London festival South West Four pulled out all the stops for their August Bank Holiday knees-up, showcasing a line-up that covered everything from the underground to the commercial side of the electronic music spectrum. With stiff competition across the capital, SW4 still managed to pull an enthusiastic crowd. Upon entering Clapham Common on the blustery Saturday afternoon, the site had been turned into a veritable quagmire as a result of lashing rain in the previous week. Some festival kids didn't seem to get the memo, however. Adorned in frocks and flip-flops, they looked on at the sludge in dismay. It didn't seem to deter many, though, and before long plastic-bag-shoe-chic was being rocked by many, with forlorn-looking solitary items of footwear left in the mud.
Photo credit: Vickie Parker
Trudging across the site clutching some warm pear cider, it was straight to the Cocoon tent for Guy Gerber who was playing jump-up tech house at a ridiculously low volume. Halfway into the crowd; the ability to have a chat at normal levels with the person stood next to you was sadly effortless as the beats thumped away in the background. It seemed that unless you were willing to barge your way to the front to stand with your head in the speaker, the chances of hearing anything but muffled kick drums and tinny treble were slim. Many boisterous boozed-up-tops-off blokes had already made the front their stomping ground, however. And, as such, this area wasn't really fit to dance. Unless you wanted to be shoved around like a rag doll.
Teifschwarz, Tobi Neumann, Josh Wink and Sven Vath provided a muted soundtrack in the Cocoon arena throughout the afternoon, while in the Shake It Tent Layo & Bushwacka! and Laurent Garnier were giving the crowd what they wanted through their classic anthems "Love Story" and "Man with the Red Face" respectively, providing reactions of mass sing-a-longs and hands in the air. If there was an opportunity to gush about some rare and wonderful records the artists played, it would be impossible to do so. Once again, the sound was poor. After a good few hours of mooching from tent to tent in a vain attempt to get near a speaker, it was then time for headliners Underworld to take to the outdoor main stage. Slightly louder than the covered arenas, the goosebump-inducing chords and drums from their opening track "Rez/Cowgirl" resonated across the crowd as dusk fell across the site. Particular highlights from their up-tempo set were the epic "2 Months Off" and "King of Snake."
Photo credit: Paula Bartczak
Considering the festival was sold out, the atmosphere during the performance seemed rather lacklustre. Only pockets of the audience really got into the music despite Hyde's frantic pleas for the audience to make some noise. When the familiar synths from "Born Slippy" boomed out for the encore, though, it was clear that this was what the audience wanted to hear. As the stage lights beamed over 20,000 people waving their arms in the air, it was clear that this was the most dynamic moment of SW4 Saturday.
By the time Sunday had rolled around, it seemed that someone had heard the complaints from the previous day. The sound levels were much clearer and louder than the previous day. The line-up for Sunday was just as strong and, after walking into a packed We Love…. arena where Simian Mobile Disco were playing an acapella of their track "Hustler" over a banging techno beat, it was time to seek out Richie Hawtin. The arena, today sponsored by Last FM and hosted by Together, was not as crowded which provided a welcome relief from the crush of the previous day. It also meant that there was plenty of room to get a decent stomp on. Hawtin provided a cleverly crafted set that consisted of fresh sounding beats that had bite, but kept enough of a groove to satisfy the techno sceptics for the duration—a far cry from the click-y minimal he had come to be associated with in recent years. His loyal audience locked in with him throughout and applauded him as he played his last track.
Photo credit: Paula Bartczak
Following Hawtin, it was time for Ben Sims in the Drumcode arena. Sims was playing techno that wasn't as ridiculously hard as his usual offerings, with beats that were fast but funky. As darkness approached outside the tent, however, he moved into more standard Sims terrain with a relentless chunk of techno that maintained the visible high energy atmosphere—an atmosphere more electric than at any other moment of the festival. People of all nationalities and ages jumped around as he finished with his own remix of Sylvester's "You Make Me Feel"—a techno and disco collision which was a perfect way to end the set and close the arena for another year. As Pendulum played out the final chords of their chart drum & bass / rock on the main stage, SW4 2011 drew to a close. Despite the poorly stocked bar and the sound levels, the festival was a fun couple of days with yet another great lineup. Please just turn it up next time!