Promising Ibiza-esque sunsets and a silky mirage of beats, Brighton’s hotly anticipated On The Beach festival bore all the hallmarks of a quintessential summer British festival.
But this is Britain, after all. By the time we navigated through the city’s iconic zigzagging quaint streets and onto the South coast, an onslaught of dense fog and rain relentlessly battered the South coast – a hammering that continued across the afternoon and deep into the evening. But while genuine concerns over whether the festival could weather such an imperfect storm were rife, the event successfully powered through and kept the crowd and the vibes largely intact throughout.
The king of dance music, Carl Cox, spearheaded a lineup with burgeoning stars and stalwarts of the scene alike – which therefore attracted a range of old and young ravers. Veteran of the scene, Russell Small, kicked things off with a heavy dose of feel-good beats – Peggy Gou's '(It Goes Like) Nanana’, a track starkly identical to ATB’s ‘9pm (Till I Come)’, was dropped to the delight of the early birds spilling onto the beach. But it was SYREETA who particularly raised eyebrows early on, with a set that blended soulful hooks with deep house tones.
Donning a kaleidoscopic raincoat, Annie Mac brought no shortage of much-needed colour to the beach, driving the crowd into fifth gear with a mirage of upbeat anthems – some tinged with 90s Balearic vibes and others harnessing a fresher forward-thinking energy. Set highlight ‘Work’ by Kevin McKay bottled both, with crowds shrugging off the extreme elements with hip-shaking beats.
The bill was a true treat for 90s ravers. If Cox wasn’t enough of a legendary name, then Sasha and John Digweed sprinkled on more genre-spanning stardust as the evening’s darkness crept in. The duo shifted the tones into deeper, trance house territory, with pulsating bass hums and sparkling synths fronting their iconic trance soundscapes.
Having toured together for three decades, with their initial 1993 residency debuting in Mansfield’s Renaissance club, their style has twisted, turned and evolved, while always staying true to their trademark pulsating, ominous late-night vibes.
Now based next door to Brighton, in Hove, Cox has become a somewhat regular annual show-stopper at On The Beach festival. With a seemingly limitless CV, spanning back to the late 70s and consisting of residencies all around the world, his name has reached nothing shy of legendary status given the role he has played over the years as a quintessential cog in the wheel of house and techno.
His set amounted to an eclectic exploration of dance through the decades. Exotic house tracks like Softmal’s ‘Mykonos’ beamed exotic Italo piano house stabs into the mix, providing much-needed balmy summer escapism to an increasingly sodden crowd. While Cox unveiled a smattering of hidden gems, the set was really focused on building into those legendary, goosebumps-inducing dancehall moments that triggered fans to embrace one another.
With its timeless bass synth glugs and monotone vocals, New Order’s Blue Monday undoubtedly emerged as one of those tracks, a timeless unifying tune that sent fans into overdrive. Stadust’s ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ and The Chemical Brothers’ ‘Hey Boy Hey Girl’ were other set highlights that had the ability to tap into revellers of all backgrounds and ages as the night grew closer to its crescendo.
Cox closed the night with a transcendent banger, with arguably one of the most iconic intros known to dance music over the last 30 years. Its echoing synth pads ricocheted across the bay, with each stab carrying euphoric memories of raves from across the decades. You guessed it - Underworld’s Born Slippy. A track which, having initially risen to fame with Danny Boyle’s 1996 classic Trainspotting, has become an ever-beloved mainstay in British rave culture.
"Sometimes it makes me very proud to be British", Cox declared during his time-travelling set. "Because only you, could be dancing under the fucking rain and still have the best time possible!" The grit and determination of On The Beach festival’s team pulled the event through the most extreme conditions the event has seen in its embryonic three-year lifespan. But most importantly the crowd weren’t going to be beaten – come wind, rain or shine, the rave has to go on.
Check out our What's On Guide to discover even more rowdy raves and sweaty gigs taking place over the coming weeks and months. For festivals, lifestyle events and more, head on over to our Things To Do page or be inspired by the event selections on our Inspire Me page.