THERE ARE VERY FEW FESTIVALS like Southport Weekender. The very name of it elicits a feeling of warmth, hospitality and of coming home. With today’s mind numbing pyrotechnics, billion watt sound systems and DJ lineups that scream ego and fad over substance, it’s reassuring to know that there is still one such festival that is rooted in what is really important: The music. The soul. The legacy.

Ten years ago when 5 Magazine was just starting, a couple of my more seasoned Chicago friends told me, “If there’s one party you have to go to once in your life, it’s the Southport Weekender! There is nothing like it!” And I realized that after all these years wearing not only my party hat but my press hat as well, I was tired of going to three day extravaganzas with lineups that had at most maybe two, if I was lucky three acts that I cared to see. Looking at Southport Weekender’s lineup, I finally said fuck it, jumped up off my seat and booked my next ticket to London for Southport Weekender 52, this May 8, 9 and 10.

Which, as it turns out, will be the last.

Here is my interview with SPW founder and dreamer Alex Lowes.

5 Magazine Issue 116 - March 2015
5 Magazine Issue 116 – March 2015

I cannot believe this event has been going on since 1987! Tell me what the musical climate was like then. I take it it was mostly Soul, Jazz and Funk (with Hip-Hop and early House thrown in), would it be safe to say it was more of a live music festival?

At the time we started, there were other good weekenders, but they weren’t representing all the underground music that we thought was relevant. The solid Jazz and modern Soul wasn’t catered for at all and that’s what we felt was the cutting edge of music at the time. Also, the weekender scene was very southern based, particularly in regards to the crowds they were attracting. We started with the main room, which for the first years covered a lot of different styles of music including Hip Hop, Jazz Funk, and the beginnings of the House movement. There were only a few big Chicago tracks around at the time, but boy did it go off when they got played. We had the Soul room and the Jazz room, in which we also dropped a bit of Northern Soul into. That was the beginning of what became the alternative room, now the Beat Bar that covers the more eclectic and experimental side of the scene. It was more DJ-led than live in the early days, with the focus firmly on the dancers and the dance floor.

 

It’s interesting because early Chicago House was so raw, not as full as Soul music’s rich orchestrations. Were they quick to embrace that sound even then? What were some of the songs they were dancing to?

Yes there was an immediate response to the Chicago sound here. It plugged into the musical heritage in the north and midlands of the UK that saw the scene evolve from Jazz-Funk, to Electro, to House Music. Before it was called House, it was considered to be another strain of the Electro sound, from Chicago rather than New York. Whilst London was still dominated by the rare groove scene, that didn’t really take hold up north, and House took root here and in the midlands first. The big tracks in the early days were Adonis’ “No Way Back,” Mr Fingers’ “Can U Feel It,” Jungle Wonz’s “The Jungle,” Robert Owens’ “Bringin’ Down the Wall,” Frankie Knuckles’ “Your Love,” Joe Smooth’s “Promised Land,” Fingers Inc’s “Mystery Of Love,” JM Silk’s “Music Is The Key” and Farley Jackmaster Funk’s “Love Can’t Turn Around.”

 
vintage-spw-4Vintage Southport Weekender (courtesy of SPW)

 

It’s inspiring to see that even with a smaller turnout in your first year, you took a leap of faith and borrowed quite a bit of money to take a chance on a second one. What made you decide to initially start off with two events a year? I imagine that’s a whole lot of work!

Dave Gardner, my right hand man, was there from the beginning, and Jonathan Woodliffe – a fantastic DJ and formidable record collector – came in on the second event. Bob Jeffries is the only DJ who has played them all, but a lot of the crew have been involved for over two decides now. The costs have risen exponentially during this time as we’ve continuously pushed the boundaries of what’s possible in a British seaside holiday resort, recently with headline acts including Chaka Khan, Jill Scott and Mos Def! The scene we cater for is dedicated and diehard so two events per year was needed to satisfy the passion of the dancers. Today, we hold our flagship Southport Weekender event in May and our Croatian event, SunceBeat, in July.

 

I read that the festival started because you wanted to present more of the cutting edge modern Soul music that was coming up at the time. Was the original vision to present newer music?

Definitely newer music – we have always strived to move forward, embracing the cutting edge, boundary-pushing DJs and live acts while staying true to our black music heritage.



Can you give us a breakdown of each of the five different rooms and an example of some of the DJs that have graced these rooms?

The Powerhouse is the largest, most visually impressive arena at the Weekender. Our attendees come here to be impressed and to experience something unavailable elsewhere. For that reason The Powerhouse is equipped with state-of-the-art technology – lights, sound and visuals – to ensure that time spent here is unforgettable. Sometimes big is not just better, it’s also beautiful. From Kenny Dope and Joe Claussell, to Danny Tenaglia and Seth Troxler – just about every DJ that’s worth his weight has entertained within these four walls.

The Funkbase is the home of Southport’s urban grooves, rolling out the finest Soul, Hip-Hop, R&B and classics to perhaps the most fun-loving crowd at the event. This is a room where atmosphere is everything and the funk is number one priority. An elated, attitude-free crowd soak up the vibes and dedicate their time to the dance! This room shows off beautiful, sharp-dressed movers as resident selectors like Ronnie Herel and Bigger are joined by guests such as Trevor Nelson, Jazzy Jeff, Rich Medina and Goldie, not to mention some of the superb PAs and concerts we have had in this space from hip hop legends like Run DMC to Soul royalty like Angie Stone.

From the Drum’N’Bass sounds of Bristol’s Roni Size and Brazil’s DJ Marky to the contemporary fusion of Europeans like Rainer Truby, Dixon and Jazzanova, taking in the mind-mangling rawness of Detroit’s Theo Parrish and the party turntablism of Hip-Hop supremo ?uestlove – The Beat Bar sees, knows and welcomes it all.

The style of music in this room will change constantly throughout the whole course of the weekend, and it’s a credit to our clued-up audience that they never falter from the dancefloor here. But one thing will remain a constant in this room – the atmosphere. The Beat Bar feels like the best house party you ever attended. If you close your eyes and lose yourself in the music, don’t worry, there’ll be a hundred smiling faces to welcome you back upon your return.

The Connoisseur’s Corner is a room which boasts a soundtrack that is the foundation for everything you will hear at Southport Weekender. Be prepared for a warm welcome. The origins of this event, previously known as Southport Soul Weekender, are clear for you all to hear in this room. The playlist is based on what is termed “Modern Soul” – a deceptive, and thoroughly British moniker, that describes a style of soul music encompassing releases from the 1970s right up to the present day.

SunceBeat is a sparkling gem in Croatia’s festival scene with previous headline guests including deep House titan Larry Heard, Berlin powerhouse Prosumer, and the semi-mythical DJ Harvey. Every summer, we invite some of the world’s finest DJs to our shimmering secluded bay to share their sounds on a beach terrace armed with a heavy-hitting Funktion One sound system and a nearby outdoor nightclub where we dance under the stars until dawn. And at Southport, we recreate some of that Dalmatian magic with cocktails, palm trees and spine-tingling soulful sounds from across the musical spectrum. It’s the newest addition to the event and already one of the most popular!

 
vintage-spw-3Vintage Southport Weekender (courtesy of SPW)

 

I was pleasantly surprised to see that you have Drum’N’Bass represented at your festival! I imagine that could have been… well… slightly polarizing to some of the fans? How do you decide how far to push the envelope so as to stay current while still maintaining your solid tradition of Soul?

We represent all genres that are rooted in Soul music, so with Drum’N’Bass guests like Goldie and LTJ Bukem who have played in recent years, their sound is rooted in the heritage of the event. Likewise we featured Mala In Cuba recently, whose Dubstep/Cuban music fusion performed live was spectacular and certainly rattled some rib cages!

 

Who are your residents? And what are some of the traditions that you do at SPW that are distinct just with you? Can you walk us through the festival experience from day one to three?

We have a solid team of resident DJs including Ronnie Herel and Bigger in Funkbase, Jonathan in the Powerhouse, Kev Beadle and Gavin Kendrick in the Beat Bar and Terry Jones, Bob Jeffries and Andy Davies in the Connoisseur’s Corner. I think what makes this experience so unique is that we are positioned to bridge the gaps between many different underground music scenes, attracting beautiful people from all over the UK and the world joined by that common thread of quality music and dancing.

There are two approaches to the festival experience: planning every hour like a military operation (we have customers who share spreadsheets with their weekend dance floor maneuvers ahead of the festival) or simply going with the flow, conceding that you won’t see everything you might like to but having the time of your life all the same! I favour the latter!

 
vintage-spw-2Vintage Southport Weekender (courtesy of SPW)
 

 

We’ve seen in the last several years the absolutely massive explosion of dance music, with mega festivals popping up every which way. I think 50% of my PR emails are regarding the lineup of some new festival happening. How has this trend affected Southport Weekender?

It hasn’t hugely, as almost all new festivals I see lack the depth of programming and musical understanding that makes our lineups so spectacular. And thankfully we have an incredibly loyal crowd who trust us 100% to deliver the best music experience money can buy.

 

Coming from a musical direction with a very serious belief in history and heritage, how do you continue to attract younger audiences to appreciate the music? I know it’s a challenge with all the different trends that come and go, but somehow you guys have managed to overcome it and sell out early year after year. How have you built newer and younger audiences?

We are always listening to newer DJs, breakthrough producers and have a crew of inner circle staff who go to parties up and down the country to hear what’s hot and who is bubbling with fresh talent. Programming these up and coming acts alongside the heritage heavyweights ensures a new influx of customers who might not be familiar with what’s gone before but are connecting to the musical tradition by these new acts.

 

Now you also do SunceBeat and To the Manor Born. How are those different?

SunceBeat is a once in a lifetime experience. Crystal clear waters, a truly international crowd, the best DJs from the scene and the untouched Dalmatian coast. And did we mention the sunshine?! That’s the one thing we can’t guarantee here at Southport! To The Manor Born is an annual get together of old friends in the north of England – a chance for us to let our hair down at the end of a busy year.

 
vintage-spw-1Vintage Southport Weekender (courtesy of SPW)

 

This truly sounds amazing! I’ll be going there my first time this year and I’m super excited. My friend told me that they show a lot of love for folks from Chicago.

We really do! The sound of Chicago is one of the musical currents that makes this event so special and we’re grateful for the decades of music from the Windy City that has been championed here in the UK. /////

 

Here are some things for you to know about Southport Weekender:

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WHEN: May 8th, 9th and 10th, 2015

WHERE: Butlin’s Holiday Resort in Minehead (about 3.5 hours bus ride from London)

Nearest airport to Minehead: Bristol

Housing: Accommodations are done in chalets within the resort grounds.

History: The first SPW was held in 1987, and previously there were two of these festivals held every year: one in May and one in November.

The Arenas: The Powerhouse, The Funkbase, The Beat Bar, The Connoisseur’s Corner, the SunceBeat Dome

Tickets to the festival are often sold out before the lineup is even announced!

Some of this year’s headliners: Kerri Chandler & Chez Damier tag team, Masters at Work, The 3 Kings, Joey Negro, Sean McCabe, Deetron, Grant Nelson, DJ EZ, Black Coffee, Culoe de Song, Sadar, Ron Trent, Rich Medina, Seven Davis, Shaun Escoffery, Reel People, Kyodai and many more!

Website: southportweekender.co.uk (festival info but also interviews, mixes, song of the day, charts, radio shows, loads of photos and more!)

Photos of SPW50 by Colin Williams. Special thanks to Gavin Kendrick for facilitating everything!