The UK Festival Award-winning We Are FSTVL returned to Upminster in Essex for the third edition of the two-day dance event on Saturday, May 30th and Sunday, May 31st. Carl Cox, Steve Angello, Loco Dice and Sven Väth were among the headliners at Damyns Hall Aerodrome for what was a weekend of big production undermined by transport issues on Saturday night. Mike Barnard and Ann McManus offer their sides of the story.
DJ EZ once again proved his tight mixing skills and quickfire tune selection make for one hell of a party set.
He Said: “A bright, sunny morning made the journey to We Are FSTVL an enjoyable experience. The train out of London to Upminster had t-shirts, crop tops, shorts, hot pants and trainers aplenty – no need for wellies, and sunglasses very much encouraged. Even the 10 minute queue to board the shuttle buses went quickly with plenty of excited chat about the day to come. Once through the gates at 2.30pm the festival was four hours old and the space was heaving. Turning left led round to the vast open air main stage with three raised viewing platforms; to the right was the long ‘techno hanger’ hosted by Used and Abused where Recondite was finishing up a live set. Straight ahead the Defected in the House arena was rammed – as it would be all day – while Hannah Wants hosted the fourth main stage where we headed first.
There the Black Butter Records duo of My Nu Leng were bringing the Bristol basslines and future garage vibes, their up-tempo set plunging us into the thick of the action. A “TUNE” sign bagged, we felt the need to get out into the sunshine and found Leng’s labelmates Gorgon City in the midst of a main stage set lapped up by the We Are FSTVL faithful who went wild to “Ready for Your Love”. We delved into the throng of techno fans for Loco Dice, then got a feel for the Defected tent. There house royalty Masters at Work won set of the day for an energetic set which produced an electric atmosphere with just a hint of the soulful vocals they often rely on. The mood across the site was approaching fever pitch for the headline acts so we opted to see Drumcode boss Adam Beyer round out the Used and Abused stage. He was on form with a pacey, pounding set that veered closer to a thumping, heads-down, peak-time set than some of the groovier stuff he’s been playing recently. We stuck around long enough to hear reports of a spectacular Carl Cox close to the main stage and catch Tall Paul providing an after-hours set of pumping house, but nothing disappointed… until the journey home.
Unlike the relatively smooth trip to the festival site, we found vast crowds trying to get onto limited shuttle buses while taxis struggled to find their bookers. In the confusion, the single road access had become blocked and we, like countless others, saw no sign of getting back to Upminster station three miles away in time for a train back to London unless we walked the route down country lanes in the dark. With no obvious option available, that’s exactly what we did. I’d heard of transport issues at previous We Are FSTVL editions, but this was an unacceptable end to what had been a fun day, made worse by being rained on and then packed into a train back to Fenchurch Street. Getting home at 3am meant it wasn’t easy to look forward to the second day.
Even so, we returned on Sunday to a muted afternoon. Rain throughout the night and morning hadn’t encouraged weekend ticket holders to rush back after the travel issues the night before, while others had likely stayed away completely. A limp Ricardo Villalobos set in Cocoon summed up the mood as he swayed between decks while the sparse crowd in the techno hanger seemed disinterested. We wandered over to the main stage in search of a bar serving wine to find a group dressed as blue-and-yellow macaws flapping about to Heidi stand-in G.W. Harrison, raising a smile. Then, just as we were seeking out Richy Ahmed in the Paradise tent, the sun broke through the cloud and lured us onto one of the giant viewing platforms where we found a pair of Spanish lads munching on baguettes and drinking rum from frat party cups while loving every minute.
After a cultural exchange we bopped to the punchy, deep grooves of beaming Dirtybird boss Claude VonStroke at Paradise where we found a reveller had discarded her (we assumed it was a her) sparkly boots at the front barrier she was having such a good time. The boots reminded us we were at a festival and needed to get back in the spirit so we had a scout around to find Ten Walls performing live with a solid if unspectacular set which might have been better suited to 2am rather than 5.30pm while in MK’s VIP Area 10 Huxley and J Phlip dropped a hip hop curveball among their house selections. The set of the day would go to DJ EZ in the Hospitality arena, once again proving his tight mixing skills and quickfire tune selection make for one hell of a party set. People crammed into every entrance to the tent trying to get in on the action – ‘21 Seconds’, ‘Gotta Get Thru This’ and ‘RIP Groove’ among the tunes bringing huge cheers. We bailed after DJ EZ’s set to ensure we could get home without issues – not something you should ever have to worry about before, during or after an event like this.”
During Masters at Work the heat and moment caused one girl to climb on the shoulders of her friend, get topless and hurl her bra into the crowd.
She Said: “A trip to Essex is always a colourful experience, but We Are FSTVL ensured it lived up and possibly even went beyond its most harlequin. Hundreds of flags of all colours, shapes and sizes greeted the dolled-up crowd flowing in among their masts towards the sounds of the main stage’s reassuring, thudding bass. The vivid decorations continued throughout the venue, with ornate sofas on which revellers could enjoy jugs of Pimms among giant daisies in VIP.
After a reccy of the site, we dropped in to My Nu Leng for a fantastic set from the Bristol duo with input from an MC that was injecting the energy a crowd needed to kick off their festival vibes. When ASAP Ferg – “Work” went off, everyone seriously got their bounce on. Keeping the hip-hop fusion theme running, we headed to see the more established Masters At Work in the Defected tent, where the New Yorkers lived up to their legendary status. The crowd were enraptured throughout, in one instance the heat and moment causing one girl to climb on the shoulders of her friend, get topless and hurl her bra into the crowd. The obvious way to round off the night was Adam Beyer, host of one of the greatest podcasts on offer for techno fans, made all the better by the rolling “r”s throughout his commentary. Beyer hosted an swelled entourage of at least 20 people on stage, and dropped a set that blew apart what I had considered a fantastic set at April’s Enter. in Tobacco Docks, vigorous and versatile from start to finish.
An epic trip home and rainy morning on Sunday meant working up the will to get out to the country took some time, but on reaching the site, the weather had dried out and the crowd enjoying G.W. Harrison on the main stage were being cheered up even more by a group of high spirited ladies dancing through the crowd, dressed up in spectacular costumes as green and yellow birds. Serious kudos to those ladies, you certainly cheered me up!
Top of my bill today was Dirtybird label boss Claude VonStroke. In my view, Claude is one of the most perceptive DJs, always able to match his set impeccably to any venue or mood. Starting the first few minutes with light airy beats, That wicked Dirtybird bass was soon dropped and everyone disregarded keeping their cool to get their funk on. Unlike Claude finding a set appropriate to the mood and time of the day, pianist-turned-techno-god Ten Walls went all out and transformed a late afternoon set’s ambience to what felt like 1am, the tent dark and the techno hard.
We quickly checked into Sven Väth, who was absorbed in a set involving numerous key changes implemented in a very considered manner, however some pretty naff vocals said time to move on. Last set deserves so much to be said…DJ EZ was doing what he does best – sniffing out the slightest garage or bassline in places you would never have thought and mixing them all together at a ridiculous speed. Everyone was getting down and the tent was packed out, gents in chains and chokers with mental slogans pulling their hardest faces – including one chap with a “No Basic Bitches” choker…epic scenes and, having one last bounce around, a good note to leave on.
She said by Ann McManus.