When We here, Gilles Peterson’s eclectic jazz and club music program in Cambridgeshire dropped its lineup a few months ago, it was already clearly going to be a big highlight of the summer calendar. Three years later, the festival is one of the best in the country, gathering the kind of bookings you simply don’t see anywhere else – a who’s who of Britain’s still thriving young jazz scene (Emma Jean-Thackray, Doom Cannon, Cktrl) alongside the best club DJs (Hessle Audio, Josey Rebelle, Sherelle), some living legends (Jah Shaka, Jah Wobble, Maurice Fulton, Gigi Masin), a host of promising newcomers (up-and-coming rapper ENNI, Clash cover star Obongjayarand what could be Bristol’s best new band Waldo’s Gift). The festival has become something of a pilgrimage for a certain type of underground music fan; the kind of people who still like to buy obscure vinyl (maybe at the Near Mint record store at the festival), people who listen to 6Music; the guys who know the difference between the British Azimuth and the Brazilian Azymuth.
Guiding the festival, as always, is the eclectic curatorial taste of Gilles Peterson, who for several generations of clubgoers has been a guiding force through decades of radio, club nights and compilation and label work. . As he told CLASH in an interview a few months ago its festivals and events make a conscious effort to bring together music you don’t see elsewhere, both for aesthetic reasons, and also because many promotion companies are competing to book the same artists , increasing booking fees and stimulating the kind of money crunches a small independent festival often can’t compete with. Still, this year’s edition had headliners on the main stage that demanded serious attention, but may be overlooked by less inspired organizers – many of the headliners this year are essentially trailblazers of entire genres to them alone – the aforementioned techno outfit underground resistancehomemade duo masters at work, spiritual jazz pioneer Pharaoh Sanders, kings of drums and bass Fabio & Grooverider; the list continues.
That said, last year’s edition benefited from strong post-COVID ticket sales and some anticipatory energy that kept the vibes at a wild level; it was an open-ended question to see if this edit would feel just as revealing or maybe the magic would die out. Arrived early Friday morning and after going through accreditation quickly I came across Haseeb Iqbalis located in Brawnswood, the gourmet bar and restaurant on site. The Worldwide FM morning host happily mixed an eclectic mix of records, including a Jazz Acid Classic which prompted Gilles Peterson (who happens to be the former owner of the Acid Jazz label) to quickly hand him a nice cocktail. The festival immediately strikes by the size and diversity of its audience: it brings together music lovers of all ages, from toddlers to retirees under its common banner of eclecticism and underground roots. The jovial energy of this first set quickly proved that the unique atmosphere of the festival had come to nothing.
We Out Here came to life in 2019 through a successful partnership between Peterson and veteran festival organizer Noah Ball, who has a wealth of experience organizing events primarily for British crowds in Croatia, such as the Bass Festival. Heavy. Outlook. Organizing events in their own territory is probably a bit easier than in foreign waters, and that means punters can expect We Out Here to do the little things right: security is user-friendly, reliable and non-invasive – many times I could see Hi-Vis jackets helping ravers who were worse off wearing instead of hanging out. The loos were relatively clean and had restrooms throughout the weekend; many weren’t even porta-loos but deluxe transport types that have a legit color. Bar queues were not excessively long and food queues were reasonable even at peak meal times. Accreditation was a breeze, and bus and taxi transfers were easy to find, reasonably priced, and frequent enough to make getting to and from the venue a low-stakes affair. Accessible viewing platforms and changing tables were available for those who needed them. Non-musical activities were plentiful, from morning gong baths to a free skating rink with killer DJs. Basically, it was easy for everyone to settle in and have fun.
However, not everything went smoothly, and the sound systems in particular (except, fortunately, for the main stage) saw a noticeable drop this year. The platforms in place at most stages felt and looked noticeably smaller than in previous editions; the volumes and especially the bass levels after midnight weren’t even close to what performers of this quality should play to. A few friends eagerly waited most of Saturday night for a set from the Irish drum and bass legend. Caliber only to find him playing a subdued set on the much-diminished rig that didn’t feel much stronger than a few UE Booms connected. Some punters next to us were so confused by the set and its volume that they were surprised to learn that the man on stage was even Caliber at all, they had assumed he was just a fill-in DJ quietly warming up for the real thing.
This sort of thing is not unusual at UK festivals these days (and it’s not deliberately the fault of the organisers) – speaking to a friend who worked on the soundboards for this year’s edition , he mentioned that most of the festivals he worked with this year had serious problems with finicky advice and draconian licensing and noise regulations – but it’s also something that can be avoided with better noise management and smarter scene coordination. Sometimes the stages weren’t even silent when needed – a beautiful clarinet and saxophone ensemble by Cktrl at Lush Life during the day, it was hard to hear due to noise from a nearby Rhythm Corner DJ hitting it. Stricter licensing this year also meant stages closed between 3:30 a.m. and 4 a.m.; which suited the many families on site, but left some of the bigger partiers definitely wanting more, especially with quality DJs playing like the highly respected Chicago-based rare groove digger Darryn Jones.
But those are small details: a lot of the best action happened on the main stage anyway, where the sound was crisp and clear all weekend. Special highlights from Saturday included The comet is coming – Shabaka Hutchings’ electric fusion freakout band, who hit the crowd with a jazzy, rave-ready heaviness that was truly reminiscent of the highs of a The Prodigy concert in the mid 90sand underground resistance, which threw everyone upside down with the surprise mid-run crash of The Jackson 5’sCan you feel it? nearby, in the Hennessy Corner, grime legend D Double E spitting trademark freestyles on the raucous energy of the steam down collective, causing a huge mosh in a Keep-it-UK certified moment.
Sunday started with a beautiful morning ambient set from the cult Italian musician Gigi Massin, whose music has been sampled by everyone Bjork at Post Malone, before then giving way to Nala Sinephro, the young Warp signee who left Mainstage Hill spellbound by her harp and modular synthesizer explorations. But the festival left its most memorable mark later in the evening, where the incomparable Pharaoh Sanders makes an appearance surrounded by family and friends. Clearly weathered by old age but still captivating, his prolonged performance of John Coltrane‘Olé’ and his own classic ‘The Creator Has A Master Plan’ got the crowd to start swaying and swaying in time, united as one. It was a moment few would soon forget.
Words: Louis Torracinta
Photography: Rob Jones