A one day festival in Kent, The Social Festival is marketed as a boutique festival playing the world’s best dance music. And it was exactly that. Set up in 2013 by Nic Fanciulli, a Grammy-nominated DJ and producer, to bring the best of Ibiza to Kent, Social has branched out beyond this basic concept and extended towards acts that regularly play on the White Isle. With acts like DJ Koze and Four Tet on the bill, Social truly can claim to have a line-up of the world’s best dance music, at least on paper.
Simply putting on a line-up of top quality music does not make a great festival, however. What makes a great festival is the enjoyment the crowds get from the experience. At Social everyone seemed to be having a good time, so the festival certainly succeeded here. One day festivals rarely build the very special atmosphere of positive community that can emerge in weekend long festivals. As such, one day festivals succeed when they aim to be oversized parties, a vibe which Social managed to create.
The real strength of Social lay in its line-up. Ranging from German legend DJ Koze, through to tech master Richie Hawtin, the line-up at Social represented some of the best dance music in the world on paper. All of the stages were well curated throughout the festival, with each having a distinct flavour without ever being too strictly divided into genres. By not strictly dividing the stages, and booking the artists that have a healthy disrespect for defined genre boundaries, Social recognised that the future of dance music is going to be a positive transcendence of previous formulas, rather than continuing to plough well-worn fields.
On the Bamboo Village stage (unsurprisingly decked out with bamboo decorations) Four Tet, ever a consummate selector, played disco tinged mid-afternoon set. The Bamboo Village was the only stage under a canopy rather than a tent and the sun shining through the edges of stage, Four Tet set the perfect good-time vibe. Seth Troxler and Jackmaster, both continued this vibe, driving toward a heavier sound as their sets progressed. Of all the stages, the line-up on the Bamboo stage managed to gradually build up the intensity of sets, not peaking at eight in the evening with three hours of dancing left to do. Cassy closed out the bill with a high energy set that perfectly concluded the best stage at Social.
In the huge Barn tent things leaned more toward the techno end of dance music. Richie Hawtin ended the day with high energy set of his signature house fused techno. As with Hot Since 82 and Dubfire, who had played the Barn earlier in the day, Hawtin’s music has sought to defy the boundaries of both house and techno music, and that sense of innovation was evident in his set. The Barn Stage had particularly impressive lighting, which combined with being a tented stage, helped create a large club vibe. It was Barn stage that, because of its size, suffered the most from low sound levels, detracting from the experience of some great sets.
Of all the stages, the Meadow most heavily embodied the original theme of the festival back in 2013, with things leaning toward a more Ibiza-based vibe. Jamie Jones, Solomun and Richy Ahmed all delivered high quality sets that didn’t diverge from the templates that have made them staples of the international dance scene.
Consistently throughout the day the Social Club stage the least well attended. This was in no way a reflection of the quality of the line-up, with forward thinking and slightly left-field acts throughout the line-up. Die Vogel, a German duo, known for mixing techno, house and live instruments, including the sounds of a German brass band, gave a quirkily accomplished performance. George FitzGerald, a Londoner based in Berlin, had two sets on the stage. Having released his debut album to critical acclaim earlier this year, FitzGerald’s star is clearly on the rise and his disco infused house set went down a storm even in the half-full tent.
The highlight of the Club stage, Social, and probably any festival that he plays at, was DJ Koze. What separates Koze from the other DJs is the sense of playfulness and love that comes across in Koze’s sets. With a very light touch, Koze uses a mixture of disco and classic house, combined with contemporary records from the likes of Jamie XX, to create joyfully upbeat mixes that inevitably get crowds smiling as well dancing. Unleashing a general good-will among everybody watching a performer and cultivating a child-like sense of joy through music is not an easy thing, but is Koze’s specialism.
The Social Festival fully lived up to its intended aim of showcasing the best dance music in the world. In booking acts who are pushing forward dance music, who are building on previous musical innovations, who are not sanitising their forward thinking music for popular appeal, the Social festival managed to be a showcase for artists who have been important for the development of dance music and the artists who will most likely shape its future. That the festival was packed out with people who seemed to be having a great time suggests a bright future for such forward-thinking dance music.
Words by Matthew Gibson
Photos by Daniel James Underhill and Jon Bombo