Image credit: Mind Your Step Studios
Just an hour outside of London Victoria, and then a 15-minute taxi ride from Maidstone East station, sits a huge, metal structured barn with a mile-long queue of ticket holders, all waiting patiently, snaking around the venue. From the outside Kent County Showground looks as though it would be more suited as a wedding venue than daytime rave, but on closer inspection and once inside the warehouse barn, it's more like an industrial aircraft hanger.
Boasting impeccable sound-systems covering both rooms (The Meadow, large and wide, and The Barn, long and more intimate), as well as new additions of impressive, expensive-looking visual backdrops and trippy light shows, it’s clear that a lot of effort – and money - has gone into making sure The Winter Social retains its status as the UK’s biggest indoor festival, this side of the summer at least, for the third year in a row.
The layout, too, is commendable and convenient. With each stage just a few minutes walk away from the other, ravers can flit between both, minimising potentially tough set time clashes. As for the crowd itself, there’s not really an age limit. If someone's into house and techno music, chances are that they're somewhere among the few thousand in the selfie-loving crowd on this surprisingly sunny Saturday in Maidstone.
With a mouth-watering DJ line-up to boot, there’s not a dull moment: whether it’s Tuskegee favourite Bas Ibellini kicking things off with eclectic, more obscure cuts or Dense & Pika hammering out techno in the early evening, there’s no shortage of stellar names on the bill.
House heavyweights and Social regulars Eats Everything and Steve Lawler put in afternoon workouts in The Meadow main room full of pumping house at one end of the daytime rave - one highlight being OC & Verde's just-released Viva Limited smash 'Solstice'.
Techno titan Alan Fitzpatrick delivers a hard-hitting, wall-rattling set in the second room - peaking with his own Drumcode favourite 'Turn Down The Lights' which pounds out of the two towering speakers as smoke machines blast out a welcome dose of cold, fresh air whilst neon visuals captivate the wide-eyed crowd, making way for Social boss and Saved Records head honcho Nic Fanciulli to close the festival with a typically massive back to back set alongside Hot Since 82.
Another nice touch for the 2017 edition is two extra stages offering homegrown talents the chance to get behind the decks. For the first time in the one-dayer's history, the VIP area - boasting comfortable leather sofas and bar stools - has its own DJ decks and dancefloor, enabling local stars like Social resident Caruana and Paul Johnson to showcase their talent - the former impresses with tech-house cuts like Detlef's groover 'Swagon' and Patrick Topping & Green Velvet's massive collaboration 'Voicemail'; whilst Johnson's six-hour stint (6pm-midnight!) fills the room with funky disco and house.
Another new feature for this year is the creation of a sprawling outdoor space. It really makes it feel like a festival, too: with countless food trucks, clothing stalls, a giant inflatable elephant and a fourth 'locals' music stage giving a platform to the likes of Benny Ataari. Impressively, stepping outside and away from the dark warehouse interior is the only way you would know it was still the middle of the day.
It's a great prequel to the Social Festival’s summer counterpart in September – which also allows for camping. Before then, though, the Kent promoters are travelling to Colombia and Mexico for the first time - this weekend, in fact - with a frankly unbelievable line-up: Carl Cox, Loco Dice, Paco Osuna, Lauren Lane, The Martinez Brothers, Damian Lazarus, George Fitzgerald and Kenny Glasgow are just half of the stellar selectors on show.
Tickets for The Social festival in September 2017 are available now.