This weekend Tofte Manor in Bedford played host to Labyrinth – a one day, two stage, house-ridden dive back into the good life. The team behind the event had been on standby, waiting anxiously to hear how the next barrage of restrictions and rules might challenge them, and challenge they did. DJ Koze, MCDE and José Gonzàlez all had to be pulled fairly last minute due to travel issues. Luckily for us, they were replaced with DJ sets from Floating Points, Maribou State and Jungle – a pretty serious trio of power subs!
The festival was set on the grounds of a beautiful old mansion and spread across two stages. We had a more traditional main stage looking out over rolling fields and a cosier pagoda meets traditional English garden party spot… It looked a bit like your grans old garden furniture got bang into disco and grew about 30ft in the air with the pure god damn energy of the whole thing. Sprinkle a few flags and some right-up-for-it shape pulling punters and yeah…You get the picture! While the smaller of the two was the more obvious aesthetic draw, the sound system was really throwing out at the main stage and all it took was one good hook to lure you over the field.
In all honesty, people were just ecstatic to be dancing again, stumbling along a grassy bank and chatting their absolute chops off to whoever fancied listening. There was a “We’re here to party, but we’ve also just missed funny strangers” vibe that lingered all day. Perhaps more importantly, the festival was full – despite the fact it wasn’t at capacity and there were some tickets on the door. Keeping the festival to two stages meant there was always a good number at both but had there been another 1000 people they would have been overloaded. Gotta have space to get down – a total blessing in disguise.
Whether you’re a bedroom DJ or used to touring the world, everyone has been stuck at home serenading their dog with bangers. It’s been tough. This is why in the pictures you might notice an array of serious faces on the artists… What I can tell you is that those faces were the result of an “It’s been a while and I want to smash this” mentality and they were all genuinely having a banging time. This wasn’t clapping and grooving about making loads of eye contact with an adoring dancefloor kind of party – this was them getting their life back and that’s something to take seriously. All the artists were right in the zone and enjoying their moment to share their craft again and the result was… Well, fucking great. I had to peel myself away to check each stage in turn but there were some definite highlights…
Elder Island were incredible. Playing early on at 2pm, this was the perfect goosebump inducing balance of emotional calm and face scrunching dancefloor satisfaction. That first shared smile and nod to a stranger, locking eyes just as they burst into shapes. Glorious. These guys actually caught me off guard. To me, Elder Island had always been something I’d opt for at an after sesh when I need a few minutes of wholesome. Or on a nice train journey watching a city disappear in the window… But this was something entirely different. Elder Island carefully manipulate a naughtiness when you give them a line of subs on a main stage system. They dip in and out of melancholy and “Let’s be having you then” without blinking. But the best bit isn’t just that they killed it on stage… At the earliest opportunity, they were right in the midst of the main stage crowd themselves, getting down and soaking up the mood. There is nothing more satisfying than turning around and seeing a great act shun the dry backstage networking for a good time. Yes, yes, yes!
Nabihah Iqbal of NTS and Ninja Tune was bursting with broad selections that were clearly the result of some heavy digging during lockdown. They were cutting between breaksy stuff, disco, garage and had the smaller stage absolutely popping once she’d found her flow. Josey Rebelle was probably the bravest DJ in that space, going down whole 80s robotic electro moments despite all the disco and softer house before them. Those who were into it lauded it and those that didn’t could go elsewhere – Josey couldn’t have cared less and I have time for that.
It will come as no surprise that Floating Points killed it. Give that man 3 hours, a decent crowd, a pair of decks and magic is happening. The first hour and a half, in particular, made me wonder if he’d been playing with the amps or bribing the sound engineer. However he did it, that man knows how to drive a bassline. With barely a flicker on his face and a cold hard stare down the barrel of the mixer, we were treated to an absolute journey of rare disco and old school Chicago house while he casually dipped his toe in acid and garage.
The biggest and most welcome surprise was that the best DJ set came from Jungle. Having been in love with them as a band for years, I was very keen to hear what a Jungle record bag might sound like. But would it be a selector jobby? Could he mix? Hot damn sweet sweet lord have mercy he could. On the menu was an absolute barrage of pumping world influenced disco and tribal house grooves with full power African vocals waiting around every corner. This was the man to close the day and under the watching presence of the now lit English pagoda, people went absolutely mental! This was also the most interesting and unconventional mixing of the day. You could tell this person hasn’t learnt about the structure of music from a strictly electronic perspective. There was no waiting around for loops and 4×4 drops. This mix was layered and shifting all the time. Constantly catching the crowd off guard with the next leap into a bit of funk or vocal hook. The only other person I have heard mix in that way (with complete disregard for the normal breakdowns of a track that a DJ might listen for and use) is DJRUM. And technically he’s probably the best DJ in the UK now – so that is as big a compliment as I can muster. I will be actively dragging my crew to a Jungle DJ set next time it’s on a lineup, put it that way.
Alright, so there we have it. In case you can’t tell it was a right old party and there’s a lot of good things to be said. There is, however, one negative that simply has to be addressed and that is the 10pm end time (and the lack of draft pints). Although the experience felt fully rounded and there wasn’t much missing, the crowd was having it large by the time it had to end. The organisers had done a massive job getting this party right and there was an unavoidable sigh of disappointment when it had an abrupt end and we had to go on missions home. All I can say is that wanting a party to go on is a positive thing. These guys know what they are doing and hopefully, this can be a platform for them to look at extending the festival into a two or three day camping experience. Or they might think about throwing an afterparty in a London club space… That aside – this was a strong first outing for the Labyrinth crew and we look forward to seeing future plans!