City Splash is bringing a carnival atmosphere to London’s day festival scene

today20/06/2023 4

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City Splash celebrates the soundsystem music of the Caribbean, Africa and the diaspora, connecting the dots between reggae, dub, dancehall and Afrobeats, amapiano, jungle, grime and house music.

The festival is a welcome addition to the mainstream London all-dayer scene, which is currently obsessed with neoliberal rave and Salomoncore. Its stacked line-up, topped by red-hot headliners Chronixx, Koffee, Skillibeng and Ayra Starr, could go on for a whole weekend, let alone 10 hours (shout out Shenseea who had to drop out last minute because of visa issues).

You know it’s going be good day when you arrive at a festival and the big top (hosted by Rampage) is overflowing with people getting their 4:PM dose of Donae’O. The tent overlooks the Brockwell Park festival site, just up the road from Brixton, where we’re treated to ‘Party Hard’ and sweeping views of the London skyline. It’s one of the city’s nicer festy spots, with plenty of green space and a jovial amount of food and drink stalls – a nice combo that makes you feel like you’re on a proper jolly rather than stuck in commercial promoter cash-grab hell.

Legendary LDN house heads Pioneer, Supa D and Coldsteps step up to the controls of Rampage after Donae’O and deliver a perfect mid-afternoon set that blends up UK funky and amapiano, with crowd-pleasing vocal hooks that have arms raised toward the roof and choruses bellowed out loud. The trio’s skin in the game is clear to see as a couple thousand ravers gather with palpable joy.

Maybe it’s the DJs’ status as scene elders or the family-friendly time of day (or both?!) but it’s beautiful to see all ages represented in this moment, from the little girl who’s hoisted onto her dad’s shoulders to the aunty and uncle who are posted up on the security barrier at the back of the tent and all of the let’s-be-avin-it ravers of varying ages in between.

This inter-generational communality can also be heard echoing through the music itself all day long. Iration Steppas’ self-styled Year 3000 dub pays homage to the late Jah Shaka and Brixton’s OG reggae scene before building to a heavy crescendo of un-Shazamable riddims that sound like lightning bolts from another dimension. These kind of angular, futuristic basslines are also presented during Uncle Waffles’ set, albeit at a slower tempo, as the charismatic amapiano superstar drops screw-face inducing, minimalist bangers that have garnered her an audience of millions worldwide.

Max Romeo, along with his daughter Xana, delivers heartening roots reggae as the sun beams down and people laze about, soaking it all up. Hearing ‘One Step Forward’ is an absolute gift and ‘Chase The Devil’ remains totemic. Its lyrics about chasing the devil out of earth have influenced UK dance music since ’92 and there’s cosmic symmetry in new-stool junglists Nia Archives and Izco starting their set in the close, intimate Bossy LDN tent as Max comes to a close on the main stage.

As evening draws in, Skillibeng takes to City Splash’s second biggest stage, Pull Up. The anticipation around his performance runs into the red and he draws a crowd that’s as big as Kelis at this very same spot the day before (at Cross The Tracks, which also takes place in Brockwell Park). As the sun sets and turns the sky pink, Skillibeng sprays his gunman dancehall but its impact is lost over a speaker system that is simply not big, bassy or loud enough for the stripped-back, gut-punching productions that he rides.

Skillibeng’s set is a direct clash with Koffee, but Chronixx is given 90 minutes to close with so roots revival is, thankfully, in abundance. Chronixx and his band are on stellar form and any friction between his uplifting, radical reggae and the slackness over on the Pull Up stage is dispelled as he shouts out Skillibeng. It’s another moment that brings us all together around the past, present and future of soundsystem music and culture.

Seb Wheeler is a digital strategist and dancefloor lifer. Sign up to his newsletter Waste Mail here

Written by: Tim Hopkins

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