Ravers of All Ages at United Festival | Review

The FOUND festival series’ United Festival returned to Finsbury Park for a second year, inhabiting the same tents and stages as the series’ Ceremony Festival, held the day before. A celebration of a quarter-century of rave culture, the dance music of the 1990s and early 2000s took center stage at United. With over 150 acts across eight stages, drum and bass, UKG, house, jungle and happy hardcore were amongst the genres represented. It is intriguing that FOUND seems to have publicised United a lot less than its other festivals, marketing the previous night’s Ceremony afterparty as the end of their summer season despite hosting United the following day.

Given the nostalgic feel of the festival, it is unsurprising there was an older audience than Ceremony. That said, drum and bass continues to enjoy an undying popularity, and garage has heavily influenced current popular music, leading us to expect a larger youthful contingent than was present on the day. Before drowning in demographic analysis, though, it must be made clear that all those at the festival were quite clearly enjoying themselves.

Hard house dominated the main stage throughout the afternoon. The genre may not have aged particularly well, now usually drawn for by DJs hoping to evoke nostalgia, but the half-full tent was bursting with energy as pioneering happy hardcore duo Force & Styles took to the decks. The resounding message from those I spoke to in the crowd was that hardcore will never truly be understood by anyone who didn’t live through it, and their excitement makes it hard to doubt them.

The same rang true with the Frantic and Mental Asylum stages. Evaluating hardcore as music only, the thudding drums, big drops and similar sound-palette makes it easy to draw parallels with much-vilified EDM. Without a doubt though, many of the old ravers attending the festival would disregard modern electro house as second-rate, creating an interesting paradox. Hardcore may just be “old EDM” to those who experience it as music, but for those who experienced it as a movement and a community, it holds far deeper meaning. As such, United obviously provided an opportunity for those involved in that movement to enjoy it again. We overheard a number of groups reminiscing about clubbing in the early nineties, with the festival creating that sense of community once.

It was something of a shock to find Manchester house legends 808 State at the bottom of the main stage bill, playing to an almost empty tent at midday. Whether or not those higher up the billing were more successful in the nineties, lasting impact and current influence should surely have earned them a higher slot.

The Twiceasnice garage stage, One Nation drum and bass stage, and the Promised Land house stage felt far more current than the rest of the festival, presenting genres which have survived and flourished during the quarter-century surveyed by the festival. Garage legends like Pied Piper and DJ Luck & MC Neat drew large crowds, one of the few occasions during the festival when a tent was truly packed out. Jungle MC General Levy also brought punters towards the main stage for his ten minute Live PA slot, consisting of Pull Up, released last year, and jungle classic Incredible, pulled up three times to build the crowd’s energy before DJ Marky’s headline Drum and Bass set.

In terms of truly uniting lovers of dance music of all ages, the Promised Land stage succeeded to a greater extent than the festival as a whole. Teenagers danced besides greying disco enthusiasts, a testament to the enduring appeal of house. Fingers Inc.’s Robert Owens and former Haçienda resident Greame Park spun house classics, before Chicago originator Marshall Jefferson himself took to the decks. Once more, scheduling such an influential musician at 17.00 felt misguided, given his role in shaping the music being played by DJs above him on the listing. Regardless, his set was the highlight of the festival, calling upon his three decades of experience.

It may be that some of the festival relied very heavily on nostalgia, but this should not be taken as a criticism. Crowds of older ravers relished the opportunity to relive the heyday of the music that they love, and that should never be condemned. Younger audiences were drawn to genres that continue to enjoy a larger following today, but house seemed to unite all