Peckham Rye Park, London
From its small-scale, single-day debut edition in 2016 – which focused on the melodic end of house and disco – GALA has expanded year-on-year, with 2023 its most ambitious outing to date. Taking place over three days and featuring six stages with a lengthy programme of local London artists and international talent, an array of sounds were represented: from forward-thinking jungle and bass to classic Chicago house via a healthy billing of live performances from the capital’s fecund jazz scene.
Set in GALA’s long-running home of Peckham Rye Park, the weekend felt like a curtain-raiser for the upcoming summer season, complete with picture-perfect sunshine, early-season sightings of bucket hats, clashing paisley prints, sun-flushed shoulders and other classic British festival staples. Amid a tough, competitive festival landscape with the UK’s cost of living (and cost of producing) crisis, GALA’s weekender was an indisputable success story. Especially considering that the same weekend also saw a smattering of events all offering alternative festival experiences in neighbouring south London parks.
Each day took on a different flavour, with Friday feeling like something of an elongated festival warm-up. Much of the afternoon was spent meandering around the site as it slowly began to pack out with punters – with their leisureness not particularly surprising given that it was taking place on an average working day in the UK – but the day’s focus on live music programming hosted by Rhythm Section on the main stage meant that the more relaxed atmosphere was fitting.
A more DJ-led and electronic bill on Saturday brought the party atmosphere, with takeovers by some of the most prominent crews from London and beyond – including the consistently excellent Patio stage hosted by intimate east London venue Pickle Factory, which was acquired and revamped by GALA in recent months. Sunday took things back to GALA’s original roots, with a programme favouring disco and classic house.
With plenty of highlights to choose from, here are five of the best sets and moments from across the weekend.
Following Friday’s unhurried afternoon start, a wave of incomers filed through the gates for the evening’s schedule. It set the perfect conditions for the headline acts on the main stage – a large wooden structure that was brutalist yet naturalist at the same time. Against that backdrop, lit by golden hour sunlight, Nubya Garcia took to the stage as an anticipatory crowd gathered. Showing off her improvisational talent, while giving her outrageously talented band plenty of space to strut their stuff, Garcia flicked through a number of smile-inducing tracks. This included a cover of Jill Scott’s A Long Walk and an extended jam of 2020’s Pace to close out her set. “I hope you enjoy the rest of your summers,” she implored the crowd on her way out, “this is just the beginning.”
Riva B2B Teecra
Tucked away in the rear corner of the field occupied by the festival’s main stage was a small, unsuspecting domed tent – the Hennesey presents Cornerstone stage. However, its humble exterior revealed a cosy, intimate space that gave an almost living room feel. This is where, on the Saturday, south London’s own queer collective Big Dyke Energy hosted a stage takeover. In a mid-afternoon stroke of genius, the crew invited well-loved DJs and regulars at east London hub FOLD, Riva and Teecra. Playing to a packed-out tent, bursting with go-for-it electricity, the pair spun two hours of party trance, groovy techno and the odd curveball – including a raucous edit of Khia’s My Neck, My Back (Lick It).
Representing New York City, in the hot yet often heaving Pleasure Dome stage early on the Sunday evening were AceMoMA – consisting of AceMo and MoMa Ready. Their two-hour set continuously built and built the energy, whipping the crowd into a frenzy with speedy, head-bobbing four-to-the-floor house and techno. Spanning Floorplan-esque melodic techno, subtle electro and 2-step influenced shufflers, the duo showed off their chops as two of the world’s most exciting DJs on the circuit right now.
Rounding off Saturday’s proceedings was a London festival exclusive headline slot from the Russell brothers – one of their first live shows since releasing their stellar debut album, Good Lies. As the sun set, the stage’s backdrop morphed into giant screens – projecting an audiovisual experience many of dance music’s best live acts have come to embrace as part of their sets. In typical fashion, the brothers played a soaring slew of their emotive dancefloor hits. But on top of their studio productions, perhaps their best moments came when they veered slightly off the expected path with a hefty edit of The Streets’ classic Turn The Page – a somewhat staple of their recent shows – drawing collective “WTFs” from the crowd, as did a rendition of XTC’s Functions on the Low.
Playing the festival’s penultimate set on outdoor, dance-focused stage the Patio, composer, DJ and sound artist Yu Su. Having built a reputation for gorgeous downtempo productions, the artist showed off her polished, classy DJ chops. Featuring fast-paced electro, oddball techno, a wonky Pulse X edit, and the occasional well-coordinated hands in the air moment – all mixed with precision – her debut GALA set was a fitting round off to the long weekend’s affairs.