Words by Ben Lee, with contributions from Ally J Steel
Taking place at Abbots Ripton, frequently recognised as the site of Secret Garden Party, We Out Here 2022 had a series of workshops, talks, as well as the iconic lake to enjoy alongside the programme of DJs and live bands across four days. With jazz, soul, funk, afrobeat, electronic, grime, DnB, jungle, trance, and more genres of music on offer, our inaugural trip to the festival proved to be one of a kind.
With too many clashes going on constantly from Thursday to Sunday, we started off by watching the Pete Cunningham-led Ishmael Ensemble, who were one of the first acts to grace the Main Stage, with their hypnotic sounds and Holysseus Fly's soaring vocals drawing a crowd which were fully engaged with their music. Leeds-based hip hop artist Yusuf Yellow and his Energy Collective followed soon after, and what transcended was a spiritual set from the group with Yusuf’s lyricism leaving the crowd spellbound as his words resonated with us. A tantalising finisher empowered us all, with late-night sets from Two Shell and Overmono at Rhythm Corner, Brighton-based electronica duo Anushka letting loose at Lush Life, along with a grooving disco set from Charlie Dark in the forest started the weekend off perfectly.
Friday kicked off with a bang as we ventured back to the Lush Life to see another Leeds-based artist, TC & The Groove Family, who released their Worm Discs-released debut album First Home earlier in the summer. The high energy and intensity of tunes like ‘Bossfight’ and ‘Weh Dem A Do?’ had everyone moshing and thirsty to find more electrifying sets.
Cktrl followed with a soothing set of ambient productions which he soloed over on the saxophone and clarinet. Aussie band Surprise Chef put the Main Stage into a trance of deep grooves as they treated us to a set full of tight licks and humour always in the pocket.
Obongjayar brought firepower afterwards, blending afrobeat and R&B together with his unique vocals flittering between rapping and singing.
Elsewhere, rising talents like the impressive Verushka took control of the Big Top stage, with the psychedelically inclined, Brooklyn-based Say She She rocking out the Hennessy stage.
Afro-psychedelic band BCUC travelled from South Africa to perform an exhilarating hour of ritual songs. The power of the drums and one of the best vocalists anyone would ever see live blew away everyone on the Main Stage and was one of the best performances of the weekend.
A late-night trip followed to see Vels Trio play for one of the last times was a jazz-prog special before some bumper DJ sets from the likes of Sherelle and Yung Singh.
Saturday began with an encapturing and ethereal performance from the Rebecca Vasmant Ensemble, followed by a dreamy set of soulful swayers from Eddie Chacon and his live band. Accompanied by two flautists, Chacon delved into his Pleasure, Joy and Happiness album that had everyone feeling upbeat and cheery despite its heartbreak aesthetic.
In between popping to Rhythm Corner to see Channel One play some wonderful sunshine reggae infused with dub, soul and lovers rock influences, the Lush Life stage welcomed Berlin collective Zeitgeist Freedom Energy Exchange (ZFEX). The set was full of dancefloor boppers and the band created an energy that was hard to resist pulling yourself away from them, with songs flowing into each so fluidly there never ceased to be a break from their acid trip of vibes and good times.
Emma-Jean Thackray, who is storming the jazz-not-jazz scene, performed a characteristically brilliant performance on the Main Stage, getting the crowd moving and grooving in the evening sunshine.
Matching up to this was The Comet Is Coming’s show on the Main Stage, a blur of wild antics from all three band members. Teasing drops and huge solos, particularly from saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, had everyone amazed even if it was hard to find the beat at points. Nonetheless, it’s part of what makes it so intriguing to watch them live.
After another late evening full of DJ sets pumping out to the ecstatic masses, with a sweaty evening with Japanese disco spinners Kyoto Jazz Massive being one of our favourites, Waldo's Gift provided one of live late-night offerings as they packed out the Big Top with their mesmerising grooves.
The Worm Discs crew took over much of the LUSH LIFE programming on Sunday, beginning with the fiery 6-piece Dundundun, showcasing their fusion of rhythms and cosmic sounds, with Snazzback following after, showcasing some of the best music Bristol has to offer.
The Kahil El’Zabar Quartet mesmerised on the Main Stage before Belgian multi-instrumentalist Nala Sinephro blended her synthesisers into an intense but tranquil live set.
The last three acts on the main stage were bumper picks for the festival: the legendary (and recently departed) saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, pioneering Brazilian jazz-funk trio Azymuth and South London’s afrobeat group Kokoroko. Despite an hour delay for Sanders to perform for the first time in three years, he received a hero’s welcome and played a handful of times with his band. It felt relaxed but the band drove on the pieces and touched some of the spiritual heights he was known for.
Azymuth were probably the most surprising acts of the weekend, as they completely had the crowd hooked in with all their delicious grooves that resurrected everyone’s energy to dance along.
‘Dear Limmertz’ was a favourite alongside some sing alongs which drummer Ivan Conti led with such joy and passion - completely captivating the crowd, becoming one of the most memorable moments from the festival with a sense of connectivity and community. The revival of energy delighted the crowd and allowed Kokoroko to continue the party as they played out their new album, incorporating some soulful and cinematic sections into their normal fury of swaying beats.
Despite seeing all this glorious music, our experience is just a snapshot of what the festival brought to thousands of people who managed to see loads of other artists over the weekend.
If you like a mixture of all sorts of genres and are happy to delve deep into the alternative underground that We Out Here celebrates, this is one of the only festivals you need to go to next summer.