Summer Festival Preview: 8 Can't-Miss Dance And Club Music Festivals In The UK And Beyond

Summer Festival Preview: 8 Can't-Miss Dance And Club Music Festivals In The UK And Beyond

A handy primer on the best electronic music gatherings...

Club culture faced a unique dilemma during the pandemic: how can those communities, so rooted in IRL exchange, survive in the absence of physical spaces?

Somehow, the culture found a way through it, and its survival is going to make 2022 all the more joyous.

Festival season is upon us once again, and there's a plethora of outdoor events to choose from, ranging from UK stalwarts to brand new continental affairs.

Louis Torracinta picks out eight essential dance and club music festivals you simply can't miss out on...

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Houghton 11th to 14th of August, Norfolk, UK
Tickets from £245

Artist highlights: Ricardo Villalobos; Peverelist; Hunee; DJ Storm; Zip; Radioactive Man, Mixmaster Morris

Houghton’s first two years were the stuff of legend; conceived by Fabric resident (and notorious vinyl collector) Craig Richards as a counter-balance to the ever expanding, conveyor belt style modern dance festival, Houghton instead places an emphasis on longer sets, vinyl DJs, and boutique stage design with art installations.  

In 2019, freak winds forced the organisers to cancel at the last minute, and we all know what happened the last two years. As a result, 2022 is sure to be a homecoming of sorts, and many punters were waiting for tickets to drop with great anticipation. The venue itself is spectacularly beautiful (how many festival sites are owned by a Marquess?), and it boasts one of the UK’s rare 24 hour music licences, which means DJs can dip into their freaky afterhours collections rarely heard elsewhere.

The line-up this year, as usual, leans towards the electro (Neil Landstrumm, Radioactive Man) and minimal (Zip, Magda) sounds you might hear coming from Craig Richard’s admittedly vast record bag; although the Giant Steps tent (boasting, naturally, a hybrid Japanese/German Hi-Fi sound system and vintage turntables that were used for BBC broadcasting) presents a number of more cosmic, obscura and jazz DJs like the ever-inspiring NTS resident Donna Leake.

The only downside, really, is the price – coming in at a steep £245, you’re paying close to Glasto prices for mostly DJs and a few choice live sets, although you do get many, many hours of music, and you’re likely not to have heard much of it before. In any case, when it’s 10AM and Ricardo Villalobos is playing God-knows-what next to a picturesque lake, the cost will probably be the last thing on your mind.

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Waking Life, 17 - 22nd August, Crato, Portugal
Tickets from £190 / €220
Artist highlights: Jane Fitz & Carl H; Terrence Dixon (live), Seefeel, Ulla Straus (live), Kode9, Djrum, Aleksi Perälä, Andrew Ashong, DJ SO, DJ Nobu, Deadbeat & Tiikiman

With an official festival slogan of “high weirdness served lakeside”, and a program that emphasises spiritual experiences, collective volunteering, political discussions, and performance art as much as it does any of its musical lineup, Waking Life does things a bit differently. Located deep in the desert regions of Portugal’s Alentejo region over the course of five days, and co-hosted by Berlin’s famous Giegling crew, the festival has a devoted following, especially from a late-20s and early 30s German and Portuguese crowd who are wearied from heavier clubbing over the year and need a summer cleanse (or maybe just a bit of sunbathing on the festival’s very own nude beach). Unusually, most of the festival staff are there on a voluntary basis, and plenty of non musical experiences are emphasised, from the usual yoga through to complex political seminars on the future of journalism and the climate crisis.

This year’s edition has plenty to look forward to from many of the deeper corners of the underground; punters can look forward to everything from the soothing sounds of newcomer Ulla Straus to the murky techno psychedelia of Detroit veteran Terrence Dixon. Long-running 1990s rock/ambient legends Seefel will perform live, as will the highly prolific Aleksi Perälä, who makes music using a non-traditional tuning system called Colundi (invented by Aphex Twin’s good friend Grant Wilson-Colerdige) that genuinely has its own semi-religious cult. For fans of dub, soul, or jazz, you can’t go wrong with Deadbeat & Tikiman or London’s Andrew Ashong, and for proper party hours Hyperdub boss Kode9 and vinyl wizard Djrum should bring plenty of bass energy.

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Outlook Festival UK, 30 June - 3rd July, Cheshire, UK
Tickets from £176 Artist highlights: Hessle Audio, Calibre, Mantra, Commodo, Equiknoxx, Jah Shaka, Special Request, Tasha, Scratcha DVA

Outlook’s original editions played a role in introducing the beaches of Croatia – and the idea of travelling to a faraway sunny location for a party – to a whole generation of young British punters. The festivals also grew in their reputation for the calibre of their soundsystems, many of which got driven all the way from the UK, and the focus on heavy bass and dub music that couldn’t be found elsewhere in quite the same way. As the years went on, though, Outlook also gained some reputation for catering more to younger (and occasionally rowdier) crowds, and the more derivative ends of the bass spectrum.  

It’s interesting, then, to see this festival migrate back to home turf, taking place at Cholmondeley Castle in the rolling hills of Cheshire (owned, by, believe it or not, the same owner as the land used for Houghton). The line-up skews, obviously, towards British soundsystem music, of which there’s a mouthwatering selection that’s headier than most recent editions. Highlights include Rupture resident Mantra, Jamaican experimental dancehall project Equiknoxx, and the Rinse/NTS favourite (and Gqom convert) Scratcha DVA. The real personalities, though, will be the soundsystems themselves – with arguably the six of the best travelling bass systems on these fair isles (Channel One, Iration Steppas, Jah Shaka, Jah Tubbys, Mungo’s Hi-Fi, and the Sinai Soundsystem) all in one place – a rare gathering that’s ultimately worth the price of admission alone. 

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Gala Festival, 2nd-4th of June, Peckham Rye Park
Day tickets from £66 Artist highlights: Mansur Brown, Shannen SP, Off the Meds, Nia Archives, Sons of Kemet, Charlie Bones

Outdoor city-based festivals, especially in London, can be hit or miss. When the weather is good, and in the rare cases that the sound is OK and tickets aren’t completely oversold, it can make for the best possible day out – a beautiful city park, the amazing music this capital has to offer, and you even get to sleep in a real bed in the evening.

Pulling these events off, though, is no small feat of its own, and GALA, taking place over the jubilee bank holiday weekend on Peckham Rye, looks to improve upon its excellent 2021 edition, which split live acts on the opening day with DJs over the rest of the weekend. The ideal festival for fans of the jazzier and more soulful side of the club scene; this year’s highlights include a who’s who of south London jazz bookings including the Binker and Moses duo, Sons of Kemet, guitar prodigy Mansur Brown, keys player Joe Armon-Jones, and the soulful collective Kokoroko. Friday and Saturday will see appearances from the likes of DJ Harvey and Artwork, two DJs whose formidable reputations were built in London but who now only play here much more occasionally. Afterparties are also yet to be announced, but definitely don’t miss out on an excellent panel hosted with BORN n BREAD, who will be speak to four of London’s best radio presenters (Jamz Supernova, Josey Rebelle, MarshmeLLo, and Tash LC) about their respective journeys through the medium.

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Dekmantel Festival, 3rd-8th of August, Amsterdam
Ticket resale active

Artist Highlights: Joy Orbison, Sean Kuti & The Egypt 80 feat. Yasiin Bey, Lee Gamble, Oceanic, Laurel Halo & Oliver Coates, Squarepusher, Erika de Casier - Dekmantel has grown and grown over the years, from a small Dutch upstart to its own veritable institution with an in-house label, podcast series, and countless viral YouTube moments courtesy of its famous Boiler Room stage. Its 2022 edition has one of this season’s most versatile line-ups, having gradually expanded to five days and various different venues across Amsterdam. The bookers have continued to outdo themselves, featuring more live acts than ever before – with Thursday starting things off a bit more cerebral, featuring the likes of John Beltran, Lorraine James, Ana Roxanne, Squarepusher, Carmen Villain and Tirzah.

Over the weekend though, when the festival proper continues on the vast greens of the Amsterdamse Bos park, club music of all stripes will be on display; from the rave-ready anthems of Overmono’s live show to the mega-obscure soul and funk of Chicago’s Mark Grusane and Sadar Bahar. Saturday and Sunday’s highlights include South Africa’s DJ Lag, the dembow rhythms of Felix Hall and (in a stroke of pure booking genius) – UK garage hero DJ EZ, who will surely blow the minds of a few Dutch punters unfamiliar with his next-level mixing skills.

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We Out Here, 25th-28th of August, Cambridge
Tickets from £198
Artist highlights: Pharoah Sanders, Azymuth, Underground Resistance, IG Culture, Goldie, Masters at Work, Dreamcastmoe, Tim Reaper, Two Shell, Jossy Mitsu

The brainchild of Gilles Peterson in collaboration with Brownswood recordings, We Out Here has grown from a smaller jazz-oriented festival in the former site of Secret Garden Party to a much larger, multi-stage four day party with dozens and dozens of artists. Peterson’s routinely excellent and eclectic curatorial touch (aided by his year-round support of new and promising music through his BBC radio 6 show) and the presence of a number of different collectives (including the highly underrated Lemon Lounge soundsystem) makes for a festival that manages to present a wonderful, vibrant mix live jazz (Nu Genea) and hip-hop (ENNY) next to the top-notch house and techno (Two Shell, Louie Vega, Ben Sims) in a way that makes many other festival lineups look frankly uninspired.  

This year is no different, particularly with a stunning Sunday evening mainstage concert that will see the likes of Italian ambient maestro Gigi Masin and Warp record signee and young harpist Nala Sinephro. Legendary Brazilian funk rockers Azymuth will also take the stage; and the show will close with a once-in-a-blue moon appearance from saxophonist Pharoah Sanders – unmissable.

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Strawberries and Creem, 17th - 19th June, Cambridge
Non camping tickets from £135

Artist highlights: Fiyahdred, Knucks, Lil C, CC:Disco!, Knucks, Tems, Lil Wayne, David Rodigan, Dennis Ferrer

Strawberries and Creem has its roots as a barebones clubnight run out of the small clubs of Cambridge, but it’s made quite a progression in just a few years, becoming perhaps the foremost independent R&B and rap festival in the UK. That’s an impressive rate of growth, and it’s testament to the professionalism and care with which the organisers put the event together compared to some of its larger and perhaps more profit-driven competitors. This year, rap and R&B fans can look forward to a UK exclusive appearance of Lil Wayne and Nigerian icon Tems alongside must-see upstarts from the UK’s own blossoming scene, including Knucks and ENNY. A Notting Hill Carnival takeover and a drop-in from bonafide legend (and MBE) David Rodigan, plus killer disco from Horse Meat Disco and Australia’s CC:Disco! will also definitely bring the dance.

In addition, the all-female DJ collective Girls Can’t DJ will host a stage featuring all sorts of talent, including a guest appearance from Katy B, Clash favourite Goldie Quaker and dembow queen (and host of NTS’ ‘Pum Pum Power Hour’) Lil C; the festival’s line-up as a whole boasts almost 60% women, a welcome change from the usual trends of the circuit.

Listen to our Clash podcast with Strawberries and Creem HERE

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Body Movements, 30th of July, Hackney Wick, London, UK
Tickets from £75, discount tickets available for those in hardship

Artist Highlights: Love Muscle, Herrensauna, Pxssy Palace, LEZZER QUEST

It’s all too often forgotten that much of club and electronic music originated (and continues to be wildly influenced by) black and queer spaces and communities that remain highly marginalised. In an effort to maintain and uphold these spaces, DJ Saoirse and Little Gay Brother founder Clayton Wright came together to build Body Movements, a festival with the intention of “celebrating queer bodies in electronic music.” Following a wildly successful first edition this past October, the day-long festival will return on the 30th of July to 16 venues and clubs across Hackney Wick.  

The festival sees the collaboration of dozens of queer dance collectives from London, the UK, and wider Europe, with the intention of “speading out and [being] queer and and make sure we take up as much space as possible.” Funds raised from the festival will also be donated to three important LGBTQI+ charities: We Exist, Stonewall Housing, and All Out.

Although the exact artist line-up has yet to be fully announced, expect reams of DJ and live talent from a range of queer collectives, including Berlin’s Herrensauna, Leeds’ Love Muscle, and London’s Pxssy Palace. Taking place across just one jam-packed day, with several stages both indoors and outdoors, all within a 5-10 minute walk of each other – it’s guaranteed to be a proper party. 

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Words: Louis Torracinta

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