Global Gathering's annual rave spectacular is probably the UK's most successful dance festival. Since its inception in 2001, the event has managed to carve out its own niche on the festival circuit and now regularly attracts crowds of more than 50,000. This is largely due to Global's ability to draw the biggest names in trance, house, hard dance and techno and place them all under one bill.
This year was no different, with headliners Armin van Buuren, Paul Van Dyk and David Guetta all putting in appearances. Thankfully, for those with an aversion to commercial dance music, Global also showcases many fine underground acts with highlights including Loco Dice, Digweed, Sasha and Richie Hawtin, the latter of which curated his own M_nus tent at the event. This combination gives Global a uniquely mixed crowd. Social commentators often remark on the homogeneity of youth culture, but at Global dance tribes are easily identifiable. Throughout the weekend you can see fluffy booted, hard dance loving girls mingling with sportswear clad D&B kids and trendy check-shirted Erol Alkan fans. This is all interspersed with a general non-ironic fetish for neon clothing and rave iconography that could well see shares in glow sticks skyrocket in the last weekend in July.
Photo credit: Matt Cheetham
Friday's main attraction for discerning fans was undoubtedly Hawtin's aforementioned M_nus arena. Despite an impressive supporting cast of Magda, Gaiser and Dubfire, the M_nus tent was comparatively one of the smaller on the site; surprising when you consider the usual hysteria that surrounds anything Hawtin. The day's events were kicked off in style by fast-rising UK jock Rebekah who eased the crowd in with well-rounded techno and percussive house. Despite playing the supposed grave yard shift, Rebekah managed to nicely balance restraint and urgency in her set creating a genuinely nice vibe as the tent filled—particularly challenging when you consider most Brits try and do all their drink and drugs before they enter and then steam into the festival mentally unhinged as the doors open.
Despite the M_nus gang commanding most of the attention of fans of underground music, there was still fun to be had at other areas of the festival. Erol Alkan proved why he's still the man to beat on the electro scene with a set that strung together Boys Noize, Tiga and the new banger from Riton & Primary 1. Playing in front of possibly one of the biggest LED screens I have ever seen, Alkan exuded his usual cool as he whipped the crowd into a whooping, cheering throng at the unnaturally early hour of 8 PM. Unfortunately, Alkan's ace performance was in direct contrast to an unconvincing showing from The Prodigy. Not that this had anything to do with The Prodigy themselves; they're one of the most reliable bands in the world period. Poor sound made their aggressive sound almost insipid, unless you were in touching distance of the crowd barriers.
Photo credit: Matt Cheetham
Back at the M_nus tent, Dubfire's set proved to be a far more engaging spectacle. Moving from groovy techno to his trademark white noise drenched sound; Ali worked the tent to breaking point with an unrelenting set of full throttle tech. Unsurprisingly, his almighty remix of Radio Slave's "Grindhouse" still gained one of the biggest cheers of the night.
As Richie Hawtin made his first appearance, fiddling with his Mac Book during Dubfire's set, you could feel a rush of expectation move through the crowd. The tent, although full, was not at bursting and for the first time I was able to actually dance to a Hawtin set and not merely jostle between sweaty techno heads—making this by far the most enjoyable time I have witnessed the DJ. Constantly switching between Traktor and Ableton, Hawtin played a set that was more focused on unrelenting groove than electronic glitchiness and jarring click-filled sounds. At one point he endued a frenzied reaction from the crowd by using Ableton to slow a track down to 100 BPM before speeding it up to heart-attack inducing 300 BPM and then neatly transforming the furious mess into loopy '90s techno. For two hours he met the extreme anticipation by delivering a faultless set of high energy tech; capped off by Richie crashing two water bottles together and throwing them into the air "Stone Cold" Steve Austin style.
Photo credit: Matt Cheetham
Saturday, despite a line-up that was just as heavy on peak time sounds, was a much more subdued affair. As is the way at most UK festivals, much of the crowd had overdone it the night before. Still, there was still plenty of fun to be had. Josh Wink's modern take on acid house proved to be one of the most original performances of the weekend. Mixing his own tracks with 909 loops and 303 squeals, his set retained an undulating grove that sounded neither of the moment nor particularly retro. Peaked by a live edit of "Higher State of Conciousness," Wink's performance proved to be more invigorating to sore heads and tired legs than a dose of Berocca.
Other highlights of Saturday's line-up included Orbital's live performance on the main stage; where the volume issues from the day before had been happily resolved. As the headlining duo went through a 12-minute rendition of their 1989 hit "Chime," you realised their reliance on old analogue gear made their warm sound seem more relevant than the unimaginative plug-in-generated and cliché-ridden techno that was booming from the Carl Cox & Friends tent before Adam Beyer's set.
Photo credit: Joss Smithson
Loco Dice delved into the heavier side of his South American-influenced minimal sound for the first half of his set before going into more house-oriented cuts such as Santos' "Hold Home" and Joris Voorn's "Sweep the Floor." A definite highlight of the evening saw him cheekily cut-in the start of Lil Wayne's "A Milli" and what sounded like the trumpets from an old spaghetti western over two particularly stretched out breakdowns. Dice's set was then followed by dynamic performance from Carl Cox; a man whose sets range from the sublime to the not-so-sublime thanks to a tendency to delve into the more dodgy areas of electro house nonsense. Thankfully, after Dice's perfectly pitched set, Cox stepped up with a three hour show of nicely driving techno which was only slightly tarnished by Coxy's tendency to get on the microphone every hour or so. (With a grin as big as Coxy's, he's a man easily forgiven.)
All in all Global 2009 was another success. Its crowd may be more interested in reaching for the lazers than beard stroking, but their youthful enthusiasm is something some cooler festivals can't quite match. Saying that, the event is not perfect. The amount of litter and the state of the sanitation by the end of the festival was pretty abysmal. (Although Global is certainly not the only festival guilty of this crime.) Quite simply, Global Gathering is still the best event in the UK of its kind. If your idea of fun is going mad in a field for two days listening to dance music, then you should definitely consider a trip to Long Marston Airfield.