After more than 3000 people descended on the Baltic Triangle for the second offering from Liverpool Disco Festival last weekend, James Zaremba talks about the significance of this groundbreaking inner-city event on our home. Be sure to check out 45 track ID’s from across the festival below…
“Disco music is for dancing, and people will always want to dance.” – Giorgio Moroder
Without Giorgio Moroder, there would be no disco. It’s not an opinion, it’s a near-undeniable fact. The father of electronic music, Moroder’s seminal 8-minute long ‘I Feel Love’ with Donna Summer was groundbreaking, genre-defining and transformed club culture across the globe…so take it from him when he says: “Disco music is for dancing.” The legacy of the genre has endured, even amidst 40 years of sonic evolution, disco still has its day. This year’s Liverpool Disco Festival was not a clichéd throwback for those who lived through this era, but put more simply, a one-of-a-kind inner-city festival designed for people, young and old, to lose themselves in the dance.
Set across four venues and two days, this year’s Disco Festival traversed Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle; bringing some of the most iconic names surrounding the genre to the grandest of stages. With rooms spanning from thousand capacity warehouses to the more intimate climbs of an outdoor garden; DJs, live bands and dancers joined forces to celebrate all things disco.
With proceedings kicking off at midday and leading all the way through to the early hours of Sunday morning, the options were often mind-boggling. On the whole, big name timetable clashes were masterfully avoided, but as we found, it was often the lesser-known artists that provided the most intriguing and elevating sets of the festival; this was none-so more evident than in the Constellations Garden where DJs paid a 14-hour tribute to Southport Weekender and SuncéBeat.
As Chicago house legend Jamie 3:26 rushed the stage, almost knocking Mr. Scruff to the floor in a musically-induced frenzy, Liverpool Disco Festival attendees knew they were experiencing something historic. For 5 hours, the two had the Constellations Garden rocking under a less than sunny Liverpool sky. Unfazed by any sign of bad weather, the DJs and dancers found themselves locked in a trance, spurned on by a mutual appreciation for one another. For well in excess of 12-hours, the Disco Festival’s only outdoor space was positively bouncing with 350 bodies hanging off every rhythm and bassline that flew out of the Funktion-1 system. The vibe was infectious to any whom entered the springtime territories of the Greenland Street venue with some finding themselves magnetised to the space for the entirety of the festival. Not finding themselves overly-confined by the tagline of “Disco Festival,” the artists featuring in the Garden swung on the musical vines of sub-genres, often navigating their way through house, nu-disco, soul, funk and everything in between. Musical highlights included Mr Scruff fervidly losing his mind to Joey Negro’s classic mix of Patti LaBelle’s ‘Music is my Way of Life’ and Venus Dodson’s ‘Where are we Headed.’
With this year’s Liverpool Disco Festival powered by Bozak, you’d easily have been forgiven to think that Jamie 3:26’s intense mixing style could have led to a system meltdown by the time he took to the controls, with deep grooves perfectly penetrating the soundsystem through his masterful use of the AR-4’s iso-filters. Nonetheless, the bespoke Bozak mixer held strong and dictated some high-fidelity listening throughout the Garden as 3:26 hit the highest of highs with Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ ringing out across the space. Not deterred by the brisk spring weather, past MD Radio guests, Kamma & Massalo, along with Red Greg and David Fiorese kept things bouncing all the way into the early hours.
Elsewhere, Furnace found itself a hotspot for attendees as Tony Humphries’ 4-hour “Tribute to The Zanzibar” set had the room hit capacity almost instantaneously. A larger-than-life character on a larger-than-life RCF sound system, the KISS-FM legend had at least 1000 dancers in the palm of his hand for the duration. Building upon Camp & Furnace’s latest visual installation, The Night Garden, the team behind Liverpool Disco Festival brought with them an incredible eye for set design. This was none-more evident than at the Glitterbox stage in Camp with over 15 disco balls suspended above the crowd, programmed neatly with the heavy-loaded lighting system to cast tripped-out sequins onto the crowds below. Whether it be Ministry of Sound in London, Hi in Ibiza or Camp in Liverpool, the legendary house and disco promoter’s showcase saw the arrival of countless burlesque-style dancers and a set design for the ages. Internationally-recognised as one of the best parties on earth, this was the Glitterbox team’s first ever UK show outside of London. In fitting tribute to this, DJs Danny Krivit, Simon Dunmore and the legendary David Morales all proved their metal with thumping sets that took punters out of the mid-afternoon disco-daze, transporting them to a 6-AM Ibiza dancefloor. Unfortunately, in such a cavernous space, Camp’s soundsystem struggled against the darkest corners of the 1,200 capacity room and as DJs fought to push the sound further around the room, those on the dancefloor struggled to get any love out of the ailing system. For those watching around the world, the LDF and Glitterbox livestream provided some great entertainment throughout the day as the likes of David Morales took to the stage, broadcasting to over 40,000 Facebook users across the world.
Over at Hangar 34, DJ Jazzy Jeff brought us a roaring slice of Canadian folk, opening his set with Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, to the delight of all in attendance, before traversing his way through hip-hop, funk, soul and finally disco cuts. An unknown live edit of D’Angelo’s ‘Left & Right’ had the Shazam crew scratching their heads, and before people had a chance to wrap their minds around what they were witnessing, he had thrown down three Tribe Called Quest classics, cutting them up in a way only a scratch DJ of the past 40 years would know how. As the day moved to night, Hangar 34 was treated to a serious roster of iconic selectors with Rahaan, Nicky Siano and Joey Negro all offering up warm house reworks of classic disco cuts.
Lamentably, the last-minute cancellation of the Roller Disco rendered the Gold Room at Camp & Furnace near-obsolete for the duration of the festival, although it did provide visiting artists in the next door green room with a slice of the Liverpool scene as local promoters and disc jockeys threw their records onto the turntables despite their lack of an audience…when else does one get treated to a Bozak mixer. Roller Discos are no-doubt still an enduring part of the genre’s cultural legacy and the idea to have such a stage proves the festival’s commitment to honouring the tectonic historical impact the disco movement has maintained since the 1970’s.
Endemic of an ageing genre, an element of frustration was expressed by crowds when tracks like Sister Sledge’s ‘Lost in Music’ and every possible re-edit and remix of Chic’s ‘I Want Your Love,’ rang out across venues throughout the day. Recognising this pattern, it was within the DJ sets that expanded upon the genre where audiences found the most intrigue. Chopping up everything from acid house to nu-disco, sets from Kamma & Massalo over at Constellations and Danny Krivit in Camp found favour for their ability to use the disco genre as a benchmark for their own musical explorations. Detailing the genre as an apex around which they could spin a galaxy of sub-genres, those sets that offered a more eclectic sound kept feet moving on the dancefloors across the festival. It is perhaps the historic legacy of Southport Weekender, Hustle and SuncéBeat, with their mutual commitment to the classic house sound, that spurned particular selectors on to explore the musical tangents of disco. Such as with the Northern Soul era, it may be an easy bet to think that a musical movement dedicated to a genre of a bygone era has a sell-by date, but the particular sets that dared to push the boundaries of ‘disco’ proved that the genre is as relevant now as it was four decades ago.
With food stalls, a larger staff presence and more meticulous programming, this year’s outing achieved more of an all-encompassing festival vibe – even the unearthly queues to initially enter into the festival resembled that of many nationally-acclaimed weekenders. As they bow out of another year in the Baltic Triangle, lead-promoters Southport Weekender, Hustle and SuncéBeat must receive some serious commendation for their dedication to providing Liverpool with one of the most intriguing and exciting DJ line-ups the city has ever witnessed. While the festival was not without its shortcomings, as all festivals are, it would be impossible to not recognise the magnitude of what they have achieved over the course of the last two Disco Festival events. In addition, the ability of the Baltic Triangle’s venues to take in over 3,000 people across the day should be considered no mean feat. Without the efficient and vibrant staff at each and every one of these venues, such festivals would not be possible as the ever-growing demand for the Baltic festival scene increases.
With recent calls from Bido Lito! and John Moores University for Liverpool to become a more united, globally-influential music city, such landmark events as the Liverpool Disco Festival should be celebrated for their ability to draw lovers of music into the city from all corners of the world. This year, over a third of the festival’s attendees travelled from outside of the city to see the likes of Nicky Siano, D-Train, Jazzy Jeff and more. The legacy of this festival, perhaps more so than the first, will be in its ability to have delivered a showcase of internally-recognised artists on such a large scale, all while promoting Liverpool’s grassroots venues and musical milieu. In 2015, Liverpool was granted the status of UNESCO Music City; if we as a city are to rise to this challenge, all large-scale projects such as this should be cultivated with a similar level of love and dedication as was seen at this year’s Liverpool Disco Festival. With the more electronically-inclined Baltic Weekender and winner of UK’s Best New Festival, Positive Vibration both just around the corner, the future’s looking bright for the Baltic Triangle and Liverpool as a culturally and musically relevant hotspot not only in the UK, but across Europe.
Re-live some of the highlights of Liverpool Disco Festival 2017 with 45 of the best tracks played throughout the weekend below put together by Luke Bartlett, Josh Aitman and Darryl Marsden. Select an image to start the playlist…