Sunfall festival review – dance goes deep as Princess Nokia hits the heights

Brockwell Park, London
DJ masterclasses from Helena Hauff and Ben UFO ease the sting of entry queues, while rising hip-hop stars and techno parties create a 16-hour marathon

On paper, this audiophile event showcasing the dance and hip-hop underground is one of the smartest, most necessary dates in the festival calendar, but harsh reality intervenes. As at Boomtown the previous weekend, the British tolerance for queuing is pushed to its absolute limit by the three-hour wait to get in, followed by another serious queue for booze to soften the pain; many attendees have their day unacceptably truncated.

If it helps them feel better, they didn’t miss much early on. London producer Romare flirts with some intriguing polyrhythms, but his Latin percussion breaks have their rangy funk smoothed out by being too neatly looped; the very tame live sax and flute lines, devoid of passion or direction, worsen matters. Similarly directionless is Roy Ayers, who has some enchanted devotees, but whose interminable, fussily meandering vibraphone lines are a struggle for the rest.

But there are some undeniable triumphs. Theo Parrish’s funk selections are as limber as Romare’s were brittle, and he beams as the horns from Outkast’s SpottieOttieDopaliscious ring out. They can be heard in Motor City Drum Ensemble’s set too, and while it’s a typically euphoric spread of disco and house, he’s a DJ who has been operating deep in a comfort zone for some years now. More arresting are Helena Hauff, playing a supremely assured and focused set of phantasmagoric industrial techno; and Ben UFO, whose deep crates, omnivorous taste and acute sense of an audience have justly made him an icon in this scene – he plays a set laced with UK funky and garage, swerving bland nostalgia for a psychogeographic survey of south London dance culture. Larry Heard’s headline live set meanwhile is a spiritually nourishing trip through 30 years of vocal house.

Princess Nokia.
Incredible freestyles … Princess Nokia. Photograph: Dan Medhurst

In terms of hip-hop, Madlib has the backpacker boys swooning with his airing of J Dilla cuts alongside his own dusty, impressionistic style, but the real star of the day is Princess Nokia. With a scornful flow reminiscent of Foxy Brown, she rinses and spits water like a boxer, twerks with aplomb and delivers some incredible self-aggrandising freestyles, announcing she’s “a businessman, not a Soundcloud ho”. Given strong choruses, she could be a major breakout star in 2018.

A Sunfall ticket includes a choice of nine afterparties. I head to one hosted by futurist Scottish rave crew Numbers, where Jackmaster and Peggy Gou go back to back in a commanding European tour of electro and Italo, with Objekt’s genre-straddling hit Theme from Q sat at its heart; DJ Bone then delivers an overwhelming, information-rich showcase of high-speed techno. Sixteen hours of mostly pedigree music makes for a strong day overall, but those queues mean it may be remembered by many with gritted teeth.


Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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