Event Review: Jam on RYE Festival @ Peckham Rye (London; 29th May 2018)

From the first Jamaican rude-boy sound systems of Duke Reid and Prince Buster to Trojan Records of London 1968, ska, rocksteady, reggae and dub sound system culture has thrived in Britain’s black culture and has defined generations and popular trends.

A sunny May Bank Holiday saw hundreds take to Peckham Rye for KERB‘s Jam on RYE Festival. Upon arrival, entrance was smooth and the queues were short. As I waited for a £5 cider, I heard Mungo’s Hi-Fi open their set with “Just Be Good To Me”. The Scottish sound system powerhouse was joined on stage by a range of MCs, in keeping with the sound system culture. After a satisfying set by Mungo’s Hi-Fi, I zipped over to the Wormfood stage, which focused on the afro-beat and jazz identity within the South London sound system culture. A trio of sax, drums and tuba, Theon Cross and The Fyah were absolutely killing it, luring every passerby into the dancing audience.

Initially, I had issues with coherence throughout the festival; the general aesthetic throughout seemed mixed, and a huge tent obstructed the view of the Wormfood stage. The family-friendly sound system celebration was juxtaposed with the fact that all drinking water and food was confiscated on entry to necessitate the purchase of £7+ snacks – however, these were of a large and delicious variety. Nevertheless, the demographic represented the multiculturalism that makes up the South London character. Everyone was calm and friendly – children were running and playing – and people of all ages were dancing together at the two stages, with very little drama and a successful community vibe.

The specificity of the Reggae Roast segment on stage fell a little heavy and backed off from the celebratory vibe for a while. Meanwhile, the Wormfood sound system’s subwoofer could be felt reverberating through your body as a communal funk seemed to take over, with Soothsayers providing some casual, peace-inspiring reggae.

The real nostalgia came when the iconic David Rodigan played hit after hit, all the while educating and paying respect to the greats, starting with original 60s Jamaican reggae tracks – such as ‘54-46’ from Toots and the Maytals – and working through each generation to modern day British reggae. Rodigan proved immensely popular across all generations and really expanded the theme of the festival. Planned well, one could watch Wormfood’s headliners, Afro-jazz group Nubiyan Twist, provide soulful, upbeat grooves, then zip back to the Reggae Roast stage to catch the finale: 67-year-old reggae pioneer Horace Andy played a rare live set with a full band.

I left feeling nostalgically patriotic to a shared culture and consciousness. Although stung by the un-inclusive prices within, the sun shone on the KERB’s sound system celebration.