Live Report: 51st State Festival

Fun in the mud at the dance mainstay...

Having quietly gone about its business since its inception six years ago, the continued success of 51st State as a staple of London’s mercurial festival scene shouldn’t be underestimated. That it managed to return at all in the face of the various challenges that have floored so many of its contemporaries this summer, was greeted with much excitement by the event’s dedicated community of annual attendees, keen to make up for lost time on the grassy dancefloors of Trent County Park.

Born as a hype busting response to the fad chasing promotions that often come and go within the Capital’s bustling musical landscape, the stage was set for 51st State to step out of the shadow of the past 18 months and provide Londoners with an unforgettable reunion that would live long in the memory.

Unfortunately, as is so often the case, the great British weather refused to play ball. With an almost sad inevitably the recent heatwave that engulfed the UK came to an abrupt end just as restrictions on gatherings were lifted, with the two days of rain that preceded the festival’s opening leading to an increasingly muddy festival site, that – despite the best efforts of organisers – continued to deteriorate throughout the day.

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Live Report: 51st State Festival

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Undeterred, the eclectic crowd refused to let the wet weather dampen their spirits, determined to make the most of their new found freedom during the day’s various bouts of intermittent sunshine. This commitment to having a good time was bolstered by a number of storming live performances by some of the scene’s older hands as the likes of 90s favourites The Brand New Heavies and R&B legend Jocelyn Brown rolled back the years to cultivate the kind of good natured party atmosphere that has come to characterise their performances over the course of their careers.

Building upon their buoyant foundations, the festival’s DJs then more than played their part as the day wore on, the melodic old guard of Roger Sanchez, Todd Terry and Body & Soul providing trademark grin inducing soundtracks as they sought to blend the classic sounds of yesteryear with more current fare. We can only aspire to retain a similar amount of passion for the game as time marches on. This however brings us to our first bit of criticism in which we feel like the team behind 51st State missed out on a golden opportunity to use this year’s uniquely positioned event to showcase more local talent, whilst remaining as committed as ever to paying homage to house and techno’s illustrious global heritage.

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Live Report: 51st State Festival

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With the current climate making international travel a lot more difficult and encouraging promoters to explore the deep wells of talent on their own doorsteps, it would have been refreshing to see 51st State use part of their considerable platform to promote a more forward facing line up. A specially curated stage championing a selection of new exciting homegrown artists still yet to receive a big festival billing in their burgeoning careers would have added another dimension to the experience, and we’re hopeful it’s something that they may consider introducing for future editions.

Further improvements could be also made via streamlining the cashless payment system employed which on this showing it’d be remiss of us not to point out as having been problematic with festival goers having to brave considerable queues to be able to top out their wallets throughout the day. Suggestions and criticism out of the way, it’s important to note that 51st State is a festival that – as city based festivals go – has a lot to like about it, its correctable flaws outweighed by its positive vibes and genuine intentions.

Here’s to 2022, may the sun shine, the rhythms play and the bars take card payments.

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Words: Reiss Bruin
Photography: Liam Simmons

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