Best known for bucket and spade holidays, breathtaking scenery and, er, Wally the walrus —the West Wales coastal town of Tenby is hardly a modern epicentre of rave. But, back in the day, the likes of Carl Cox and Sasha often played the town during the summer months of rave's early ‘90s peak and the people behind Westival are trying to bring some of that spirit back to their corner of South Pembrokeshire.
Now in its third year, (discounting a two-year enforced break for covid) Westival has built a steady following over its previous two editions and the 2022 event has a nice blend of regulars, newbies and locals grabbing a rare opportunity to catch some quality DJs on great soundsystems without having to travel hours.
Arriving midway through Friday, we head straight to Botanica, the new dome-shaped tent replacing and improving upon 2019’s Cave stage. Westival proprietor Mr West is in the process of going b2b with Mosier to what seems like at least half the festival. With the greenhouse-like tent heating up, the pair blend bassline, speed garage and house with a cheeky edit of ‘Fools Gold’ by Stone Roses, making sure barely a soul leaves the packed tent for the majority of their set.
Over on the outdoor garden stage, Mitch Nunn is in a similarly celebratory party mood as he runs through a series of early 2010’s classics from the likes of Joe Godard, Disclosure and Plezier’s ‘Plezier Anthem’ in the blazing afternoon sun, before playing ‘Rhythm of the Night’ and eliciting a sit-down from us.
The big booking for the Friday night though is Dan Shake who takes over the de facto main stage, the Haze with his effortlessly groove-laden blend of disco, filter house and soul which has seen him become a regular at events for labels including Defected and Toy Tonics and make a name for himself as one of the most surefire party starters in the business. His ability to blend with incredible skill and charisma gives records you’ve heard plenty of times before a real freshness while he’s got his fair share of rare edits up his sleeve too.
Over at the Botanica, Local Group are similarly giving well-trodden influences a fresh feel as they shell their unique take on jungle, hardcore and classic rave sounds over some spectacularly skittering rave visuals of British road signs, (somewhat reminiscent of Peter Savile’s design of The Haçienda) and a good dose of bright green lazers.
Saturday sees the sunshine make way for a dose of heavy Welsh rain but, one of the positives of being at a small festival consisting essentially of one big field, is that it’s never too far to walk to any of the festival’s five stages. We head to West Haven, the festival’s smallest area, (which earlier in the day had hosted a pop-up restaurant with a three course taster menu) to catch residents laying down a headache easing set of ambient to those sheltering from the rain.
The low-key vibes don’t last for long though as we head to Botanica to catch London DJ Jay Carder lay down one of the sets of the weekend. The Rinse FM and Soho Radio resident has seen her profile rising this year with sets at Glastonbury, Gottwood, fabric and her own House of Carder nights and it’s easy to see why she’s an increasingly in-demand DJ. Technically, she’s brilliant, effortlessly blending a bass-heavy concoction of techno, two-step and more and her boundless energy and infectious grin give the impression that she couldn’t be enjoying her DJing anymore right now.
The big booking for Saturday night though is the double header of Shanti Celeste and Call Super over at the Haze. A pairing that would turn heads on line-up posters the world over, Shanti (fresh from triumphant sets as SaSS alongside Peach, Saoirse and Moxie at Glastonbury and Love International) warms into her set of luscious techno and house grooves steadily before Call Super takes the reins for a three-hour set. A regular everywhere from Berghain to fabric, Call Super’s take on techno is elegant, wonky, technically brilliant and utterly transfixing and it felt a real treat to catch him in a relatively small environment but with a soundsystem and lighting set-up befitting a much bigger club or festival.
Some seriously heavy Welsh rain means the crowd has thinned somewhat by Sunday evening but making a virtue of necessity, the Westival organisers shift the Void soundsystem from the Haze into the bar area and see off the festival in a house party style befitting the festival’s joyous DIY ethos. Kamma and Masalo, the Dutch pair behind Amsterdam party series Brighter Days, lift the energy levels with their joyful blend of funk, disco and house, before the festival is seen off emotionally with Sister Sledge’s ‘Lost in Music’.
“It feels so special so many people stuck around despite this weather,” says Joe Worley, AKA Mr West and Westival organiser. “The crowd at Westival is really what makes it. Every year it’s like a great house party and I hope we never lose that spirit as we get bigger each year.”
Sean Griffiths is a freelance journalist and copywriter, follow him on Twitter