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It’s been 10 years since SW4 first graced the festival circuit to offer Londoner’s something different to the dirge of indie and pop festivals that littered the capitals musical landscape. This year the August bank holiday was again dominated by some of the biggest names in electronic music as the organizers looked to top the previous years efforts when a sold out Clapham Common hosted an array of exceptional talent such as Chase & Status, Skrillex, Carl Cox, Public Enemy, Knife Party, Erick Morillo, Paul van Dyk, Eric Prydz and 2 Many DJs to name but a few. Not ones to rest on their laurels this year delivered a similar caliber of artist as a plethora of big names made their way to South London for the festivals 10th anniversary. So with big expectations, we headed over to check out the 10th edition of what Carl Cox dubbed the “Crowning Glory” of London’s clubbing calendar.

Location, site and the weather

Pain us as it might to admit it but London, even during the summer is hardly St. Tropez in the weather stakes. Even the city that has everything can’t control mother nature as we found out during the Saturday as despite forecasts all week suggesting that we’d be soaking up the rays on Clapham Common by Friday the outlook had become decidedly bleak on the weather front as rain was predicted for the whole weekend. And rain it did, god awful torrential rain of biblical proportions bucketed down on festival goers from four o’clock onwards leading some to wonder whether or not we should dispense with the raincoats and start gathering animals in pairs. I’m pleased to report that in no way, shape or form did this unpleasant weather dampen the crowds spirits as people bolted to see the vast array of talent playing in the many tents dotted around the festival site.

Getting to and from the festival site was an easy enough proposition with regular trains running from across London to Clapham across the course of the weekend. Clapham’s various underground stations are all only a short walk to the from the site so once in the capital one could get to SW4 with a minimum of fuss.  Equally hassle-free was our entrance onto the site itself with courteous staff keeping the queue moving and after a quick search getting people through the gates in record time. Having been operating on this site for ten years now as you can imagine the layout was well laid out and whilst perhaps not as large as the stellar line up would suggest, further inspection quickly reveals the sheer scale of the assembly on show with several large tents housing the majority of the programming; all of which were less than a stones throw away from each other. This without compromising sound quality, (as the was no cross-pollination of sounds across stages) allowed for easy access to catch a variety of sets by different artists across the festival and ensured that little time was wasted in transit time traversing the increasingly muddy site. The main stage was as well set up as could be in the conditions and despite the rain attracted large attendances for its international headliners throughout the course of the two day event.  Sunday saw the rain ease off to give attendees a respite on the weather front and naturally made watching SW4’s headline acts a considerably more pleasurable experience. 

Line Up

I think it’s fair to say that 2013 was the culmination of an arms race on the booking front (to the advantage of the consumer) with several electronic music festivals seeking to top their rivals by snagging exclusive performances from the scenes biggest names. The blend between superstars and underground heroes is a tricky mix to get right but one I’m pleased to say SW4 undertook with style and panache; with something to offer fans of all electronic genres and levels of familiarity. Trance heads were treated to performances from iconic scene figures Armin Van Buuren, Paul Oakenfold and Paul Van Dyk whilst seasoned tech heads made their way across the festival to see the likes of Planet E boss Carl Craig, Loco Dice Adam Beyer and Scuba  and house lovers checked out the sounds of Carl Cox, Dennis Ferrer and Mark Knight amongst countless others as every major genre catered for. So with so much variety on offer timetabling problems were bound to occur and no amount of programming prowess would have prevented the inevitable set time clashes that would happen. With multiple tents and a series of purpose built stages on offer we thus spent the festival traversing the site hopping from one stage to another to soak in the full SW4 experience whilst avoiding the rain.

Festival Highlights and conclusion

Whilst it would be impossible to give an honorable mention to every DJ who more than delivered at this years SW4 without turning this into an academic essay we can share some of the performances with you that will live particularly long in the memory. As big fans of Carl Craig we were always going to go and check out what the Detroit veteran had to offer and the as always the innovative techno don did not disappoint. Whilst other luminary figures from the Motor City have seen their stars fade over the years Carl’s is a repertoire that seems to be boundless in its imagination as even now his sets make for unpredictable affairs full of invention and contemporary sounds whilst retrofitting that classic edge to his performance.  Speaking of classic it wouldn’t be SW4 without a trademark performance from living legend Carl Cox. Whilst we caught Mr. Cox twice over the course of the festival it will be his back to back performance with Desolat boss Loco Dice that stays with us for years to come. Pulsating from the outset the pair played to a raucously packed tent and wasted no time in getting proceedings suitably jacking to push up energy levels and stave off any potential rain related fatigue. Other excellent performances were delivered by Diynamic’s Solomun, Adam Beyer and the disco loving Tensnake who did his best to ramp up the summery vibes.

Sunday’s bookings saw some equally noteworthy performances with Blond:ish, Scuba and Crazy P all more than delivering on their pre-festival hype. Boys Noize put in a particularly energetic shift even by his own illustrious standards, mixing crashing electro, techno and other genres into one seamless performance. With EDM fans rushing off to catch chart topper Nicky Romero, the cake throwing Steve Aoki and bass heavy duo Knife Party it was two of the scenes legendary figures that impressed us most with Sven Vath and Laurent Garnier stealing the show on the Sunday. Papa Sven delivered one of  his most varied and accomplished sets which considering his iconic status within the scene is quite some compliment and we were pleased to finally catch him in the UK in the flesh. The irrepressible Laurent Garnier was in similar form, with the Frenchman skipping through genres and eras with ease. Garnier has long been one of the capitals favorite Gallic imports and on this showing it is easy to see why. All in all a fantastic weekend of music over in Clapham and all that was missing was the sunshine which we’re sure we’ll be blessed with for next years instalment. See you on the Common next year…

Grahame Farmer

Grahame Farmer’s love affair with electronic music goes back to the mid-90s when he first began to venture into the UK’s beloved rave culture, finding himself interlaced with some of the country’s most seminal club spaces. A trip to dance music’s anointed holy ground of Ibiza in 1997 then cemented his sense of purpose and laid the foundations for what was to come over the next few decades of his marriage to the music industry.

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