To do a festival in its first year is both a privilege and a risk.
Fortunately, when the main name attributed to it has a highly successful festival brand already and is a bit of a pillar in the music industry – the risk is partly mitigated, and you set off from home with a degree of confidence that you’re in safe hands.
A Worldwide Family gathering with emphasis on the family – We Out Here 2019 was Gilles Peterson’s first festival in the UK and saw a few thousand musically minded spirits trust in the Worldwide FM founder’s know-how for four days and nights, at the picturesque Abbots Ripton, Cambridgeshire.
The sense of familiarity among artists and festival goers was something to behold over the course of the weekend, and Gilles was a bit of a celebrity on site (note the intuition to refer to him on a first-name basis) – popping up on all stages and often introducing the artists, both live and DJ, personally.
Literally speaking, it was a family festival as well. The many babies with headphones bigger than their heads, seen bopping along at the main stage during the day, seemed to be as well catered for as their parents.
The security presence was subtle – you could walk straight through from the campsite into the arena (for want of a better word, arena suggests something closed off, which is far from the feeling you got) – with no checks. This was our playground – where we could roam freely. There’s always that comfort at a small festival that there’s going to be a good crowd there for all the right reasons – although time will tell if this can be kept up after year one.
Lets not overlook the practical stuff – which becomes important to us all after a certain age so deserves a few lines: the campsite was spacious, the queue for the showers was short, the loos were few and far between and could’ve done with more frequent TLC, but were tolerable. The service at the bars was fast and you could walk from one side of the site to the other in about ten minutes. The deposit-based reusable cup policy was an effective one too – the event making a good effort to promote sustainability both pre-event and during, which should really come as standard in 2019.
The practical reasons alone can justify why the small festival experience is favoured by many of us. An assortment of spacious stages is another. At We Out Here there were eleven music stages in total – including those open and outdoor, plus intimate tents, and the area that’s often the most enchanting of all – a forest.
Although it’s a personal feeling that more is more at a festival, and that the music is enhanced by going all out with the visuals so all senses are stimulated, We Out Here seemingly didn’t agree – with stage set-ups mostly minimal, yet slick. Drawing a reluctant comparison to Secret Garden Party – it did feel like the natural beauty of Abbots Ripton could’ve been embellished a little more, but many would argue for the less-is-more approach to let the music, and only the music, take centre stage – including the artists themselves.
Case in point – Children of Zeus made no hesitation on the Sunday night to request lights dimmed as low as they would go – as they held us all captivated on the Lush Life stage. The soul/hip hop duo from Manchester breezed through tracks from recent albums The Story so Far and Travel Light including “Smoke with Me” and “Slow Down” – a smooth succession of eyes-closed, sing-along moments for the fans in front of them. With the simple DJ-backed set-up, the energy and stage presence from the pair was palpable, and Tyler Daley surely has one of the most beautiful voices around – like a warm hug on the crisp evening it was.
Unsurprisingly, the lineup was altogether niche – with no major headline names your mum (the average mum, at least) would’ve heard of had she asked you who was playing. Although there were some more well known names, Gilles and his team were giving us a memorable musical education in a new wave of artists he knows and respects – spanning soul, funk, afro, house, and most prominently: jazz.
As jazz seeps into the crevices of so many genres at the moment – debating questions of the sort “what does jazz even mean any more?” and “is jazz more a spirit rather than a genre?” wasn’t an uncommon conversation topic on site.
It was lovely to see the artist’s name lit up and sparkling behind them on the main stage for every performance – indicating that the organisers really wanted you to take note of who you were seeing so you could give them your attention when you got home.
Live acts dominated during the day and into the evening here, with one of the most notable live moments being Mala and The Outlook Orchestra on the Friday evening. A sound that’s conventionally dark and introspective got the orchestral treatment – with live instrumentals giving a multidimensional and highly emotive twist to quintessential Mala rolling dubstep. It was extra dramatic in the rain, which was beginning to subside after its unrelenting presence during the day.
As for the DJ programming, that felt deliberately un-fussy – exemplified by prime time sets from the likes of Josey Rebelle and Alexander Nut – those non-showy DJ’s who have an encyclopedic knowledge of music, yet do little to no self promotion, always reliably tasteful and experts at genre-hopping.
Nut in the small and circular Lemon Lounge on the Saturday was outstanding – the Eglo Records boss mixing through genres at such a skillful pace, it made you feel he could’ve done it with his eyes closed. “Award Tour” by A Tribe Called Quest, the Zed Bias remix of Children of Zeus’ “Vibrations” and Aretha Franklin’s “Get it Right” were the highlights. And in a tiny warmly lit tent as well? Nothing better. At taking the best of underground club culture outdoors – We Out Here was certainly getting it right.
We got down and dirty for Eliphino’s set in The Big Top – a grassy tent that was never overly busy at night – as he played the deep house numbers many still associate him with like Shanti Celeste’s “Nu4him”, then veering down a moodier path with the likes of LSDXOXO’s “Burn the Witch” and Headie One feat. Skepta’s Back to Basics (Floating Points remix).
Alex Phountzi and IG Culture also impressed on the Woodland stage with their b2b, pumping out plenty of UK funky and garage to a small but eager crowd – think “in the morning” by Egypt and “Closer” by Flava D, which was probably the track of the weekend (second only to the unexpected delight of “Cosmic Girl” by Jamiroquai from Francois K in The Forest later that night).
These were a few of several sets where you found yourself asking ‘why isn’t the crowd bigger for this?’ but at the same time feeling grateful for the intimacy and maximum dancing space.
The Near Mint Record Store deserves a mention as well – a (you guessed it) record shop by day which was cleared out at night to host a plethora of regional DJ’s. We were lured in on the Saturday as Shadow City mixed through the kind of shimmering house that’s difficult not to like, including “Gabrielle” (Matt Jam Lamont & Scott Diaz’ remix) by EMKYU and the brilliant “Mwah” by Roza Terenzi.
The level of gender diversity was good and there were almost top marks for the sound systems – loud and crisp for the most part except for a bit of a lull on the Saturday night in the forest for one of the biggest names on the lineup; Theo Parrish. Unfortunate timing but forgiven.
All in all, an impressive and well curated debut edition – long may We Out Here continue.