Troyfest Review by Bethany Roberts.
May Bank Holiday weekend is often the starting gun for a long and busy festival summer, and Troyfest stands proudly among the early starters as a happy little pocket of madness. Held in Baskerville Hall Hotel and its surrounding estate, deep in the Welsh hills and with a capacity of around one thousand, it maintains an air of a colourful and eccentric private party. Most of the crowd seem to hail from Bristol or Cardiff (unsurprisingly), and judging by the exuberant attire and deliciously extrovert dancing, I’d wager a guess that many have been sitting on a pile of sequins, feathers and bizarre homemade costumes since last year’s Shambala Festival, counting down the days until May when they could stretch their disco wings in a natural habitat again. This is a crowd determined to have as much fun as can be squeezed into a weekend, and as such the relentless rain and wind battering the campsite does little to halt the party.
The festival kicked off on Friday night, with highlights including a boisterous set from upstart hip hop team Too Many T’s in the ‘You Are Here’ stage, in a marquee on the Lawn. Later, the mansion house venues open, and Cut Capers steal the show in the Enchanted Ballroom with an energetic and funk-fuelled ska set to a buzzing and over-excited audience.
On Saturday and Sunday, the only music during the day is held at You Are Here, and seems largely curated to build hype for the nocturnal party. Both afternoons host entertaining, genre-hopping bands, each with a good beat and none who demand too much attention from the hungover crowd. Standout among those bands were JC’s Hopeless Sinners, a talented trio who kick things up a gear with their infectious and highly danceable Southern blues, including an excellent cover of Tom Waits’ great tune ‘Ice Cream Man’. The same trio pop up again in the Ballroom later that night with Johnny Cage and the Voodoo Groove, whose skilfully rowdy rockabilly fuels the tangible and childlike excitement among the hordes of sparkly dancers in the crowd, who are collectively gearing up for a Big One. A stomping set from the excellent Zen Hussies keeps the Ballroom on its toes, finally leading up to the truly original Molotov Jukebox who take to the stage at 1am and enchant the crowd with their heady mix of tropical gypsy, dub, swing and some rather lovely accordion playing. Cardiff DJ duo Bodhi carry the party momentum on with a long set of funky, euphoric house in the Mole Hole, continuing an ongoing disco vibe happily permeating the festival.
As all the music finishes at 5am, it feels like a slightly odd programming decision to put Gilles Peterson on as late as 3:30am as the final act of the night and when he eventually arrives the fizzing crowd are keenly awaiting the supreme tastemaker’s mix. It’s a surprisingly house-centric affair, masterfully executed and constructed from a multitude of weird and wonderful tracks – suitably peppered with disco, much to the delight of the Troyfest crowd.
Sunday afternoon is unsurprisingly a laid back affair, as most people who have emerged through the rain to the marquee seem to not be able to move very much. The day really gets going with self-proclaimed ‘skip-hop’ from Bristol stalwarts First Degree Burns, who succeed in pushing a sleepy audience to find their boogie-skanking feet again. With a nicely warmed up (and expanded) crowd, the enormously impressive Future Dub Project raise the bar again with a blinding and brassy set of dub/jazz/hip hop fusion, boasting thoughtful, irresistible grooves and intelligent vocal harmony led by their strong female singer, coupled with fearless moments of tightly packed jungle beats and bass-heavy bouncing. Outdoor headliners By The Rivers are also a delight, demonstrating a clean and ridiculously catchy reggae sound, with a few exciting ventures into polyrhythmic pop a la Graceland/Vampire Weekend. In a neat programming move, the crowd pour out onto the Lawn for a thrilling AV display on the mansion’s exterior courtesy of Anomic Multimedia and Guildhall School, before dashing indoors to beat the queue for Mr Scruff’s luxuriously long four-hour set in the Ballroom. As expected, he is superb, playing a thoroughly unpredictable and eccentric collection of jazz, hip hop, Latin, reggae, disco and everything that falls between the gaps. He’s the ideal headliner for a festival this size, and keeps the crowd’s dancing momentum pumping right up to the close of the festival at 2am.
Troyfest is not for the faint-hearted, but certainly far more user-friendly (and weather-proof) than many larger festivals. It’s an exceptionally fun weekend with a friendly crowd and warm ethos, perhaps best consumed in big groups, and definitely served with a dash of Monty Python-esque silliness among the musicians as well as the audience. If you need a warm-up weekend before the marathon run of summer festivals, this is it.