elrow Town London review

Gwen Angood dived head first into elrow's biggest UK event to date, catching sets from Jasper James, Bastian Bux and Riva Starr.

Skiddle Staff

Last updated: 25th Aug 2017.
Originally published: 24th Aug 2017

Image: elrow (Credit: Luke Curtis)

There were some spectacular scenes to behold in North-East London last weekend, with the people-watching general public at Westfield Shopping Mall standing mouths-aghast as they observed hundreds of costume-wearing, sequin clad party enthusiasts racing out of Stafford Overground Station towards the iconic Olympic Park stadium on Saturday. This fabulous, colourful team of ravers were looking for the way to elrow Town – with a lot of fun being had following the little yellow signs dotted around the area, leading them to the most spectacular party the end of the path.

The senses were overloaded within the first few minutes of entry as we ran around frantically, dodging giant inflatable flamingos, trying to decide what to experience first. Unable to resist the urge to take part immediately, we dove straight into the elrow games. In a fitting little tribute to the Olympics, we got stuck in to an array of activities, including Sumo Wrestling, Basketball and It’s a Knockout type obstacle courses in order to win elrow currency, which could then be swapped for prizes. Having proudly won a set of inflatable strawberries, we wondered through the crowd towards the spectacular Singer Morning main stage.

Already revved up following all the fun-filled ice breakers en-route into the main stage area, partygoers were enjoying each other’s company and were all smiles as they admired one another’s original fancy dress ideas. Festival friendships were formed as people swapped their winning novelty inflatables, giant hats, feather boas and whatever else floated on by through the crowd. 

Meaning business with a powerful opening set, Lord Leopard really got us stuck in to some edgy beats as he played 'Personal Slave' by Honey Dijon Feat. Charles McCloud – hot from the Defected nights at Eden this season. Seamlessly mixed into the epic 'My Beat' by Kevin Hedge (the Spaced Out Beat version remixed by David Harness), the Cornish cat created a melodic, techy vibe as the sun came out from behind the clouds. 

Towering above the decks was an enormous four-story stage fashioned into a miniature street of shops. There was something to catch your eye on every level and in each window, a performer appeared under the guise of an ‘elrow Town’ resident going about their random, interesting daily business in their little flats. The performances were mesmerising and hilarious – a combination of drama, dance, circus and slapstick continued at sporadic intervals throughout the day, generating smiles and cheers as they really interacted with the crowd.

Retreating to the upper deck of the Relentless bar to observe the shenanigans unfold from above, it was breath-taking to witness this whole production being taken up not just another notch, but at least another ten. Delivering a full-pelt, peak time-like session of beats, Eats Everything hit us in the face with Dogreen & Gustavo Chateaubriand’s 'Kosher Kush' before dropping Doorly’s 'Brassphemy' to the enthusing crowd.

The gigantic sea creatures and insects adorning the parameters of the main stage started coming to life in time with the music during a mind-blowing few minutes where Marc Maya was behind the decks and a troop of stilt performers and puppets made their way through the crowd. The whole experience was becoming more immersive by the second – everywhere you looked, there was an element of performance taking place. The level of production going on at this predominantly daytime event was simply stunning, adding so many more layers to the already fantastic festival experience. 

We watched in awe as a gargantuan centipede-like creature stormed its way, albeit rather elegantly, through the crowd right in front of our eyes, it’s feet almost dancing to the beat. We became engulfed in a torrent of confetti, streamers and coloured smoke. For as far as the eye could see, the skies of London turned into a hue of bright rainbow colours and floating decorations.

As the colours got brighter, the techno got darker, with a really deep sound enveloping the main stage. All of a sudden, Jasper James turns up and decides to take things on a funkier trip. Having created waves of bouncing, singing people in their thousands as he plays 'Make The World Go Round' by Sandy B he surprises with a flurry of afro-infused beats courtesy of 'Pressure' by Jesse Rose and Avon Stringer, which had us shaking, shimmying and throwing our strawberries in the air; before being greeted and nibbled on the head by a huge towering camel – just passing by, as they do in elrow Town (this was jaw-dropping puppetry at its finest).

Speechless, we headed over to the beautiful, slightly more intimate setting of the El Rowico stage. Armed with a Frozen Daquiri, we enjoyed being immersed in some tribal sounds during the warmest part of the day. El Rowico was adorned in vintage bunting, with a stage featuring a traditional fairground fun house being the centrepiece. This was the place to really let your hair down – consider it the equivalent of crazy, debaucherously flamboyant back room of a club, where it’s very artistic and anything goes. The imaginative ambiance drew the creativity out from the crowd – many using their props and costumes to come up with dance routines and their own rhythmical performances.

As Riva Starr took to the stage, the crowd erupted as once again, the stunning elrow performers threw hundreds of yellow floats out to them as the sounds of The Gypsy Kings and 'Bamboleo' filled the tent. Sashaying, swaying flamenco dancers entertained at the front of the stage, with fan-flapping stilt dancers engaging the crowd at the back. The party atmosphere was off the scale, with beach balls bouncing and people whistling, chanting and attempting their finest Spanish dance moves.

Bastian Bux was basking in this atmosphere, really feeling the vibes from the crowd, knowing he could take us on a pretty special journey during his 2-hour set. He took the opportunity to deliver an eclectic, happy set to the masses.  Obviously still bouncing from playing at Suara’s special birthday bash for Coyu at Privilege Ibiza, the elrow favourite gave it his all – with Mylo’s 'Drop The Pressure' being the unexpected surprise of the set.

Looking back on the day’s activities, the most pleasant discovery was that of the little secret Spanish corner, tucked to the side of El Rowico, where compliments of elrow, you could enjoy sangria, pinchos, tapas and live performances. The flamenco lesson was brilliant, with the traditional band playing a really energetic set of Spanish folk songs. We stood on our picnic tables with plastic castanets as we were encouraged by the team to take part and enjoy this wonderful slice of Spain.

It was great to see elrow’s Spanish heritage being represented amidst the stunning modern-day production going on around us. With an interesting history spanning across two centuries, the origins of elrow can be traced back to the traditional circus performing families of Spain, who had a vision for the future and were never afraid of changing the game and pushing boundaries. Those ancestors would be very proud today, as elrow Town really did raise the bar when it comes to summer festivals. 

We hope to see it back, bigger, louder and more colourful than ever – as there is certainly a special place in our hearts for this kooky, unconventional and off-the wall celebration that represents originality, fun and frolics.  If a festival was a cake, this would certainly be an enormous rainbow unicorn cake, with a melt-in the middle fondant of dark chocolate techno – everyone needs a slice of that!