop momentarily to exchange cash for tokens before continuing our downhill journey.
We reach a subsidiary of the River Brent, tip-toeing over the floating crossing. We take a moment to survey the locale. It’s a scene so beautiful it would rouse Wordsworth. Here it is tranquil and serene. A few hundred yards on, over the brow of the incline, the bass rattles. It is this juxtaposition which is the site’s striking feature: a crossroad where outstanding natural beauty and humanity collide. The point where the urbanised sprawl of the city, flora and fauna intertwine.
We find a spot in between two of the concrete pillars propping up the overhead M4, dancing in the shadow of the flyover. It’s cooler (just). A little less bright. Mere feet away the sun’s beams penetrate fiercely. Again, the contrast which will become a reoccurring theme throughout the day. Dust is kicked up creating a sandstorm-like whirlwind. It replicates that of a smoke machine. Already there are revellers losing themselves in the music. Imagine a Burning Man style rave on a Mad Max movie set.
Ida Engberg is the first DJ we encounter. Returning after a some eight-month hiatus, Drumcode’s first lady shows no signs of rustiness. On the contrary, she has grasped the moment with both hands, visibly enjoying being back behind the decks. We sure missed that bassface. Welcome back, Ida! Tom Demac’s ‘Sink Or Swim’ is the first track which catches our ear. We’d be told by attendees of last year’s event how loud the sound system was. But we had to hear it for our own ears to truly appreciate it.
We’re not talking about levels on par with our European mainland counterparts. But they’re by-far-and-away the highest sound levels we’ve ever experienced outdoors in the UK. Ida tees it up perfectly for Tale Of Us. Are they playing more bangin’ than usual? It’s still their distinct melodic sound, sure. But there’s definitely more bang for yer buck. It must be the beefed up sound system. Their new collab with Vaal ‘The Hangar’ gets a play. It’s the first time we’ve heard the track out. And it’s the perfect track for the moment.
We could stay rooted to the same spot for the duration. But we’d only be cheating ourselves. It’s time to see what the other stages have to offer. As well as each arena being different in form and function, much thought has been given to the layout of the site. It another case highlighting the painstaking level of detail evident throughout. We pass through The Hydra tent looking for friends. Willow isn’t holding anything back to an early crowd.
We take time to consider some of the less obvious qualities of the festival. One such example is the toilet facilities. Staggered every few hundred yards and plentiful in number. It means a notable absence of long waiting times and treks to-and-from the arenas. (If we recall, this was the one gripe we had with Printworks!) They’re manned and maintained to an acceptable standard throughout. Similarly, the bars are well-staffed and each time we’re served within minutes of arriving.
Another plus is that corporate sponsorship is used minimally. It’s a necessary evil of the modern festival scene, we get that. But it’s refreshing not seeing brands plastered over every stage. The one exception – the Relentless-sponsored Warehouse – is a towering, enclosed arena. From the outside, it’s bleak and gothic. Inside it houses arguably the most discerning line-up of the lot.
Two fully-clad workmen dance on the scaffolding. It adds an element of humour to complement the serious sounds emanating from within. And a refreshing change to seeing scantily-clothed babes writhe and gyrate. We comment on how much they must be sweating under their hard hats. Their efforts are admirable!
On several occasions, we pass and hear the likes of Daniel Avery & Alan Fitzpatrick rattling inside. It’s tempting. More than! But we pass. Though it’s clear this arena has caught the curiosity and imagination of many, the long queues and soaring mercury are enough to give us second thoughts. Figuring our time could be better spent elsewhere, we head onward in the direction of the Sonus stage.
We weren’t sure what to expect from the Sonus stage. But what we weren’t expecting was an expansive, open-air arena filled with party-goers and overlooked by high-rise enterprise. It could quite easily have been a main stage in its own right. Recondite is centre-stage. He justifies us tearing ourselves away from Tale Of Us, delivering a virtuoso live performance compiled exclusively of his own material. It’s the set which pushes us from professional mode into PARTY MODE! Our only criticism is that an hour simply isn’t long enough. Following is going to be tall order…
We have a love-hate relationship with Maceo Plex. Whilst long-term fans, last time we’d caught him had left us unfilled. But we we’re prepared to give him another shot. And we’re so glad we did! Plex delivers possibly the best set of the day. That signature driving Ellum sound coupled with Maceo’s fondness for all things kooky is a winning combination. We hear new John Monkman ‘Harmonix’, Slam ‘Vapour’ and Maceo’s own remix of Rebolledo’s ‘Discotico Estatico.’ It’s a reminder of why we fell in love with him in the first place. All is forgiven.
Low-flying passenger jets circle overhead. No doubt waiting for permission to land at nearby Heathrow. As the sun beats down we pinch ourselves. It’s hard to believe our luck. If we close our eyes for a brief moment we could be forgiven for thinking we’re actually dancing on Zrce Beach, Pag Island in the Adriatic sun. We set a reminder to check flights & travel packages tomorrow.
As the sun begins to dip it seems foolhardy to venture elsewhere whilst we can savour the moment here. Though Beyer closing is a lingering thought. Responsibility for shutting the Sonus stage falls to Joseph Capriati. We know from recent experience it will be a task he rises to. The Neapolitan DJ uses familiar vocal loops like “RUN DMC & JAM MASTER JAY” and The Preacher “sing a song of love, sing a song of happiness” acapella to whip the crowd up, before dropping in bolder beats.
Having witnessed the first hour of Capriati we make the pilgrimage to the main stage, taking a short cut through the enchanted woodland. Junction 2 are far from the first festival to incorporate a music arena into the natural landscape. But this is the most effective and authentic usage of that kind we have seen to date. As we fast approach summer solstice, this corner of the site most definitely has a pagan feel about it.
It is now, at sundown, with the last remnants of light seeping through the leaves and branches when the arena comes into its own. Dusk has settled and there’s magic in the air. The canopy of trees provides shelter to a host of colourful characters. This could easily be a dress-rehearsal from a casting of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Credit must be given for adding yet another facet to a multi-layered experience.
We could stay here and immerse ourselves. But Beyer is calling. Unsubstantiated reports suggest Ben Klock never got out of fourth gear. By his own high standards, that’s hardly an insult. But perhaps any such reservation was done so out of respect to our host. The foundations have been laid for Adam Beyer to both close and steal the show.
We’re far from alone in having flocked to the bridge for the finale. Again, we hear the infamous U.R. “Make Your Transition” vocal as we did at Time Warp. And we’re into fifth gear! We hustle backstage for the final few tracks. The view out is breathtaking. And we finally have some personal space to let loose. Wrists flick, fists pump, boots stomp. Beyer unloads ‘Astral Projection’ – and it feels like we’ve come full circle. It was our highlight from the Junction 2 Launch Party. “I know you must hold the sun” The dancefloor loses it. It’s a moment. It’s OUR moment!
Simply put LWE and their collaborators have got it spot on. A festival with so much attention to detail is hard to fault. There must now be the temptation to expand yet further in 2018. It’s difficult to pinpoint anything that requires tweaking. And any unnecessary meddling might risk being detrimental. We subscribe to the if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it mantra.
With one-day inner city festivals ten-a-penny and line-ups looking increasingly homogenised, Junction 2 is the antidote to mundanity. No VIP. No circus “big tops”. No fairground rides. Junction 2 is a singular rose, growing through the cracks in a concrete sea of uniformity.
All photos by…visionseven