GALA cements itself as the supreme city-festival for dance aficionados across the capital whilst keeping close to its roots as a musical sanctuary for the South London community, as reported by Alexia Radkiewicz.
The sixth year of GALA festival rolled through with its best lineup yet, providing a highly-curated fluxus of House, Techno, Disco, Jazz and Soul for a true celebration of music and club culture. Goosebumpy bass flooded through Peckham Rye, spanning six stages, including the iconic Pleasure Dome and the brand new Beacons stage designed by cutting-edge architect Joe Halligan. GALA is truly an ode to the music community of South London with a formidable Soundsystem to match the sky-high calibre of homespun and international artistry. The festival’s commitment to community goes further than being a platform for local talent, year after year GALA pledges to support the local community by raising money for the Southwark Day Center for Asylum Seekers. Discounted residential tickets were also available as well as a comprehensive sustainability report in tandem with a focus on accessibility to ensure the space is safe for all to join.
Thursday kicked off the festival with a renewed focus on live music and bands spanning further into the genres of Soul and Jazz. Standout performances included the homegrown alternative R&B singer, Ojerime, who exuded an experimental 90s nostalgia sound with fan favourite “Give It Up 2 Me” and fresh new single “Alarming”. Sexy soulful Mancunian duo, Children Of Zeus, caught the crowd with the cult classic, “Still Standing” and steamy number, “Smoke With Me”. The evening welcomed in performances from Jazz heavyweights Nu Genea and KOKOROKO captivating the audience with their Jazz and Afrobeat fusions, stealing the night with “Abusey Junction”. But it was 24-year-old artist, producer and multi-instrumentalist, Mansur Brown who stole souls from the crowd with a truly unguarded and emotionally charged performance. Once in a blue moon you come across those musicians who play their instrument so intrinsically it becomes an extension of their own body and Brown is one of them.
Haloed by its emblematic giant disco ball, the infamous Pleasure Dome embodies the essence of queer club culture, providing a sweaty cathartic bubble where anthemic electrifying Disco meets exploding glitter canons and outré drag dancers. Headlined for the last three years by the kings of pleasure themselves, Horse Meat Disco, this perfect alchemy of iconic late 70s/early 80s musical history and the liberating energy it brings in tow, creates a space where rave revellers are able to connect and forge a common sense of identity and belonging that transcends all social boundaries. There’s no doubt the Pleasure Dome has fast become home to the growing LGBTQ+ community that flock to GALA each year.
Other pleasure highlights include talk of the Jungle, 21-year-old producer, singer, songwriter AND filmmaker, Nia Archives, who electrified the dome with thumping breakbeats. Nia left no stone unturned, gracing us with live ethereal Neo-soul vocals as the crowd chimed in with every word of last year’s scorching single “Forbidden Feelingz”. One incredible moment was witnessing two kindred Junglists uncovering each other through the smoke when Drum and Bass legend, Goldie, ran up to Nia with a full embrace, lifting her off the ground and spinning her around in circles behind the decks. Swedish experimental self-proclaimed “Techno boy band” (yes please!), Off The Meds, also deserve a mention for rousing raw rave energy in the dome with their multifaceted performance, especially with the candidly titled (and rightly so) big hit, “Belter”.
Master of the underground airwaves, Charlie Bones, hosted a very special affair, broadcasting live from the onsite Do!! You!!! Radio teepee. The atmosphere inside was akin to stumbling into a secret “those in the know” Glasto tent where strangers become friends in the euphoric hue of cannabis smoke and shroom rainbows. Charlie’s banger of a last tune, “Two Months Off” by Underworld, was accompanied by whoops of joy and all hands in the air to wave at the beginning of Bones’ solo radio career with Do!! You!!! FM. What a way to leave NTS!
Friday night saw the Main Stage being closed by the Godfather of the Dance himself, DJ Harvey, arousing ears with his unrivalled record collection — he is known for saying, “you can’t understand the blues until you’ve had your heart broken and you can’t understand my music until you’ve had group sex on ecstasy” and boy did he live up to it. Harvey teased infectious housey hooks into trouser-flapping Disco rhythms from Arthur Adams’ “You’ve Got The Floor” to Jesus Loves You’s “Generations Of Love” to lift spirits and cleanse consciences, mobilizing the dance in every single body on the Rye with drop after cheer.
The final evening of GALA was seen out by two major musical masterminds — local hero, Bradley Zero, and global sensation, Palms Trax. Over at Beacons, Zero summoned Hidden Spheres for a b2b of dreams rooted in South London sound, those roots further echoed by a bright red SE15 blazoned in neon, foregrounding the decks as tempos escalated with the darkness. Across the Rye, Palms Trax provided yet another iconic sonic journey in a set to close them all, fusing sounds from past and present to introduce and circulate moods, feeling and intensities, which were felt by everybody, but at the same time, belonged to nobody in particular.
The culmination of his set was a true inauguration of British Summer Time, spinning out some wholesome goodness with DJ Meme’s classic vocal mix of “I Shall Not Be Moved” by Underground Ministries and providing the anthem for the come up of all come-ups with Robin S. and “Show Me Love”. Palms Trax perfectly articulates the festival atmosphere saying, “the thing I really love about GALA is it strikes the perfect balance between feeling like a small-scale gathering of friends but with the ecstatic rush of an event not usually found in the heart of a city. It was a real pleasure to close”.
Words by alexia.radkiewicz