Live Report: GALA Festival 2022

A jubilant return...

Last year, towards the end of the Spring lockdown, many British punters slipped out of their isolated rooms and gallavanted towards a much-needed, albeit truncated, festival season. For many of London’s house and disco fans, that first taste of freedom may have come at GALA Festival, which generally marks one of the first major day-festivals of the summer season in the big smoke. Last year’s edition was heralded as the kind of jovial, laid-back party we all so desperately needed, and this year’s edition, returning once again to Peckham Rye over the course of several days, looked to keep that same spirit alive.

GALA has expanded a bit over the years, but this 2022 Jubilee edition kept a general ‘If it ain’t broke’ attitude, booking a similarly healthy mix of local (Josey Rebelle, Luke Una, Mafalda) and international (Jeremy Underground, Soichi Terada, Powder) DJ talent that tends towards a lush, care-free, and summery vibe. One improvement to this year’s line-up was the added emphasis on live jazz and soul acts, particularly on Thursday; which featured a who’s who of South London jazz players, including Mansur Brown, Joe-Armon Jones, Kokoroko, Children of Zeus, and Nubya Garcia.

Clash was particularly impressed with Mansur Brown and Joe-Armon Jones’ performances, both of which exemplified their off-the-charts musicality and incredible dexterity on their respective instruments. Sadly, the sound on the main stage on Thursday was a little on the muddy side, and we occasionally struggled to hear Mansur Brown’s shimmering guitar work, which, all going well, should be allowed to ring completely free over the rest of his backing band. It felt like a tease to see his fingers moving with such speed and knowing that he was definitely shredding but you just couldn’t quite hear the results. That said, sound is a tricky thing to get right, particularly in the confines of an urban park with a council ready to pounce on you for any violation of volume limits; the Beacons stage also felt a bit on the quiet side (more on that later). Children of Zeus followed on the main stage with their swirling mix of reggae, soul, and rap, which fit the relaxed sunshine perfectly; plenty of attendees laid down to sun-bathe and bask in the vibes.  

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Live Report: GALA Festival 2022

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The crowd in general was made up of a lovely mix of ages, ranging from immediate sixth-formers through to a few of what seemed like a few of their mums and dads (who probably got in on a discounted locals’ ticket), and who certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves just as much as their younger counterparts. Everyone was friendly, relaxed, and plenty ready for a proper dance. Welfare officers even walked around handing out free suncream and water, keeping everyone protected and hydrated.

Away from the main stage, the best vibes could most reliably be found in the Charlie Bones tent, where the beloved ex-NTS radio host was hosting a 3 day radio marathon with his associated ‘Do You!!’ friends and family; a particular highlight was a set of Middle Eastern music for the dancefloor from Ernesto Chahoud, one of Beirut’s finest DJs – it’s not very often you see a young crowd going absolutely mental to a late 50s Dabke 7-inch by the legendary Lebanese songstress Sabah.

Several other highlights of Thursday’s program took place in the Pleasure Dome, which has become something of the signature stage for GALA. Housed within a massive canvas dome tent, it hosts the dancefloor that feels most like a proper club space and has the best sound overall – Shy One, warming things up there in the early afternoon, played a killer set that veered between vintage house and her signature broken beat, spinning some seriously heavy-duty wax all while looking effortlessly cool behind her sunglasses, which had stayed assuredly on despite the in-tent shade. Later that evening, Goldie raised energy levels even higher, somehow linking what can only be described as dutty drum 'n' bass with Nirvana’s ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ and Benga & Coki’s ‘Night’, bringing a crowd enthusiastically and gloriously along for the ride. It was a sign of the festival’s clever mix of bookings, which balances genuine musical variety (and tons of well chosen talent all the way down the ballot) with a cohesive effort towards building a specific vibe, which is no small feat.

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Live Report: GALA Festival 2022

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At the edge of the festival boundary sat the Beacons stage, which was heavily hyped in anticipation of the event; GALA had announced plans to feature a ‘high-concept’ and ‘visionary’ stage design from the architects of JAM studio. Unfortunately, expectations mostly failed to meet reality (the Beacons were in fact made up of some basic scaffolding and colored drapes), and although the elevated stands for the crowd were exciting in concept (allowing punters to see the dancefloor from a high perch), it was definitely nothing revolutionary, and for a good chunk of the weekend the stands were partially closed off because the build wasn’t to standard. The stage also suffered from some volume issues, which meant it struggled to build a crowd for much of each day; although crowds reliably turned up for Hunee and Dan Shake.

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Live Report: GALA Festival 2022

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BBC Radio 6 DJ Gilles Peterson, who played the Beacons stage on behalf of the Worldwide FM takeover on Friday, also certainly didn’t do any favours to the DJ after him, Ruby Savage, when he decided to close with the Sex Pistols’ ‘God Save the Queen’ (it was Jubilee weekend after all) and promptly cleared the floor, who clearly didn’t share his taste for a bit of light-hearted irony. Clash would like to come out in favour of the decision, however – sometimes a good joke is worth it!

A few other minor sticking points while we’re at it – first, while it’s understandable since festivals operate on razor-thin margins these days (often taking a good chunk of their profit in on the bar); charging over £6 for a 330ml can of beer, and close to £11 for a double G&T during a cost of living crisis feels harsh, and hopefully is only a temporary symptom of rising costs. Fortunately, security didn’t seem too overbearing, so we’re sure a fair few punters managed to bring their own fun into the park. Also, the queues for food stalls around dinnertime, while predictable, were nonetheless lamentable.

Musically, the latter days saw a bigger focus on DJs and the dancefloor; a lovely balearic afternoon set from Move D on Friday’s main stage was topped off by a 3 hour appearance from disco demigod DJ Harvey. By that point many of the younger and more energized punters had surely already stumbled off to the greener and faster pastures of stalwart floor-fillers Gerd Janson or Job Jobse (who, by all accounts, played a blazing set of anthemic rave and trance in the Pleasure Dome). However, for the more wearied among us, it was a brilliant contrast to hear Harvey, the oft-described Mick Jagger of dance music, playing at the adult’s table; slowly and assuredly keeping a massive main stage crowd swaying with his obscure records of cosmic queer madness.

In the end, as we journeyed home, we could only remark that London punters are a bit spoiled for choice these days. GALA is a killer festival, and a perfect one for that spring-to-summer transitory moment where you’re just itching to go out, but it certainly isn’t the only option out there this season. So if it wasn’t your thing, or you might’ve missed it, well – cheer up! – there’s still Junction 2, Waterworks, Field Day, Body Movements, Wireless, a Four Tet all-dayer in Finsbury Park, South Facing, Higher Ground, All Points East, Maiden Voyage, Naked City… the list goes on and on. Let’s just hope the rest of them do it as well as this.

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Words: Louis Torracinta

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