Skip to main content
John Talabot, Yu Su and Leon Vynehall | Credit: Sienna Gray

Rally 2023: South London’s new leftfield music festival shines in spite of rain

In its debut edition, Rally, the new South London festival from GALA and Bird On The Wire, pulls it out of the bag in spite of headliner cancellations and stormy weather. Eoin Murray heads to Southwark Park and welcomes a new one-dayer that merges leftfield electronic energy with community spirit

Look, it’s hard to make the case for rain at a festival. You won’t find too many people out there yearning for the mucky trainers and watered down drinks that come after a particularly nasty downpour; visions of sun-dappled dancefloors rarely come with soggy summer fits. For event organisers, it can feel like a cruel joke when, after months of preparation to create the best possible experience for your punters, you remember that, ultimately, you’re never not at the mercy of atmospheric pressure. 

When the vibe is right though, and the line-up lends itself to it, inclement weather has the potential to be a bit of a boon. Paired with the right crowd and the right tracks at just the right time, an overcast gust or hefty deluge can contribute to some of the most joyful festival moments you're likely to have. Things get a bit feral, and pretence falls away, leaving only a craving for pure, unadulterated fun with your pals in spite of it all. Dancing in the mud brings its own magic. 

Crowd shot full of umbrellas of the Visionaire stage surrounded by trees at Rally festival with a plume of smoke coming from the stage
Credit: Isabelle Dohmen

It’s in this context that we find ourselves at South London’s Rally, a brand new one-dayer from the team behind Peckham Rye’s GALA festival and alternative music promoters Bird On The Wire. With a line-up that explores the more leftfield strands of club music, post-punk, pop and rap, alongside flourishes of jazz and folk, the festival’s carefully curated programme places an emphasis on South London talent across its three stages, alongside a cast of international heavy hitters. Partnering with nearby venues and collectives including Venue MOT, IKLECTIK, Bone Soda, Bermondsey Social Club, Jumbi and Sister Midnight, it prides itself on its community-focused ethos, with a variety of stalls and art installations peppered around its small but thoughtfully laid out site.

Taking place in Southwark Park on 5th August – the same day Storm Antoni batters the UK’s south coast and cancels festivals in Dorset and Newcastle – the Rally crew has its work cut out for it in keeping things afloat. Ahead of the event, ominous forecasts are compounded by the unfortunate cancellation of two headliners, Princess Nokia and Obongjayar, due to illness and travel issues. On the day, brutal showers threaten to delay opening time by two hours, which would scupper set times and add an added splash of confusion into the mix. Luckily, Rally rallies. Replacement acts The Cavemen and IAMDDB more than adequately fill the spaces left blank, and the postponed opening is shortened to one hour, so the timetable isn’t heavily impacted. After a rocky prologue, Rally’s team manages to put its best foot forward and set things well and truly back on track. 

Double exposed photo of Space Afrika performing at Rally Festival
Space Afrika | Credit: Seb Gardner

After James Massiah and Kemarr set the tone with an opening b2b on the electronically-focused Visionaire stage, Manchester’s Space Afrika entice a sizeable crowd with their crackling ambient soundscapes and audio collage – an impeccable, if a tad quiet, warm-up amongst the dripping trees and smoke machine plumes. 

While British-Bahraini trumpeter and flugelhorn player Yazz Ahmed – accompanied by electronic producer Hector Plimmer and vibraphonist Ralph Wyld – blends Arabic musical elements with psychedelic jazz in the greenhouse-esque Lectern stage, Loraine James powers through a torrent of rain to play a blazing live set packed with glitching breaks and her trademark keys back at Visionaire. Performing to a sea of umbrellas and hooded figures may not scream summertime, but the former DJ Mag cover star delivers a typically febrile set that feels all-the-more energising in this atmosphere. The crowd, in return, seems genuinely charged. 

South London’s own OK Williams keeps that energy alive on Visionaire, while Erika de Caiser takes over from Wu-Lu on the Channel main stage. The Portugal-born Danish artist weaves through the velvety, garage-kissed pop cuts of her 2021 album, ‘Sensational’, keeping spirits high even as the heaviest shower of the day sends a portion of the audience to seek shelter under bar alcoves and nearby trees. Most don’t seem to mind, and dance along with her right up to the point when, during album highlight ‘Busy’, the sun breaks through the clouds in a moment of sweet serendipity. “I’ll never forget this,” she beams at the end, before Soulwax affiliates Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul get ready to bring their electro-pop stomp to the stage. 

Erika De Casier performing at Gala
Erika De Casier | Sienna Gray

London band caroline’s folk-angled post-rock feels particularly cathartic when accompanied by the patter of rain on Lectern’s roof, while New York’s Anthony Naples and DJ Python deliver a late afternoon highlight on Visionaire. The duo, whose solo productions explore lush dub techno and deep reggaeton, turn the dial up for their 90 minute b2b, slinging out percussive house thumpers, speed garage and buzzy techno. The supercharged energy of the Brooklyn scene and the new wave of Latin American club music (a lá TraTraTrax) provides ample backbone to their set, and the audience gobbles every morsel.

The sun breaks through the trees once more as Pangaea’s summer slammer ‘Installation’ gets a spin, and it’s a joy to see a crowd dancing – really dancing – to cuts like Doctor Jeep’s ‘Push The Body’, which sounds huge on Visionare’s beefy sound system. Weighty, synth-heavy dembow cuts and a track sampling Super Mario’s unmistakable chirrup work their way in too. As the cloud cover returns and evening begins to darken, the pair end on a pumping progressive roller that samples Erik Satie’s minimal piano masterpiece ‘Gymnopedie No. 1’ – the sort of track that feels enhanced by this moody, greyscale day. 

Shot of the glass ceiling at the Lectern Stage at rally festival, where a hanging decoration made of mirrors disperses purple light around
Credit: Isabelle Dohmen

It’s a similar mood that’s conjured at the end of Leon Vynheall and Yu Su’s superb b2b on the same stage, when they deploy a percussive edit of Arthur Russell before handing over to the maestro John Talabot for a psychedelic barnstormer of a closing set. Meanwhile, after a celestial performance from Kelly Lee Owens, Brighton experimental rock act Squid play a tight set comprising tracks from their recent Warp LP ‘O Monolith’.

Up against some unfortunate odds, the debut edition of Rally is a success. With a programme that merges the ravey energy of GALA with the punky spirit of something like Wide Awake, and through its celebration of independent collectives, crews and spaces from across South London – some of whom have had their very existence thrown under more threat than ever by developers and skyrocketing costs –  it has set itself up a pleasingly unique addition to the city’s festival calendar. With luck, the next edition will be blessed with some sun, but if its first is anything to go off, it won’t really matter if it rains again.