London’s Brand New Festival, Celebrating Electronic Music Culture in London: Waterworks
August and September brought an incredibly clustered few weeks worth of rescheduled events in the festival world, all due to the detrimental COVID pandemic, with back-to-back shows seemingly every weekend throughout August, leaving us all spoilt for choice on which to attend.
For nearly two years, the pandemic has left hundreds of shows in limbo, awaiting their future plans and leaving ideas hanging. But with the go ahead from Boris back in July, hundreds of postponed events could finally take place, enriching the UK with (half) a summer full of music, creativity and culture once again.
The team behind Waterworks Festival had been planning their debut event for a few years, with it finally scheduled to take place Saturday 25th September 2021, after a cancelled 2020 event. The festival site moved from East London, all the way to West in Gunnersbury Park, a luscious green site which has previously hosted the likes of Lovebox and Citadel – the perfect space for a new and forward thinking idea to come to life.
For those who are true lovers of UK underground dance music, Waterworks vowed to celebrate the melting pot of London’s electronic music scene. With a line-up which actively considered inclusion, diversity and represented the sounds of the scene it’s audience adore. Waterworks Festival’s line-up was refreshing, with no headliners, it allowed opportunity for up and coming artists to flourish and perform to a receptive audience, something that is often made difficult by promoters booking sell out names and throwing newcomers in as fillers and opening slots.
The representation of female, non-binary, LGBTQ+ and minority ethnic groups across the line-up was incredible. Around 26 diverse artists who identify as female, a vast difference to the usual male dominated line-up that we have seen reused over and over in the mainstream music and event industry.
Approaching the festival site, you could feel the rumble of bass as queuing and security checks were done quickly but thoroughly. The event site was simple, made up of seven stages with unique design: Pressure, Cedar, Hi-Hat, Water Tower, Commune, Orbit and Resident Advisor’s Siren stage. Each stage had the set times clearly displayed as signage, making it easy for attendees to see who would be playing at what time, a nice touch we found useful when planning our day. The overall design and creativity of the site was mainly focussed on the stage design, with Pressure being extremely well designed with brilliant lighting and visuals, coinciding perfectly with the type of music played out on the stage. A cloud of smoke hung around by every corner of the various stages, reflecting off the lighting and giving the festival a mysterious and visually effective vibe.
Bar queues were large, but moved very quickly with a few select bars tucked away having a smaller line of people. Cocktails, cans, draught, wines, spirits and soft drinks were all available, with the festival running a reusable cup campaign and bringing in a litter team who had sorted bins into specific recycling groups. All attendees seemed to appreciate this, as there was hardly any litter strewn across the site with most people cleaning up after themselves. The overall atmosphere of the crowd felt welcoming, responsible and respectful of the beautiful park they were being welcomed into.
A small but varied selection of food traders were available, plenty of vegan, vegetarian and Gluten Free options, alongside a multitude of different cuisines including Indian, pizza, pasta, mac n cheese, paella and more. Queues for these were not too big towards the later evening, although some places had been so popular they had completely sold out by 20:00.
Toilets and water points were clearly signposted, with queues for toilets being standardly long, a cleaning team were present to constantly clean up, restock toilet roll and hand sanitiser – something which is very much appreciated as a festival goer. The Waterworks team had really cared for their audience, which was returned with the respectful and general pleasant atmosphere at the show.
The music at Waterworks was incredible, every act we stumbled across played their own unique style which was warmly welcomed by the headsy crowd. Dotted around the field you could find everything from Hardcore, Jungle, Dubstep, Grime, Techno, House, Acid, R&B and so much more. Some standout performances for us were Jungle producer, Tim Reaper, Timedance label owner Batu, experimental Techno producer Skee Mask, Ilian Tape head honchos, the Zenker Brothers, electronic DJ turned producer duo Sicaria Sound, Radio 1 resident Saoirse, Techno duo Karenn, Amsterdam DJ Job Jobse, electronic producer and DJ Om Unit, refreshing Grime MC Novelist and personal favourite of ours, Josey Rebelle who closed the show on the Water Tower stage with an energetic set of breakbeats, Jungle and Hardcore. Waterworks is the kind of festival that is programmed and planned by real underground music lovers, with extensive musical knowledge and consideration for newcomers, marginalised groups and correct representation – something which is so important and valued by attendees and artists alike.
Waterworks set out to be an event which celebrated electronic music culture in London, but they have achieved so much more than that. Waterworks is a gem of a new festival, one that is a progressive and safe space for all, which truly celebrates the origins of the underground rave scene.