Certain things are a given during the summer season, around the world. A rise in barbeques, long days and late nights spent in beer gardens, and music festivals (just to name three of my favourites). Cardiff city centre played host to the inaugural X Music Festival over the weekend (June 12-13), bringing some of the biggest acts in the UK, and slightly further afield, to the Welsh capital. Set in the idyllic Bute Park, home of the former Cardiff Castle, acts from across both the dance music spectrum and the local Welsh music scene dazzled tens of thousands of music fans across three very different stages during the two-day event.
Initially intended to be spread across both Cardiff and Edinburgh, festival organisers focussed their attention on Cardiff, with the intention of delivering a star-studded lineup to both dazzle the crowds and lay a foundation to establish the occasion and make it one of the first festivals on the summer calendar. With a main tent headlined by Sub Focus and Annie Mac, a trance ‘terrace’ beset with major players and the Horizons / Gorwelion stage (a BBC Cymru Wales initiative) showcasing the best emerging Welsh talent, the stages were set for a great couple of days, but also a number of teachable moments for the organisers.
Friday afternoon kicked off with slight scheduling changes, with both DJ Sole and Monki benefitting from extended DJ sets to get a highly-excited crowd in the mood for two solidly stacked days of dance music, before handing the stage to Skepta to a monstrous ovation. A pioneer of the grime music scene and undoubtedly the driving force for its rapid rise in 2015, the Tottenham-based artist rattled through hit after hit, including content from his forthcoming album Konnichiwa before returning to the tent to meet the crowd and take photos.
Despite the best efforts of the great Welsh weather (for those unfamiliar, I’m being sarcastic), the spirits of the crowd failed to be dampened (I know, I’m the worst), as rousing sets from Fuse ODG and Krept & Konan kept the crowd ticking, as did an intensely eclectic set from Jaguar Skills, renowned for a start/stop, multi-genre show. A brief visit to the Horizons stage unearthed a hidden gem in unsigned electronic duo Roughion, an Aberystwyth pair creating dark electronica whilst simultaneously incorporating Welsh-language vocal samples, to great effect.
As the sun set, DJ Fresh took to the stage, and despite suffering power failure mid-set, the highly enthusiastic crowd were sent into sheer ecstasy time and time again as he dropped well-known track after another from across his discography, including never-before-heard tracks which were well received. Sigma followed (they of Yeezus-inspired fame), bringing a packed tent to fever-pitch before headliner Sub Focus brought the curtain down on day one.
On the train back after a hectic day, minor issues crept into my head, such as the lack of staff on entrances to perform pat-downs and searches; the lack of seating places and the general cost of festivalling (if that wasn’t a word before, it is now), while I contemplated possible improvements (free bottles of water – dancing is thirsty work; bring the decks further forward), but these are factors that can be rectified over the next twelve months and can be attributed to first-year learning experiences.
Day two began as day one ended – booming basslines courtesy of Black Butter-signed My Nu Leng, accompanied by deep house from the decks of Eton Messy DJs, the Bristol-based DJ collective who have helped redefine the genre from their highly influential Youtube channel and newly-formed record label. An afternoon of dance continued with two great back-to-back sets from Canadian DJ B-Traits and the ever-excellent Hannah Wants, setting the stage for a bouncing climax for the event. Redlight entered to a rapturous reception, dropping numerous crowd-pleasers including new single ‘Gold Teeth’ and fan-favourite ‘9TS (90s Baby)’ before handing over to drum and bass legend Andy C. Known for an intensely exciting live-set, as well as his role in the genre and his remixing and producing abilities, one of the pioneers of his genre brought his A-game to the tent.
Gorgon City followed, with a huge DJ set that encompassed their debut album Sirens alongside new material from Disclosure and other UK based producers before handing the stage to DJ extraordinaire Annie Mac, who brought the curtain down on a sublime couple of days with a huge DJ set to close the first ever X Music Festival.
Despite minor criticisms, X Music Festival made good on its promises to create a unique and exciting experience, transforming a space in rainy Cardiff into a carnival-like atmosphere, intensified by the thousands upon thousands of music fans who flocked in their numbers to be a part of a whole new experience. Being surrounded by a huge number of like-minded people (and a number of 80s shellsuit jackets) made for a great couple of days. I’m already counting down the days to the 2016 edition!
Review by Ollie Salter | @ollie_salter_