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Festival Review – We Out Here 2021

Festival’s second year at Abbotts Ripton, Cambridgeshire, with Gillles Peterson at the helm

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Every good festival needs a seasoned curator at its helm. And for the task of lining up a shindig dedicated to the cross-section of jazz, dance, indie music and soundsystem culture, who better than Gilles Peterson to do so?

Think Houghton melded with Brainchild: that’s We Out Here. This is its second year running, taking place once again last weekend in the middle of a hot yet drizzly August 2021, at the former site of the Secret Garden Party in Abbotts Ripton, Cambridgeshire. 

Naturally enough, there’s rather a large slice of Peterson’s Brownswood continuum condensed into festival form here. With a roughly (or, what felt like a) 50/50 split between live acts and DJ sets, it had a bit of everything for everyone, neither neglecting its dance heads nor alienating its jazz highfaluters: a reconciliation only a few curators, bar good old Gilles (as he came to be known among festival attendees), can claim to achieve.

It worked like a charm. While nobody could help but laugh at its ‘down with the kids’ name, WOH had an easy-going spirit, and did justice to the chants of “we out here!” that would occasionally erupt from an MC’s call and response, or a campsite rallying cry.

Before its 2021 edition, Peterson emphasised WOH’s national focus, stating his pride at “(supporting) this majority UK-based line up.” With this pride came a routine honouring of the festival’s supporting youth jazz organisations – including Tomorrow’s Warriors, Brownswood Bubblers and Total Refreshment Centre – through which many of the performing acts achieved their fame. 

Without them, “this would not have been possible,” announced Femi Koleoso, drummer and bandleader of the party jazz quintet Ezra Collective on Saturday. As a unit, the band burst onto the stage with swaggering drip, brazen playing and esoteric visuals. Delivering a stunning set of their trademark afrobeat and jazz, the atmosphere was intense, as Koleoso would intermittently grab the mic, urging the crowd to seize the day, and the next. We did indeed: bowled over, it was no great task to wander over to the Hennessy tent, in which cocktails flowed and Neue Grafik smashed their house and jazz infused live set.

Ezra Collective

A rapacious cabal of live acts followed, all from the UK. Zenel proved their standing as one of the UK’s most exciting electronically-effected jazz units, while A Certain Ratio demolished the main stage, abandoning their post-industrial Factoryscapes for a smoother, funkier instrumental performance. Preceding ACR were Kokoroko and Moses Boyd – both brought varying moods of upbeat, upper-echelon ensemble jazz, calmly shadowed by the hill which valleyed and overlooked the stage. Meanwhile, an indie curveball, Black Country New Road, delivered their short but sweet – but no less loved – post-COVID festival debut, with ‘Track X’ causing the biggest stir. The slew of UK acts on Sunday made a nice contrast to Friday’s US show-stealer Thundercat, whose noodly bass experiements opened preceded the festival’s later allout party atmos.

Gilles Peterson (right) in conversation

As for DJs, it would be criminal to not mention cool cat Sherelle as our highlight. Her set, from start to finish, tore up the Lush Life stage, and was the main bastion of the festival’s surprisingly strong jungle niche (close contenders were Junior Ricketts’ rave closer on the Sunday, and DJ Flight’s transition from drill into jungle – don’t ask us how she did it). A stroll through the site found us neck-deep in The Forest, where we caught dark garage legend El-B. He made sure only the best 2-step groovers hit the treebound soundsystem (the area was filled with tree-clinging lights and lasers), before a wacky house set from Josey Rebelle stole the conch. Mainstage titans included Joy Orbison and Floating Points – both of whom played their favourite go-tos from blissed out hip-hop, disco and soul, and rave piano. Joy O even played an unreleased drill edit of ‘Hyph Mngo’!

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On the Gilles-worthy front, we were smitten with Love Dancing tent in the day, which operated on a mainly funk, disco, highlife and soul tip. Charlie Dark, who played at least twice, was its favourite, while others included Mr Scruff, Patrick Forge and Gilles himself. Our favourite tent, however, had to be the itsy-bitsy Lemon Lounge, which saw a surprising number of people crammed in for the headsier attendees’ favourite DJs, such as Tia Cousins and Felix Hall. The best set to grace it was by Maximum Haze of London’s Bubble Chamber crew; comically bespectacled and donning a pink cowboy hat with a completely earnest look on his face, this quizzical character delivered a rare hardcore techno and rave moment, interspersed with amusingly obvious UK funky hits.

Amenities and daytime attractions were plentiful, with most punters’ morning walks taken up either by watching film screenings (Sisters With Transistors, Summer Of Soul, and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s CODA were all showing), meditating at the guided yoga gazebo, swimming in both the big and small lakes, and even taking a ‘gong bath’. Gongs have the power to emit spiralling layers of healing frequencies, apparently – especially so when they’re struck next to your hungover noggin! There was even a convertible roller disco, which provided wheely fun in the day; at night, it became a full-on dub soundsystem, occupied at various points by reggae legends Iration Steppas and Channel One. It’s a shame the human body’s physical limitations meant we couldn’t rollerskate and skank at the same time…

For those seeking a chilled out family friendly festival, it was suitably equipped – still, though, the ideal WOH family would have at least one 21-year-old in it! In terms of its pacing, 2021’s edition was a well-balanced and relaxed, yet no less fun and exciting weekend. Not too intense (unlike its 24-hour party contemporary Houghton, the music ends at 5am) we found ourselves not wishing a single moment could have passed by more quickly. We even cried out loudly to Gilles for another day, as he stood beside the main stage taking selfies with fans. 

And above all else – there were hot showers at the campsite. What a dealmaker.

Jude Iago James