Many household festival names attempt to sell a free-spirited attitude and organic sense of euphoria, yet it’s rare to find a festival with a genuine sense of freedom and trust in its attendees. KALLIDA festival had just that.
Taking place at Sparkford Hall, a Grade II listed Georgian mansion in Somerset, KALLIDA’s third edition felt like an intimate community, as around 400 attendees, organisers, artists, security and a couple of llamas wandered around the grounds, stumbling across secret stages and immersive art installations. The festival’s organisers were indistinguishable from the punters, save for when the team took to the decks for a raucous 2003-themed pool party on the Saturday afternooon. The four or five security guards were only noticeable from their black attire, so polite and relaxed were they throughout the weekend.
On the morning of the second day, I heard someone passing by my tent say, “isn’t this the best festival you’ve ever been to?” The mutual trust between the festival and the punters made for an enriching atmosphere, but don’t be fooled, this was a serious party, and it was clearly no one’s first rodeo. The rave was most heady in the basement, dancers flocking down a flight of narrow stairs when the house opened at 11pm each night. Made up of two sweaty rooms, illuminated in neon and separated by a caged DJ booth, Teki Latex’s headline show on Friday set just the right tone for the rest of the weekend: ravey, a little surreal, and a lot of fun.
So-called the ‘King of Blends’, the Parisian DJ mixed hard techno with old-school classics, from Fish Go Deep’s ‘The Cure & The Cause’ to Gala’s ‘Freed From Desire’ and Ruff Sqwad’s ‘Functions On The Low’. His set was an exact meeting between club and house party; given that this is KALLIDA’s niche, Teki Latex was an excellent billing (appearing on the lineup for the second year running). Though entertaining, I can’t say the same for DJ Bus Replacement Service, who took the same slot the following evening. Her surreal antics, Kim Jong Un outfit and all, felt a little jarring after a while.
Nailing the balance however, was Uganda’s rising star Kampire, whose set in the main room was flecked with staccato rhythms and Afrobeat bangers. Silhouetted by blue tube lighting and supported by a crisp, bassy sound system, Kampire’s set was the place to be on Saturday night.
Her performance highlighted the ongoing relationship between KALLIDA and Nyege Nyege, a Ugandan arts collective, label and festival. In 2018, funded by the British Arts Council, KALLIDA went to Nyege Nyege to build the Dark Star Stage, which hosted the weekend’s international acts. This year, Uganda’s musical presence in the rural English countryside was one of KALLIDA’s greatest virtues. Mixing a unique blend of minimal rhythms and traditional Acholi ‘Larakaraka’ wedding songs into so-called ‘electro Acholi’, Otim Alpha charmed Outdoor Stage with wide eyes and a Cheshire Cat smile, inviting the brave amongst us to get on stage and dance by his side.
Outdoor Stage provided much-needed respite in the afternoon and early evening, building the energy gradually before the mansion doors opened — another nod to the festival’s considered curation. An early highlight was DjeuhDjoah & Lieutenant Nicholson, who, with their minimal set up, impressed with jazzy disco cuts like ‘El Niño’. By the end, people were singing along in French, albeit with a bit of a slur. Another treat was Sunday afternoon’s set from carnival legend Aba Shanti-I, the deep inimitable bass from his sound system seemed to clear the sky. Later, London jazz outfit Maisha’s headline set was a spiritual way to close out the stage.
There were light shows, interactive projections and sculptures in every nook and cranny of Sparkford Hall’s grounds. Often without introduction or context, it felt as though the installations were meant to be stumbled upon. There were some pieces that felt less like pieces to make you think and more like trippy stimuli, so I would have liked to see more context for the art on display (the odd explanatory label would have helped). That said, KALLIDA’s visual landscape was hypnotising.
The most engaging piece was TYPETHING Collective’s dome, which featured a keyboard connected to an interface that, when played, wheezed smoke and triggered light changes. A coded score painted on the keys hinted at an Easter egg that many of us tried to unlock. When one talented sheet-reading punter cracked it, the joy was feverish, acid house blasting out from the dome.
Hedonistic, escapist and very, very fun, KALLIDA has nailed a winning mix of great sound and production. But the weekend’s biggest success was the faith the festival has in its crowd to respect their welcoming and egalitarian ethos. In short, KALLIDA is a vanguard amongst the UK’s independent festivals.