Review: Shindig Festival 2019

shindig festival at sunset

Adam Burrows heads to Shindig Festival for one of the biggest weekends of the year

Shindig is the sort of festival that could easily fly under the radar. It doesn’t have any huge names and it’s not trying that hard to impress by booking the hottest up-and-comers. It’s just a really good party for ravers of all ages with a strong line-up, a very friendly crowd and better-quality food and drink than a lot of festivals of this size. It was this reviewer’s first time and I’ll find it hard to resist coming back next year.

We arrive unfashionably late on Friday evening to find dub producer and selector Manasseh in full effect in the SS Nautilicious. Nick Manasseh’s been testing carnival sound systems since the mid-’80s and his deep, rootsy selection is as good a way as any of getting into the festival spirit. He’s followed by Benjamin Zephaniah and his roots reggae band The Revolutionary Minds. Now aged 61 and in great media demand from kid’s TV to Any Questions to Peaky Blinders, you’d forgive Zephaniah for mellowing into his national treasure status, but tonight’s set proves that’s never going to happen. Performing with the energy of a man half his age and the controlled anger of a mature radical, he’s calling for revolution by his second song and goes on to take aim at Donald Trump before tackling the environment, animal rights and the class struggle. His message for the people? Stop fighting each other, stop stealing from each other, and unite to bring down your common oppressors. Soft he is not.

Next up is Ariwa Soundystem chief Mad Professor, whose fine set of forward-thinking dub grooves suffers slightly from a lack of volume. Everyone from Robin S to Damien Marley gets the Ariwa remix treatment, although the best bits are whenever he’s joined by long term collaborator Aisha, aka the High Priestess of Dub.

Saturday afternoon in The Dig Inn sees The Herbaliser’s familiar blend of funk, Latin, jazz and film and TV theme grooves lift the crowd gently back into action. Their DJ, drummer, bass guitar and percussion combine effortlessly bolstered at times by a punchy horn trio and flute from the excellent Andrew Ross. His solo on ‘Sensual Woman’ is the set’s highlight. They’re followed by a set of expertly chopped up polyglot grooves from Cheeba, Bristol’s own master DJ. His consummate party selection draws on everything from golden era rap to ’60s beat pop.

Over on the Tutti Fruity stage, DJ Zero B serves up old school hardcore, balearic and house heaters. It’s a perfect warm-up for class of ’92 masked hysterics Altern-8, these days reduced to a one-man show. The atmosphere in the room is incredible as Mark Archer piles into some of the greatest club anthems of all time, from ‘Rhythm Is A Mystery’ to ‘Sweet Harmony’: the crowd singing along with all of them. A pair of early Prodigy singles – ‘Charly’ and ‘Out of Space’ – are made poignant by the recent passing of Keith Flint, but mostly it’s a set that sparks collective joy in an audience ranging from acid house veterans to small people young enough to be their grandchildren. Shut Up And Dance follow with – what else in the circumstances? – their own ’92 smash ‘Raving I’m Raving’, but the rest of their set is anything but a nostalgia-fest. The ultimate DJ tag team, PJ and Smiley take turns on both the decks and the mic for a muscular, take-no-prisoners set that straddles house, garage, breaks, grime and jungle. Probably the most underrated people in UK dance music, Shut Up and Dance have been breaking boundaries for 30 years, and they’ve lost none of their energy or ability to bulldoze a dancefloor.

Set times at The Dig Inn are all over the place due to the cancellation of headliner Estelle but Kingdem do eventually make an appearance. A supergroup consisting of rappers Blak Twang, Ty and Rodney P, Kingdem are a show of strength for the UK hip-hop scene. London Posse survivor Rodney P (aka ‘Riddim Killa’) is the biggest character – handing out shots of Jack Daniel’s and generally playing the geezerish cockney host to perfection. Ty has the sweetest flow and most complex rhymes, with a sound that’s more classic boom bap than the dancehall inspired beats of the others. Blak Twang has the biggest tunes, though, including the classic ‘Tricksta’ and ‘So Rotten’, which he dedicates to the recently resigned Theresa May with a reference to Grenfell. Strongest of all is debut single ‘Dettwork Southeast’, for which he’s joined on stage by Ty and Shauny T.

Club venue The Submarine has the best sound in the whole festival, especially late at night when some of the other stages can get a bit neutered by volume restrictions. Saturday night sees a blinding set of tearout jungle from Aries, which shows young pretenders Gorilla Tactics, who play immediately before him, exactly how it’s done.

Sunday begins with Acid House Therapy. Assisted by a man called Wavey Davey, he apparently last seen in a van at the Castlemorton rave (27 years ago this weekend, fact fans), our therapist treats festival-goers’ ailments with a series of sonic prescriptions, classic rave era dance moves and a tray of medications that taste suspiciously like Parma Violets and coconut mushrooms. The audio treatments – produced from a suitcase stuffed with small synth units and patch cable spaghetti – consist of ’89 style acid jams. It’s the perfect workout to breathe new life into tired limbs on the last day of a four-day festival.

The Dig Inn takes a bit longer to get going as DJ Yoda mixes up all manner of goodness to a sleepy crowd tucking into hair-of-the-dog pints. The room gets livelier when he’s joined onstage by singer, MC and honorary Bristolian Eva Lazarus, a versatile vocalist who brings an infectious energy to any party. Meanwhile, a samba school marches past, sambaing vigorously.

In the bandstand Beat Fox is doing some uncanny beatboxing to a small but impressed audience: highlights include R2D2 cheeps and a sub bass effect created with the mic touching the outside of his throat. He’s followed by Swingray, who play a very laid back and silky set of old time R&B and jazz-funk as a cascade of large bubbles float up the hill.

It’s quite a contrast in the Tutti Fruity, which is wall to wall drum & bass from 7pm ’til shutdown, and boasts the youngest crowd at the festival. Doc Scott is up first with a set of perfectly sculpted Sci-Fi beats: he’s still one of the best, most forward-thinking selectors in the game. He’s followed by the funkier, more atmospheric selection of LTJ Bukem and then Bristol’s own Dazee, whose tough, junglist set has clearly won her a load of new fans today. It’s down to Randall, then, to finish the job and the ever-growing moshpit in front of the stage predictably explodes.

Elsewhere, Henge give the live performance of the festival with their irresistibly kinetic blend of techno, funk, surf and space rock. They’re this year’s don’t-miss festival band, and if you don’t warm to their extraterrestrial message of peace, progress and environmental responsibility you probably don’t have a heart. Finally, to the Submarine where Bristol is once again in the house as Dub Boy gets a beach party vibe going with a selection of soca and dancehall, while Addison Groove follows with house and ends with jungle.

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Image credit: Tony Jupp


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