Reviewed: Deep South Festival
Arriving at the designated rendezvous point for 11:15am, I was fully aware that nothing really started ‘til 12, and so found myself a spot on the campsite to pitch my tent. Under the inconsistent sunshine, I headed over to the entrance and swapped stories with Dan, one of the organisers of Deep South Festival. He informed me of the woe and horror of having to leave their original site in the wake of a death at a nearby sex festival – and how they had to re-organise 90% of the event in just a matter of days – I sympathised greatly, but felt confident that things would go well nonetheless…
As the festival opened, all 3 stages were ready with DJs: the Main stage playing classic Funk & Soul, the Lake Stage dropping a sort of Minimal / Tech funkery, and the Club Of Hearts hidden away in the forest, playing soulful sounds with a bit of a romantic twist – though that may have just been my impeccable timing! With the flyer detailing only the main stage, there was a sense that the focus was mostly here, while the other two served as a respite from the live acts, and specifically for those wanting to churn solid grooves through their systems.
Bird Noire were first on the bill of Saturday’s live act line-up, performing a dreamy slew of synth-based serenity. The enigmatic duo drew waves of the 80s downbeat to their audience, while the sun was having a rare moment of fame. The beautifully haunting song-style echoed familiarity and sadness all at once but kept a very chilled precedent in mind.
Venturing back into the woods, the way was decorated with eye candy and wonderment in the form of ribbons descending from the branches above, and trees with graff-plaques, where festival-goers could write on boards with crayons and felt-pens, provided in a neat box below. Already, a wide variety of submissions had been left; from the prophetic and inspirational, to the curiously offbeat musings of those possibly well into their ‘party-spirit’.
Scheduling had gone a tad awry – most likely owing to the change in site – so by the time I’d made it back to the main stage, Carmody was on. Supported by a band that she led through sublime vocal harmonies, and who reinforced her performance with great musicianship, this was the first act [of a few] to bring me to a self-perpetuating roll/re-roll of tears – thankfully, I was already wearing sunglasses at that point, as the clouds had made way for blinding sunshine seconds after another bit of rain had stopped. However, despite the melancholia rooted deep within the lyrics and melodies, the energy radiating into the crowd was far from solemn, and with the exception of about ten people, everyone was groovin’!
Next up were Leyendekker, who drove a melodically saddened set from sombre notes to emphatic heights, striking an almost triumphant energy through every number performed. It became increasingly clear with each live act that every push, beat, strum or otherwise, was moving the main stage toward a climax that I would not be able to fathom yet…
Getting my breath back, I headed to the festival entrance to touch base with some of the organisers. I arrived as a trio of guys were leaving the desk and getting their things together. “Hi, how you doing?”, one of them said extending his hand. I obliged and introduced myself. The others reciprocated and we shredded through small-talk about their journey down and [of course] the weather. Dan asked how I was finding the festival so far, to which I sputtered something incoherently positive.
“Yeah? Great. These guys are really good!”, he said, gesturing to the lads I had just met. “They’re on next!”
All The People were poised at their respective instruments and/or microphones, still very much the humble threesome I had just met some twenty minutes ago. Outside was darker now, and the evening had well and truly come, perfectly complementing some of their trippy timbres as a scarce glow of light barely shone on any of them. There was an introspective blur between music and message, allowing for a change from what had come before, but still continuing to warm-up for those yet to come, preparing to submerge the audience into what felt like a pending intensity.
Taking some time away from the main stage for a moment, I found myself in the company of a like-minded individual: an actor-cum-rapper who was assisting in matters behind scenes. With some spare time between acts, we ventured into the woods to see how things were elsewhere. Discussing the state of the contemporary mainstream versus the ever-evolving underground, and the woes of having not packed my charger – idiot! – We settled on returning to the main stage, as the Lake Stage had shut up shop for the night. Aware of our own state of fatigue, we somehow managed to arrive with a pair of chairs, perching sensibly to the side: enjoying the music and atmosphere, without impacting anyone’s experience.
With Little Cub now on, a different sort of energy was ringing in the limbs of the ever-dancing crowd. Between catchy hooks that echoed the likes of Hot Chip, the mix of Pop-styled electronica and organic song-making was a cleverly scheduled feature here.
Before I had set off for the festival, I was advised by someone that Throwing Snow would be a worthy wait in the evening… and indeed he was. Gracing the decks, he started things off fairly predictably, moving through 4/4 rhythms, and expectable Tech sounds. But as he moved forward, slowing the pace to a more downbeat scene, things started to get really interesting! By the time he was back in the mid-120s, it was with broken beats under spikier sounds, with occasional movements inside an electronic glitch-funk. I was definitely impressed, and taken by surprise when his set ran seamlessly into the prelude/sound-check of what was identifiably the headliners.
“Is this them, d’ya reckon?” my new pal mused as we both chewed on E-numbered confectionery that a generous fellow was handing out.
“I guess so, yeah, probably”, I offered before taking note of that familiar feeling of an epic performance being heralded by the warbling of gnarly synths: “Yeah, man…. this is definitely them!”
Dark Sky were well & truly performing live tonight. With their gear-heavy setup and almost narratively-structured setlist, they seemed to be channeling the inception of Acid House, and all those that it and relevant rave-culture had inspired and brought with it along the way. With gestural nods to the likes of The Chemical Brothers and Orbital (to name but two), this was an incredible journey that paced its feverish followers effectively, pushing them pretty hard but allowing them recovery time before getting back on pulse. Sculpting the soundscape by switching between sub-genres, I found myself in the throws of a light education for my new pal: coming from a predominantly Hip-Hop background, this terrain was unfamiliar to him, so I offered updates on the difference in style between segments of Acid, Techno, and Tech House – all of which and more, constantly being ebbed through.
One of the highest points of the set, however, was towards the end, where an extensive climax was laid so perfectly, that both of us knew the drop would be mind-blowing, to which we simultaneously shot onto our feet and body-shocked in unison for the remainder of the show, to a point beyond all physical concerns (ie. tiredness, discomfort etc), where mind and musicality met in fervent frenzy.
Filled with an alternative adrenaline, and with no-one on stage, we went in search of more music and found ourselves back in a now fully-packed Club Of Hearts, where we stayed. In the throng, while most groups of people were with friends or lovers, I witnessed an awkward moment between two girl-friends where one was enjoying the warmth of a stockier gentleman-friend while the other was unimpressed and bent on staring her down while she backed into him. Painfully amusing as this was, relief was granted to all involved when the music stopped and the crowd dispersed in different directions. The next hour or so was spent by most trying to find somewhere to continue partying, accompanied with whines of disbelief in the day’s events having concluded at 3AM – some 15 hours after it had begun, I might add!
After befriending the cohorts of the last DJ to play that night – who had quite impressively based their camp out of a Volkswagen Type 2 – it was something around 4AM when I made the responsible decision to call it Day 1 and head back to my dinky little red-piece situated a very damp hundred yards away. I covered myself in the heavy waterproof coat I’d relied on, and let the falling rain lull me to sleep.
A bitter cold, on account of romanticised memories from the last time I camped out, meant that I was up at about 7AM, making the most of the sunshine that was drying out my tent. Pained by both the hard ground and lack of a working device, I went in search of a charger…
Miracles were abundant as a generous young lad was able to lend me the inconveniently specific lead that could and would go on to bring me back into the digital fold. I thanked him profusely, and wandered in search of enlightenment. Before long, I found myself involved in a game of Frisbee for an extended moment, after another of the organisers advised that there would be some incredible solo and acoustic acts on a stage that had long been set up in the campsite itself.
Swiftly following that, a DJ began in said tent, providing a set-list ideal for the hangover most were probably feeling, the first of which [to my most utterly immense delight] was a Stan Kenton number – as sampled by Pharcyde for seminal Hip-Hop classic “Runnin”. From here on out, I knew the day coming would be wholly different from the day gone by, and that I was at an event led by people that genuinely knew what they were doing.
Having had the chance to freshen up, invigorated and regenerated by the hot showers available, I was in a much better mindset, and a spring in my step, to return to the main stage at 3pm. Here, Verushka was initiating proceedings to blissfully chilled effect, supported by a number of musicians – which included the aforementioned Dan laying down some incredible sax licks!
Between acts, I returned to the campsite stage, discovering Milly Upton whose angelic voice was beautifully disarming as it sang lyrics that would brighten even the darkest of comedowns.
Back at the main stage, my new pal from yesterday was hosting, introducing an urban three-piece that were appearing without their drummer. Though no official explanation was given, none was needed: the remaining members of Normanton Street performed an acoustic set that was perfect in every way. With highlights that featured the running lyric “…with the Alpha” (see the Snapchat), and a soulful and sultry turn from their female vocalist, here was a group of musicians that were individually talented in their own right, each taking a turn in the limelight with the support of the others. Advertising the sale of their CD after the gig, I left to grab a fiver from my tent.
What became the final performance of the weekend, Ashley Ashong’s earthy cool radiated off him like the groove he brought the audience through… and before even approaching his microphone! The band was phenomenal, and his natural prowess as a performer was clear from his effortless slips into improvisation and session-jamming. A true master of his art, the stage was lit with love from start to finish, evident from the invitation he opened to musicians he knew were nearby. From there on, an extended set played into the evening, and the final day eventually came to a soulful close.
Despite an unfortunate collapse of circumstances at the almost-eleventh hour, the festival was undoubtedly a success. And while the talent booked were exceptional – literally, every single act on the main stage was genuinely impressive: a sentiment echoed by everyone I spoke with – it was in no small part due to the spirit and enthusiasm, borne out of love for the product, from both the wider crew and specialist teams at each level. From having the original site shut down to finding and managing a replacement (and then amending everything else accordingly), these guys and girls surpassed all expectations, overcoming every hurdle, and successfully putting on a very promising sign of things to come. Definitely a recommended addition to next year’s festival calendar, I wholeheartedly urge you to venture DEEP SOUTH!