Reviewed: Shambala Festival 2019
A few years ago I began to hear reports from some very trusted friends that Shambala Festival was the best festival in the UK. For some reason (namely that it sells out so fast) it has taken me a long time to finally get down and make my own assessment…
After 4 nights and 4 days of what can only be described as pure festival bliss I can now confirm that my friends are no longer the only ones spreading these reports… Shambala Festival is undoubtedly the most wholesome, grounding, crazy place I have ever found myself can-in-hand on a summers day. The production is ridiculously tight. It feels a lot like the rest of the festivals in the UK serve as market research for Shambala Festival and they then pull together the best elements into a guaranteed formula for good times. What is essentially a fairly small site manages to pack loads of stages in – from geo-domes to dirty dub corners, grandeur to stripped down simplicity, forest magic to main stage sunshine… it somehow has the effect that you could be at 3 different festivals and every corner brings a new sensation and energy. The rabbit hole goes deep.
The true heart and soul of this festival, however, is the people. Dressed to kill in the most outlandish and fabulous way possible, you can’t meet someone here without pulling ridiculous shapes; laughing till you cry and partying till your body can take no more. Shambala Festival has managed to gather serious debaucherous party starters but with a noted absence of the slightly tiresome recklessness of other festivals on the circuit. Finally, there were the families. I’m the first to admit that I’m not always a fan of partying around kids – the camp chair brigade can be right up there with 6am militant sun bed stealers. But it is the joy of the kids and their party mentor parents that really sets this one apart. It served as a nice reminder that things don’t have to just be chippy tea and school reports if you go down that road. Everyone embraces the family vibes and in all fairness, I can’t think of a better place for them to get a snippet of how their elders let loose.
In the midst of all this was an unreal soundtrack… from Folk to Funk, DnB to Techno, Deep Electro to Psychedelic Disco – the whole weekend was a cascade of underground wonders. I could write a book about this festival but as I don’t know how much time you have I’ll keep it to the highlights.
Holding Hands Records is the brainchild of Desert Sound Colony and have been putting out some absolute dance floor slammers since it’s inception. Adam Pits took the helm in Data Mine on the first night to show us what they’re all about…
Data Mine is like partying in the hub of a lost space cruiser marooned on the banks of a distant planet. It’s walls lined with ancient symbols, slowly glowing and pulsating to the beat of a new master. Dropping dirty electro breaks with broken panning jungle drums, deep rolling basslines and gritty synths, this was the first time I have come across a breakbeat-influenced sound that has really captured me. Progressive and clean with just the right amount of filth, Adam Pits slayed the decks and the people responded.
Tropical Tea Party
Chai Wallahs has become something of a staple diet on the circuit for some time now but Shambala Festival feels like its spiritual home. Tropical Tea Party were without a doubt the toughest, funkiest electronic act of the weekend in that space, blending jungle rollers from DJ Hiphoppapotamus with live brass and a whole host of lyrical prowess. Special note has to go to MC Feline who got everyone on a whole other level of hype and must have racked up some serious mic time, jumping on sets left, right and centre all weekend! This crew are the injection of ridiculous fun that every festival needs.
The biggest shock of the weekend has got to be stumbling into the Roots Yard, stepping to hard dub flavours for a good ten minutes before realising that the DJ was about 10 years old and could barely be seen above the decks. This is Shambala Festival in a nutshell, bringing kids through the ranks and watching them shine. After a stint spinning in true sound system style, we were then treated to a microphone session. To say this kid killed it would be a disservice. In the spirit of the festival, the whole crowd went from being spread all over the tent to rushing forward, skanking out and showing mad love to the young veteran. I have been following the UK sound system scene for a long time now, but never have I seen someone so young represent that hard.
Rinse FM resident and M.I.A’s DJ Emerald brought a very different dimension to the big top Kamikaze stage. Dancing an intricate balance between tough carnival, UK Bass, instrumental grime and all the pockets in between – Emerald took us on a journey through her musical spectrum. Mixing themes and moods more than genres, the set was refreshingly unpredictable and had people going absolutely wild. Emerald was by far the most energetic DJ behind the decks all weekend, her screw-face and moves winning us over as much as the tunes themselves.
There is something poignant about stepping into the woods at night at any festival. An almost childlike intrigue and wonder comes over you as you duck and weave your own path into the mystery. This place was mesmerising visually; with incredible lighting, a huge sequenced beat machine that can be operated by about 20 people (who often got stuck there for hours) and an incredible wonky tree house DJ booth overseeing affairs. Junq played a mesmerising live set of melodic deep electro that moved seamlessly into crunchy squelchy acid lines. Tonal drone sounds emanated around the forest to a slow progressive glitch and the whole dance floor was in a grooving trance. There was a really lovely moment for the main man as he dropped the beautiful ‘Lila Dreams’ (named after his daughter) as she watched on from the crowd. Special times.
Aries & Kelvin 373
Born On Road label bosses Aries & Kelvin 373 were the main act I was determined to catch all weekend. These guys are absolute masters of all things jungle and thankfully played on the heaviest system in the festival at the Roots Yard. Rammed to the rafters, sweat pouring off the punters and gun fingers galore – Aries & Kelvin 373 sparked chaos. The depth of the record bag and the clinical synergy formed between the two marks them as one of the best jungle/dnb acts in the country. In the last half hour, they upped the ante and dropped killer after killer pretty much every 30 seconds – getting the crowd so excited I thought someone might explode. Top marks.
Then came Iglooghost on Sunday night. This man has some big names from the scene singing his praises, but he lived up to all the hype and then some. It felt a lot like the Matrix party in the last stronghold, as the master of the dance beat the tribal drum to gather his people for one last showdown. We were all taken captive and this musical mastermind controlled us at his will. Gut punching garagey sub bass morphed into a carnival half step and deep into a hypnotic psychedelic stomp-inducing house. I would love to tell you more but this was probably one of the best DJ acts of my life and the dancing was too good to scribe the whole experience. All I can say for sure is that you should do everything in your power to catch this man when you can.
Friends on shoulders and smiles all around, kids in awe, a crew dressed as an ode to blockbuster, a moustachioed man in a gimp suit and all the rest gathered as fireworks lit the sky and ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ by Queen rang through the air… Simultaneously one of the sweetest and strangest moments of my life. It was at that second I realised this had gone from a great weekend to a new tradition – one that will be in the calendar by default like Christmas. I think we all know that a festival is a British summer necessity… a temporary escape to a strange pseudo-society where normal life slips away. Shambala Festival, however, feels a lot more like coming home after a long day.
Thanks to the production crew at Shambala Festival for having us down – see you next year!
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Photography credit: Louise Roberts, George Harrison, Ania Shrimpton