Southport Weekender Festival

Gwen Angood enjoyed a spectacular day out on Finsbury Park, in the company of some of the friendliest people on the planet…

 

Summer is here, life is feeling brighter, and for many it’s the time to dust off their dancing shoes and head out to do it Al Fresco.

The sunshine was indeed delivered to Finsbury Park – not only shining bright in the sky, but also in the hearts, souls and smiles of those attendees who made Southport Weekender Festival the friendliest party the city has ever seen.

As dawn broke on the morning of Saturday 9th June, a passionate contingent of nearly 10,000 people awoke to the familiar feeling of overwhelming excitement that accompanies the meticulous preparation that takes place on the day of a Southport Weekender event.

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Arranging meeting points with friends and preparing to head out with picnics, many donned custom t-shirts and sequin covered outfits whilst others had spent the preceding week creating a trusty spreadsheet outlining the highlights of day ahead.

The flurry of excitement in the atmosphere was insatiably tangible as we joined the crowd descending upon the park through the beautiful leafy surroundings that encompassed the festival site.

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Creative, expressive and passionate – the community at Southport Weekender Festival

Our expectations were high, as last year’s inaugural instalment of Southport under it’s fresh new festival guise absolutely blew away any form of reservation we may have had about the legendary event’s new format.

However, as we entered to the immersive and diverse sounds of Terry Jones and Andy Davies behind the decks, surrounded by a carnival style ambience it was clear that today was going to hit the right notes on many a level.

People sat enjoying a welcome drink on an array of ‘Southport’ decorated hay bales dotted around the matching deckchairs, as they relaxed to a sound track that made everyone feel right at home.

As the trees swayed gently in the warm breeze, the enormous circus big tops towered above the site, with the familiar thump of an alluring beat emerging from beneath each of the colourful dance domes.

 

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Terry Jones and Andy Davies stir things up in the VIP Area

The impossible task of deciding which of the arenas to delve into first was upon us, as we decided to follow the sea of enthusiastic party people migrating towards The Powerhouse, where Groove Assassin was throwing aside any presumptions that could accompany a daytime set, by awakening the sound system with a thunder of deep, soulful beats that whipped the dancers into shape during the first couple of hours of the festival.

Soulful, sexy vocal vibes oozed across the air as we swayed together to ‘God Lives In Me’ by DJ Spen, David Anthony and Bennett Holland – the Revival Mix energising the crowd with it’s organ spectacular in the heat of the tent, before the force of ‘Ultra Beat’ by Albin Myers whipped us up into a frenzy with its classic synth slants and deep house mood. Dancers flapped their fans and embraced friends as Groove Assassin appeared to be enjoying the atmosphere evolving in The Powerhouse.

Suddenly the beautiful vocals of Han Lei dripped in like liquid gold over the tribal undertones of Rhemi’s Beatpella mix of ‘Diamond’ – the crowd singing in unison with their hands in the air. Groove Assassin’s unrivalled blending skills had us in awe, as did his track selection – taking us right back to the scenes at Suncébeat Dome of Southport 52 where he delivered another seamless, elevating set.

One of the tracks that always ignites strong feelings on the dance floor is Dennis Ferrer’s  ‘How do I let Go’, featuring the vocals of K.T Brooks, which releases one of the most underrated piano formations in house music towards it’s climax.

With passions running high, Groove Assassin drew his set towards a close with his stunning recent re-work on the iconic Hard Times label of a classic by Robert Owens and Michael Watford. Certainly backed by us as one of the key tracks to this summer, ‘Come Together (I am what I am)’ speaks volumes not only musically, but through its poignant lyrics, represents a community where diversity, acceptance and love leads the way. The track has a throbbing heart beat like undertone and an anthemic presence – bound to feature heavily throughout Europe’s underground house music scene this year. The more soulful, uplifting affair that is Groove Assassin’s own mix  hit the spot on a glorious sunny day.

 

 

Moving on to the Liverpool Disco Festival Arena, we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Jellybean Benitez being given free reign of the decks to provide us with an array of aural delights that really did up the game in the terms of  an energy-boosting soundtrack. Oozing the feeling of midnight at a disco somewhere in a cosmopolitan city warehouse, the set had a raw and rare, yet familiar feel to it – the highlight for us being the life anthem that is ‘You Can’t Hide’ by Teddy Pendergrass. 

Always in admiration of Jellybean’s smooth transition between tracks, it’s easy to get lost in one of his sets as he immerses you deeper and deeper into the genre of disco by the second – a true pioneer and icon of the original scene and the legacy still evolving from it to this day.

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Jellybean Benitez in the LDF arena

How apt therefore it was for Jellybean to hand over to another Disco Stalwart and M+M curator John Morales. Having shared many a party with John’s presence behind the decks, we knew that the atmosphere in this arena was about to kick off. As the tent filled, John wasted no time in getting to work with some belting, fiery tracks that whipped up a storm.

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Sprinkled by the beams of the disco ball suspended up above, the image of a crowd twinkling away and cheering to the sound of ‘Can’t Fake The Feeling’ stays in the mind – this time, the Reel People feat. Navasha Daya covering Geraldine Hunt’s classic, in the form of Johns very own M+M Main Mix.

Obviously apparent through his delivery, John knew every beat of this track backwards and inside out as he pounded the rhythm out in a virtuoso fashion to a responsive crowd, who felt elated by the emotion emanating from a DJ who not only feels his music, but lives and breathes it.

One of the most expert in the game when it comes to reading the crowd and taking them on an ascending journey, things only got hotter in the LDF tent as the whole experience moved up yet another level. There was a feeling of a pulse, a vibration and a wave spreading through the tent as dancers moved in sync, with John bouncing back in response.

With the sunlight creeping in around the edges, reminding us it was till daylight, there was such a tight-knit feeling surrounding this sensational dance experience, one where everyone smiled at one another and sang to their friends with their hands in the air.

 

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John Morales entertaining the crowd at the LDF Arena

Transported right back to one of the most intensely emotional experiences of our party adventures as John played the sensationally emotive classic that is ‘Back Together’ by Hardsoul feat. Ron Caroll – hairs stood up on end during this spine tingling moment as we remembered the highlight of Suncébeat for us last summer when he played this track as we docked on the Disco Nights Boat.

Couple this with one of the finest reworks around, the powerful M+M Full Mix of ‘I Need Your Lovin’ by Teena Marie, it was clear to say the roof rocketed off this tent in an atmospheric sense as the crowd really lost their minds as they sang their hearts out in unison.

There comes a time when it would have been necessary for us to clone ourselves into at least 6  separate entities to cover the plethora of sensational experiences going on simultaneously around the festival site, and this was it.

Torn between where to go next and which of the stellar line-up clashes we should prioritise, we decided to split up and head in different directions.

In the Funkbase Arena, none other than Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B was on stage blending in the undertones of McFadden and Whitehead’s ‘Ain’t No Stopping Us Now’ before bringing it to the forefront of the mix in response to hundreds of singing dancers with their hands in the air – one of those moments that just makes you have to stop, look around and take it all in before you dive in and loose your head.

Diving straight on into the MiSoul Arena, our hearts knew exactly where to find the kind of atmosphere we crave, and often only experience when these guys are in charge of the party.

Having enjoyed every second of their bubbling hot pot of soulful tracks when they took over District at Liverpool Disco Festival, it was a hundred times more powerful to witness this team deliver the goods on a full size festival stage.

The diverse combination of MiSoul specialists this time included the likes of Martin Lodge, Melvo Baptiste, Brandon Block and Paul ‘Trouble’ Anderson. The team hit the nail on the head with their delightful selection of tracks and unparalleled delivery skills, dropping each beat exactly the right place – in  a way that only connoisseurs like these could.

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Paul ‘Trouble’ Anderson – the highlight of MiSoul!

Similarly, their neighbouring party stalwarts Deep Into Soul were pushing things way beyond the limits of their spectacular debut arena take-over last year, with one of the highlights of the festival taking to their stage – the sensational House Gospel Choir.

It’s not often we get to say that we experience a true gospel performance such as this one. The spirituality surrounding their presence on stage was astounding, not to mention the energy emanating from each and every one of the choir members as they displayed so much raw emotion and feeling during their set.

Their voices filled the vast circus top space, lifting right up into the rafters and taking us with them. Their rendition of Barbara Tucker’s ‘Beautiful People’ offered Samba vibes and sensational harmonies to provide a truly spine-tingling experience.

 

 

The revellers in this tent were also in for a treat in the form of Neil Pierce’s set – at this point, the rum was going down nicely, we’d just been to heaven and back with the House Gospel Choir, and one of the forces behind Rhemi was about to unleash a set of soulful delights as the heat continued to rise in the Deep Into Soul arena. Hitting the spot with some tantalising trumpets and a funky, infectious beat, the highlight of his set was Rhemi’s very own ‘Shake Your Body Down‘, that had us all winding, grooving and shaking our assets like our lives depended on it. This track has a distinct carnival vibe, along with the foundations of all things Jazz – the perfect summer sizzler in our opinion.

Just when we thought we’d hit the top, he hands over to Josh Milan who escalates the vibe yet again, it was indeed a privilege to witness one of his DJ sets, having relished many a live performance of his in the past.

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Neil Pierce handing over to Josh Milan

It’s obviously going to be impossible not to mention Sister Sledge. There was a sense of hysteria oozing out of the Liverpool Disco Festival arena when Kathy and the team were about to come on stage. Lucky enough to witness this from behind the scenes and starstruck to say the least, we were fully wrapped up in the whole experience – totally engrossed in what was a slick and splendid performance by such Icons of Disco.

Their stage presence was astounding – captivating each and every one of us with their stunning choreography, with Kathy’s familiar velvety vocals infiltrating our ears, hearts and souls as we released 100% of our repressed disco essences – losing our voices, losing our minds – this was one to tick off the bucket list, and it was everything we’d hoped for.

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The sensational Kathy Sledge

 

Feeling renewed, and an overwhelming sense of freedom after expressing ourselves through the medium of the Chic Organization’s creations, we were clearly elated when venturing over to the VIP area to seek our next musical morsel.  We were very pleased to see Davide Fiorese absolutely slamming the tracks out like there was no tomorrow – there was certainly no rest for the wicked.

Davide’s set was attracting party-goers under the canopy like bees to honey, courtesy of the classic house sounds emitting out over the arena. There was a distinct sense of togetherness here as a diverse crowd joined together in appreciation of the music we’d all grown up to, danced to and made memories to over the years.

The vuvuzelas were tooting in full force as Davide dropped Louie Vega’s sublime rendition of a Stevie Wonder classic, “Love Having You Around”.  Riding our virtual camels to each other across the grass without a care in the world, singing along to Rochelle Fleming and Barbara Tucker’s powerful vocals, the real house heads emerged from under the trees to prance about to this one.

 

 

Davide responded to his demographic really well, continuing with some stunning four-to-the-floor powered house, with a distinct Italian energy surrounding the set. Playing a very emotional tribute to Frankie Knuckles, we heard Robert Owens’ vocals flowing out towards us as the Full Intention Mix of ‘Tears’ filled the air, taking us from a reflective and poignant mood to one of sheer elation ans he mixed this into Alison Limerick’s ‘Where Love Lives’.  A very fitting accolade to the 30 Years of Def Mix celebrations taking part at the festival later that day.

Sandy Rivera was an absolute treat in The Powerhouse arena. Having celebrated our founding house years adoring Sandy as a producer under his Kings of Tomorrow guise, this was a special opportunity to see him play to a bunch of people who really wanted him to let loose behind the decks. And that indeed he did, delivering tracks like the acid infused ‘The City of Free Love’ by Gianni Bini – the David Penn Remix overwhelming the senses with it’s infectious piano riffs and classic house-style build up. As it dropped, the Thriller-esque string slants sent a soar of exhilaration through the crowd as the tent began to fill up ahead of the sensational night ahead.

Sandy powered on with Two 4 Soul’s ‘God Lives In Me’ – naturally the organ crazy Spen, David Anthony and Holland Bennet Revival Mix was the version of choice here. Ignited by this, the crowd erupted in response to the track that followed, which for many, stands out as Sandy’s most familiar yet awe-inspiring production, ‘Finally’ with the stunning vocals of Julie McKnight. We experienced a flashback to last year, when Julie was live on this very stage – one of our favourite festival experiences to date.

Next it was time to be a part of a celebration of one of the most influential and iconic collectives of house music as 2018 sees Def Mix powering on strong into their 30th year.

Our hearts were fluttering as the team made a rare UK appearance all together – with the exception of Satoshie Tomiie who was working away, and of course the physical presence of Frankie Knuckles – a sight that really hit hard when Judy Weinstein, Hector Romero and David Morales appeared on the stage. At this point, it was impossible not to think of the big smile that would be on Frankie’s face as he saw the response from the hundreds now packed into The Powerhouse arena. However, it was apparent throughout the rest of the night that his spiritual presence had a substantial influence on the party, as it became clear that Frankie’s legacy still lives on at every single event we attend, and that every new house track released into the pool of significant beats evolves from the sound synonymous with The Warehouse.

 

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It’s a hard call to identify your favourite DJ, but Hector Romero is up there for us. Probably the most immersive, passionate selector you can ever encounter, everything Hector plays comes straight from the heart. The humble youngster of Def Mix presents his music with an insatiable energy that immediately hooks you when you enter his space.

Tonight was no exception – in fact, Hector was close to reaching the highs of the Def Mix boat party at Suncébeat last summer with the storm that was brewing in The Powerhouse.

Keep your eyes peeled for our interview with Hector Romero coming soon!!

This set actually had tears exuding from our eyes, as the feeling radiating through from the music and Hector’s immersive delivery really hit the spot. Emotionally, hearing Black Ivory’s Mainline’ in this scenario was quite simply sublime.

Another uplifting moment unfolded as Hector played his sensational ‘He-Xed Disco Edit’ of  Thelma Houston’s 1977 track ‘I’m Here Again’, which packs a punch from the off -resulting in the whole arena jumping up and down in unison.

Really getting the crowd moving, Hector points out to his tattoo – an inscription on his right arm reading ‘Music is the key’ with a beaming smile on his face – an absolute testament to how much he lives, breathes and loves what he does.

One of our favourite Def Mix party tracks also featured in Hector’s Set – Teddy Patterson’s Unreleased Remix of ‘Everybody Get Up’ by The RedZone Project feat. Keith Anthony Fluitt, with it’s Sister Sledge snippets reinforcing the family vibe that was evolving in The Powerhouse. There seemed to be an incredible amount of energy in the room at this point.

Playing Hazekia Walker’s ‘Lets Dance’ in the form of the E-Smoov Vocal Stomp just reinforced to us what we already knew – that the Def Mix sound really did define the genre of house music as we know it today, providing a soundtrack that we turn to when self-expression, freedom and love needs a little helping hand to flow.

 

David Morales joined Hector on stage to rouse the crowd ahead of his set, which soon saw the addition of Juliet Roberts to the stage.

Opening with ‘The Whistle Song’ by Frankie Knuckles, and air of poignancy once again swept through the arena – David clearly moved by the experience, set out to raise the roof in tribute to his friend.

Once Juliet came on board with a powerful rendition of ‘Caught In The Middle’, we threw caution to the wind, our drinks in the air, and partied the rest of the night away.

L.O.V.E – LOVE really did it for us at Southport Weekender.

There were so many moment’s we weren’t able to capture – to illustrate the magnitude of this festival’s line up once again, we just couldn’t get to Henrik Schwarz, Leroy Burgess, Soul II Soul, Osunlade, Jamie 3:26 and The S Men not to mention the scores of world class artists doing their thing at the same time across the festival site. We remain astounded as to how something quite this epic took place in a corner of a park in just over 10 hours.

Once again, returning home overwhelmed, the experience of Southport Weekender festival just surpassed expectations when it came to musical experiences. The atmosphere was on another level – something only the loyal crowd and excited newcomers to this festival can generate.

It’s safe to say that this festival really does lie true to their claim – it really is, without a doubt “The World’s Friendliest Party”

Join us at Suncébeat 8 this time next week, the Adriatic sister festival of Southport Weekender in the Croatian sunshine.

Tickets are till available here

 

 

Photo Credits: Southport Weekender, Foto-Genix Photography, Wisdom Makubile for Here & Now.

Video Credits: So Tangy, SM4SPTV, Southport Weekender, Suncébeat

Thanks for capturing these wonderful moments guys x

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