The Exeter Phoenix on this dark and stormy night had the feel of an ersatz variety show of all things bass, and all things now. Walking from room to room, there would be a crossfade from one tune to another, each more in the gut than heard in the ear. At one point, we walked through a doorway and transitioned brutally from high octane jungle DnB in the bazaar-themed bar to Michael Jackson’s Rock With You out on the terrace. Given such a diverse mood throughout the venue, the night really felt like a casual celebration of bass music in the now, and earlier on in the night, casual was a key word. Sipping on our drinks as the building slowly rose to capacity, we endured half a dozen trainwreck mixes, denoted by wide-eyed stares between us as two bass drums fell over one another.
Skill levels rose rapidly however, and the mixes were rock solid within half an hour. Out on the terrace, a suspiciously high quantity of grime (particularly Wiley, who’s Greatest Hits was quickly rinsed) rippled through the crowd, completely undampened by rain. Marvin Vital dropped the aforementioned Jackson disco banger in amongst a great set of eclectic garage and deep house. Later on, we really appreciated Jawgee’s loyal following of true 90s garage and the superb MCing from Danja, Mason and Verbo. The terrace was a delight when the booth wasn’t being shorted out by rain or excess volume (we’re not sure which did it in).
Things really escalated with the arrival of Panda in the Auditorium however. In a surprising setup for nobody that’s seen them perform live before, Benny from Panda takes up the microphone and sings over the mix. The effect is extraordinarily compelling, as Benny becomes an engaging frontman, half-way between singing along to refrains and ad-libbing with incredible skill over blending tunes. We found him picking vocals back up from many songs before, creating a really cohesive feel to the whole set - and there were suprises thrown in such as No Diggity sung over Shadow Child’s 23.
The highlight of the evening was certainly Eton Messy’s arrival on the main auditorium stage, of which I for one had high expectations. As curators of one of the UK’s most forward-thinking music channels, Messy have been musically ahead of the curve in many respects, often the first to publish new releases from artists like Three Bar, Felon and Just Kiddin who’ve all been pushing the boundaries of House and Dance over the last six months. With flawless mixing and song choices, combined with Panda’s playful vocals on top, the dancefloor quickly warmed up and the spacious main room began to near capacity as the set continued. Shadow Child’s recent collaboration with Takura, Friday, went down a storm, and even with Panda’s Benny frequently pointing out it was in fact, Saturday night, nobody seemed to mind. Deetron and Breach’s Rhythm, another stellar track plucked from Messy’s Beauty and The Beats channel, was also warmly received. The entire set was a flawless mix of the best blend of Deep House I think I’ve ever heard. It’s unsurprising given my theory that they have an astronomical record crate full of undiscovered gems sent to them for exposure on their YouTube channel, but I was still shocked at the pure unrelenting quality that they were throwing out.
Given the onslaught of smooth deep house that had gone before, Zinc seemed an odd choice for the headliner. Being a big room house kind of guy himself, full of dutch style bass drops, his own tunes didn’t much fit in with the vibe that had been expertly built by Panda and the Messy boys. He did blend in more deep house than I expected however, with some solid mixes into deep house mainstays such as Julio Bashmore (no, not Au Seve). On the whole though, he was well overshadowed by his predecessors.