Genres Collide at Ceremony Festival | Review

Now in its second year, Ceremony Festival proved the FOUND Series’ ability to successfully run one-day festivals in London. Ceremony made the most of the limited space at Finsbury Park to host seven varied stages, ranging from house and garage to grime and hip hop.

In addition to the main stage, Santé’s Avotre label, DJ Sneak’s House Gangster brand, grime project Tropical, hip hop night So Fresh So Clean all curated their own stages. FOUND condensed their Heritage day and night party into a single stage, while the VIP stage was brought by Jonny Banger’s Sports Banger brand.

Teething problems with entry meant that the site took some time to fill up. Having DJs play to empty stages always feels wasteful, but the issues were resolved by midday and the crowd’s energy made up for lost time. The early autumn weather surprised us with a hot, dry day, and festivalgoers truly made the most of this as the last big event of the summer. It was marketed as precisely that, with the afterparty promising to close off FOUND’s summer season – somewhat surprising given that they hosted United Festival at the same venue the following day.

Aside from VIP area, all other stages were distinctly divided by genre, each bringing in DJs at the top of their game to celebrate the ongoing rise of house, the rebirth of garage and grime’s recent mainstream success. The quality of acts across all stages and genres is something that cannot be overemphasised. While being torn between Boy Better Know, Todd Terry, Artwork and Armand Van Helden is somewhat unfortunate, it is a testament to the calibre of the artists on show, and stages were close enough to each other that the time moving between them never had to be taken into account.

Up and coming British tech house producer Weiss played the perfect set for afternoon at a festival without going over the top, as those in the grime tent could be accused of doing earlier on in the day. Madam X brought her Manchester brand of bass to the Tropical tent, a departure from London’s dominance of the tent and indeed grime as a genre. Logan Sama has been in the game since the beginning, and his ability to combine newcomers like Stormzy with early grime dubs shone through. His set drew a younger audience, and he made a point of highlighting grime’s wide appeal when he told eighteen-year-olds in the audience “We started grime when you were five!”

DJ MK may have drawn people to the So Fresh So Clean stage out of confusion with seminal house producer MK, but he kept them there on his own merit. Keeping it tight while cutting and scratching between hip-hop crowd-pleasers, DJ MK’s technique was more than enough to silence any snobbery regarding selection. Festivals are about having a good time after all.

As the sun began to set, Lee Foss took to the decks, drawing heavily on his Hot Creations label’s own materials before Armand van Helden delivered a flawless blend of classic house tracks to an eager, growing crowd. The Martinez Bros proved their worth by filling the huge Main Stage tent to overspill for the only time during the festival.

On the Tropical stage, the frequent hitches during JME and Skepta’s set served only to emphasise their skill as performers, as a front row fainter and a girl endangering herself by climbing the tent riggings disrupted the MCs mid-flow. Unfazed, they successfully rebuilt the energy with more melodic tracks before closing with heavy hitters It Ain’t Safe and Shutdown.
It is a shame that the most varied and – in that sense – exciting stage was the Sports Banger VIP area. The atmosphere was unique not because of a “we bought a more expensive ticket” snobbery, but because of a sense of togetherness. When not playing their own sets, DJs joined the crowd, and Artwork’s “Rave together as a family” catchphrase – said more than a few times over the mic – really held true. Of course, it’s far easier to create that atmosphere with a smaller, “VIP” crowd, but it was especially notable here.

Swamp 81 boss Loefah spun ghetto house from Chicago label Dance Mania in an all-vinyl set, with the “Loefah Vandross” alias on the billing reminding us of Sports Banger’s sense of humour. DJ Ron’s drum and bass set was the genre’s only appearance at the event. With dubstep pioneer Plastician knocking out an 80s disco set and Horsepower Productions’ Benny Ill playing acid, hearing DJs divert from expectations to reveal more about their personal tastes was intriguing and unusual. Particularly at a festival, meeting expectations is perhaps the easiest way to draw a crowd, and this is probably why sets like these were kept to the VIP area. Still, we couldn’t help thinking that those with standard-entry were truly missing out.

Those who missed out most of all, though, were those who did not attend the festival at all. Ceremony delivered exactly what it had promised its London audience, a celebration of the full spectrum of dance music.

Words by Andrei Sandu
Photos by Marc Sethi