South West Four 2016 Review

Helen Giles regales us with some of the highlights at this year's South West Four festival.

Mike Warburton

Last updated: 21st Feb 2017

Photo: South West Four



Opening the gates on the long awaited August Bank Holiday, thousands of music lovers descended on Clapham Common excited for a weekend promised by Lock N Load Events to push the boundaries of electronic music performance within the confines of an inner city. 

South West Four has always offered its festival fans a diverse selection of musical offerings, and this year was no different as it boasted one of the most sensational line ups in the dance music scene, booking the biggest headline acts across eight different stages for the two day extravaganza with an equal mixture of DJ sets and creative live shows. 

On arrival, the venue seemed small in relation to the amount of interest the event had generated, posing potential concerns with regards to having enough facilities (including stages) to cater for the expected volume of people, as well as health and safety worries.

However all bases seemed to be covered by the hard working organisers, with a large number of very helpful security staff hired to monitor any prospective hazards, and friendly festival stewards and crew on hand to assist. With this welcoming atmosphere, South West Four was able to create a miniature music community amidst the big smoke of London city, where ravers old and new united to participate in new experiences together through the combined love of dance music. 

Photo: Friction at SW4

Speaking to Shogun Audio founder Friction (in action above) and RAM Records duo Delta Heavy about the consistent popularity and following Drum and Bass has in the music industry, both agreed that the genre is lucky to have such a loyal and supportive fan base, and this statement certainly reflected how busy the RAM arena stayed throughout the Saturday.

Delta Heavy went in heavy straight from the beginning with one of the earlier slots of the day, exhibiting impeccable technical talent and creativity in one of the shorter time slots allocated. The momentum of the set swayed between the softer, more melodic sounds of liquid drum and bass with that signature pounding bassline lacing the intricate layers together, maintaining an energy that was relentless throughout the show.

Armand Van Helden is one of a handful of producers responsible for shaping the sound of house music, and as we see a continued resurgence of the genre in today’s scene it was only appropriate to welcome him back to celebrate its rebirth.

His varied set surprisingly included more contemporary beats associated with modern house music, but this was seamlessly woven around eagerly anticipated club classics that produced an upbeat atmosphere full of genuine enjoyment. The crowd went wild when the timeless hits ‘My My My’ and ‘You Don’t Know Me’ dropped, with everyone bouncing along to the soulful harmonies with the biggest smiles on their faces. 

There was a heavy emphasis on live performances on the Saturday, with DJs bringing the idea of incorporating both electronic and traditional instrumentation into their shows to offer a new experience for audiences.

Acts that brought their live concepts to life across the stages included Blonde, who complimented the beautiful summer sunshine with catchy house riffs and uplifting piano phrases, Flux Pavilion who performed with his live group for the first time ever in the UK and received an incredible response from an adoring crowd, but the group that blew fans away with their live model on Saturday evening were electronic trio Nero.

As soon as the haunting sounds of ‘Innocence’ (above) rippled over the airwaves of the SW4 Live arena, fans knew they were about to be introduced to something truly magical. The connection the three musicians had between them was made evident in the precision of their show and the innovative amalgamation of a variety of electronic instruments and vocal techniques, with the added touches of an impressive visual and light display.

‘Promises’ was welcomed by screams of appreciation and excitement, whilst a live version of ‘Doomsday’ caused the ground to shake under the force of so many stomping feet. An astounding performance that will certainly be remembered for a lifetime.   

With the focus of Saturday’s entertainment centring predominantly around drum and bass and dubstep, Sunday saw the sounds of soulful house and uplifting trance take centre stages, whilst Ibiza icons Amnesia and the sophisticated persona of Ants brought to the Common the contemporary sounds of techno combined with the deeper elements of house music that proved popular with attendees. 

Maribou State took to the outdoor stage in the early afternoon with their modernistic take on disco to ease the crowd gently into the rest of the jam-packed day. Not even the downpour could discourage a sparse audience from shuffling through the wind and rain that was soon to pass. 

Moving over to the Silver City Stage, the multi-talented Sister Bliss was bowling over an excitable group with her cool attitude and wealth of experience as both a producer and a DJ, designing a set that was able to assimilate her connection with house music alongside her influences from hip-hop, blues and classical music.

Of course no set would have been complete without the injection of some of her most successful collaborative productions as a part of Faithless, with remixes of ‘Insomnia’ and ‘God is a DJ’ that sent shivers down your spine. 

Following the queen of electronica was special guest Bakermat, who along with a live saxophonist brought the feel-good factor to Clapham Common with his melodic house vibes. Even with an impromptu sound malfunction he kept the crowd smiling with his gracious personality, and as soon as the power kicked back in we were greeted with the emotional woodwind phrase from his hit track ‘One Day’ (above) alongside a heavenly rendition of ‘Teach Me’ that had everyone reaching to the sky with pure, joyous energy exuding from their fingertips. 

The final sets of the weekend were hosted by two of the biggest icons in dance music. Gods of euphoria Above & Beyond never fail to please their loyal and passionate fan base, cruising smoothly from hit to hit that includes their incredible remix of beloved Faithless classic ‘Salva Mea’ and blissful love song ‘A Thing Called Love’.

Their emphasis on love and compassion through uplifting synth lines and soft drum undercurrent continues to set pulses racing and bring together a community of ravers.

Over at the main outdoor arena were the pioneers of live electronic performance The Chemical Brothers who dazzled the entire audience with a spectacle of impressive lights and visuals, including giant balloons rippling over a sea of waving arms, which were accompanied by their distinctive and niche blend of big beat and electronica reminiscent of the early 90s rave culture.

‘Block Rockin Beats’ and ‘Hey Boy, Hey Girl’ proved popular with a younger crowd, even with those song's relative maturity. It was a completely unique musical experience that brought you back to the roots of dance music, whilst at the same time brought fans to the present day to see how dance music has been allowed to blossom through the developments of technology and creativity. 

With such a successful year complete, it's hard to imagine how South West Four can keep up with its growing demand and popularity whilst currently situated at Clapham Common. But could moving this impressive set up in the future mean that the event would lose the community spirit that organisers have worked so hard to maintain over its 13 year history?

Who knows, but what is certain is that with all of their efforts to attract the biggest artists in the scene and generate that electric atmosphere, South West Four, along with Lock N Load Events, have cemented their position alongside globally recognised clubbing brands as strong contenders within the dance music industry. 

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