“GALA gave the dancers three days’ worth of joy and escape, and that’s the power live music holds.”
In a world prior to Covid, GALA’s regular May slot served as the emphatic kickstart point for London’s festival season. Over its five previous renditions, the event has become known for its deep and varied programming style that tends to offer a bit of something to everyone. This year saw the Peckham Rye based festival move to the first weekend of June, with the Jubilee bank-holiday weekend offering the perfect opportunity for the whole city to party. Despite the packed schedule of events on offer, GALA delivered three-days of near sold-out entertainment that only further cemented its reputation for a guaranteed good-time.
This year’s festivities kicked off on the Thursday, which saw the main stage dominated by an eclectic range of live acts. Creative duo, Nu Genea brought along a live band for a truly unique experience, whilst Bands KOKOROKO, and Little Dragon were eye catching bookings for a largely electronically led festival. It was elsewhere that dance music had its moment on the day. Dancers were treated to a three-hour set from Hunee at the brand-new Beacons stage, which was a sea of colour and played host to multiple viewing areas, making for a multi-level dancefloor. Thursday also saw Fabric Live take over GALA’s rather infamous Pleasure Dome, which saw Goldie and Nia Archives whip up quite the frenzy. Whilst festival favourite, Bradley Zero, returned to the Patio stage to build upon last year’s highlight set, bringing boundless energy as always.
For those of us who truly love electronic music, the line-ups for both Friday and Saturday were undoubtedly stacked with unmissable talent. The first of which saw the main stage deliver an afternoon of Balearic bliss. The individual’s efforts of Damiano Von Erckert, Move D, and DJ Harvey throughout the afternoon and evening offered an array of down-tempo disco, which perfectly suited the more easy-going dancers, whilst the sun blazed down on them. DJ Harvey was making his long- awaited debut at the festival and showcased just why seen as a legend within the industry.
Whilst the dancers who really wanted to get down found themselves at the Pleasure Dome, where Courtesy and Shanti Celeste brought the heat. From the moment you stepped inside the sweat infused dome, it felt like a time warp, with both DJ’s playing heavily 90s inspired classic house sets. Courtesy delved into trance with L.S.G’s ‘Hearts’ followed by an infectious rendition of Energy 52’s ‘Cafe Del Mar’. Shanti Celeste, head honcho of Peach Discs treated the crowd to a rare vinyl set. Delving into her archives with a range of bangers, the set peaked when she dropped Tall Paul’s remix of Camisra’s ‘Let Me Show You’, which sent the crowd bananas. It was an infectious atmosphere that reminded us exactly why we long for Summer.
But it was the closing set at Patio from the Running Back boss, Gerd Janson that stood out for its diverse sonic journey. The German selector has built a reputation over the years for his ability to read the crowd, and those dancers were treated to everything from Italo, through to EBM, with plenty of beloved treats from his own label sprinkled in between. An enthralling two-hour set was perhaps best summed up by his closing transition that saw Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’ flow effortlessly into Crystal Waters’ ‘Gypsy Woman’ – a hair-raising, and yet rather wholesome experience that everyone appreciated.
Saturday built upon Friday’s momentum, opening with a hot, and yet surprisingly early 2pm slot from Northern Irish DJ, Cormac. The Panorama bar regular played an infectious two hour set at the Patio stage that drew upon his love for Hi-NRG. It’s not often you see an artist play 130 BPM that early in the day, but Cormac – sticking true to his artistry – did exactly that. There’s something about the music he plays that’s inherently hedonistic, queer, and fun – it’s impossible not to dance to. From up-tempo remixes of Janet Jackson to Divine’s ‘Native Love’, and then ending with a rare live performance of his very own single ‘Heartcore’, the revellers loved it, and there was no stage busier come the end of his set.
For much of the day, Patio felt almost impossible to leave. German veteran of the dance scene, Roman Flügel, delivered a blend of European inspired house and techno that was incredibly methodical in its design. However, what was rather apparent on the Saturday was how the festival was split in half – with both the main stage and Pleasure Dome hosting heavily disco sets, whilst Patio and Beacons held an unpredictable energy that was enticing.
Festival favourites, Horse Meat Disco and Artwork, played rather expected nostalgic disco sets that has been the key to their success over the years. However, in the face of clashes with other talent, time felt better spent listening to artists where you weren’t quite sure where the music would end up.
One artist who certainly delivered the unexpected was Italian maestro, DJ Tennis, who delved into every corner of dance music, from drum and bass to acid house. The crowd for his festival closing set at Patio were constantly left on their toes. Merging 2 In A Room’s classic 90s track ‘Carnival’ with Duke’s ‘So In Love With You’, whilst going deep into his Life & Death label’s back catalogue with a rendition of Ashee’s ‘Techno Face’, it was an emphatic display that was certainly a contender for the best set of the weekend.
This year’s edition of GALA proved just how far the event has come since it’s inaugural, one day edition in 2016. With the addition of a larger fourth stage in Beacons, and the growth of last year’s addition, Patio, they’ve created a space that not only attracts some of the industry’s best talent, but also allows them to shine. It also wasn’t an easy time to run a festival, given the ensuing economic crisis and rising living costs we’re all facing right now, but it gave the dancers three days’ worth of joy and escape, and that’s the power live music holds. With a growing reputation, we can only wonder what next years edition will look like.