Pete Tong's Essential Mix tent was a modern who's who of the progressive house scene, and Seb Fontaine. James Zabiela got things off to a solid start and when Beat Factor arrived Danny Howells was in the thick of an average DJ set. Hastings' finest was let down by a poor sound system but did little to help matters with typical track selections that contained plenty of distorted builds and trance-y breaks but sparse funk and groove. Danny Howells is a great DJ but unfortunately the set up was not the right environment to get the best from a normally impeccable showman.
Nottingham based live band Crazy P was far more interesting on the live stage, sequencing live tracks from their impressive 'A Night On Earth' album. It was a surprise to see them on the bill, stuck between big room stars like Paul Oakenfold and Tall Paul, but it proved to be a creative booking. The good weather provided the perfect backdrop as Crazy P ran through highlights like the superb Sun - Science - just as the sun broke through the previously dominant grey clouds. Crazy P finished on a cover of The Source, which was met warmly by the bustling crowd. However, it is a track that has been recycled so many times that it has lost some of its seminal quality, and Crazy P did nothing to change this transition.
Perhaps the only real cutting edge booking on the list was the legendary Mr C - in the Ibiza Underground tent. Mr C followed the generally poor Jo Mills - a DJ who seems to be struggling to find her own style. Once a tribal format specialist and now, it would appear, a minimal inspired clone. Mr C, on the other hand, has been pushing underground tech house for well over 10 years and this experience proved valuable as he confidently rolled into action - programming an excellent deep and groovy tech house display. Josh Wink's edit of 'Ploof Daddy' by Tom Pooks connected brilliantly with other top quality house and techno compositions. Unfortunately Mr C's set was over too soon. It also demonstrated that the majority of the crowd in attendance were more interested in the mainstream than the underground. Early into his set, Mr C dropped the sublime Carl Craig mix of 'Falling Up' by Theo Parrish (one of the best techno record to have been released in recent times) and it surprisingly generated no reaction. But back over on the main stage Paul Oakenfold played the weak David Guetta vs. The Egg and the reaction was immense. It is not a poor reflection of the festival organisers, but rather a sign that the general dance music fan, who turns up to events such as SW4 are more interested in the type of records you are likely to get on prime time Radio 1, than proper electronic experimentation.
John Digweed occupied the mind stage as the evening progressed. Again, in a similar pattern to Danny Howells, Digweed suffered from an average sound system and a weak set list. Some good tracks did shine through, most notably in the shape of Nathan Fake's superb 'Outhouse' and a special mix of Kevin Saunderson's legendary 'Good Life'. Carl Cox took to the stage complete with the unusual addition of carnival style dancers and a team of freestyle drummers. Unfortunately just as the spectacle began the heaven's decided to open. Predicting the poor weather, the Beat Factor team decided to pack some waterproof protection and smugly utilised it whilst the majority of the crowd got drenched. However, it proved a short lived success as the jacket in question turned out to be anything but water resistance, and served only to soak up water at an alarming rate! Despite this discomfort, Carl Cox played some great records, including Deetron's mix of Smith and Selway's 'Work It' and Trevor Rockcliffe's brand new 'Stomp Your Feet'. These solid techno grooves had to compete with some frankly awful records however, with The Egg vs. David Guetta making another appearance and a hyped up mix of The Automatic that was well received, but hardly constituted forward thinking techno from one of the scene's pioneers. It is hard to criticise Carl Cox, he has contributed so much to techno, and his ability to sequence powerful club techno is still unrivalled, but performances like this suggest that he may be losing some relevance to modern day techno movements.
SW4 was an enjoyable event; with excellent on site facilities and some interesting small stage set ups presenting different music styles away from the large tents. But overall it ultimately lacked inspiration. It was without doubt a huge success, the sell out tickets made sure of that. However, apart from Mr C's brilliant set and a good performance from Crazy P, SW4 lacked soul. It shouldn't stop it coming back next year, probably bigger, better and more successful than ever. But in the long term it may lack a quality than turns good festivals into great ones.
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September 8, 2006 at 8:18 PM CEST