SW4 is part of the Clapham Weekender which takes place on Clapham Common on August bank holiday weekend each year.
The Saturday is dance day and the Sunday is given over to bands.
I guess I should make 2 things clear before I go on.
First, SW4 is my favourite dance festival of the summer.
Second, depending on the artists appearing, I usually spend most of my time in The Gallery arena because the trance line up is excellent.
This year the main stage presented artists such as Sasha and John Digweed, David Guetta, and Eric Prydz.
In The Gallery arena Tall Paul, Markus Schulz, Above & Beyond, and Armin van Buuren were on the bill.
After some dodgy weather during the summer Saturday 29 August 2009 emerged bright, sunny, and warm enough to keep outdoor dancers happy.
I travelled to Clapham by tube to join the throng of people converging on the Common. Bikini clad women, bare-chested lads, red Indians, and fluffy boots were all making their way to the site.
As ever, the door staff were amazing while doing the very difficult job of coping with djs, press, ticket holders, competition winners, and blaggers who pass through their hands. They were calm, organised, and polite and I was even issued with a ‘tigger’ wristband.
Considering I got there early the site was packed with maybe a 3 or 4 person queue at the bar. But we got our drinks quickly enough and went to explore.
As well as huge tents, festival sites are populated by long bars, coffee kiosks, food vans, fairground rides, and massage areas and these were all at SW4. I don’t think I have ever seen so many people offering head and neck massages and they were all wearing white!
We did a quick skirt of the site and then, eager for the dance floor, headed with huge anticipation to The Gallery arena.
Now, here comes the criticism…
I feel sure this issue has something to do with the sound restrictions placed on the festival but in previous years I haven’t noticed it have this much effect. The sound in the arena didn’t reach much beyond a defined pyramid shape in front of the stage. Of course you could hear the music but it didn’t take control of your body and pulse through you like it does in a club. You really had to concentrate hard to find the music. Perhaps for some this made it a better experience but I really like to feel the music and wanted to plead with the sound engineers to turn it up! Once or twice I saw djs try to turn up the volume only for someone to run on and tell them to turn it down. I was not alone in my concern about the sound levels. I overheard numerous other people saying they couldn’t hear the music properly.
However, that slight criticism aside (and I may just be going deaf so please let me know your experiences) the dj line up put on an excellent show.
Jono Grant and Tony McGuiness performed as Above & Beyond delivering an impeccable set of their unique sound which included the hugely emotional track No One On Earth.
Markus Schulz set was finely crafted and BT – who had the difficulty of performing before the headline act – dropped some Tiesto classics including Love Comes Again and Break My Fall.
But it was Armin van Buuren who sprinkled the magic dust delivering an absolutely awesome set which packed the arena.
Backed by some beautiful visuals, Armin played a blinder taking the atmosphere euphoric and forcing the crowd to put their hands in the air.
He combined his own productions such as Rain with lesser-known stunners including Ram – Ramsterdam in a perfectly paced set which totally captured the audience. When he dropped Darren Tate & Jono Grant’s Let The Light Shine In the electricity crackled through the crowd. It was a hugely energising experience.
One of the inspiring things about any festival is the fact it is a collective activity. The crowd are different ages, from different parts of the world, from all walks of life coming together for a shared experience. There was a little girl on someone’s shoulders in front of me who clearly loved Armin’s set. There were experienced ravers for whom this was obviously the latest in a long line of clubbing sessions. It was about people coming together to dance, to have fun, to enjoy the music. That’s what dance music should be about and that is what is epitomised by SW4.