Review: GALA Festival 2018
Photo: Steve Stills
With organisers made of weaker stuff, Gala Festival might not exist today. Its inaugural year, back in 2016, was plagued with problems. Mistakes were made and festival-goers suffered through interminable queues for entry, food, drinks and loos. It was no Fyre Festival in terms of failures, but it wasn’t great. Sunfall Festival, who after a super successful first year invited what seemed like a million too many people to last year’s event, didn’t even bother this year. But not Gala — rather than give up on the idea entirely, the organisers dusted themselves off and, armed with lessons learned by trying, tried again. And thank the gods of music they did. Their 2017 edition was a sell-out success, but this year’s festival was truly the glow up they deserved.
Earlier in the year, it seemed like those particular gods weren’t on their side. 2018 has seen a difficult period of negotiations for London festivals. The result of which has seen Gala, Field Day and Love Box play a potentially ruinous game of venue musical chairs. Field Day has moved to Brockwell Park aka the scene of Sunfall’s demise, and Gala has moved away from it. Thankfully, this particular festival is all the better for the move — perhaps Field Day will come good, but so far Gala seem to have found greener grass over in Peckham Rye Park.
To kick this thing off, let’s go first to sound quality — a vital aspect to any festival, and one which has been central to the demise of a fair few. I wasn’t there with my decibel meter, but in comparison with other London festivals in previous years, Gala’s sound seemed to me significantly louder and crisper. There was little to no sound-bleed between stages once you were in front of them, and it was entirely possible to have an immersive experience. There’s nothing worse than having a set ruined by Jenny having a shouty conversation with Rachel about having just bumped into her ex at the tequila bar. Thank you, Gala, for saving us all from that.
Thank you also for putting some serious thought into layout. Gala looked good. Sure, the scorching sun and clear blues skies helped, but that the organisers had taken the time to create covered seating areas, a stage tucked amongst the trees, and a main stage that was at the bottom of a slope and directly opposite the main bar (v important!!) did not go unnoticed. There were abundant food trucks (Honest Burger, thank you for existing), and I didn’t wait for a drink for more than five minutes at any point. One time I walked straight into a loo. STRAIGHT IN! Unheard of.
Anyway, to the music. Tung fave Mafalda made excellent use of her unreal record collection over on the Main Stage early doors and, in making some inspired disco, soul and world music choices (literally none of which I’d heard before), very decisively got the party going. Later, Honey Dijon was the talk of the festival as many migrated to the Pleasure Dome to start a sweat-fest that didn’t let up until the last person walked out of that tent when the night was over.
Next we tore ourselves away, drenched, to check out Greg Wilson over on the Main Stage and we were not disappointed. He blew us away with one of the most eclectic crowd-pleasing sets of the day; we had Fleetwood Mac, we had Michael Jackson, we had Kendrick Lamar, all mixed into a well-judged disco and house-inflected set that drew a bigger and bigger crowd as it rolled on. From there we forewent Crazy P to seek out Midland back at the Pleasure Dome who was, predictably, an absolute dream from start to finish. His final track, Fern Kinney’s ‘Love Me Tonight’ was a real moment. To finish off the day, we switched between Mr Scruff b2b Bradley Zero at the Rhythm Section stage and Derrick Carter, and gave ourselves a final drenching in disco, soul, house and funk.
To conclude, Gala was a vibe. It was also — and sorry to get cheesy here —an inspiring example of a refusal to give up on an idea. Congratulations to all involved for delivering a faultless day to a huge crowd of happy people. As for me, I ate, I drank, I danced, I got an incredibly sunburned forehead. What more could a girl ask for?