Preview: We Out Here Festival and the UK’s burgeoning jazz scene

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Credit: Huck Mag

Amy Rodgers
Writer

We Out Here Festival is the latest move by Giles Peterson in his mission to make jazz more accessible

Going to a festival in its inaugural year is risky business. The logistics of running one are complex and it can often take a couple of years to sort out the inevitable teething problems. This is a fear I have always had when booking for an event, but it is one that’s been made all the more acute since watching the Fyre Festival documentary a few months ago.

But this summer’s upcoming We Out Here Festival (taking place in Cambridgeshire from 15th to 19th August) is organised and curated by Giles Peterson, someone who couldn’t be any less like Billy McFarland if he tried. Peterson has been at the forefront of the UK music scene for the last few decades and his passion for all things music, and the community behind it, is palpable. He has also been running the massively successful Worldwide (a festival which is now in its 14th year), and has called in the help of the guys behind Dimensions to help with the organisation of this latest venture. All this considered, the running of next month’s four-day event ought to go pretty smoothly.

I’m equally at ease with what the music is going to be like, despite a line-up featuring many names that I am seeing for the first time. When Peterson is the curator, you know that the quality control is going to be extremely high. The taste-maker is well-known for his eclectic taste and knack for spotting upcoming, lesser-known artists. In current times, with so much content coming from everywhere all of the time, festivals can really prove their worth; they offer the opportunity to discover new acts, with folk like Giles doing the hard work of handpicking interesting new artists so that we don’t have to.

One thing I do know to expect is a lot of jazz. This is quite unusual for a UK festival; jazz – if it makes an appearance at all – is often relegated to a side stage or will, at best, sneak its way into the odd daytime set. Here though, it is given equal prominence alongside the electronic artists that also feature on the bill. Although out of the ordinary, this sort of line-up should come as no surprise to followers of Peterson, who has been pushing to make jazz more accessible in the UK for some time.

Previously considered to be the expression of the upper classes, jazz has in recent decades been democratised. The scene at the moment is full of a diverse range of players and listeners and the enjoyment of it is no longer confined to stuffy rooms but has been infiltrating dance clubs.

Our own Glasgow music scene is evidence of this. Just last month was the Glasgow Jazz Festival, which saw over 300 acts perform in venues across the city. The Sub Club basement – usually known for showcasing the latest house and techno talent – played host to an amazing night celebrating the music of Fela Kuti (and the organiser of the night, Glasgow’s own Rebecca Vasmant, has been championing Jazz in her sets for years). Melting Pot, too, recently hosted Floating Points for their Summer Sessions in the park, where he dropped a hefty selection of jazz numbers.

As jazz is listened to in an increasingly diverse range of places by various type of folk, it is also merging with other genres. And it looks like We Out Here is going to celebrate and showcase this. The festival takes its name from the 2018 Brownswood compilation album, which took a glimpse of the burgeoning London jazz scene. The album is full of names that are playing at the festival (Nubya Garcia; Joe Armon Jones; Theon Cross; Monses Boyd; Kokoro; Maisha), and all of them are redefining and expanding jazz in unique ways. While Garcia’s track sounds distinctively “jazzy”, the influences of nu-soul, hip-hop and Afro-beat are inescapable on the rest (the Joe Armon Jones track Go See sounds like it came straight from a J Dilla album)! The festival will no doubt seek to showcase this morphing of genres and cultures in a similar way. If you are a jazz purist, best stay away.

I have been to a few types of different festivals over the years and festivals that are the size of a small country just don’t do it for me anymore. I get that festival organisers want and need to make some money and that the bigger the crowd you have, the bigger the budget you have and the bigger the acts you can get. But I hate that so many festivals now are about the big names, the big crowds and the big bucks that follow. We Out Here, with a relatively small crowd size (6,000) and a diverse range of lesser-known acts, seems to be one of the good ones that has egalitarian and community values at its core rather than private enrichment. That’s not to say that there aren’t any prolific names: Theo Parish and the always-in-demand Objekt are due to make an appearance. But it does show that you don’t have to squeeze 100,000 folk into a field to get quality acts. Music can be promoted and enjoyed in the way the pioneers of dance culture intended and without a total assimilation into capitalism.

We Out Here takes place on 15th – 19th August. Tickets are available here.

In the meantime, check out the documentary We Out Here: A LDN Story over on YouTube for a snapshot of the artistic community that inspired the festival; similarly, head over to Spotify for a We Out Here playlist.