Essex isn’t the typical location which global-touring DJs and electronic music figureheads Carl Cox, Seth Troxler and Steve Angello are used to playing. Though arguably more familiar with Vegas, Ibiza and European crowds, Upminster-based We Are FSTVL attracts the biggest names in house, techno and on Sunday, EDM.
Now in its third year, We Are FSTVL brings in 30,000 music lovers over its weekend. Think of it as the electronic music equivalent of V Festival. Cleverly targeted at the Essex party-going population, for an extra £40, a VIP ticket allows access to the VIP area – a regular festival feature offering that little bit more; there’s a separate VIP stage (Mark Knight’s Toolroom Records and MK’s Area10 host it respectively), hot tubs, hair salon, glitter and face paint stations and remarkably cleaner toilets, as well as higher viewing platforms back on the main site.
As one of the year’s first proper festivals, Saturday unsurprisingly sold-out in advance, while last remaining Sunday tickets were available on the door. Despite a windy start with grey clouds looming above, the weather stayed dry and summery; rare for a UK festival in late May.
Whilst the generously-sized main stage hosted the likes of Gorgon City and Solomun under sunny skies, Summer Festival Guide found itself at the Used & Abused stage for a great deal of the weekend. Creatively, the industrial design of an aircraft hanger made it seem as though we’d been teleported to an underground club in Europe; fitting for the dark and deep techno acts it showcased. A gargantuan three-hour set from Loco Dice made it near impossible to leave, while Drumcode Records founder Adam Beyer later delivered a set of intense, unrelenting techno. Most notable, its impeccable sound quality, remaining consistent throughout the weekend.
Elsewhere on Saturday’s bill, house sets from Simon Dunmore and Oliver Dollar on the Defected Records stage, and Redlight and Waze & Odyssey in the What Hannah Wants tent, ensured both were permanently filled. Meanwhile, globally-renowned DJ’s Seth Troxler and Carl Cox closed out the opening night on the main stage, respectively, each proving memorable highlights.
Seth’s acidic, techno-heavy set, complete with hypnotic swirling red and black visuals, saw the sun go down, before house music legend Carl Cox took the helm. Opening strongly with Deetron’s piano-house builder ‘Photon’, a sea of mobile phones lit up the night sky. The first person to majorly interact with the crowd, Cox encourages, “Carl Cox is in the house. Who’s ready?” as laser lights scour the audience and confetti explodes from cannons.
The only downside with We Are FSTVL though, is the non-camping policy, meaning that thousands of people need to be transported from the site back to wherever they may be staying. According to social media comments, people were reportedly left for hours on the roadside as shuttle buses and taxis struggled to cope with the number of attendees, though by Sunday this was far less of an issue.
As Sunday morning falls, so does the rain; but luckily only on SFG’s commute to the site. Once on-site, the ground is mostly dry as the sun steadily rears its head. The day’s first highlight comes from Dirtybird boss Claude VonStroke who, rare that he comes to the UK, delivers a crowd-pleasing set on the Paradise stage, dropping his own ‘Make A Cake’, ‘Barrump’ and Jesse Rose-collaboration ‘Bare Mountain’, proving Dirtybird as one of the finest electronic labels around; their forward-thinking, unique sound a clear hit with the Essex punters. Later, another Dirtybird affiliate, J Phlip, goes back-to-back with Huxley over in the VIP village, each dropping bass-heavy productions to a growing crowd.
Back at SFG’s favourite stage, the aircraft hanger, now hosted by Cocoon, Ten Walls and Sven Vath each deliver building techno sets; Sven’s hard-hitting sound complimented by female dancers spread across the stage.
At the complete other end of the electronic music spectrum, the main stage welcomes Radio 1 DJ Danny Howard before Oliver Heldens takes over, delivering an unexpectedly stand-out set. Mixing his own ‘deep house’ tracks ‘Gecko’, ‘This’ and ‘You Know’ with tracks from EDM’s biggest names the young producer’s clearly having a great time as he bopps around and shuffles in front of the DJ decks. It’s like watching a child in a sweet shop. “Let me see your hands Essex”, he shouts excitedly, before closing with an EDM remix of Ellie Goulding’s Love Me Like You Do. Unpretentious and heaps of fun, Heldens’ set is a great warm-up for the bombastic sounds of Knife Party.
Older fan –favourites ‘Bonfire’ and ‘Internet Friends’ mix well with a newer track which we are told is “for the UK family”; it sounds somewhat influenced by Major Laser. 15 minutes late, Steve Angello’s set begins with dramatic orchestral sounds and visuals as the former Swedish House Mafia member reveals that he’s travelled all the way from Sweden. Appearing like a silhouette throughout the show because of the strobe lights, he works the crowd with Robin S’ ‘Show Me Love’ and later, new single ‘Children of the Wild’ impresses.
Over in the Paradise tent, the sound parallels as Jamie Jones lays down chunky tech-house rollers by the dozen, whilst Mele’ closes out the Hospitality stage, leaving Shadow Child and DJ S.K.T to continue the party for VIP ticket-holders only in the Area 10 tent.
As We Are FSTVL comes to a close nearing 1am, luckily there’s a London-located after-party being taking the festivities through until 6am Monday!
We Are FSTVL continues to thrive as one of the UK’s best medium-sized festivals, offering a diverse range of electronic music over a usually sunny weekend. Here’s to 2016!