There is only so much that festival organisers can actually have control over, so it was a good omen to see the sun shining on Saturday morning as the city burst into life and 10,000 people started to make their way towards Eastleigh for Southampton Soundclash. Southampton Soundclash may be new, but it is by no means small — and it is still growing: The festival made its debut in May this year and, come May 2016, it will have graduated into a 15,000 capacity two-day event. The question remains though, did Soundclash live up to its impressive hype for this September 2015 outing?
It has to be said that travelling to the festival from central Southampton wasn’t the best of experiences, what with seemingly no taxis available and many busses passing by the University of Southampton campus completely full, crammed with sweaty students and seasoned ravers alike. However, with ten thousand people all heading to the same location at the same time a bit of travel chaos is to be expected … and I did get to learn one or two previously unheard football chants from a particularly excited festival goer, sat two seats behind me on the bus I eventually caught.
Upon arrival it was immediately obvious that things had been scaled up somewhat since the May event. Two vast big tops occupied a significant portion of the site with the other tents/stages, bars, and food outlets, surrounding them. The site was well laid out, making it easily accessible and lot more visually satisfying than in May. Looking around, the main stage was much the same as in May (save for a new large LED screen backdrop), as were the bars and VIP area but overall I feel that the dynamic of the festival had changed for the better.
The two big tops were hosted by Switch and Warehouse — focussing on house and techno — while the other two large tents focussed on drum and bass and garage. Couple all that with a main stage boasting an impressive lineup with mainstream appeal, it becomes obvious why Soundclash is so incredibly well attended.
Food, drinks, and toilet facilities were all available in abundance, and the security staff were necessarily efficient but not particularly mean or bad spirited. I did not hear (or see) one altercation between festival goers throughout the day and although the site was very crowded, the constant flow of people travelling between stages was impressively smooth; surely a testament to the great deal of hard work behind the scenes.
Musically, the festival impressed me far more than in May. No doubt the organizers were bolstered by their prior success and pushed for bigger and better acts this time round. Doorly, Paul Woolford, James Zabiela, Bondax and Basement Jaxx were some of the stand out performers for me. Previously a Bondax hater, and not feeling particularly thrilled at the time by the announcement of Basement Jaxx as chief headliner, I ventured over to the main stage with some trepidation. But that apprehension hastily evaporated as the tunes rolled over the bouncing heads and waving arms of the huge crowd towards me, all the while being bathed in the glorious afternoon sunshine.
It was fantastic to hear a wide selection of crowd pleasers and lesser known records booming across the wide open space, and equally fantastic to see the thousands of clearly delighted festival goers dancing and singing along. Indeed, delight was a recurrent theme throughout the day, with smiles and laughter everywhere. One happy customer even told me that she was “stone cold sober and having the best f-ing time of her life” … although I have my suspicions about the being sober part.
There is room for improvement at Southampton Soundclash, though, and it would be remiss of me not to mention that. Although the musical calibre was an improvement on the May event, it would be great to see some really stellar names performing at the next Soundclash festival. And given that the next one will be a two-day event (thus increasing the budget somewhat), maybe we’ll see just that. If the ambitions of the organizers are truly as large as touted, then surely it is now that they will be crafting some truly memorable and impressive line ups to turn Soundclash from an impressive local event to a force that is to be reckoned with nationwide.
Elsewhere on the ‘things to improve’ list is the departure from the festival site at the end of the evening: It was a nightmare unless you skipped the last hour of music to head home. I’m not sure what can be done here but something needs to change. The road that the main entrance sits on seemed completely saturated with buses: They were running at capacity and yet thousands of people were left wandering around looking a bit disgruntled.
Overall though, Soundclash was not a good day out because of the headline acts or the impressive lighting installations, but because it was a celebration of all that’s great about Southampton. The festival was organised by local promoters, attended by local people, and local DJs were being showcased on every stage. Everyone was enjoying themselves, the sun was shining, and the music was bumping.
Festivals sometimes charge hundreds of pounds for tickets, Southampton Soundclash did it all for as little as £30. The festival put a smile put a smile on 10,000 faces, leaving them with real, lasting, joyous memories — which is something that money just cannot buy. Above the clearly commercial success of Soundclash, this is what should satisfy the organisers more than anything else.