Sunfall: Magic and Mayhem in Lambeth
For the second year in succession, Brockwell Park played host to Sunfall. Curated by the team behind two of London’s best loved nightclubs – XOYO and Phonox, the latter particularly famous for Sunday night sessions that have less respect for Monday mornings than an undergraduate office intern - the one-day affair promised much to London’s music loving community. It seemed that there was no need to journey to Norfolk for Craig Richard’s Houghton: it was possible, right in the heart of London, to listen to an eclectic line-up spanning the generations who’ve made dance music what it is today.
Nowhere was this more evident than in the Main Stage line-up. Gilles Peterson – a man who’s wide-ranging taste has been delighting audiences for over thirty years – was afforded an early slot; Mr Larry Heard himself the closing. Relative newcomers, but festival veterans in their own right, Motor City Drum Ensemble (who dropped vintage hits like Moodymann’s ‘Don’t you want my love’) and Floating Points later followed one another in playing to what felt like a Glastonbury-sized audience.
Sound great? Well, consider the fact that Brockwell Park is about one square kilometre, and think again. The size of the Main Stage crowd was indicative of a festival that was oversold and logistically ill-thought out - long queues for entry, food and drink the most obvious gripe. For the heads, the inability, unless superglued to the Main Stage’s speakers, to hear many of the diamonds unearthed from an array of exceptional crates, was a more serious frustration, particularly at a festival whose organisers had made such a song anddance about bringing in the best of the best systems. Aware of London’s stringent noise regulations, the more streetwise punters opted to head inside for a more inclusive feel at any of the three remaining stages.
The North Stage was a triumph. Peggy Gou killed the early bird slot, stirring up the energy of a lacklustre mini-crowd, growing her following in size and vibe until eventually eliciting the shoe removal crescendo which has become customary whenever the South Korean takes to the turntables. Shanti Celeste arrived in time to remove her own shoes, before promptly taking to the technics and dropping Jaydee’s classic ‘Plastic Dreams’. It was a typical move from a classy operator, whose elegant set of honest house was indicative of someone totally at ease with her chosen craft. Finishing bass heavy, the handover was to Helena Hauff, who brings an air of authority to the decks. Wasting no time in lighting a roll-up, the Hamburg native promptly turned up the heat. Like all the best techno selectors, when Helena is in control it can, for those in attendance, feel like an ascent to another planet: the sooner we colonise it, the better.
The East Stage had been opened by Phonox resident HAAI, who later returned to close the stage by going back-to-back with The Black Madonna aka Marea Stamper, Mixmag’s 2016 DJ of the year. As day turned to night, the unfurling of ‘Trance Wax 7’ – the latest in a series of anonymous vinyl only releases - was an inspired selection from two fine artists who have developed a fruitful relationship, well exhibited over the course of an energetic two and a half hours. The afternoon had been punctuated by Move D and a hotly anticipated b2b from Palms Trax and Antal – a combination of disco and big room bangers. The soundtrack to an August Saturday afternoon was perfect, even if the sound wasn’t.
Theo Parrish was afforded three and a half hours on the West Stage. Bringing more funk to proceedings than even Don Pullen and George Adams, the American’s passion behind the decks proved infectious: the art of the DJ may primarily be about selection, but no one’s ever complained about an effervescent performance behind the spinners. It was then all about the hip hop, as Madlib, Princess Nokia and Jay Electronica all brought their own unique energy to close the stage.
With a quality line-up, then, Sunfall’s second coming was hindered only by logistics. Given the festival’s location – just a short walk from Brixton High Street – issues with the quality of sound are as understandable as they were predictable. Less comprehensible is the festival organiser’s failure to forsee a simple cause and effect: exorbitant overselling means excessive queues, and a diminished experience for attendees. Let’s hope the organisers can ignore Kipling’s advice - by accentuating the triumphs and learning from the disasters, they might reach perfection in putting on an event the capital is hungry for.