It’s officially festival season, and on a long weekend at the beginning of June, London’s GALA returns to Peckham Rye Park for a successful fifth edition – a sold-out showcase of the very best in-house, disco, techno, jazz and more.
Since launching in 2016, GALA has been a stand-out in the capital’s festival scene, and this year is no different. With a line-up spanning local and international talent, the DJ bill features the likes of Panorama Bar favourites Cormac, Job Jobse, Roman Flügel and Tama Sumo b2b Lakuti, as well as Dekmantel regulars Palms Trax, Hunee and Shanti Celeste, alongside Danielle, Shannen SP, Bradley Zero, Anu, Josey Rebelle and many, many more.
With fabric, Rye Wax, Rhythm Section and Charlie Bones’ Do!! You!!! hosting takeovers, and live acts scheduled from Nu Genea, Nubya Garcia, Session Victim and Soichi Terada, attendees are well aware they’re in for a treat early doors and, to cap it all off, the sun shines down on the festival for the weekend. The mood is electric.
As waves of eager ravers swarm to Peckham Rye park early on Thursday afternoon, the sun-soaked corner of South East London is looking lively. DJ Mag arrives to an energetic set from OK Williams, who sparks huge cheers from the crowd over on the Patio stage. To the left stands the festival’s original tent, the Pleasure Dome, where London clubbing institution fabric is well into its stage takeover with Shy One on the decks.
At GALA’s new Beacons stage, tucked away by the entrance corner of the festival, Hunee takes us on a journey through his eclectic collection, with the crowd erupting as the DJ drops Jorge Ben’s 1972 cut ‘Taj Mahal’ in the sunshine. Smiles appear on almost every face on the dancefloor and, at long last, the feeling of summer is here.
As the afternoon turns into evening, local hero Bradey Zero steps off from the Patio stage to huge applause, ending on a succession of bangers such as Lemin’s coveted ‘Music Sounds Better With You’ edit and Airto Moreira’s ‘Celebration Suite’. He hands over to another London scene stalwart Josey Rebelle, who delivers two hours of hard-hitting acid and techno to a sea of bouncing ravers.
Jungle and drum & bass are the order of the day back at the Pleasure Dome, as Nia Archives hands over to Goldie, gun-fingers galore. New school and old school embraces as Goldie greets Nia with a hug, lifting her into the air and spinning her around. It’s a special moment.
Over on the main stage, Little Dragon provide an easy-going close to day one as the crowd sway into the night but it’s day one, and things are only just getting started.
Friday’s proceedings kick off with sets from some of London’s top local selectors. Dynamic duo Raw Silk open the Patio, iona takes charge at the Pleasure Dome, and the ever-impressive Donna Leake brings her extensive record collection to the main stage. It’s something that GALA should take huge props for – the organisers have curated a line-up that champions a diverse range of local acts, both emerging and long-established, across each stage over its three days. Other festivals should be taking note, and learning from the level of care that’s gone into its programming.
As things get into full-swing, the sun makes its much welcome return for day two. We’re at the Patio stage, and NTS’ Mafalda provides the first goosebump-inducing moment of the afternoon — something that proves to be a running theme of the day. As hoards of people run toward the stage, the chorus of Basement Jaxx’s ‘Do Your Thing’ echoes around Peckham Rye, and both the crowd and Mafalda are grinning from ear to ear. Up next, Rush Hour boss Antal delivers a set of afro-funk and disco heaters before Japanese producer Soichi Terada brings his magical live set and infectious smile to the festival site.
We’re taking a short breather, but there’s no time to sit down for too long. A walk around the festival sees the Pleasure Dome at full capacity as Job Jobse ignites the crowd with his hi-NRG selections. A cursory glance inside during the drop of Josh Wink’s ‘Higher State of Consciousness' sees arms flying in the air. Hidden away in the Refuge tent, Amaliah is spinning some sweet UKG as Black Artist Database’s NIKS is getting ready to close out the stage.
As the sun sets, we return to The Patio, where Running Back boss Gerd Janson stands smiling at the crowd as he glides through each mix. With every smooth transition, the vibe gets even more magical, with friends clambering onto shoulders and embracing to the music. A crisp breeze lingers in the air, and a familiar melody starts to creep in. Gerd takes off his headphones, looks up and smiles again, as he leaves the stage to the sound of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’ – It’s bliss.
Moving into the final day, even those who’ve been here all weekend remain filled with excitement. We arrive to a set from Berlin-based, Irish DJ Cormac, who’s firing out an ‘80s-flavoured set, with each cut inspiring another hug-a-mate moment. He then drops ‘Heartcore’, his much loved 2021 release. To our surprise, he picks up the mic and begins to sing the vocals live in what feels like a truly special moment.
Over at Beacons, Bradley Zero’s Rhythm Section affiliates are deep into their takeover. Following the colourful sections of Pender Street Steppers and Zakia, Chilean artist Paula Tape fires out a typically pumping set of astral house cuts. Over on the far side of the festival, the local Rye Wax Records crew are taking over the Neighbourhood tent with a series of B2Bs sets. Newly announced Rinse FM resident Eich is going toe to toe with Huna: big bass and fun edits aplenty.
As the final sets approach, festival-goers make their way to the main stage for Palms Trax’s headline set. A seasoned professional at closing festival stages, the DJ breezes through ‘90s house selections, before blasting through some garage cuts, shifting through the gears as the crowd erupts to every drop. We find ourselves looking at the time, knowing the festival must be coming to an end, and the crowd are hanging on for one more song. As darkness settles in, an explosion of confetti fills the sky, and the audience erupts in applause.
As we walk through the park gates for the last time, we’re cocooned in a love buzz. GALA has, once again, made for a joyous start to the festival season, and it’s refreshing to see the thriving success of a festival that supports so many local, underground artists. With curation and production like this, long may it continue.