The first thing you notice on the walk up to the venue, a sports ground in Copthill, North London, is its inclusivity. No two attendees are the same. Groups of friends in bodycon dresses and neon trainers strut beside older ravers chasing the highs of the 90s, an appetite for a good time the only thing in common. This diverse and down to earth crowd made for impeccable vibes throughout the day. People were non-judgemental, and clearly cared more about dancing than getting the perfect picture for their socials.
Inside the festival itself, it was stripped back; frills, decorations and gimmicks clearly sacrificed to accommodate cheaper entry prices. This wasn’t too missed in most of the tents, as sound levels didn’t suffer, but more lights or hidden surprises could have added some needed colour to the rain sodden site. There were a few very intense looking fairground rides and an overcrowded VIP area – as seemingly 80% of the festival had access to the latter, it felt about as exclusive as a McDonalds.
Norman Jay MBE in the Dolly Rockers tent was a highlight, as he kicked the late afternoon off with a wide selection of disco tracks, behind a giant inflatable mouth. His setlist had a bit of everything, from well feel-good classics like Elton John’s ‘Are you ready for love?’ to deeper cuts including a new favourite of mine, ‘Knee Deep’ by Nassau Rules: a trumpet-filled bassy banger from the early 2000s. Dimitri from Paris, on the main stage, was another disco-heavy set in the day, but his set felt safe and downbeat. The finishing song, John Paul Young’s ‘Love is in the air’, was far too mellow to get people excited, despite all the efforts of some scantily clad dancers and men in disco ball suits.
Deep house, Disco, and tech house seemed to be the main flavours of the day across the festival, and at times I craved something more driving and industrial. Luckily, there were other sounds to escape to though, and I enjoyed a set full of R&B classics from Rampage at their stage, the whole crowd whining and singing along to Ginuwine – ‘Pony’, before Terri Walker took to the stage for a captivating live set of neo-soul. The Back to 95 tent was the go-to place for garage, bass and jungle throughout the day, and Kallaghan and MC Creed got the evening started with plenty of throwbacks from the likes of Hard Drive and Double 99. The crowd participation did get a bit tedious though; in my opinion, one “Oggy, oggy, oggy, oi, oi,oi” is far more than enough.
General Levy finished the night off for us, although we were spoiled for choice with other headliners including Louis Vega, David Morales, and Omar. Set in the slightly overpacked Rampage tent, all the energy of the last day seemed to peak for this final performance, with gun fingers jabbing the sweat heavy air left right and centre. “Do we have any jungalists in the room?” he asked the clearly junglist heavy crowd before launching into one of his famous featured tracks, ‘Incredible’ by M Beat, the whole tent screaming ‘junglist massive’ to assert their place in the culture.
Despite the heavy rain and dark clouds, 51st Festival 2023 made for a bright celebration of dance music, for ravers from all walks of life. With a truly inclusive atmosphere and ticket prices that have refused to inflate alongside others in the industry, it’s a refreshing reminder of why so many of us, old and young, fell in love with the scene in the first place. If solace can’t be found in the sun, it can be found in a sweaty tent, surrounded by hedonistic people.