Live Report: GALA Festival 2021

Live Report: GALA Festival 2021

A celebratory all-layer in South London...

The last 18 months have been a tumultuous time for the events industry, with many wondering what post pandemic festivals could even look like in this new world. Well, this past weekend saw south London’s beloved GALA festival return in tremendous fashion that offered a glimmer of hope for the future. It was their fifth edition and their first outing in over two years and much has changed since then. Now the day festival has expanded to a full three-day programme that saw 10,000 lucky revellers ascend onto Peckham Rye park, making the most of their newfound freedom.

Alongside their humble expansion came bucket loads of adversity. Originally scheduled in May 2020, the event was forced to reschedule four times due to the ongoing complexities of the pandemic. Even once they got the green light to hold the event, travel restrictions remained in place that caused many artists to drop out. GALA aren’t the first and won’t be the last to fall victim to such restrictions but the drafting in of artists such as Craig Richards, Leon Vynehall and Young Marco showed a fight to deliver the best possible event, which was appreciated by all those in attendance.

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Friday’s billing was focussed around local talent and saw the festival diversify it’s sound with a series of live performances. Artists representing grime, hip-hop and jazz were equals to their dance music counterparts and dominated the main stage. Festival favourite Midland delivered the disco and house sounds that have made the festival what it is today. However, it was the live performance of Overmono in the Pleasure Dome that encapsulated so many. High energy renditions of ‘U Know’ and ‘Everything U Need’ caused chaos, whilst their remix of ‘I Have A Love’ showed the power of live music and why we’ve missed it so much, as emotions ran high.

Friday also showed us why the testing precautions in place are so vital for the longevity of the events industry as festival headliner Joy Orbison tested positive. A frustrating moment for many, whilst Hessle Audio’s co-boss Pearson Sound was drawn in as a last-minute replacement. However, it was at the totally redesigned Patio stage that saw Chaos In The CBD close out the day with a joyful set that touched on all corners of electronic music, to a crowd lined with giant mesh blocks, smoke and neon lights.

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Saturday saw a return to GALA’s traditional programming with a clear focus on house and disco. Fellow south London DJ Bradley Zero bought together a huge crowd that rejoiced in the sounds of his Rhythm Section label, whilst dropping in a few crowd-pleasing classics with Coco’s ‘I Need A Miracle’ being a particular highlight. There’s something about Bradley’s infectious energy than transcends to those in the crowd, which was in pandemonium throughout.

Elsewhere, the Saturday belonged to the eccentric duo of Eris Drew and Saoirse who closed out the Pleasure Dome with a three-hour b2b that was quite possibly the most exciting set of the festival. Playing purely vinyl throughout, the pair rolled back the years to prove that digital technology isn’t always better, or even necessary. Playing an array of electro, breakbeat, and up-tempo house music, they pushed the crowd to their limits and beyond. In a sweaty, euphoric, and rather hazy under cover stage, the set gave you a classic rave feel that’s long since been missed. It was a special moment and one for those who were there, will talk about for some time to come.  

Sunday finally delivered some sunshine after two incredibly wet days that caused more than just a few slips underfoot. It also played host to an intriguing four-hour b2b between Leon Vynehall and Young Marco that displayed the broad tastes of both artists. Fabric resident Craig Richards bought his world-renowned sounds that are so synonymous with EC1 to the Patio stage. He was a fitting replacement to Joy Orbison; I think it’s fair to say the hype that came with his last-minute announcement said it all.

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Long time festival regulars, Horse Meat Disco closed out the Pleasure Dome with their usual nostalgic selections that invoke endless amounts of joy. Whilst a rare appearance from Motor City Drum Ensemble was a fitting way to bring the main stage to an end. Known for his love of digging through record shops, the artists eclectic selections didn’t disappoint. Constantly weaving between genres, he managed to keep everyone on their toes after three long days of endless dancing.

This year’s edition of GALA was by far their most monumental to date. Taking the decision to expand to three days when the events industry was in disarray was an incredibly risky move, but its success sets them up perfectly for next year and beyond. It also offered hope to the rest of the industry that festivals can go ahead safely if the right safety measures are put in place. There may well be many questions left unanswered for mass scale events, but for now this newfound freedom is certainly welcomed.

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Words: Jake Wright
Photography: Jake Davis

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