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Review: LEAF at Tobacco Dock pt 2, 7th March

The capital’s very own dance music summit gets into its stride.

There are many unwritten rules when it comes to clubbing: it's a long wait for the cloakroom if you time it wrongly, there's always a long queue in the men's toilets for the private stalls despite plenty of free urinals, and the set at four in the afternoon in the second room won't be the best set of the party. At the London Electronic Arts Festival (LEAF), curated by Rob Da Bank, one of these rules was very much broken - but more on that later…

LEAF, born just a year ago, is a “two-day cultural celebration of electronic music, art, technology and digital futurism” held in the east end's enormous Tobacco Dock, a fine venue for an event such as this with ample room for multiple dance floors, beautiful vaulted ceilings lit by strings of twinkling lights and a large open-air space in the centre to have a smoke (should you wish) or sample one of the delicious pulled pork burgers for sale; and with day one's panels, interviews and live performances done and dusted, it was time for day two's dance music heavyweights to take over and give the foundations a damn good shaking.

With a festival-sized line-up to enjoy it was never going to be a stay-in-one-good-spot-in-line-with-the-speakers type of session, instead we found ourselves flitting from room to room at a canter in an effort to take in as much as possible. This started in Room 1 with Anja Schneider's bright and bouncy techno complemented nicely by the sunlight streaming in through the rafters. Tale Of Us dropped the BPM and the energy in a set that would have been better suited to 5am rather than 5pm, but the crowd responded enthusiastically to the Italian duo's deep and dark cuts. Luciano delivered an understated set of tech-house rollers that brought room 1 to its busiest point and Sasha, well there's none better than The Man Like when he's on form, and with tracks like Caribou's Your Love Will Set You Free (c2's Set U Free remix) ringing round the room he was close to his very best, especially considering that the tight 90 minute slot doesn't best suit Sasha's long builds and extended mixes. Chris Liebing then closed things out in style in room 1 with some powerful, driving techno stompers.

Room 2 was down in the car park and surprisingly had a far superior soundsystem and acoustics to room 1. The low roof and concrete surfaces gave the lower frequencies tremendous power that was fully exploited by Modeselektor in their DJ set that followed Friday's live performance and Pan-Pot, who hosted the room.

Room 3 was a more eclectic affair, as you might expect when Rob da Bank and DJ Harvey are playing. Rob's funk selections and Harvey's sunny disco provided a change of pace and refreshing alternative to revellers looking for something different to the 4/4 thump in the other rooms.

Mention also has to go to the bizarre choice to have a unisex toilet block ringed by portaloos but with unshielded urinals in the centre that gave queueing ladies plenty of giggles as they had a completely unrestricted view of gents answering the call of nature. If this is a new trend, count me out!

As for that broken rule alluded to before, it was a revelation that from the unenviable early afternoon slot in room 2 there would be the fantastic performance given by Clint Stewart, who constructed a set of maturity, spot-on pacing and top notch tune selection, highlighted by Oxia's classic Domino. Well done sir! It was surprises like that which paid testament to the intelligent booking at LEAF and will surely see it go from strength to strength in the years to come.

WORDS | Andrew Fulker PHOTOGRAPHY | James Chapman


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