Event Review: Boiler Room Festival @ Peckham [London; Wednesday 9th & Thursday 10th October 2019]

Filming performances to be broadcast to viewers at home who can still feel somewhat part of the party is not novel. Boiler Room, the flagship online platform for underground acts to increase their exposure, tapped into a pre-existing appetite amongst the try-before-you-buy internet generation but that doesn’t negate the impact it’s had throughout the 2010s.

Its events are often shrouded in exclusivity, inducing pent-up demand for those whose alternative is to livestream the antics or play catch-up later. It therefore came as a welcome announcement in May this year when Boiler Room revealed it would be hosting its first ever festival in the city where it all started. Across four nights it would showcase the best of London’s budding scenes: jazz, rap, bass and club, the first two of which will be covered here.

Peckham was the chosen location and it’s easy to see why, all things considered. Gentrification has been inevitable, however, the area is still one of the most diverse in London and is part of network of neighbourhoods that have birthed exciting talent and a cluster of appropriate venues to host the festival’s roster of over 100 artists.

The opening jazz night was the first to sell-out weeks in advance, a clear sign of how the genre’s popularity has grown significantly over the years. This in part due to many acts within the scene willing to stray away from purism and experiment with other genres, which the line-up truly highlighted.  

There were bands like Cykada who infused head-banging psychedelic rock into their set, soloists like Greentea Peng brewing a dose of low-fi tranquillity, and the Chicago collective Resavoir embracing more lush productions. Deptford-based group Steam Down continued to cement their status as one of London’s most important movements, closing the evening with bustling mix that included Caribbean and West African rhythms and a brief appearance from rising saxophonist Nubya Garcia.

Boiler Room prides itself on intimacy, but nobody could have anticipated how packed some of the venues would be. The streets of and around Rye Lane were flowing with human traffic on a crisp autumnal evening, and by 9pm there were already queues outside the Bussey Building. Once inside one could hardly move at times, but the vitality of live jazz that’s often lost in a studio recording more than made up for it.  

For Day 2, instead of flittering between venues, the plan was to stay within Bussey which had three floors, allowing me to see a greater number of acts across the evening. Plenty of light was shed on women DJs to start the night off, including Foundation FM’s Rachael Anson who spun twist mostly feel-good, bouncy afrobeats to get the crowd more than warmed up.

Reid, a producer who reached the UK Top 10 in 2017 with a collaboration with Mabel on her hit “Finders Keeper”, had a great set blending house, hip hop, trap and grime effortlessly. Later, grime label Lord of the Mics dedicated a slot for keen MCs to express themselves, before old-timers D Double E and Jammer wrapped things up as a reminder of how far their genre had come.

Comparing the crowds of both nights, although both felt inclusive and up-for-it, the rap crowd was definitely looser and less self-conscious; more street-wise and less bohemian. And whilst much has been made of grime’s broadened appeal to more white and middle class audiences, the jazz night was far guiltier in this regard. Depending on how you perceive their brands, Jameson whiskey and Beefeater gin (sponsors of Days 1 and 2 respectively) played their cards right.       

One of Boiler Room’s aims was to really push the boundaries of what a festival is supposed to be. Had it been a typical outdoor field affair, the format followed – several acts running concurrently across different stages – wouldn’t have been so out of the ordinary. Applying this with urbanised obstacles created a situation that appeared at first glance to be chaotic.

Ultimately, this festival emphasised that you don’t need to stray too far away from reminders of your daily commute and workplace to find a certain level of human connection and escapism inhibited by our rigid routines. The contrast made for a very interesting dynamic which, with a few more logistical tweaks, could see Boiler Room onto a consistent winner and forerunner of a new kind of experience.

Photo ©: Ryan Buchanan