Review + Photography by Michael Sibbons

Wow. What a weekend. I’m lounging on the sofa with my feet up, watching repeats of Rick & Morty aching all over, in desperate need for a proper meal, slightly sunburnt, dehydrated and could probably do with a second shower this morning… but as I reflect on the last couple of days. It was worth it.

Beginning what is an annual tradition for me South West Four (or SW4, named after the postcode it’s situated in), sees some of the world’s top DJs and other dance musicians take over Clapham Common for a weekend of EDM, house, drum ‘n’ bass, jungle, grime and everything in between.

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This year there was definitely a more clean split of the types of music on offer, with Saturday being more EDM and house, then Sunday being a bit heavier with a focus on drum ‘n’ bass. This split could even be seen down to the individual stages with there being individual stages for things like grime. This split really worked, as if your bag is a certain type of dance music, then chances are you may only stick around one or two stages the entire day. Timings also worked really well with the ability to watch both of the headliners.

This year also had its fair share of solo artists, with main stage sets from the likes of Tinie Tempah, Ms Dynamite and Plan B, Mabel and Craig David appearing in the more house oriented tent, and Wiley, Wretch32 and Dappy in the grime focussed tent.

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If you’re not just there for the club vibe mainly focussing on beats and mixes, live music does mix the sound up a bit, and personally you can’t beat a bit of music performed live, especially dance music. Wilkinson’s live set on the main stage featured along with himself, guitar players, an MC, various singers and a string quartet!

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The biggest thing about this weekend was the weather. I’ve never experienced anything like it at a festival. With temperatures into the 30s, every bit of shade was being utilised, the single tree in the site was obviously a top contender, but people were sitting in the shade of bins, and even the food stands. The tents were filled with people sitting down trying to escape the heat (but in some cases the tents were getting hotter than the outside). With dozens if not hundreds of people queuing for the water pipes, people were taking the weather seriously, and you can’t blame them, I drank several litres on the Sunday, and still came home dehydrated. Compared to last year with the torrential downpours and the ground turning to mud in some places, I’m starting to wonder if SW4 only has extreme weather!

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It’s always nice at festivals when artists have a large number of well known hits, My Dynamite, Plan B and Tinie Tempah, are prime examples of this, all appearing in afternoon headlining slots on the main stage. I don’t think you appreciate how any tracks these artists have appeared on until they’re doing hour long sets and you know every track.

This year saw many high profile returning acts from last year local boy Example (for example), Sigma, Basement Jaxx and Craig David to name a few. Chase & Status on returning headlined the indoor main stage hit the base so hard they somehow unplugged their own mixer!

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Rounding off the Saturday was Martin Garrix, DJ-ing from the main stage in front of a pretty hefty lighting rig to a huge crowd. As I’ve stressed more in previous years its these kind of acts which really give SW4 a more of a nightclub vibe than a normal festival. The weather had cooled by this point, the sun had set, so whatever energy people had left they just let it go.

Finishing the weekend off was Pendulum – Trinity. Part DJ set, part live set and all the stage effects you could ever want. So how did it differ from a normal DJ set? Live vocals by Rob Swire – front man and vocalist, for tracks such as Propane Nightmares and Witchcraft. I usually end up going swiftly after finish shooting the headline acts in order to beat the rush and get the tube home (it’s between a 90 minute and two hour journey home for me!). This was the first time I pretty much stayed for all of it. Ending up partying with a friend of mine and a fellow photographer, it felt a bit like I was back in 2008 attending one of the countless 18th birthdays during sixth form! I’ve seen Pendulum live a few times, and although not usually a fan of DJ sets, the live vocals really did make a difference and as noted I did stay for the set!

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Sadly Pendulum were not originally supposed to be headlining the Sunday. This honour was to go to The Prodigy, but sadly after the passing of Keith Flint, Pendulum were brought in to replace them. I love Pendulum. I love The Prodigy. Pendulums remix of Voodoo people is just superb, and I think a fitting replacement. Unsurprisingly throughout the day various artists made tributes to The Prodigy, someone had brought a RIP Keith Flint sign and hung it over the barrier at main stage. Obviously Pendulum weren’t going to avoid this, playing several The Prodigy tracks, and with Firestarter letting loose with all the pyros. Not some but definitely all of the pyros.

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The party doesn’t stop at 11pm with the noise curfew though. Those devout enough can attend one of the various after parties, Saturday at Ministry of Sound, Sunday at Fabric meaning you can keep the party going to the small hours, before starting all over again the next day. I’ve yet to be brave enough to spent the entire day at a festival and then hit the afterparty.. but there’s always next year!

My highlights of the weekend were (apart from photographing, because I love doing that!):

  • All the live acts especially Mabel, who was a welcome surprise.
  • Discovering Rezz by chance whilst walking across the site. If you like Deadmau5 make sure to check her out! Very similar sound and act.
    Getting to see some of my favourite dance music acts perform; Pendulum, Sigma, Basement Jaxx, Chase & Status to name drop a few (even if they were only DJ sets).
  • Chase & Status, having to stop there set two songs in because they somehow disconnected their mixer due to the bass.
  • Getting into Sigma’s selfie with the crowd! (I screengrabbed that story!)
  • Last thing on Sunday getting to relax a bit and then raving to Pendulum.

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Lastly, just like with previous years, I want to give a massive Thank You to the press escorts. These guys are always such great fun. Working tirelessly the whole day taking photographers from stage to stage. Always happy to help and just all round great guys and girls, so again, massive thank you!

SW4 may not be as mainstream as any of the other festivals, with the music really only being flavours of dance music, although not to everyones tastes it seems to be doing this right, as this year like the previous had been completely sold out. With names such as Ministry of Sound and Fabric attaching themselves to stages, some of the biggest names in dance music performing and being in the heart of London for the devotees of this sound, you can easily see why.

Once again thanks SW4 it was a blast! Same time next year.

See the full photoset from SW4 2019 here.

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