The first thing that shocks about Big Top is the scale. The titular Big Top was enormous and housed a stage production to rival those you’d expect from a long-running established festival. With the addition of fairground attractions, the site certainly evoked the carnivalesque theme Southampton based organisers, Junk Department sought to achieve. The sun was shining on Stoneham park, and a better atmosphere couldn’t have been asked for; festival go-ers arrived en masse to soak up the sun and music.
Whilst many fans began their day enjoying the Stoneham Park site and basking in the sun, others ventured inside the Big Top early on as Laura Jones’ techno beats began to draw in the crowds. Following Laura’s set, Dyed Soundorom displayed a really stylish composure on the decks, making his set appear effortless. Having honed his skills at his residency at DC 10 in Ibiza, and played the likes of London’s South West Four and BPM in Mexico, it was very apparent that Dyed was truly at home at Big Top as he appeared utterly unfazed by the mass of fans that had congregated to witness him mix.
Paying a visit to the Future Garden tent proved a real treat. The Southampton locals, renowned for putting on some of the most creative nights around in unique venues had, of course, taken the time to make their appearance at Big Top just as special. A wall of record sleeves covered the front of the team’s booth, whilst tiny disco balls shone above the crowd. Best of all was the huge golden Future Garden logo hanging behind the DJs like a giant 70s style medallion, completing the tent’s ‘discotheque’ look with a touch of bling. It was great to see these already iconic initials adorning not only the tent, but as facepaint on the group’s devoted fan base, in and among the crowd, packing out the tent. Catching the Future Garden DJs’ set was a must for any avid disco fan, as it was impossible not to dance to the infectious funk being played.
Those lucky enough to have access to the VIP area were certainly well looked after, as Junk Department laid on a suitably special experience. Housed inside a lavishly decorated tent with a luxurious and exotic Moroccan theme, furnished with palm leaves; the tent’s comfy chill out spaces provided the ideal location to relax and enjoy exclusive DJ sets. The tent later became a party in its own right, as Flashmob took to the decks for a special set, an early highlight came as they layed down Kill Frenzy’s remix of Claude VonStroke’s ‘Dood’.
Once darkness had fallen, of course, Big Top truly came into its element. Under the cover of darkness the once busy park became utterly deserted as the crowds took to the main tent for the night’s headline acts. The lighting rig proved impressive as it cast its beams into the depths of the cavernous Big Top, searching amongst the moving sea of festival goers. Albeit a delayed set, Maya Jane Coles immediately ignited the crowd with her signature deep house sound. As the set progressed, it was welcome to hear Maya diversify with the integration of dubbier elements and the darker output associated with her alter alias Nocturnal Sunshine.
Headliner Jamie Jones was greeted with enormous energy from the crowd as he arrived for his headline slot. This continued throughout his set as fans passionately celebrated every mix and transition the man made. The Hot Creations label owner put on a suitably diverse set that was embellished further with the full force of Junk’s stage production, unleashing CO2 and fire jets on cue as the crowd erupted into motion whenever Jones delivered the next beat or groove. Coupled with this were atmospheric 3D graphics on the LED stage displays, making the headline set a truly immersive experience.
The one day festival was a testament to Junk Department’s reputation as a brand. The ability to bring together such a crowd of like-minded music fans and deliver such a high quality experience on its first venture into festival territory is no small feat. Achieving the laid back atmosphere all festivals strive for is no easy task, but was present throughout Big Top. During the afternoon, festival goers were able to sit back and soak up the fantastic summer weather whilst enjoying DJs’ sets from afar thanks to the high quality sound systems in each tent. Later during headline sets, it was notable that fans happily had space to move and dance, unhassled by the mass mentality, often seen at larger commercial festivals, that surging forward to pack out the front is the only way to enjoy an artist perform.
Looking at the bigger picture, it was excellent to see Big Top put Southampton firmly on the radar as a festival location. The date was well timed, early in the season to build anticipation for larger festivals later in the summer. The event as a whole was a well-executed innovation in the way Junk Department delivers underground music, and I am looking forward to seeing the group continue to push their brand with more ambitious ventures like Big Top.