When I first learned of the Lazy Sunday Festival I was told it was held in a large beer garden behind a pub in the beautiful rural village of Stotfold, and while that might be technically true it's also very much misleading...
Billed as an "old skool and jungle family all-dayer", the Lazy Sunday Festival took place on Sunday 27th August 2017 in an enormous field that, although part of the adjoining pub (the Fox and Duck), was certainly no mere "beer garden", and was more than capable of accommodating the three thousand visitors it received over the course of the day.
Arriving at the venue, parking up for free in the field immediately opposite, a rush of familiar feelings swept over me.
The festival was blessed with one of the brightest and hottest days of the summer, and upon joining the queue to enter the venue the throbbing bass of LFO's eponymous classic rumbled through the beautiful Hertfordshire countryside. At this point, still oblivious to the scale and ambition of the festival, I felt those all too familiar pre-rave feelings wash over me - anticipation, excitement, and butterflies in the stomach. Those feelings took me back twenty five years - there's nothing like that sense of anticipation as you wait in the queue, full of nervous energy, swaying to the bass making it's way out of the venue. The big difference this time? I was able to share the experience with my wife and six-year-old twins!
Parking for the festival couldn't have been easier as there was a field directly opposite the venue where you could ditch your car at no cost. Whilst standing in line I got my first glimpse of the true scale and ambition of the festival. At the far end of the site I could see a large stage framed by huge inflatable lips, while one side of the field was lined with street-food vendors and bars.
For those of us that had young families there was a large area filled with bouncy castles and all manner of inflatable slides to keep them occupied. There was also a stall selling horns and whistles which kept my two budding ravers happy (although I did have to remind them that the horns were for dancefloor use only!)
During the first few hours, as the venue started to fill up, and people started to flood in in search of a place to set up camp, DJ's Dill, Braddaz and Cosmo & Dibs did an excellent job of warming up the crowd and setting the tone for the event. The blend of dance classics, summer house and old skool rave anthems perfectly complemented the glorious weather. The sight of a woman styled as a unicorn bouncing around beneath an intense August sun, to a very well received remix of Snap's "The Power" (courtesy of Steve Thrower of Cosmo & Dibs), perfectly captured the spirit of the early hours of the festival!
It was mid afternoon when local talent Barrington brought the first jungle-tinged vibes of the day, playing Renegade's "Terrorist" to a jumping crowd of adults and kids - needless to say the place went off! My six year-old twins danced with blissed-out parents, first-time teenagers, and grizzled hardcore veterans - mixing with people of all ages, colours and backgrounds; a true microcosm of the early rave scene.
Si from 2 Bad Mice summed up the vibe of the festival perfectly:
"There's such a wide range of people here. You can pick out the old ravers... the kids... and that's what's made today... that all the kids are really getting into it. This scene has been going for twenty five plus years and it's never going to go away. You don't get this at punk events... you don't get this at mod events.,. You could rewind this twenty five years and say this was an illegal rave. We've rocked up in a field, got a sound system, set up a bar up and away we go!"
As a parent I wanted my kids to not only have a great time dancing to the tunes they've heard their dad blast a thousand times, but to also experience the culture of inclusiveness that surrounds the rave scene. It was the following day when my son asked me why everyone was giving him high fives on the dancefloor and being so nice to him! Not only did I meet a lot of very cool people that day, but my kids did too. Whether sat on my shoulders as I bounced around, or busting the moves they'd stolen from me, my kids were always given such positive attention by the raving crowd.
This was the first rave I've been to where the security staff swapped frisking me at the entrance to handing me wrist bands to ensure my kids stayed safe!
As the afternoon became evening, and the sun started to set, the ever-increasing crowd were treated to stand-out sets by both Slipmatt and RatPack - the latter offering the crowd several bangers from their new album. It's moments like these where, as a fan of the old skool scene, you can't help but pinch yourself - the line-up for Lazy Sunday was second to none.
At risk of coming across as too much of a "fanboy", to a certain generation these guys were our heroes. We didn't buy albums, we bought mix tapes. We didn't need posters because we had flyers. Whether it was 2 Bad Mice dropping "Bombscare", Ratpack performing "Searching For My Rizla", Slipmatt smashing it with "On a Ragga Tip" or Fat Controller bringing the euphoria with "In Complete Darkness", the day was punctuated with "pinch-me" moments when you'd allow yourself to embrace the nostalgia.
At one point I was able to catch up with Slipmatt, who'd just come off stage having completely rocked the crowd, and asked him about his take on the longevity of the scene:
"It's nice watching all the people's faces, everyone seems to be loving it... that's what does it for me. In 1991 I did a radio interview with BBC Cardiff, bearing in mind this was before the '92 explosion and we'd only just released "Way in my Brain", and the DJ was saying "do you think rave is dying?", and twenty six years later we're pulling bigger crowds than we was then really but with the families too".
Later in the night there were some issues with supply at the bar but these were quickly overcome thanks to a very busy team working behind the scenes. The event was a huge success and the gorgeous weather did nothing but give everyone a real thirst-on! A huge respect must be paid to the men and women that kept the bars and food areas running - no-one deserved the Bank Holiday Monday more than them.
By the time Uncle Dugs took to the decks the crowd was huge and well up for his rolling set of jungle classics and drum and bass. The jungle crowd certainly came out after dark and were not disappointed. Uncle Dugs is a DJ that clearly loves to connect with an audience whether through track selection or taking the mic, and his interactions with an already jumping dancefloor only served to hype the crowd more.
This interaction between artist and audience was certainly a theme of the festival. For example it's impossible to estimate the number of "selfies" taken with Billy Daniel Bunter, RatPack or Slipmatt. Whether by accident or design the festival had a wonderful sense of openness, where artists mingled freely with the crowd and were happy to chat and take photos. In spite of the global success enjoyed by many of the artists performing at the festival there were certainly no egos on display and every performer made themselves accessible to the fans.
As the night drew closer to the end the penultimate set went to the man responsible for putting on such a fantastic event - Jay Folly, AKA Fat Controller. For one hour he was able to (slightly) relax and played a blinding set of old skool hardcore climaxing with an impressive fireworks display that he paid for but was sadly unable to experience - hopefully the hundreds of mobile phones aimed at the sky will have captured it for him! It was also around this time that Stickman stood atop a speaker stack and entertained the crowds with his unique laser and light show (if you've not seen him perform check him out here).
Billy Daniel Bunter took the final set of the festival and by this time the crowd couldn't have been more responsive. Opening with a singalong to Oasis' "Wonderwall" was a particularly memorable moment of the night. Bunter, like Uncle Dugs, is a DJ that loves to pick up the mic and interact with the crowd - in order to select the final track of the night the crowd had to vote between hardcore or drum and bass (for the record, drum and bass just took it!)
Events such as this couldn't be more welcome to those of us with families. Not only because we might not get out as much as we used to but because for us the rave scene is something we want to share with our children. Lazy Sunday was as authentic a rave experience as you could expect in an age of red tape and social media.
While the sun shone the families took full advantage of their chance to party together, and when the sun set and many families had to call it a day, a field in the middle of the Hertfordshire countryside was transported back 25 years or more.
Lazy Sunday 2017 exceeded my expectations many times over, and I've recently heard that plans are already being made for 2018. I truly hope that this will be an annual event and something I can look forward to sharing with my kids each summer as they get older.
If you were there you'll know, if you weren't... I'll see you next year (I'll be the guy at the front with the seven-year-old twins!)