Joey Negro, Nightmares On Wax and Tru Thoughts tempted Harold Heath down to Sussex at the start of July
With a line-up featuring the likes of Herbie Hancock, George Benson and Gregory Porter, the three-day Love Supreme Jazz Festival might not initially seem like it’s going to be a hotbed of underground dance music. But when iDJ realised that this festie also provides a chance to enjoy summer evening DJ sets from Joey Negro, Nightmares On Wax and Tru Thoughts, plus a DJ soundclash between Brand New Heavies and Incognito, all set in the beautiful Sussex countryside, we thought we should really check it out. So come the weekend that June turned into July we put on our jazz berets and headed off deep into the South Downs to see what the hepcats were up to, Daddio.
The first thing we discovered was that no one was saying Daddio, and there was a severe lack of jazz berets. In fact, it felt like we had mistakenly arrived at the Sussex Trilby Convention. However, this was still very clearly a jazz fest, as the squawking and honking of various saxa-ma-phones and the skiddly-bee-bop of scat singing soundtracked our gentle stroll around the site. The festival had six main performance areas, a big main stage with frankly superb sound - you could hear the scrape of plectrum on guitar string from 200 metres - and then a number of large marquees and smaller bars. We settled ourselves by the main stage and dug the jazz with a few drinks till the early evening.
Being a dance music magazine, we won’t bore you with which minor seventh chords that guitar player was busting out, or how clever it was that the woman playing the gourd was soloing in both Dorian and Ionian modes. But an honourable mention has to go to soul singer Nao, whose last tune - an uber-phat post-dubstep soul anthem with proper gut-churning synth low-end - totally ripped the soundsystem and took some of the more sedate attendees by surprise. I tried to Shazam some of her set but was too far away and all my phone picked up was the gentle clink of glasses of Chardonnay and the rustle of middle-class glitter, which by the end of Sunday was on everyone’s faces.
The shadows grew longer, the drinks took effect and we were lucky enough to hook up with disco don Joey Negro for a brief interview before his set. To the sound of The Jacksons huffing and puffing through their dance routine, which had clearly been choreographed by an OAP Zumba teacher, we chatted about his new album (Produced With Love, it's splendid), what he was planning on playing (“most of my gigs I drop it down to 110bpm then just build it back up again”), secret weapons (“I’ve just done a remix of Box Scaggs' Low Down from the multi-tracks that I can’t wait to play”) and then we tackled the more important questions:
iDJ: Trilby or flat cap?
JN: Flat cap
iDJ: Tea or coffee?
iDJ: Mick or Keith?
iDJ: Favourite spaceship?
Time passed. Joey was happy to chat merrily about disco, dubs and DJing, but get him onto spaceships and it was a different matter - this was clearly no time for flippant answers. He went quiet and furrowed his brow. This silence continued beyond a normal amount of time, into slightly odd territory, and for a moment I thought he might be having an existential crisis, or perhaps a stroke. At one point, he asked if he could take my email address and get back to me about it.
Another long period of silence followed, punctuated by the sound of one of the Jacksons - possibly Marlon, but it could have been Alan - suggesting that the screaming crowd “make some noise”, presumably because his hearing aid wasn’t registering the colossal roars of approval that they were already receiving.
JN: “Have you seen that film Silent Running? That featured one of my favourite robots… and that spaceship [the Valley Forge, in case you were wondering] was great…”
Phew, I hadn’t sent Saturday’s headliner into some kind of sci-fi induced aneurysm after all! Great spaceship too, because much like Mr Negro’s DJ sets, the choice of the Valley Forge is classy, unobvious but not wilfully obscure either. And then finally, we got to the biggest question of them all:
iDJ: Joey from Friends, Joey Essex, Joey the Kangaroo - where do you fit in the hierarchy of Joeys?
Joey magnanimously put himself at second place, above Joey Essex but below Joey the Kangaroo. What a guy! Off we then trotted to the main arena where Joey opened his set with his rerub of Fatback’s classic disco-funk stepper Bus Stop and it was pretty much all-killer, no-filler for the next three hours, dropping a few tracks from Produced With Love and reading the festival demographic perfectly.
Nightmares On Wax were DJing at the same time, so we took a breather and wandered across to the splendid leafy Blue & Green bar which was packed with dusty groovers giving it large to some slo-mo disco. But the soundsystem in Joey's tent was about a gazillion times bigger so we returned for more, just in time for a moment of festival community: several hundred dancers singing along with a tasty re-edit of Everything She Wants by Wham!. Lovely stuff.
Sunday morning didn't really impinge on our reality but by mid-afternoon we'd surfaced, scraped the glitter from our tired eyes and emerged ready for rest of the day’s entertainment. There was more jazz, obvs, and Giles Peterson faves the Black Focus Project, with their wigged-out psychedelic jazz electronica, were extraordinary, like a jazz force of nature. We had to get a few drinks afterwards just to come back down to earth, by which time funky eclectricians and Brighton’s finest record label Tru Thoughts had taken over the Blue & Green bar.
Label artists Wrongtom and J-Felix got on the decks and immediately started enticing dancers away from yet another drum solo, with the album version of Young Disciples' Apparently Nothing being a surprise killer. It’s always fun for an old DJ to watch other DJs dealing with requests, and there was a troupe of D&B-requesting women who were superbly placated by a little UK garage, the festival DJ's secret weapon, before the tent nearly lifted off to the sounds of Omar & Zed Bias’ Dancing.
Throughout the weekend there were lots of solos, and people saying things like, "Yeah, he’s a really adaptable player, refreshingly free from cliche". There was a LOT of glitter, hand sanitiser in the loos and more jazz than you could ever eat. The Love Supreme festival attracts a splendidly diverse audience, and while this clearly isn’t a full-on, high-octane, stay-up-all-weekender, there was plenty of decent R&B and soul on offer - jazz-soul ledge George Benson put in a very respectable showing - and the DJs in the evenings were superb.
It’s been a while since I had a decent moment of community and shared musical joy with hundreds of dancing strangers in a tent and it never, ever gets old. See you next year.
Words: Harold Heath Pics: Fanatic Live