We Are FSTVL Review: Not just beginner's luck.

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It has been a relatively bleak past twelve months for the UK’s events and festival industry. Despite a booming electronic music scene throughout the country and a huge export market for independent and underground producers/labels, many promoters have seemingly struggled to keep afloat in a rapidly changing and over-saturated market. Ironically, as the market for electronic music extravaganza expands, events that might seem part of the dance music fabric are fighting to get numbers whilst newer events disappear as quickly as they emerged. Probably the most memorable example of this was the early closing of Bloc festival in July 2012, after it relocated from its previous home in Minehead to the London Pleasure Gardens. But in reality the past year has been scattered with the casualities of floundering festivals: The Big Chill, All Tomorrow's Parties, Sonisphere, Underage Festival and so on. 

For these reasons, I had looked upon the emergence of the new 15,000 capacity, one-day festival We Are FSTVL with a great deal of hesitance. Even beyond the promotional tactics verging on spamming (how did they even get my mobile number?), and the dubious merchandising (ESX BOY/ESX GIRL t-shirts paired with culturally-appropriated headwear...?), I was just worried that a lack of experience and planning, a hyped-up crowd and a bit of bad luck would inevitably make the festival’s debut another BLOC-like flop.

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This being said, We Are FSTVL actually exceeded most, if not all, of my expectations! Of course there were a few creases that will need to be ironed out, some of these more serious than others, but as a whole the festival was obviously well-organised and properly thought through. A post-festival announcement declared it took three years of planning, and I think this shone through decisively (as did the sun, much to the organisers' relief I'm sure!) despite some teething problems, and for this I congratulate them. The sheer number of stages and music venues on site was seriously impressive, but even more so was their well-considered production, with unique themes, innovative structures and relatively good sound throughout. From the small, beach-themed site of secretsundaze, to Defected’s inflatable dance igloo – there were definitely some awesome places to get down in. But with so many venues, labels and collectives to choose from, it was impossible to experience everything and so I've outlined my own personal ‘high points’ and ‘low points’ of the festival , from what I managed to fit in and considering we left at 11.30pm shortly after the main stage shut and to avoid the inevitable madness of getting home when everyone else wanted to!

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HIGH POINTKehakuma Inside tent

Inside the Kehakuma tent was some of the best music I heard all day, which was perhaps to be expected with Davide Squillace, Matthias Tanzmann, and DJ Sneak amongst the roster. One small downfall was the layout of the stage, it was absolutely impossible to see who was behind the decks, making it difficult to connect with the person bringing all the bangers let alone trying to work out who it was. For instance, I just had to assume it was Squillace who brought the track below back into my life...


LOW POINTBars

A 15,000 capacity event was destined to have problems with the bars during its inaugural event - it's probably something like a rite of passage. The bars were understaffed, the queues were long, and the tokens were hilariously small. But most astonishingly was the fact they started running low on alcohol at around 8pm and punters were left to come up with their own cocktail concoctions, consisting of whatever spirit they had left and Pussy energy drink, lest they be left with the only other drink well-stocked: Tuborg.

 

HIGH POINT – Mulletover

From what I saw, the Mulletover stage was packed from front to back with unadulterated vibes all day. Despite being one of the smaller stages, the crowd was spilling out of the 'crop circle'-themed tent and was backed up by the bar. The music, the DJs, and the crowd made it the most ‘festival-y’ stage on site: sometimes house and techno, so often experienced in dark warehouses and underground basements, seem oddly placed at music festivals with their outdoor spaces, big stages and poor-quality sound. But Mulletover represented everything a house festival should be about: mid-afternoon skanking, hands-in-the-air anthems, and Kerri Chandler standing in a spaceship, mouth to wax, singing into his vinyl. 

spaceship 

 

LOW POINT – VIP area

However much I may dislike the influx of Ibiza-style VIP areas into UK festivals, I would still have been pretty peeved at how un-special this whole area turned out to be. It was essentially just another place to keep the crowds, and there wasn't really much that was 'very important' about it apart from nice toilets and a moderately less busy bar (which still ran out of alcohol, anyway). It seemed as though 90% of the festival had VIP wristbands, and I even read rumours that people were allowed to upgrade to VIP on the day for free. Saying that, the little rave tent in the corner had some very strong vibes, in spite of some semi-questionable mixing. 

 

LOW POINTMain stage closing at 10pm

In what I can only assume was a local council issue, the main We Are FSTVL stage shut down at 10PM, leaving in it’s wake a larger part of the site empty, strewn with paper and plastic remnants of good times once had, and increasingly trampled on by security guards and trash-pickers resembling hungry crows leering over the carcuses of our buzz. Essentially, we stumbled out of the VIP arena expecting to become a part of the Villalobos multitude, and instead witnessed this terrifying sight and felt a collective despair that just couldn’t be redeemed afterwards. Note to We Are FSTVL: next year please provide some sort of vague timings pre-event so that we don’t end up in this position again!

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HIGH POINT – Festival site

Despite some hiccups and teething problems, the aesthetic and layout of the festival site was hugely impressive, especially the main stage, which was pretty bleedin' epic. It was clear the organisers and designers had put a lot of effort in to packing all the visual elements of a larger, 3-day festival into a 1-day experience. This isn't to say there was an abundance of non-musical entertainment, but there was enough to distractt the eyes while meandering between the array of amazing venues and stages. For a festival with so many punters there were always going to be lots of queues, but when it came down to toilets, food and space to dance, there was ample to satisfy my needs! 

Essentially, We Are FSTVL far exceeded my expectations and proved to be definitely worthy of the excitement and hype that surrounded it. Personally, I don't think this was an easy feat considering the day-festival format, the Upminster location, and the crowd...it took more than just beginner's luck and the organisers should be massively proud that their hard work paid off. I'm confident that We Are FSTVL will return next year and be equally as successful, if not better when they learn from and improve on the mistakes of this year!

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Words by Becky Amoi 

Photo credits: Paul Underhill