The inaugural edition of We Out Here arrived at a fortuitous moment for us. Following the immense disappointment of the cancelled Houghton, it promised a comparatively calm, expansive experience in a similarly picturesque niche of quaint rural England. It should not however sit in the shadow of Craig Richards’ leviathan – the line-up was suitably, refreshingly diverse and aimed squarely at the immense curatorial talent of Gilles Peterson. Performances from vast swathes of the Brownswood and Worldwide FM rosters were promised, alongside a motley crew of selectors and musicians offering everything from chilled out jazz to mind-bending tehcno. As a comparatively infrequent festival goer even in light of this summer’s Texture coverage, it feels improper to rate or compare events against each other. Attending is like slipping through a wormhole into a remote sector of the galaxy for a few days, and given the choice on offer experiences can massively differ. As a result we’ll try and offer broader thoughts, highlights, and comments on the weekend as a whole. If you only take one conclusion from this piece, make it this: We Out Here was a hugely enjoyable and promising weekend, full of life, energy, and love of music. We can’t wait to see where it goes next, and for a fledgling outing it ran reassuringly smoothly.
One of the first things to notice on exploring the site was its scope and diversity in terms of stages. From the tiny Lemon Lounge to the surround-sound Forest and Brawnswood’s cosy interior, there was a bigger variety in terms of stage size than other events might deem necessary. In large part this catered to the range of acts scheduled; stand out highlights came from every direction. One such moment was a much longer than expected stint in the tiny Lemon Lounge yurt as Auntie Flo laid down perfectly weighted house, disco and funk. Queues snaked out of the exits. People stood on sofas. Someone climbed the pole in the middle. We were all blinded by the weird strobe oddly angled on top of one of the speaker stacks. But everyone was having a blast: All 80-ish of us in that tiny, sweaty red tent. Other sources have corroborated this as their favourite spot over the weekend too, with Ahadadream and Zakia laying down equally effervescent selections. We even stumbled into half an hour of solid trance from the Bubble Chamber Takeover crew deep into one night. It was riotous fun.
Impromptu moments like these really nailed the all-encompassing vibe that such breadth and diversity in curation led to. On the first Thursday as we roamed we caught a pop-up performance by South London Samba. No stage or sound system was needed as people formed a big circle and just got down to business, dancing freely in dusky sunlight with an abandon rare even at festivals. There were smiles everywhere. The next day, as we sheltered in the rain by the WWFM setup, we were entranced by the thoughtful and deeply insightful discussion with Francois K being broadcast live. It was the perfect background to wait out the sheet rain that had engulfed the site, and the broadcast felt like an oasis of sophistication in the face of muddy chaos to ensue. There was more talking to be done too: A discussion hosted by Stamp the Wax and Julie’s Bicycle featuring Matthew Herbert on the future of a music industry grappling with its environmental impact drew surprising numbers according to the man himself. As green initiatives were unpicked, with Herbert stressing the need for radical ideas in the face of a ‘crisis of the imagination’, the mood shifted. People were genuinely engaged with the issues at hand, and that passion coursed through the veins of the whole festival.
In terms of local environment, We Out Here certainly got it right. Rolling green hills and plenty of space meant that there weren’t any crushes, few queues, and no mud pits of despair as the heavens opened. In light of a solid Friday’s worth of rain, Tirzah’s evening set could well have been a wash-out, but her melancholic love songs were elevated by the drenched crowd, given a paradoxically fresh touch by the pervasively sombre mood. Such was the crowd’s engagement that what could have been a low point as my boots filled with water ended up being one of the best moments of the weekend as a whole.
When the sun came out as the days progressed, that same willingness to be taken on a journey unlocked the soggy frustration of the crowd at the main stage. I’ve never seen jazz fans mosh before but Steam Down summoned a whirlwind of energy on Saturday afternoon, and led by some familiar faces from Tomorrow’s Warriors those near the front allowed themselves to be carried into a huge pile of muddy boots, flailing limbs, and empty cans of cider. Similarly great performances from Maisha, Joe Armon-Jones, Harvey Sutherland and Sons of Kemet kept the tone forward-looking, even as the energy levels waxed and waned. When the guy meandering through the crowd with a saxophone on his back turned out not to be a random punter but instead part of Moses Boyd Exodus, appearing onstage minutes later, no one seemed phased. These moments of serendipity were relished and cultivated by the relaxed vibe throughout.
That’s not to say that the operation was flawless: where the sound was mostly exemplary, with Danley Sound Labs providing the best I’ve ever heard at a festival in terms of clarity, punch, and EQ, the Love Dancin’ soundsystem really hampered a performance by Mafalda I had been looking forward too. I’m not sure what went wrong but the beautifully decorated interior fell flat when buried in washed-out sound. Scheduling too, particularly when it came to the more dance-centric acts, felt at times misplaced, perhaps given the difficulty of meshing them with a lot of the live performances. Objekt and Call Super’s back to back was predictably nutty leading into sunrise, but the Whities showcase felt oddly timed. Forced to start particularly house-y, Minor Science and Nic Tasker didn’t really get into their stride of screwface, oddball cuts until about two thirds in, throwing Errorsmith’s wonky 'Superlative Fatigue' straight into Pev’s ' Dance til the Police Come' in a manner metaphorical of the kitchen sink. It felt like an effort to cajole the crowd in the direction they were more suited to. 'Topper Top' was met with a suitably raucous reaction, but it felt like the Rhythm Corner had missed potential. Skee Mask cancelled for undisclosed reasons, but he had been asked to play a peculiarly scheduled 7:30pm set. In light of his recent closing stints at more established festivals like Dekmantel and Dimensions this felt like a head scratcher. In the Forest, Theo Parrish started his five-hour marathon in an uncharacteristically grooveless manner and suffered a couple of power outages along the way. I was reassured by our camping neighbours the next morning that it had gotten great eventually, but in the moment we joined a snaking line of punters heading away from the stage to look for some more energetic performances to take us through the early hours.
The thing is though, apart from some issues with specific food vendors, predictable need for ever increasing numbers of toilets, and the vintage British weather, We Out Here was a hugely enjoyable festival. As a coherent experience it was perfectly weighted to allow those moments of spontaneous emotion and joy to spill out, reflecting the passion of everyone involved in its organisation and execution. A friend remarked that they may well have lost money given the spacious and not particularly densely populated campsite, but it didn’t feel like a concern. This was a family affair under the watchful eye of Gilles Peterson, and exuded charm uncharacteristic of its tender age.
Words by Christian and Oskar Jones