- When Southport Weekender announced its final event in 2015 it looked like the end for one of the UK's most special parties. Over the course of 28 years, the team built a remarkably diverse and loyal following. As the event's founder, Alex Lowes, told me, "There's literal families that have been created via Southport, people have been married at Southport." In short, the festival meant a lot to a lot of people, so recreating the legendary vibe of the original events was never going to be easy. But Southport Weekender Festival, a new one-dayer in London, succeeded in rebooting much of the old magic.
The sound, production and lineups at the old Southport events were routinely excellent, and as I moved around the new site in Finsbury Park that was evidently still the case. The music generally sounded punchy and loud, which isn't easy to achieve in a city famous for crippling noise restrictions. There were also cute production touches, like the Japanese lampshades hanging from the roof of one tent. Perhaps most importantly, the logistics that can make or break a large event were on point. Queues were minimal and the vibe was hassle-free. I arrived soon after the festival opened to find well-known acts, such as Culoe De Song or Amp Fiddler, playing to swelling crowds. Londoners can be a little nonchalant, arriving slowly, but Southport filled up fast with raring-to-go dancers.
The range of music was broad. In a ten-minute lap of the site I passed Juan Atkins playing techno, Red Greg serving up uplifting disco, some old-school jungle, and a tent shaking to the sounds of hip-hop anthems. The crowd, too, were representative of the multiculturalism that makes London great, with significant generational and racial diversity on show. Consciously or unconsciously, the music often connected the dots of London's clubbing history. Fabio rinsed through classic drum & bass to a massive response. Dan Shake dropped DJ Gregory's "Block Party," a record that inspired UK funky in clubs like Purple E3. The Mi-Soul tent, run by the man who set up Kiss FM as a pirate station, played everything from two-step soul to UK garage.
Local legends, like Grant Nelson and Paul "Trouble" Anderson, played to enthusiastic home crowds. Anderson's performance was one of the day's best. He's in many ways the consummate London DJ, with a career that began in the '70s at the hugely influential nightclub, Crackers. He's remained an important figure on the scene ever since. Wearing all white and a matching hat, he danced extrovertly and MC'ed over his set, hyping the crowd with catchphrases like "It's Trouble time!" It was silly stuff, but as the tent sang along to Astrotrax's "The Energy," there was no denying the impact of his approach. As a born-and-bred Londoner myself, it was great to see these local sounds going off. In some ways, the event reminded me of a more relaxed version of Notting Hill Carnival. With the sun shining and happy faces aplenty, this was London at its best.
In the day's closing stages, the crowd were torn between heavyweight US DJs such as Derrick Carter, DJ Spen & Karizma, Jazzy Jeff and Kerri Chandler. I bounced between Jazzy Jeff and Chandler. The former's performance was a great display of DJ skill. He cut between tracks at ridiculous speed, extending and ripping apart breaks. Chandler's performance was more emotional, firing through classic house and disco to a packed room. When his set ended, he grabbed the mic and thanked the audience. It was a heartfelt gesture that summed up the positive energy that had been coursing through the festival all day.