Festival Review: FLY Open Air 2017

Saturday 20th May

The second year of FLY’s Open Air Festival did not fail to disappoint, with predicted rain even giving way to a beautifully sunny day, leaving the 4,000-strong crowd to dance the evening away. As a surprise change of venue, the stately home of Hopetoun House provided the backdrop for this year’s FLY Open Air Festival along the waterfront of the River Forth. FLY teased out the line-up of five DJs whose names have garnered support with an eclectic grassroots foundation: FLY Resident La La, Artwork, Hunee, Midland, Denis Sulta and Feel My Bicep. Both Hunee’s and Bicep’s appearances drew anticipation, due to the former’s BBC Radio One Essential Mix and Bicep’s reappearing unreleased tracks on The Identification of Music Group.

The change of venue from Princes Street Gardens was welcome in most respects providing an isolation from the outside world and a more authentic festival experience. With double the number of attendants and close to selling out, FLY has only built on its first year success. An increase in attendance also meant an increase in food and drink stalls, with local Edinburgh joints satisfying all manner of cravings throughout the day: an overflowing tub of Mac n’ Cheese from MacShack providing a second wind of energy necessary to see the evening through. Jugs of Pimms perhaps lent more to an afternoon of British badminton on the lawn than a day amidst the muddy cans of Bud Light well-trodden underfoot, but efforts to initiate the start of festival season were commendable.

FLY’s resident DJ La La started off proceedings in the pouring rain, and while the crowds had not gathered quite yet, she put on an enjoyable, upbeat set to limber up to.

Curling queues in the rain left many attendants outside of the venue for Artwork’s set but he beckoned guests with an inviting tone whilst the weather eased up past 3pm. Defiant to keep the mood buoyant, Pepe Bradock’s remix of ‘Venus (Sunshine People)’ and Joey Negro’s mix of Cheryl Lynn’s ‘You Save My Day’ began to draw the crowd out of their cagoules. Sun glasses were donned and macs put away. Among this, Artwork slipped in his familiar acid phase, a feature that marks many of his sets. Having stopped by Edinburgh’s Sneaky Pete’s and Glasgow’s Sub Club only in March, Artwork undoubtedly saw many of the same faces.

Rush Hour resident Hunee was third to grace the FLY stage, much to the excitement of the crowd. Crowd favourite, and my own personal favourite, ‘Take Me I’m Yours’ by Mary Clark marked a happy-go-lucky start to the set with ‘Skye – Ain’t No Need’ along a similar vein. However, as his well-earned reputation grants him, it would never have been a safe set. Soon to be released tracks such as ‘Esa & Narch Beats – Blast (Ft. Pendo Zawose)’ resonated across the venue, receiving a rapturous response with white noise and distant vocals bringing a halt to any conversation and full attention to the director.

The difficulty with a festival of headliners is the ease with which one can fall between the cracks as an artist. Unfortunately, Midland’s performance was exemplary of this. His steely manner was as unwavering as his song choice, rarely straying from the 125bmp mark for the first hour. Yes, he slipped in some unreleased tracks from Marquis Hawkes and Hammer but the set lacked spontaneity and variety. Admittedly, he had a lot to live up to sandwiched between Hunee and local talent Denis Sulta.

Sulta had already made his appearance towards the end of Midland’s set, with his new toy; a handheld ice gun blasting white cryogenic fog plumes over the crowd (something undoubtedly borrowed from the Jackmaster back-to-back with Artwork at Lost and Found Festival back in April). A somewhat routine opener with ‘Happiness’ by The Pointer Sisters, Sulta still held the stage for his own, displaying absolute showmanship and a real joy to be playing on the day. Among other well-rehearsed tracks such as Ian Pooley’s ‘900 Degrees’, Sulta did well to mix up the thumping gospel energy of Karizma’s latest ‘Work it Out’ with the early 2000s house-party feel of Basement Jaxx. His late set-time, starting at 7pm, suited him well, with much of the crowd completely engulfed in the festival and in the man who best represents FLY’s growing legacy.

Finally, Bicep provided the crescendo to the evening and a testing ground for new material. As veteran festival headliners, the pair of Andy Ferguson and Matt McBriar had drawn a fan base of their own across the country, setting them apart as a must-see for any festival frequenter. As such, they did not need to make considerable effort as the closing act, pumping mostly unfamiliar house and techno for their duration. Dave Clarke’s 2004 release ‘Just Ride’ and Cleric’s ‘2nd Limit’ epitomised the pace of events. In an almost predictable manner, the same unreleased tracks stole the show as had in many festivals prior and with good reason too. Within the last half an hour, the lighting rode along with the ethereal melodies whilst the thumping base was accompanied by pistons of air into the now-dark sky.

As the day drew to a close, the mind was willing but the body was weak: the crowd disintegrated into the fields with intentions for an easy ride home but were caught short by backed-up transportation issues. Whilst difficulties in transport were bound to arise, confusion trying to find your taxi or get on the bus put a dampener on the evening, with some having to wait up to an hour and a half for a lift back to town. Nonetheless, as only the second year in FLY’s festival venture, organisation in the run-up to the day was impressive notwithstanding poor weather to start. For head honcho, Tom Ketley, FLY Open Air Festival May 2017 marks another year of success and elicits intrigue into seeing how September’s Open Air Festival will follow back at Princes Street Gardens.

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