51st State Festival 2016 review

Josiah Hartley reviewed sets from Todd Edwards, Francois K and Tony Humphries at Trent Park.

Becca Frankland

Last updated: 23rd Aug 2016

Image: 51st State Credit: Sophia Whitfield

Following a sold out debut event last summer, Found Series - the ambitious team behind 51st State - brought the festival back to London’s stunning Trent Park for a second outing on Saturday. As with the 2015 edition, the event sold out for a second year running.

Sticking to the ethos of exploring the soulful roots of house music and all in between, the organisers assembled another world class line-up that featured over seventy acts across six stages. Many of 2015’s prominent bookings returned for another piece of the action such as David Morales, “Little” Louie Vega and Dimitri from Paris, amongst countless others. While a host of new additions from across the board including Marshall Jefferson, Todd Edwards and Soul II Soul, all made their 51st State debuts on the day.

There were stellar DJ sets and performances all round, on a day that was complimented by glorious sunshine and a unified atmosphere amongst the thousands of attendees. And like any UK resident knows, nothing fills the British masses with such unbridled joy more so than the blazing sunshine, coupled with great music – it was very much a match made in heaven.

All of this of course helped lift the spirits for those who were caught up in the queuing shenanigans beforehand. If there was one song that perfectly summed up the days glorious weather and general good vibes, then it had to be Roy Ayer’s sun-kissed classic ‘Everybody Loves the Sunshine’.

The jazz-funk legend played a short but sweet set with his Ubiquity band to an appreciative crowd, and proved to be a major highlight of the We Love Soul tent during the early evening. As an iconic artist of black music, whose hugely influential sound epitomizes the funky, soulful music policy of 51st State, Ayers was an ingenious booking from the Found team. And it’s here where perhaps their biggest strength lies - they definitely can’t be knocked in the programming department.

Much like last August, the Back to 95 arena was as popular as ever; heaving with eager old skool garage fans throughout the day. It wasn’t hard to see why this tent was buzzing, when banger after banger was being dropped by a selection of veteran garage DJs, while the likes of MC’s PSG, DT and Creed kept the crowd hyped up.

Todd Edwards played a standout set that featured UKG staples like ‘Find the Path’ by New Horizons, through to many of his own bumpy productions. The moment the UK garage godfather dropped his anthemic remix of Sound Of One’s ‘As I Am’, unsurprisingly the crowd went nuts and demanded a rewind - something of a regular occurrence whenever it’s played out in garage rave.

As for the open-air main stage, house titans like Todd Terry, Mike Dunn and Roger Sanchez all delivered banging sets as expected. Between them, each DJ worked the swarm of festival-goers with their own unique styles from the late afternoon through to the evening.

Near enough every style of groove-driven house went down here, ranging from the soulful to techier gear, moving through to deeper terrain and all the way to the to the downright funky. With the sun beaming down on the dancing bodies and the beats flowing, all problems were put aside for the majority of punters, which was evident in the show of smiling faces and warm disposition.

The Groove Odyssey arena had an equally radiant atmosphere, where a shared love of soulful house music amongst the revellers was plain to see - a lot like the clubnight of the same name - although it didn’t appear to be as packed as it was last year. By no means did this reflect a lack of first-rate DJs or quality music on offer though.

The sublime set from the collective skills of Francois K, Danny Krivit and Joe Claussell certainly proved this was far from the case. As highly revered DJ’s and producers in their own right, and the nucleus of New York’s legendary Body & Soul parties of the 90s, the formidable trio brought the spiritual Body & Soul experience straight to London. And elevated the crowd with slinky Latin grooves and Afro-tinged house; seamlessly mixed into soaring disco edits.

Over in the Hot Wuk tent all things bass-related dominated the soundsystem. Highlights here came courtesy of the mighty Channel One Soundsystem during the afternoon, and the main force behind Hot Wuk - The Heatwave, who entertained a raucous crowd with bashment vibes galore.

Most impressive of all was the fact that the promoters pulled off a massive coup in securing their headline act Mr. Vegas to perform for them. The Jamaican dancehall star, whose 2007 hit single ‘Hot Wuk’, the hosts named their 7 year old bashment party after, put in a barnstorming performance. Hyped up as ever, Vegas ran through all his anthems such as ‘Bruk It Down’ and ‘Nike Air’ that the crowd excitedly chanted the lyrics back to.

Topping off the event was the headline slot from the Kings of House, who absolutely stole the show at the main stage. With a power trio made up of Tony Humphries, Louie Vega and David Morales – the DJ supergroup from NYC are more than deserving of their regal moniker. They gave the ultimate DJ set that took the crowd on a three hour whirlwind ride through the history of house music.

All three members switched between individual and back-to-back mixing of the highest calibre, where classic house tunes pulsated from the outdoor soundsystem. One of those particular tracks that got a mandatory airing was ‘Deep Inside’ by Hardrive. Featuring one of the most familiar vocal refrains in house music history, plus seminal production, it saw Barbara Tucker take to the stage and freestyle live along to the Louie Vega-produced anthem that she originally vocalled.

This of course whipped the throng into a right frenzy on the well-trampled grounds of Trent Park. As just the second ever UK gig for Kings of House, it was a rare opportunity to witness three veritable house legends play on stage together, for what was an unforgettable dance music experience. 

On a whole the broad spectrum of music across the bill was of outstanding quality and clearly the festival’s saving grace. It has all the potential to be the best festival of its kind if the organisers can iron out the key problems - namely the queues and general organisation – that have tainted the past two instalments, and restore some faith back in the people. We hope it all comes together next year.

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