Set in the rambling hills of Eastnor Castle, Herefordshire, El Dorado returned for its second year of bass leaning music from across the house, d’n’b and live spectrum. Headlined by Groove Armada, Bondax and The Sugarhill Gang, this year featured sets from Denis Sulta, Redlight, Hot 8 Brass Band and Shy FX, as well as growing talent from the UK bassline scene.
Cirque Du Soul, the brains behind the festival, are a Leeds club night turned travelling party collective. They describe their parties as a place where “burlesque meets bass.” El Dorado is pitched in much the same way. The website conjured up images of an immersive circus experience with ball pits, fire breathers, acrobats and art installations; a place of enchantment and near otherworldliness…..OK. The marketing might have been a slight over-pitch, but I’ll cut them some slack, as they got the important stuff right – it was one of the most smoothly run small festivals I’ve been to, and this was only its second year. The arena ran like clockwork, the sound was spot on at every stage, bars were well stocked and fast moving. The nearly 4000 strong crowd were well up for a party, and the atmosphere was pure unpretentious good times.
Cirque du Soul are essentially a house and bass collective, but the lineup covered a whole host of names from chart, tech, bassline, disco, reggae and jungle. However, the curation didn’t take many risks, and a few of the names could have been lifted straight from a poster for a 1998 club night off Junction 11 – Congo Natty, Artful Dodger, Shy FX, Kenny Ken – granted, they all know how to get a dancefloor going, but their sets have become more than a bit predictable. I’m all for some old skool and have massive respect for these guys, but surely we can do better than Jungle is Massive and the not-so-original Nuttah?
The Lost Ruins, the designated late-night sweatbox stage, played host to the pick of the house lineup, including Dusky, Denis Sulta and Dan Shake. On Friday, Denis Sulta did what he does best; Chicago bangers and pumping house. Dan Shake brought the dancefloor through to sunrise, weaving Samba, Afro and jazz through crisp 4/4 rhythms and warm house. It was genre pushing and brimming with groove.
Dusky’s Saturday night closer was a strong contender for best of the festival. The signature big room house sound from their last album made way for darker, edgier sounds and crispy, energetic techno. It was a real pummelling sort of set and a reminder that they’re way more than a clean house duo.
Sunday was all about the Holy Bail stage, and 3 hours of Greg Wilson in the sun. Despite the 3 day hangovers and festival wide heat stroke, Greg brought the perfect Summer mood to the slightly woozy crowd with a flawless journey through disco and feel good house; from Sister Sledge to Todd Terje.
This years’ event was completely ‘cashless’. To me, this usually means endless queuing for bar tokens which inevitably get lost, or remain in my handbag for months after the event. However, El Dorado did away with the tokens system, adding a chip to every festival wristband, which could be topped up online before and during the festival. No cash machine queues, no lost purses and no need real need for a bag – great news for a girl who likes to dance with all her limbs.
El Dorado is a festival with a lot of potential. In just 2 years it has built a following of loyal under 25s and passionate bass heads. The scenery is truly beautiful, and the site, which used to host The Big Chill, is big enough to allow El Dorado to blossom over the next few years. Cirque du Soul proved they have the logistical thinking to make El Dorado a success. As the festival grows, I hope they’ll get more adventurous with their bookings, and I look forward to seeing their creative vision fully realised.
Thank you, El Dorado, for a wonderful weekend. We will see you again next year!