As events like Camden Crawl and The Great Escape have taught us, multi-venue weekenders can be a pain in the arse unless navigated with military precision. There are a number of challenges that must be overcome before the first record is played. At last weekend’s Peckham Rye Music Festival (PRMF), the emphasis on daytime programming meant the team had to deal with two main risks: potentially dicey weather, and people’s preconceptions of rooftop events as bland, badly amplified affairs.
Thankfully, omens were good. Everything homed in on Copeland Park, an industrial clearing comprising of art and music spaces that, alongside YAM Records in an adjacent alleyway, forms the nexus of Peckham’s ecosystem. Some farther-out bars used in last year’s edition had been abandoned, making for a more manageable circuit. I caught a warm buzz entering the grounds for the first time on Friday afternoon, snaking past the impressively hefty rumble of roots reggae from the site’s central outdoor stage, and up onto Bussey Building’s open-air stage, Roof D, for cosmic wigglers from Miro SundayMusiq. Even the clouds had parted.
On balance, the soundsystems were the stars of the weekend. Every area was properly equipped to deal with all sorts of musical styles, from road rap bangers at Friday night’s Hyperdub stage, through to crisp funk and soul cuts meted out by DJ Gilla and K15 as the sun dipped over the horizon on Sunday. It really can’t be understated how rare it is to have music pumped that robustly right off of the high street in London. Sound restrictions are a notorious and unforgiving spoiler of summer events in the city, so whatever deal was cut with Southwark Council was a masterstroke.
Frustratingly, this consistency didn’t always spread to the rest of the festival. The scene at around 1 AM on Saturday morning was a case in point: Octo Octa was in The Nines, a small bar of no more than 80 capacity, barrelling through skippy, slamming garage house in a similar vein to her excellent LP from this year. Her energy was magnetic, but for some reason she performed under the full house lights (it took a polite word to the bar staff to get them dimmed). One room over, in the significantly larger Copeland Gallery, Ikonika was throwing out curveballs like Damage’s “Ghetto Romance” among a clutter of shuffling riddims, looking a little dwarfed by the hangar space. In nearby Rye Wax, a showcase run by non-binary and female-enabling collective Rhythm Sister was faring a little better, but overall the vibe across the site was flat.
These early teething problems had ironed themselves out by the time the festival drew to a close on Sunday. Giles Smith and James Priestley’s exuberant set of vocal house anthems had an older, dialled-in crowd cutting serious shapes in the courtyard. This segued effortlessly into the thick drum workouts of Jenifa Mayanja, who played in Copeland Gallery as night fell. London club night Coastal Haze were hosting The Nines next door, giving the crowd their fill of bright cuts from the likes of Beesmunt Soundsystem, Tornado Wallace and Project Pablo. It felt like the polite younger cousin to the main space, where Mayanja was still busy delivering a percussive assault. People moved freely between the two rooms, which stopped energy and enthusiasm levels from waning.
Nowhere, though, did it all click together better than on Saturday afternoon. South London party and label Church has become a formidable presence in recent years, thanks to a run of strong releases and events at the likes of Dance Tunnel and Corsica Studios. Their Roof D takeover had the celebratory mood of an office party, with familiar faces everywhere you looked. The vibe was helped by generous amounts of sunshine and the buoyant presence of guest headliner Axel Boman, who high-fived punters in the front row. Hours full of spirited disco and breezy house jams flowed by. The sense of community was overwhelmingly strong.
133 Copeland Road