The first edition of Gilles Peterson’s We Out Here in 2019 felt like the start of a new kind of weekender, one which combined the new UK jazz scene with the country’s wealth of electronic music talent. Have your mind blown by Nubya Garcia by day and your body melted by Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy by night. Happy days. But the event was far from sold out, leaving one wondering whether there was enough appetite for the kind of fusion that We Out Here pushes. Would the glowing reviews be enough to create a solid foundation of support for the second edition?
Fast forward two years and We Out Here lands in the slim portion of summer where coronavirus restrictions have been fully lifted. Tickets have sold out well in advance thanks to word of mouth hype and lucky timing – UK ravers are ready to ‘ave it in whichever field will have them before the summer ends. Thankfully for those of us who put a bet on the first We Out Here and had a brilliant time, the sold-out crowd is receptive, friendly and more than willing to create a vibe. Seeing a sunny main stage field go off to KOKOROKO or the bespoke Lemon Lounge tent explode to Ahadadream in the early hours of the morning is a necessary reminder of how pure and thrilling the communal enjoyment of live music is.
More stages are added to accommodate the bigger capacity: there’s a roller disco, the bass-heavy Labyrinth area, a bandstand, an intimate bell tent fitted out with a bespoke soundsystem, and the Rhythm Corner dancefloor is made bigger. On the whole, overcrowding is avoided, though the fabulous Lemon Lounge with its beautiful, guttural hand-built soundsystem could probably do with being made a bit bigger – though sometimes heat, sweat and bodies calling for the reload in rowdy unison is all part of the appeal.
The line-up curation is a treat for trainspotters who pore over the programme in order to create the perfect itinerary (and plenty of ravers are seen clutching print copies). The programming tells stories all over the festival site: a lineage of UK rave with Overmono, SHERELLE, DJ Storm and Fabio & Grooverider taking over Lush Life, a Dingwalls reunion in Love Dancin’, a seriously heavy dub session in the Roller Disco with Channel One, Iration Steppas and Dubkasm and a who’s who of new UK jazz and neo-soul across three days on the main stage. At points, it feels like there’s too much to see and, alas, some heartbreaking decisions have to be made.
But we move, and it’s a joy to be surrounded by such a wealth of musicians playing on soundsystems that sound clear and punchy throughout the weekend. Thundercat’s special guest appearance rewires the minds of everyone in attendance, SHERELLE deploys face-melting neo footwork, hardcore and jungle like a charismatic matador of high-speed dance music, Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy lifts a disco ball-illuminated tent into pure ecstasy, Tash LC rocks the Lemon Lounge with soca before Lil C detonates dancehall and club edits, Chris Duckenfield plays exactly the right kind of spangled selection for 4:AM in a forest illuminated by lasers.
Tasker and Anunaku take full advantage of an early evening set and a pumping system, Sons Of Kemet close the festival with a truly incendiary set, summoning rhythmic intensity with the apparent ease and telepathy that all truly great bands have. Kahn and Neek drop minimalist bass bombs as the sun goes down… The moments are numerous, and you’re guaranteed a few jaw-dropping moments per day.
Of note too is the focus on crews young and old. Elders such as Faith, Electric Chair and Mr Scruff are called up to deliver showcases, guiding the festival late into the night with an expert hand that can too often go underrated elsewhere in the rave calendar.
Youngers like All Hands On Deck, Touching Bass, Creole Cuts and members of Tomorrow’s Warriors are given free reign to evidence why they’re building dedicated fanbases in their respective communities, freedom that means you’ll likely catch future headliners in embryonic and exciting stages of their careers. This trust in each end of the generations that We Out Here books is refreshing – aside from the main stage there are no obvious headliners, just a wide variety of artists given a platform to do their thing and do it well.
Obviously, it ain’t all perfect: It’s inexplicable that Overmono, one of the biggest acts in UK techno right now, are booked on a tiny stage with inadequate sound for the crowd they attract and the ‘Bicep for the heads’ sound that they specialise in; food stalls are inundated with people and it takes an hour to order regular festival fayre, an annoyance when so much good music is popping off from the early afternoon of each day; set time changes are poorly communicated, meaning even the hardiest of programme planners miss crucial performances due to the lack of internet or a festival app/WhatsApp group (sorry Alfa Mist and Moses Boyd); and site production feels sparse at times – it’d be nice to get truly lost in the festival rather than be reminded of the outside world by a hard seltzer pop-up that sticks out like a neon shrine to spring break.
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A festival should make your heart sing and We Out Here definitely has the capacity to do that. It’s sure to be a definite go-to in 2022 but while Gilles and co have got the music on lock, they should take a closer look at the overall experience and tighten up the loose ends to create an event that shines outside of the line-up.
Seb Wheeler is a freelance writer, follow him on Twitter