Abbots Ripton, Cambridgeshire
There’s something special going on at We Out Here. The festival helmed by DJ and Brownswood Recordings founder Gilles Peterson, marked its third edition over the August bank holiday weekend and it already feels like an institution in the festival calendar.
Nestled away in the Cambridgeshire countryside, We Out Here is a relatively intimate affair hosting a mere 14,000 people. The effect of this is two-fold. The first is a headsy crowd that arrives on site wanting to seek out new acts as much as to see their current favourites. The second is that no stage is more than a five minute walk away, making it easy to slip from one act to another and stumble across something unexpectedly brilliant.
There was no shortage of things to discover through the four days as well. The line-up is at once specialist and broad, offering a knowing curation of jazz, soul, house, techno, jungle, drum ‘n’ bass and every microgenre of the above you could care to name. Its hard to think of another festival where Brazilian jazz-funk pioneers Azymuth are billed on the same stage as Fabio and Grooverider, and Underground Resistance.
In the daytimes, We Out Here’s main focus was the kind of UK jazz and adjacent sounds found on the 2018 Brownswood compilation album from which the festival takes it name. Across the weekend a host of buzzy London acts graced stages across the gathering, whether it was multi-instrumentalist DoomCannon and trumpeter and composer Ife Ogunjobi on Friday, The Comet is Coming’s frenetic galactajazz on Saturday or KOKOROKO’s triumphant Sunday night closing set. The festival also proved the perfect home for the borderless approach of many associated with the continually expanding cannon of ‘New London Jazz’ – the most hyped example across the weekend being Steam Down’s set with grime veteran D Double E, which packed out the Hennessy Corner on Saturday night.
It wasn’t just about the capital, though. There was a wealth of homegrown talent from across the UK on display with Manchester’s Secret Night Gang and TC and The Groove Family and 2/22, both from Leeds, also proving highlights. Meanwhile LA’s John Carroll Kirby and Chicago’s legendary Kahil El’Zabar created a bridge across the Atlantic ahead of Sunday night where the crowd was treated to a poignant performance from spiritual jazz’s greatest living prophet Pharoah Sanders.
Jazz aside, Obongjayar and Enny further cemented their status as future crossover stars with two impeccable sets on the main stage. However it was Soweto’s BCUC – aka Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness – that proved the biggest surprise of the weekend, whipping the crowd into a frenzy with a blend of traditional South African grooves, church songs and funk, all fronted by Zithulele “Jovi” Zabani Nkosi, a man who sounds like James Brown learnt how to death growl.
Come nightfall the vibe shifted seamlessly to tougher, bassier sounds. Thursday night saw Masters At Work bring their Nuyorican Soul sound to the mainstage while Jossy Mitsu and Overmono repped the UK’s leftfield club scene at Rhythm Corner. Elsewhere, Koreless delivered a spectral set on the cosy Lush Life stage before Parris sent the Woodland raving with a mix of wonky techno and grime. Fabio and Grooverider delivered live renditions of drum ‘n’ bass classics with the Outlook Orchestra on Friday night, while Hessle Audio celebrated 15 years of heat back at Rhythm Corner.
For these seeking something a little harder, the likes of Sherelle, Calibre and Tim Reaper had the jungle and drum’n’bass continuum locked down. Yet the biggest dancefloor draw of the weekend was always going to be Detroit pioneers Underground Resistance, bolstered on stage by a live saxophone and keys player to further blur the lines between the sounds on display at We Out Here.
No matter where you went at this year’s edition, you were pretty much guaranteed to be graced with good music and good vibes. Every stage, from the main arenas to the tiny DJ booths tucked away in bars, was clearly curated with love and passion for the music the festival was designed to showcase. A near perfect snapshot of the best the UK has to offer in terms of music and attitude right now.