The inaugural 51st State Festival took place earlier this month within the idyllic setting of Trent Park, North London. The event is a new addition to the Found Series that are famed for its niche one-day festivals throughout London with genre-specific events spanning from grime to rave.
51st State, however, is a new concept entirely and describes itself as “a deeper exploration of transatlantic sounds. Celebrating the roots of house.” This meant there was also plenty of soul, disco, garage, dub, dancehall, and of course, plenty of Chicago house on the bill. The event focused on music of black origin, which fundamentally shaped modern dance music as we love and recognise it today. Headliners included Masters at Work, Dennis Ferrer, Norman Jay MBE, Todd Terry and Derrick Carter amongst others. Revellers en route to the first event of its kind continually gushed about how “refreshing” this line-up was. Further to that, tickets sold out rapidly, which is testament to 51st State’s welcome uniqueness despite an ever-saturated festival market. However, this backfired in outrageously long queues on the day.
Some of the blame could have been attributed to the arena itself, which was compact and low key, with a modest main stage and a few circus tents to house the others. There was no corporate involvement or unnecessary embellishment, opposing the format EDM festivals are famously adopting. Without sounding clichéd, this festival really was just about the music, as the music was its USP.
The day started early with no holds barred from the get-go. Particularly in the Hot Wuk tent with Melé and Monki taking a backseat from usual headliner slots to play intimate, bass-fuelled sets in possibly one of the smallest stages on site.
The smallest however, was within the overflowing VIP area where many of 51st State’s more lavish guests turned out to gather round a small table where the spectacular Robert Owens was singing, MCing and DJing simultaneously.
Soul highlights came from a super smooth Omar in the We Love Soul tent and Julie McKnight, who put on a sassy performance at the Groove Odyssey stage. Garage was catered for with a nostalgic roster of acts such as Pied Piper and Luck and Neat. Later in the Hot Wuk tent, things delved deep into the jungle as Congo Natty took charge of his headline slot.
The crowd was uniquely diverse in race, age and sex (it narrowly avoided the misfortunate “sausage-fest” label). Punters here could also afford to pass over the tepid tinnies and opted to groove with bottles of prosecco instead. Ostentation was mainly sartorial, however. A rare display of British sunshine allowed for truly avant-festival styles, which saw no shortage of sky-high tribal headpieces, body jewellery and head-to-toe foil tattoos.
The generous sun eventually started to dip as final headliners Masters at Work took to the stage. The crowd was in such high spirits they paid no mind to a lengthy technical glitch, and continued to go strong to soulful house classics, before moving onto Camden’s KOKO for the afterparty. There was nothing but “good vibes” to be had from the day, which was the resounding evaluation of the event from its guests. Regardless, the numbers don’t lie – a festival sold out in its opening year presents plenty of potential for the years to come. I guess there really is no party like a house party, after all.
Words and photography by Sayuri Standing @sayeliz
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