GALA Festival 2019: small but perfectly formed
If there’s any event that could wrench me out of the work-quagmire I’ve been glooping around in for the past few months, it’s GALA. Having said ‘no’ to so many things for so long, the memory of last year’s edition — bright sun, stellar line-up, minimal queues, maximum vibe — was reason enough to get myself over to Peckham Rye Park for another round of the festival that’s fast becoming a worthy stalwart of the London festival season. Bright sun not withstanding, it was the right decision. Even shrouded in the grey threat of an eventual downpour, GALA 2019 delivered on every count.
After last year’s ecstatic success, you might expect the GALA team, drunk on rave reviews and a (presumably) healthy profit, to try to up the ante: more tickets mean more money, right? But bigger doesn’t always mean better — just ask the people behind Sunfall 2017, at whom I’ll never not be furious for making me wait 90 minutes for a chicken nugget. Instead of transforming over the year into the kind of promoter fat cats we’ve all come to know and hate, the good people at GALA have kept it decidedly real. A short queue goes a long way when you’re six beers in and as desperate for the loo as you are to get front right for Midland.
Speaking of whom - and I can only apologise for putting Midland in the same sentence as toilets — the short loo queues weren’t the only things back for another year and killing it. Having blown the roof off Horse Meat Disco’s Pleasure Dome in 2018, Midland returned to challenge his own record for Facilitator of Sweatiest Crowd and won. The (much) denser atmosphere was a shift after the open-air and expansive disco selections of Dan Shakes over on the Main Stage but every bit as rousing.
Post-Midland, and looking a lot like we’d got into a shower with our clothes on, we made our way over to the Cooking With Palms Trax stage, where Young Marco was bringing different kind of acid-inflected heat. Back at the Pleasure Dome a little later, the crowd burst the tent’s banks, spilling out onto the surrounding grassland so as not to miss out on Gerd Jansen’s percussive electro.
Just as I thought I’d dried out over at the Main Stage, in the middle of Honey Dijon’s bright, rich set, the heavens opened. At exactly this point I got separated from my pals and found myself standing next to the actress from my favourite horror movie who, only weeks before, I’d watched kill her entire family in celluloid before joining with Satan. Holding my arms up with her to feel the rain on our palms was — even for beers-only me — disarmingly ritualistic. The trippiness of the moment was exacerbated by Honey Dijon’s increasingly delirious selections, and before I could ask her if she wanted to live deliciously I made a dash back to my friends.
Buzzing from stage to bar to tent to stage again is rewarded at a small but perfectly formed festival like GALA. Although the line-up leans heavily towards house, testament to its own special power is the breadth of experience it offers —sweaty intensity can shift to open-armed ecstasy in under a minute. A palpable respect for artists and festival-goers alike pulses through every element of this special festival, and after another stellar year I trust the people behind it to protect it at all costs.
Photos by Jake Davis
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