Peckham Rye Park
“Bring the jungle music for ya, hey / Feel the bass blow through ya speaker, hey-a.”
Nia Archives kicked off Thursday’s eclectic line-up at GALA Festival’s Pleasure Dome stage, playing her meticulously-crafted jungle discography alongside a selection of amen breaks and drum ’n’ bass classics. The tracks were layered with her soft vocals – a sound that’s come to typify the next generation of jungle music. Goldie surprised an enamoured Nia halfway through her set, marking a moment for the UK festival as two jungle pioneers – established and new – came together onstage.
This was testament to the ethos of GALA: a festival that celebrated the originators and innovators of club music from both local and international scenes. Nestled in a woodland corner of Peckham Rye Park, GALA spanned three days and five stages, hosting a range of DJs and live bands; from grassroots jazz to homegrown communities. This summer, GALA kicked off the capital city’s festival season armed with an exceptional line-up and an emphasis on creating a safe, community-inspired space for its attendees.
As we drew further into the afternoon, we watched the sensational OK Williams command the Patio stage. Beginning at a more relaxed tempo, OK Williams’ set intensified into harder breakbeats and her ‘techno twerking’ style, playing remixes of LSDXOXO’s Mutant Exotic and Right Said Fred’s I’m Too Sexy. Across the rest of her more uptempo techno set, she also opted for a selection of funk, Afrobeat and grooves.
On the Friday and Saturday, the programming leaned more towards the dancefloor, with a stronger slant towards house music, and more DJs than live acts in comparison to Thursday’s heavyweight billing of Ojerime, Children of Zeus and Sons of Kemet. One aberration to Friday was the charming Soichi Terada — a bastion of house music in Japan — who treated the audience to his melodic house slant on 80s and 90s New York influences. The producer used his synthesiser to morph the electronic hi-hats on specific tracks, blending them with his own abstract harmonic vocals. It was a playful performance full of humour and character, and Terada could be seen peeking his head out from behind the decks or elegantly bunny-hopping across four huge speakers with a beaming smile on his face. It was impossible not to be won over by his endearing charm and showmanship. Over in the Pleasure Dome, Courtesy attracted a more rave-attuned crowd. The energy here was different, with the Copenhagen selector ramping up the energy with a set of trance cuts and house that coalesced with breaks.
Saturday’s schedule ran the longest with an increasingly house-centric programme. Horse Meat Disco funnelled the Pleasure Dome from afternoon to night, blending queer staples – including Kylie Minogue’s Can’t Get You Out of My Head – with their own disco rhythms. Accompanied by the alluring choreography of the performers from Sue Veneers’ queer dance party, the energy was bewitching; a reminder that Horse Meat Disco blueprinted the queer disco party where everyone’s invited. Some of the best performances across the festival took place in this Pleasure Dome, not least because of its balmy atmosphere and giant disco ball, but for the impeccable sound system and lighting that outshone the rest of the stages.
Palms Trax was on duty to wrap up the festival, and he played an enchanting closing set. As an orange-tinted sunset appeared over the main stage, the Berlin-based selector delivered swirling synth lines, bouncy rhythms and dance-ready melodies blended with house classics. Robin S’ Show Me Love played after dark, and the crowd climaxed into a bop and raucous song – one that we didn’t want to end. This was a perfect example of some of the joys of GALA Festival; an event that housed disparate genres together into one seamless line-up. A festival where dance music’s architects played alongside its future trailblazers.