Since the organisers behind the much-loved Southport Weekender decided to call it a day, there's been a gap in the market for another event of musical similarity that caters to the grown folks. It was only a matter of time then before a canny promoter caught wind of this - and London-based promoters FOUND were first to step up to plate.
Currently at the top of their game, the brand have pulled off a plethora of events which started out as street parties in Shoreditch almost four years ago, and more recently expanded to a series of festivals, including the first edition of today’s very event - 51st State.
Upon arriving at the vast historic grounds of Trent Park located in Cockfosters, Greater London, what we saw was quite possibly the most shocking queue system I've ever witnessed in my entire life. Imagine the human equivalent of Birmingham’s Spaghetti Junction and you’re not too far off. Not a single steward or security guard was in sight to assist with forming an orderly queue amongst the hordes of irritated ticket holders.
It soon became a free-for-all where more than a few brazen punters casually resorted to queue jumping. Even a couple of police officers standing on the sidelines looked slightly amused at the bedlam right before their very eyes. But then again you can’t blame them as event management is out of their hands.
After queuing up for over an hour we eventually got into the festival and headed straight to the nearest arena in view – Groove Odyssey, where we caught the back end of South Africa-based house maestro Ralf Gum’s deep afro vocal-driven house set (listen to 'The Pap' above), shortly followed by a live PA performance from Josh Milan - formerly of legendary US garage outfit, Blaze.
All non DJ artists on the flyer have been billed as “live”, which is always ambiguous in this capacity, however considering it’s a festival appearance, and knowing Milan is pretty nifty on the keys, I had hoped for a live show of some sort with a backing band, but perhaps this was asking a little too much.
Nevertheless, the New Jersey native put in a stellar vocal performance, albeit a very brief one. Over in the Back to 95 tent, the British take on US garage was the order of the day. Grant Nelson was particularly impressive, and went in with a fine selection of classic old skool UKG, backed by veteran MCs CKP and DT on mic duties, who kept the revellers buzzing with their interactive party bars.
The UK house & garage innovator’s own ‘Together’, under his 24Hour Experience alias went down an absolute storm, which warranted a rewind as expected at any respectable garage rave.
The main stage alone had an enticing DJ schedule that could easily compel the deepest house heads to remain in the sun-kissed open air arena all day - especially the ravers hungry for the tracky side of underground house.
Derrick Carter’s early evening set - while the sun was still shining brightly - was a notable highlight. The Chicago house veteran kept things straight up funky, with a skilful mix of disco-laced house grooves and edits which had a mass of people so hypnotised that they were unable to stop dancing, despite how weary they became from the combination of blazing sunshine and sore feet.
Another highlight came courtesy of New York’s Dennis Ferrer, who played an almighty set consisting of raw, stripped-down, deep-techy cuts – a sound that he’s internationally renowned for as a masterful producer and DJ - which was fully embraced by an up for it crowd.
The We Love Soul arena was a popular choice for the soul connoisseurs in attendance, many of whom partied hard to the exceptional set from the legend that is Paul ‘Trouble’ Anderson. The East Londoner dropped a typically eclectic set, whilst keeping the tunes within a soulful template – mixing up tempo rollers like ‘How Does it Feel’ by Trackheadz into Lynn Collins' heavily sampled ‘Think’ with consummate ease to keep the jam-packed crowd eating from the palm of his hands.
A timely return to the Back to 95 arena saw one of the UK’s true garage pioneers - Matt ‘Jam’ Lamont tear it up it with a marathon of bubbly 2-step and rolling bangers that the garage heads love and know so well.
He concluded the mix with the bouncy Tuff Jam remix of Tina Moore’s certified UKG anthem ‘Never Gonna Let You Go’ to which the swarm of punters responded with cheering, whistles, and bellowing vuvuzela horns. With such an exhilarating atmosphere, anyone would think that Notting Hill Carnival started a few weeks early.
Back at Groove Odyssey there was time to catch the last of Julie McKnight’s live PA. The LA songstress delivered a spellbinding rendition of Kings of Tomorrow’s anthem ‘Finally’ which saw the fervent crowd belting out the lyrics in unison, before the headlining NYC powerhouse David Morales stepped up to the decks and lifted the radiant spirits higher with an uplifting, vocal-driven house set.
The most anticipated set for many was the legendary NY house duo - Masters at Work, and true to their name they didn’t disappoint. With Kenny Dope manning the left deck and Louie Vega at the right deck on the main stage, the pair had thousands of alfresco ravers under their full control throughout the set, as four to the floor beats resonated from the sound system, and strobe lighting flickered wildly around the stage.
Their Nuyorican Soul hit ‘It’s Alright I feel It’ (above), received rapturous reactions, as did several other crowd pleasers including DJ Spinna & Ticklah’s sublime remix of Shaun Escoffery’s ‘Day’s Like This’, and another one of their timeless classics ‘Deep Inside’ - under the Hardrive pseudonym, which prompted house diva Barbara Tucker to come on stage and hype the crowd even more than they already were.
A thrilling set from MAW to close the festival on a high, however I somehow sense they were waiting until the after party at Koko in Camden before they truly go guns blazing.
In terms of music and the phenomenal DJ line up, 51st State was well on point. The whole site had a great vibe and brought together all kinds of people, who were primarily there for the love and celebration of quality underground house music, plus the genres soul, funk and disco roots.
An added bonus was the superb weather which provided even more reason for a glowing atmosphere. However the sprawling queues and non-existent system in place were the biggest let down for the event – which the promoters can expect to get a lot of stick for. If the festival gets the go ahead next year let’s hope these issues are rectified, although from the sound of their Facebook apology, it looks like they will.