SW4 (or South West Four to give it its official title), has a bit of a bad rep. Held on Clapham common over the final summer bank holiday weekend, it’s often seen as a place where teenagers who are too cool for Reading can go to smash over-priced, low-quality drugs and generally act like dickheads. But could this year be any different? I dared to find out…
After my Carnival plans fell through, I decided to get a last-minute ticket to the Sunday and set off tentatively to meet my friends. The Sunday lineup was firmly footed in the realms of techno and house, with sets from Carl Cox, Above and Beyond, and the mighty Chemical Brothers.
Getting there was a dream. Aside from it being an easy ten minute walk from my house, I was blown away by how un-awful it was getting in to the site. Despite a large crowd, the quick and efficient security checks were a world away from the invasive prison-style frisking that you find at certain events. The crowd, far from gurning kids wearing their waviest garms, were older than I expected. Still a bit gurn-y though.After hitting the bar for some predictably priced cans of Tuborg, it was off to explore the site. The stages, excluding the main stage, were all in large tents so there was zero soundclash from the thumping techno inside each one. They were all presented amazingly, with decorations hanging from the ceiling and huge stage visuals. It can be difficult keeping an audience engaged when all they have to look at is a man, sometimes two, rarely a woman, and some spinning plates, but SW4 nailed it, meaning there was always something else to engage with other than the music.
Loads of toilets though – didn’t have to queue once.
Which was handy, because after a while I began to notice there was precious little musical diversity at this festival. I’m probably a couple of steps above novice when it comes to this kind of music, but to have every stage playing basically the same thing takes away a little of the joy of going to a festival, where – at best – you might hope to come home with a new favourite act, and at worst experience a little variety.
Sure, there were some great sets, with Danny Tanaglia bringing a little bit of Ibiza to London on the Amnesia stage, and Route 94 playing a blinder, after a few hours it all got a little…samey. Although I’m sure if you’re deep into that scene you might have had a blast, for anyone slightly casual, it was lacking. Loads of toilets though – didn’t have to queue once.
As darkness fell and Carl Cox had warmed the crowd up nicely, it was time for the main event. The Chemical Brothers are a legendary act, and they proved their status with a set that was so indescribably amazing, there almost doesn’t seem any point trying. Flanked by two massive screens with a huge one behind them, the graphics displayed synced perfectly and were utterly mindblowing.
Beginning with the classic Hey Boy, Hey Girl, Chemical Brothers tore through an hour and a half of musical bliss.
Beginning with the classic Hey Boy, Hey Girl they tore through an hour and a half of musical bliss, reprising favourites such as Believe, Setting Sun, Block Rocking Beats, with a smattering of their more modern repertoire including last year’s single, Go. As the music finished, Tom and Ed stepped out from behind the decks to embrace one another, and everyone in the crowd knew they had seen something special.
SW4 on the Sunday was a brilliant festival. I must have only spent 15 minutes in a queue all day, including for drinks, and clearly a lot of time and effort had gone in to making it a great day for everyone that had bought a ticket. And as much as the music was a bit one-dimensional, The Chemical Brothers far and away made up for that. Proof that you should never judge an event on its reputation without trying it for yourself.