Review: Deep South Festival 2017
Situated an hour away from London in the picturesque surroundings of Colebrook Lakes near Tunbridge Wells, Deep South is a bitesized two-day celebration of South London’s extended music and arts scene. Represented by a host of local talent and institutions – Dark Sky, Andrew Ashong, Deadly Rhythm and Rye Wax to name just a few – this was a festival for South London, by South London, afforded the breathing space that a South London venue wouldn’t have allowed. But would it manage to strike the perfect balance between basement grey and escapist green?
A stone’s throw away from the sprawling industrial estates that lead from High Brooms station, you’d have never in a million years expected the green expanse that would open up just a few yards ahead of a tentative ‘Festival This Way’ sign. You also wouldn’t have known that a last-minute site change had taken place, testament to the efforts of the ground crew. (This was for good reason too, with Deep South keen to distance themselves from the controversy – and tragedy – surrounding this year’s Flamefest which happened on the same site.)
We cracked a beer after setting up camp and watched a wellied farmer walk around the site with what looked like a decibel counter. Eh probably nothing, as we took a moment to admire the view. And what a view it was. With the weather on-side for the most part, Deep South really did put the beauty in boutique: glorious lakeside vistas, ideal for a spot of fishing if you were that way inclined; a snaking woodland path that connected each of the stages, lined with ‘use me’ marker pens, glitter and stickers; and that rarest of commodities to a born-and-bred Londoner, good old-fashioned fresh air.
The dance was split three ways between the main stage and two woodland areas, which was to have its advantages and disadvantages in equal measure. One was never short on variety that’s for sure. The Main Stage catered for the bands and live performances: Goldsmiths-affiliated 4-piece Leyendekker and a delicate, emotionally-charged set from songtress Carmody warmed up proceedings nicely on the Saturday afternoon – a tone which carried over to Sunday in particularly blissed-out fashion as Andrew Ashong cured the hangover blues and then some. Similary the Lake Stage was an ideal spot for loose groove in all its guises, an almost tailor-made match for The Reflex‘s disco edit-laden funk assault. That’s loose by name, and loose by nature too. The fact that no set times were provided for this or the third Club of Hearts stage turned a laissez-faire spontaneity into more of an annoyance trying to identify the performer as time wore on – a classic double-edged sword for the weekender community.
It was clear from the off that the Club of Hearts, off the beaten track both geographically and hedonistically, was going to provide some of the more debauched experiences of the weekend, and it didn’t disappoint. A couple of standout moments from inside: Andren dropping a personal favourite – Chez Damier’s remix of Mariah Carey ‘Take Me Away’ – while someone went ham on the smoke machine and a group led something of a Morris dance around the tent’s central pole; and a punter having a burlesque-off with a scantily-clad cabaret performer, surprisingly giving her a run for her money too.
Sadly, the three-way split was to have its shortcomings. For a 450 capacity festival, asking revellers to be in three places at once meant that none of the stages at any one point reached their full capacity. This was no more apparent than during Alyusha’s daytime performance on the Main Stage, who’s striking performance was overshadowed by a lack of numbers as she urged a 20-strong crowd to sing along to her track ‘Mushi Mushi’ when most were out enjoying the last of the sun. And then it rained (course it rained), and whilst your average British punter is well prepared by default, the flash showers only served to exacerbate the issue of thinning numbers as everyone scattered for cover.
With the main stage finally beginning to pack out during the heady early hours of Saturday night, we caught scintillating performances from NTS affiliates Throwing Snow and Dark Sky – the latter’s off-the-cuff journey through new and older material reminding us once again of the breadth and impact their music has to offer in a large-scale setting. Then as we stepped out of the tent into the misty cold, the vibe was in full flow whichever way you looked. But it was at this point that the after-party gods doth frown upon its subjects.
The aforementioned bad-omen-in-farmer’s-clothing had come into fruition. Our next destination, the fourth marquee stage closest to the campsite – which had seen Rye Wax owner Unlikely and a host of S.E. DJs serving up loose funk and jagged house earlier that day – had been shut down mid-set due to a noise complaint. Futhermore, being woken up early on the Sunday to a motocross convention (sounds like a punchline, right?) also laid bare the vulnerability of the last-minute move. A slice of misfortune, yes, but one that never threatened to derail the omnipresent celebratory atmosphere.
And hey, sleep deprivation is all part of the fun of it, right? Not for our photographer who always makes sure to get a good night’s sleep, mind… but for everyone else, it’s all in the game. And it’s this blinkered sense of abandon saaaf of the Thames that has fuelled, and will continue to fuel, celebrations such as Deep South come rain or shine. Above all, this is a festival proves that you can take the people out of London… but you most certainly can’t take the London out of the people.
Photography by Thomas Mitchell