It’s been three years since zap! bang! Magazine attended a GlobalGathering at Long Marston Airfield in Stratford-Upon-Avon, so we were long overdue a return visit. Mixing in with the 50,000 revellers for the two day rave featuring some of the biggest dance acts on the planet, we were delighted to find that Global had found a way to create more intimate spaces among the huge main tents while generating a fun atmosphere with energy that lasted right through to the early hours of Sunday morning.
Fashionably late as ever, we pulled into Long Marston Airfield around 9pm and were on a mission to set up camp asap. Walking on what must have been one of the airfield’s runways flanked by the giant, looming festival walls to our left felt like the end to a long pilgrimage of sorts – bass throbs and the tips of two lines of flags which marked the entry to the arena on the other side of the fence were teasing us – but first we had to get camp set up. We took the first spot we could find and headed straight for the arena, where darkness had descended and the sky was full of the flashing lights of fairground rides as GlobalGatherers buzzed around the site.
For many years it felt Global had struggled with their site set up, lacking a certain character of its own and more like a collection of tents in a field randomly positioned. Now they’ve cleverly made it into more of compact arena so it feels more intimate, yet there tents are cleverly positioned to retain the high production values and loud volumes the music demands for the vast majority of the event – there were just a couple of times when the sound got a little on the quiet side. There was also a couple of quirky spaces, the Global Freight Depot of freight containers creating an enclosed area and The Bunker, an limited-capacity indoor space which created a clubnight feel inside. With the main outdoor stage tucked away in a corner that could be closed off after the headline act each day, the site felt alive all through the night.
The main stage was our first port of call to catch the end of headliners Chase & Status. The drum and bass duo were winding down with a series of more slow burning vocal tunes, and I was reliably informed they had broken out the big tunes early, so rather than try to penetrate the throng of people lapping up the fireworks being created on and off stage, we’d check out the iconic Godskitchen tent. There a UK debut was being made by trance-mainstays Ferry Corsten and Markus Schulz in their new guise as the New World Punx. They’ve become more high energy than their solo sets, and punched the air repeatedly as beats kicked in. They still have that 90 trance sound in them, however it’s got a lot tougher since they teamed up.
Shadow Child threw in some classics to lift the crowd at opportune moments.
Checking the clock, we realised there was probably just enough time to make it to one more act before EMD God David Guetta made his appearance in the biggest tent of the arena – The Hanger – so we opted for Dennis Ferrer in Yousef’s Circus tent. We found Ferrer in typical deep house grooves nicely levelling the eardrums ahead of Guetta save for the baffling drop of “Rock the Casbah” in its vanilla form. We headed to The Hanger to see what Tommy Trash would offer up ahead of Guetta and, while his 4/4 beats were pleasant enough, it proved impossible to remember much of what had gone before once Guetta hit the EDM button.
All around us people were saying how either they had to see Guetta or had sacked off the mighty drum and bass of Sub Focus to see him, creating a heavy air of expectation. Chatting with the excitable crowd we hardly noticed the vast set being constructed on stage, yet when the time came to look up for Guetta we realised Guetta wouldn’t just be on stage behind an LED screen, he would be about 30 feet above us, peering out from behind his equipment and across the whole crowd. “This is amazing, I can see you all!” he said, beaming away. When the tracks dropped, he flitted between his own tunes (“Love Don’t Let Me Go”, “Play Hard”, “Shot Me Down”), pop trash (“Selfie”) and a swerve ball of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. There were few surprises from Guetta himself, but he puts on some spectacle flanked by 50ft LED screens, stood between two others and throwing all manner of special effects at his adoring fans including flames, air cannons, streamers, confetti and pyrotechnics. He’s like the Michael Bay of music: we left thinking we’d seen a glossy production, but struggled to glean much depth to the spectacle.
The set of the night undoubtedly went to Dirtybird favourite Shadow Child who was closing the Defected in the House tent. His tough-edged underground house was heard throughout, including Hot Since 82’s remix of his single “So High”, and he threw in some classics to lift the crowd at opportune moments. 808 State’s “Pacific 202”, Wildchild’s “Renegade Master” and Double 99’s “Ripgroove” were huge arms-in-the-air moments while Breach’s “Just Jack” sat nicely inbetween.
As the clock struck 3am we departed the main arena, though we were intrigued to find out what was in store for us in the VIP area before the campsite where DJ Magazine had a stage that ran for an hour longer than anywhere else. We were impressed to find it was a closing set of trance classics by acts such as York, Oakenfold and Paul Van Dyk harking back to the Godskitchen days gone by. Way to end Friday on a high, Global.
You rarely criticise the sun for making the weather too hot in the UK, yet a boiling tent at 8am is the last thing you want when trying to sleep off the first day of GlobalGathering. Hardly a cloud would be in sight all day making for a sun-seekers dream, many of them up and out of their tents so they could laze in the rays as soon as they woke. We decided a hot tub session was in order and ensured we made the queue for them in good time to reserve our place – 5pm if you must know – then checked out an early set from Tensnake and Skream who were in the Radio 1 Essential Mix Live arena.
The heat seemed to put off the majority from getting involved in a tented dance-off too early but a group of tanned shufflers had taken up residency at the front of the tented arena while one of the stewards seemed to have added dance co-ordinator to his weekend job duties as he encouraged the dancing by throwing shapes himself. There was a blend of house, disco and techno from the back-to-back duo on stage which included James Holden’s remix of Nathan Fake’s “The Sky Was Pink” and, of course, Tensnake’s “Coma Cat” remixed by the Round Table Knights. A fun start to the day – one pair marched up and down the crowd barriers doing synchronised moves – evolved into taking in the Global Freight Depot and hearing the fast-paced mash up of Jaguar Skills on the main stage before hitting the hot tub.
Three chatty girls joined us in the tub and, 30 relaxing minutes later followed by a quick cold shower, we were ready to get back to the action. First stop was the end of Annie Mac’s set where a glut of people had amassed for her electro bass style as she urged the crowd on to have it large then Knife Party took over with their scatty brostep which didn’t hold the attention of the masses as well as we thought it would. We made our way to the UKF tent where B.Traits was on a house tip. Delays meant DJ EZ couldn’t make his scheduled time so we headed back to the main stage for headliners The Prodigy.
One of the stewards seemed to have added dance co-ordinator to his weekend job duties as he encouraged the dancing by throwing shapes himself.
Carving our way to the front we bumped into a lifelong friend of Liam Howlett who couldn’t remember how many times he’d seen the rave band, and they burst out of the traps with “Breathe” and “Voodoo” in their first three songs. Jumping around the stage Keith and Maxim are as lively as ever, while flares in the crowd epitomised the explosive nature of the show. A mid section featuring “Rock Weiler”, “Thunder” and “AWOL” threatened to derail the early pace, then they hit back with “Firestarter” on the way to more of their newer tunes such as “Spitfast” and “Invaders Must Die”. This wasn’t vintage Prodigy, but it fits with the very modern take on dance music GlobalGathering seems keen to maintain as its ethos.
Next up as a bit of arena hopping as we caught the end of garage don DJ EZ and the start of Friction’s set in UKF, a little from Innvervisions boss man Dixon in Paradise then half an hour of Duke Dumont back in the
Essential Mix tent. Dixon provided the most edgy beats while Dumont was a surprise package of beefy house with uplifting moments, in particular his single “I Got U”. There was a heavy contrast in terms of style of delivery and tone when we hit The Hangar later where American EDM tro Krewella were blasting out the bass and doing live lyrics while cavorting all over the stage. Their live show had nods to the rock gods as they were clearly loving every minute, then we had a 30 minute wait for Swedish House Mafia protégé Alesso.
Pete Tong and Eats Everything got stuck in with a leftfield selection of big beats.
Taking up the slot Guetta had filled the previous night, we expected Alesso to try to trump the Frenchman for sheer scale of production, however it seemed Guetta could not be matched when it came to the number or size of LED screens, nor the tallest platform in dance music history. Instead, Alesso upped the production on the visuals with a series of Christ-like sequences of a man rising up from the dead and his own face intensely looking out across the crowd. Combined with all manner of special effects (the flames, air cannons, pyrotechnics and confetti returned) it was another dazzling show, though the only thing I can recall about the music is Martin Garrix definitely featured.
The sets of the night once again came at the very end as we made our way back to the Essential Mix arena for more back-to-back sets. First up Pete Tong and Eats Everything got stuck in with a leftfield selection of big beats in a bid to ensure they played tunes no one else had already. They succeeded, and gave the old skoolers something to get excited about, by dropping BBE’s “Seven Days and One Week” from 1996 plus “Teaser” by Eric Prydz in his little-known Cirez D guise back in 2005. If this was the ultimate lesson in how to keep your audience guessing, what followed was Sasha and Nic Fanciulli casting a hypnotic house spell to see people through to 4am. Us VIPs got a cheeky house bonus from Peeping Tom until 5am, and it was good to see those willing to shell out for the premium tickets were rewarded with more than just a closer campsite and nicer loos – the whole VIP area was well placed with comfy seating in the shade of tree plus the aforementioned hot tubs.
GlobalGathering seem to have listened to every bit of feedback they’ve ever had this year. The layout of the site, the programming of the acts, the unique stages and a strong sense of identity meant the festival felt cohesive and the fans seemed to react in a manner that created a positive, happy atmosphere throughout. And though the EDM acts have the biggest budgets in dance music, it was the humble DJs who bring little more to the stage than their supreme mixing and track selection skills who really shined.
Photographs by Paul Underhill.