Childerley Orchard, Cambridge
As Cambridge’s Childerley Orchard was doused in September’s slanting sun, 20,000 keen festival-goers headed to the new home of Strawberries and Creem.
This year’s edition hosted the most impressive line-up of the festival to date, comprising international and homegrown acts which catered to a variety of musical tastes – from hip-hop to house; R&B to reggae; and drum’n’bass to drill.
A collaboration with Notting Hill Carnival meant this year’s festival-goers had the chance to revel in the energetic dancehall rhythms that they’d been deprived of, following the parade’s two-year absence from the streets. In true Carnival spirit, there was a stage that resembled a truck float; impromptu group dance routines broke out in crowds and spontaneous MC performances were incited by high-energy DJ sets.
Whilst the Girls Can’t DJ stage exclusively showcased women and non-binary artists, it wasn’t the only place to enjoy the talent of underrepresented artists, with over 50 percent of performers booked being women. Alongside a collaboration with United Nations Women UK, the line-up reflected the festival’s commitment to advocate for those who face discrimination and oppression, as encapsulated in the first half of its slogan: Celebrate Heritage.
“Champion Future” – the second half of the slogan – was demonstrated by the booking of rising stars, like up-and-coming vinyl aficionado Eliza Rose and British-Gambian rapper Pa Salieu, whose scintillating performance of new releases such as Gliding, Lit and Energy was enthusiastically received by Saturday afternoon’s main stage crowd. Saturday’s other standout performances included a sundown soca set, courtesy of Fiyahdred (FKA Bamz), followed by reggae talent Koffee performing to a crowd well-versed in the lyrics to her Grammy-winning 2019 EP, Rapture.
As the opening night drew to a close, the uncompromising Afro-fusion sound of Nigerian megastar Burna Boy provided the warmth to keep crowds moving until the very end. The paisley-clad African Giant performed alongside a live band, choir, dancers and traditional Yoruba drummers, running through hits such as Ye. His acapella rendition of Play Play managed to transform a main stage performance into an intimate serenade.
A Notting Hill Carnival main stage takeover kicked off Sunday’s proceedings with feathered samba dancers, steel drummers and a promise from the MC that “if you don’t know what soca music is, you’re about to learn”. Those craving something slightly gnarlier could head to Renegade Roulade for seasoned selector and Metalheadz affiliate Dillinja, whose fierce drum’n’bass selections – refined over a three-decade career – were well-received in spite of the stage’s less-than-rattling sound system. Against an ethereal backdrop of a rainbow sky, Little Simz performed tracks taken from her new genre-bending album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, meandering effortlessly between Rollin’ Stone’s hard-hitting, quick-fire bars and Woman’s mellow soulfulness.
Whilst the house heads’ cravings were satisfied by New Zealand brothers, Chaos in the CBD and London-based NTS resident Moxie, VIP ticket holders could experience intimate performances from renowned acts at the exclusive access Orchard stage. The line-up boasted names such as Tash LC and Shy One, whose eclectic selections bounced energetically from Scratcha to Sizzla. British-Ghanian producer Juls pulled in the stage’s largest crowd, but it was emerging selector Ronnie Loko who stole the show, with energetic UK funky and Afro house edits of Shola Ama’s Imagine and Denise Belfon’s Work.
It was up to Giggs to close the end of summer celebration, and what a glorious closer it was. Giggs delivered a tour-de-force main stage show that served as a reminder as to why he’s a figurehead of UK rap. The feeling we were left with? We’re looking ahead to next year’s edition already.