South West Four returned for its 14th year on London’s Clapham Common with two days of electronic music across Saturday, August 25th and Sunday, August 26th headlined by Pendulum and Deadmau5 respectively. Ann McManus was there on the Sunday.
It was lovely to see ravers of all ages bopping around, some dressed as though out for a ramble with waterproof sunhat and hiking boots.
Bank holiday Sunday was miraculously one of the best days weather-wise all summer. Last year SW4 turned around so many of the criticisms against the event, in particular, a very long negotiation with the council had seen some relief on the tight sound level restrictions. I hoped for the same again this year. Brunching in my garden not far from the site, in Stockwell, I listened out for the distant bass beginning at 12.30 but I couldn’t make anything out. I disregarded the thought that the sound had been reduced again and blamed myself for forgetting to take my earplugs out recently.
By the time I got to Clapham High Street it became clear the sound levels were back to a level that won the festival the right to repeat it’s annual weekend tenure on the Common. Considerately low for the residents, but a little less appealing to the ravers. With the heat, the outdoor Main Stage seemed to lack energy, despite a chirpy set from Martin Solveig followed up by Example & DJ Wire using their combination to provide the crowd a more interactive set, with Example playing the part of band front-man/vocalist and having banter with the audience between bouncing around, delivering hits like ‘Kickstarts’.
Seeking solace in the shade of the tents, we wandered down to see where the crowds were. Nicky Romero was winning the crowd drawing competition, with The Gallery’s tent packed out to the brim. Second in the running at that time was Amnesia, where the decks were being dominated by techno legend Sven Väth. Timing may have been bad, but I felt this year’s set from Sven lacked the vibrancy I enjoyed at previous sets of his.
Opting for some sunbathing, we headed back to the outdoor Main Stage where we could sprawl out on the grass and enjoy tracks of Parisian producer and DJ, Tchami. Starting with a breezy, summer sounds like Duke Dumont x Gorgon City - ‘Real Life’ (Dillon Francis Remix), Tchami moved slightly darker with his own track Tchami & Malaa - ‘Prophesy’. Next up was Jauz, who transitioned from sound to sound, with a firm EDM presence in among D&B interludes. As with Tchami, it was Jauz’ own tracks that were particularly well received, with the cute track Jauz & Crankdat feat. Slushii - ‘I Hold Still’ and ‘Deeper Love’ rousing a lot of sunbathers up from the grass.
Wandering through John Digweed’s set in B.Trait Selects, it was lovely to see ravers of all ages bopping around, some dressed as though out for a ramble with waterproof sunhat and hiking boots, as Digweed looked as focussed as ever in delivering a technically-astute set. Cosmic Gate had drawn in fairly diverse crowd to The Gallery, with the duo sampling party classics like House of Pain - ‘Jump’ into their dynamic trance set.
My second favourite set of the day (saving the best to the end) came from Dusky’s live set in B.Traits Selects. A crisp pairing of mainstream grime with deep house was delivered really well, with shufflers taking delight in Dusky feat. Wiley - ‘Sort It Out Sharon’.
I knew my top set of the day would be Deadmau5 as soon as I saw the line-up. I knew last year The Chemical Brothers had spoilt the Common silly with mind-blowing production, leaving Toronto’s megastar with big boots to fill. Deadmau5 had promised to bring the latest in his line of “cubes” (a high-tech visual display on top of which Deadmau5 sets up deck). Cube 2.1 had caused a sensation when revealed in NYC earlier this year.
The set opened with ‘Imaginary Friends’ from last year’s catchily-named album, W:/2016ALBUM/ a track which follows a similar pattern to ‘Strobe’ in the way it progresses, starting deadly slow and working up to a pulsing trance beat. The stage was black, save for blinding flash lights on either side, flashing without revealing Deadmau5. As the winding transcended into the first trance bass drop, a white line began to pencil in the stage, as if drawing the cube podium from scratch. Once the cube was pencilled in, the mouse ears appeared and the party started. All the classic tracks played, with the crowd getting emotional to ‘Strobe’ and ‘Some Chords’, singing along to ‘Ghosts n Stuff’ and dancing feistily to ‘Sometimes Things Get, Whatever’. For a Deadmau5 fan, it hit the spot, but having seen what The Chemical Brothers could do to the stage, the production seemed minimal - despite the cube being a cool set-up.
Overall, I felt there was something missing this year that last year had. It seems too easy to blame it on the quieter sound, but that did make a huge difference. When the weather is so rarely excellent, crowds want to be able to lap up as many rays as possible, and a slightly louder stage allowed the audience the luxury of enjoying sets from world-class DJs, in the sun, in the comfort of their neighbourhood. Understandably the event needs to take heed of the fact it is surrounded by residential areas, but last year it seemed to strike the balance so perfectly… one more of those.
Images (top to bottom) by Laurence Howe, Monica of www.monica-ng.com, Laurence Howe (2), Graham Joy.