The Social Festival 2016 review

We packed Martin Guttridge-Hewitt off to Maidstone to catch sets from Sasha and Digweed, Laurent Garnier and Guy Gerber at this year's Social Festival.

Becca Frankland

Last updated: 31st Aug 2017.
Originally published: 12th Sep 2016

Image: The Social

Just when you thought it was safe to start thinking about doing stuff that doesn’t involve standing in fields getting messy, along comes September to remind you that the U.K. festival season is far from over yet. Which is both a good and bad thing. 

So by this stage in the summer we’re all suffering from some form of fatigue, but whilst this means walking through the turnstiles of sub-par events is particularly harrowing, it also ensures that when you’re having a very good time you know the bash must really be up to scratch.

As was the case with Nic Fanciulli’s now-annual alternative summer fete, a double header that has a reputation for very loud soundsystems (with no restrictions in place), a line up of very big guns, and the amusing prospect of literally acting like animals by dancing inside huge barns usually reserved for equestrian activities and such like. 

Scarcely affording us any time to horse around (cringe), The Social was one of those festivals where it’s difficult to know where best to begin. Arriving mid-afternoon on the quieter of the two days, Friday, a reduced overall site might not have presented too many options, but what options they were.

Taking a punt on Paranoid London’s ridiculously early live set, the first thing to become apparent was just how much difference it makes when nobody gives a shit about the neighbours complaining. Put simply: solid, punchy, feel-it-in-your-chest rigs that promised and delivered much from the off. 

As the day wore on yet that production quality was further exploited by Nastia, with the fast-rising Ukrainian delivering nought but sledgehammers for the duration, ensuring the small but tangibly enthusiastic crowd could do little other than stomp. Enzo Siragusa, who followed immediately after, was on a similar tip leading to at least one conversation about the bill playing a tad tougher than perhaps we might have expected. And who can blame them when juggernauts sound so good coming from those bins. 

Nobody, obviously, and so it was with much perspiration and serious conviction the next few hours flew by to the sounds of Guy Gerber in full-on rolling form, and host with the most Fanciulli himself, whose poised techy-ness acted as a fitting warm up for one of the biggest coups of the entire summer.

Cue the scream of a few thousand fanboys - and girls - a strangely familiar, dare-it-be-said deep-blue-prog-glow, and the silhouettes of Messrs Sasha and John Digweed, brought together here for the first time in years (aside from an un-billed back to back at Ministry of Sound a few months ago). Nope, we weren’t worthy. 

If you’ve had the privilege before you’ll probably understand if we say trying to articulate the atmosphere and musicality of what followed isn’t easy. Opening with a few moments of ambience before the first fours dropped, it wasn’t long before sweat was pouring and the sea of heads making up the dancefloor fully locked-in to the kind of dark, deep growers, growlers and thrashers that compel and command in equal measure.

180minutes of screeches, sirens, synths and driving percussion later it was finally time to call it an end to part one, if for no other reason than to get out of those sodden clothes and avoid catching our death. 

Although we could have quite happily left it there and been pretty satisfied, FOMO and force of habit meant we couldn’t help but find ourselves back on site 12 hours or so later, and to say it was business as usual again would be slightly misleading.

We’re not entirely sure about the difference in capacity between Friday and Saturday, but one thing was clear - there were far more people present on the latter, a fact never more pronounced than in the expanded site, stalls and attractions; the queue to get in, and lengthy lines waiting for transport once the second instalment was done.

Nevertheless, it was impossible not to remain in suspiciously high spirits. Across the day Gerd Janson and Jasper James held it down commendably outside The Barn, kicking out chunky house and punchy tech for the best outdoor moments of the entire offering.

Later, Agoria and Dubfire destroyed expectant crowds indoors, many of who by 5PM had adopted a modus operandi of upbeat mania you don’t always find on a daytime sesh. Closing out with Laurent Garnier’s pleasing big room vibes - met with throat-rattling cries for one more - it’s impossible not have walked away thoroughly impressed, with nothing close to a throwaway set witnessed throughout, and a general sense that this one went right off. Shame the same can’t be said for so many comparable dates on the calendar.   

Read more: The Winter Social returns for 2017

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