A dance festival that finishes at 9pm? Kai Jones attempts to get loved-up on the Common before the watershed.
Overall – 7/10
Hang on! Dance music is a night beast, best experienced in Berlin basements and Benicassim Festival tents after dark and only favouring daylight when the sun rises after an all-nighter and the beats are going strong. It’s a hedonism that is interwoven into the very fabric of its existence, music that likes to party so late that its after parties became breakfast clubs.
So it’s quite a culture shock to turn up at Clapham Common at half-past-lunch-o-clock and find Laidback Luke slapping slices of Dutch House all about the main stage. With a 9pm curfew each night – clearly a licensing condition of holding an event in the residential area of Clapham – South West Four obviously wants you to waste no time in getting your rocks off. So there’s no easy warm-up sets to get you adjusted to the day, rather a slap on the behind and here’s a bass bin to press your face against for the next eight hours.
Getting there and back – 10/10
The site entrance, adjacent to the Common’s Long Pond, is a five minute stroll from Clapham Common, on the Northern Line. Any simpler and you'd be in your front room, Paul Oakenfold making you a brew and Armin Van Buuren fetching your slippers. One benefit of the 9pm curfew is the opportunity to sample the many after shows in the area, before taking a quick tube to the official aftershow each night at Ministry of Sound.
The Site – 7/10
Actually, you have to double check Oakenfold and Van Buuren aren’t playing your front room – this place is tiny. The infrastructure is essentially three tents, a main stage, a few bars and food stalls and a little tent selling hats. On the plus side you can dive between acts on different stages quickly and those journeys are helped along by well staffed bars. But the site is purely functional – there’s nowhere to take the weight off the dancing legs, no chill out lounges or extra-electro-activities. Although you could argue that with such a packed programme and short amount of time, there isn’t time to do anything else. South West Four is basically a military training academy for electro heads – ‘you’re here to dance, get dancing!’
Atmosphere – 8/10
You’ve squeezed several thousand ravers into a tiny area that feels like it actually gets smaller throughout the day, while loading them up with class A DJ’s – don’t be surprised if the atmosphere kicks off like dropping a pack of Mentos into a bottle of pop. And hey, everyone’s gurning, so they must be happy.
Music – 10/10
Devouring the usual Sunday Get Loaded slot, this is the first full South West Four weekender, giving promoters the opportunity to split the programme between Saturday’s more populist DJ’s and Sunday’s leftfield-leaning programme. It works well, allowing for Sunday’s return of the Together arena, showcasing the best of dubstep, drum and bass and grime (topped off by an electric Skream & Benga set), while the original glowstick mob get a full day of old school house, techno and party tunes.
Splitting the days also gives you an intriguing glimpse into the current state of electronic music. The pioneers, like Oakenfold, Sasha and John Digweed, still demand top billing and draw massive crowds but Saturday feels ever so ‘Dad Rock’, in contrast to the younger crowd and more challenging, experimental vibe the following day exudes.
Having said that, Saturday still supplies plenty of highlights, including Funkagenda, Mark Knight and Benni Benassi, and a typical, brassy set from Paul Oakenfold.
One thing is clear from South West Four – curating the line-up is a labour of love for the organisers. The balance between the populist big names and edgier, newer DJs is unmatched by any other dance festival all summer. If only the damned early curfew could be extended, while the event took on some of the extra-curricular hedonism of Holland’s Mysteryland, SW4 would be the perfect weekender.
Josh Wink – 8/10
Saturday’s highlight by far, Joshua Winkelman shed the famous dreads long ago but it’s had no Samson-like effect on his appeal. Playing in the packed DJ arena under what can only be described as a giant suspended foetus, Wink delivers a delicious set of minimal tech house, peaking with a riotous re-edit of his ‘Higher States of Consciousness’ classic.
Boys Noize / Boys Noize Records Arena – 9/10
Giving Alex Ridha his own stage is always going to be an incredible idea. Boys Noize Records regulars Shadow Dancer and Housemeister provide early impressive sets, while Erol Alkan classically carves up an hour of electro-party-filth. Boys Noize himself has never been better, dropping the abrasive ‘Kontact Me’ from 2009’s ‘Power’ and teasing a few lines of his ‘My Moon My Man’ re-work towards the end of a rapturous 90 minutes.
Steve Aoki – 8/10
One of the most underrated electro producers around, Steve Aoki is informed as much by electro house as he is by hardcore legends Refused and Discharge. It’s a relentless, gnashing style that forces him out from behind the decks for tracks like the genius ‘Warp 1977’, his collaboration with Bloody Beetroots, delivering the cathartic, grindcore vocals like he’s Napalm Death’s Lee Dorrian and this is the Birmingham Mermaid 1986, not sunny Clapham Common 2010.
Salt n Pepa – 7/10
Having played the BLOC weekender in Minehead earlier this year, Salt n Pepa’s return to the capitol for the first time in 15 years does nothing to diminish their status as hip hop legends. Neither the clouds opening just as they take the stage or the absence of Spinderella on decks can shake the atmosphere, as they tease around with samples from Nirvana, House of Pain and Toni Basil, before ending with a bombastic ‘Push It’.
Fatboy Slim – 9/10
Norman Cook always makes it look so simple, standing up there behind those decks, arms aloft and that ever-present schoolboy grin wrapped around the stage. If Jack Nicholson’s Joker did dance music it would be like this, cutting us down with Benni Benassi’s ‘Satisfaction’, making our legs wobble with the stomping, acidic ‘Machines Can Do The Work', and finally leaving us senseless with a blistering ‘Weapon of Choice’; our own faces staring back at us from the video screens, as Fatboy brings SW4 to a close. We look at our watches. It’s 8:58pm.
SW4 doesn't really lend itself to randomness – that early curfew and few extra-tent activities mean that you're either watching a DJ or on your way to one. However, it's a bizarre sight to see a ring of Ibiza Angels giving out relaxing massages, while yards away thousands of people are having their brain cells melted away by electro filth.
Also a special mention for the guy in the toilets who shouts, when it isn’t even 2pm, “Whoever has the biggest cock hasn’t done enough drugs!”