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Review: SW4 at Clapham Common, London, August 2015

Back and bigger than ever.

Having returned with its 12th edition this summer, SW4 is now firmly established as one of the UK dance music festival heavyweights. This year with a brand new 10,000 capacity, indoor main stage to fill and a booking policy that has emphasised strength and depth throughout, it seemed as though it would be quicker to name who wasn't playing the festival than who was. With a focus more on the underground than its main bank holiday weekend rival, Creamfields, SW4 also featured its fair share of cross-over acts that have a more mainstream appeal, headliners Faithless and Skrillex cases in point.

Credit to the organisers who this year combined the site and stage expansions with improvements in other, oft-neglected areas; the toilets were much more bearable and bar queues minimal, especially if you walked a few yards to the ones away from the most heavily-trafficked parts of the site. However, the biggest gripe revellers had is the low sound levels. Lock N Load events have fought Lambeth Council for years over this, but this year's edition was noticeably quiet, causing consternation for some DJs (noticeably Hot Since 82 during his set) and revellers.

That aside, there were highlights aplenty on both days. Saturday featured a standout early performance from Black Coffee of soulful house cuts that culminated in a mass singalong to Chew Fu & Steve Clisby's reworking of Prince's Purple Rain. Kölsch showed why he is possibly the most in-form producer on the planet with a string of momentous tracks, Goldfisch or Papageno, notably biggest. Dubfire combined his darker techno sound with impressive visuals in his live “HYBRID” show that worked really well as night drew in. Maceo Plex followed with a typically immense performance, another who's in outstanding form. Unbelievably, someone stole his laptop afterward though, let's just hope they caught the villain!

Over in The Gallery's rammed tent, an up-for-it crowd were treated to Paul Oakenfold rolling back the years with a driving set of remixed classics and newer stuff. The less bass-reliant trance sound coming from the speakers worked better in comparison to some of the other genres and coupled with a higher-BPM made for a very lively atmosphere. Attendees on Sunday were also treated to a standout early performance, this time from Joseph Capriati, whose booming techno filled the indoor Main Stage at lunchtime, especially when he dropped Len Faki's remix of Scuba's Black on Black. His compatriot Marco Carola wasn't to be outdone though and crafted a set that recalled his lengthy Music On workouts but was well-adapted to the truncated set-length and day-time crowd he was playing to. Carl Cox & Loco Dice went back-to-back to close this stage off and they did it with aplomb. The crowd were treated to relentless, big-room techno and a duo whose selections complemented each other to produce a cohesive set.

The outdoor Main Stage on Sunday featured an eclectic line-up and was far busier than Saturday, owing mainly to much better weather. Basement Jaxx drew a huge crowd for their early slot - smart booking here as their party anthems created perhaps the best atmosphere of the festival (Red Alert and Where's Your Head At getting the biggest reactions), it was as though a little bit of the Notting Hill Carnival taking place a few miles north had touched down in Clapham. Martin Garrix took over and, say what you will about the precocious Dutchman (and many have), when his tracks drop the crowd goes absolutely crazy - it's quite a sight. However, they then stop and stand still until the next drop when they start jumping again; I wouldn't exactly call it “dance” music then, but it was certainly popular.

The nicest surprise of the weekend was the hooded pair of Armin van Buuren & Benno de Goeij's as Gaia. Whilst there's been a worrying trend in trance for several years now towards EDM-style hooks, this was noticeably absent from Armin and Benno's techier, rhythmic sound, and it was all the better for it. A great performance that showed, even on a major-festival main stage where many would choose to play it safe, it can be well worth taking a risk to deliver something that is truly memorable.

WORDS | Andrew Fulker PHOTOGRAPHY | Sam Neil and Graham Joy

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