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REVIEW: Backyard Sessions

48 hours in Malmö, Sweden

2019 Sep 25     
2 Bit Thugs

The Swedish festival recently shifted to a crowdfunded business model, with a view to becoming a true "people's festival". Here's how the first year of the new-look Backyard Sessions went down…

Nestled in the picturesque Folkets Park, Backyard Sessions has ripped up the rule book when it comes to how an electronic music festival should be programmed. 

Saturday daytime kicked off as a true family affair. Eccentric Scandinavian adults with quirky kids made up the majority of the daytime crowd at the aptly named People’s Park, a predominately homegrown line-up of DJs supplying a constant backbeat of arpeggiated dance-pop as they interacted with the various pop-ups and inflatable obstacle courses.

But fast-forward a few hours (to around 6pm, to be exact), and with a flick of the switch the crowd transformed to a more mature demographic and more musically switched-on mindset. The Backyard residents pushed through the gears with familiar party starters like &Me's In Your Eyes, Mark Knight’s Selecao and the instantly iconic Along Came Polly by Reb?ke. Alongside an untitled tribal remix of the Narcos theme tune, the residents set the tone for what was about to follow, as South Africa's Culoe De Song stepped up to welcome in the sunset. 

De Song’s signature tribal electronic sound did not disappoint. By this time the main stage area was packed to capacity, though there were still a handful of families jostling to the front with their kids, the young ones donning fluorescent ear protectors. The crowd were treated to a plethora of percussive delights like the Perc remix of DJougou Ya by Laolu & Mr Raoul, and Culoe threw in a few of his own productions along the way, such as the impressive Y.O.U.D. As the set drew to an end, by which point darkness had fallen, Culoe left us with the haunting melodies of The Last Silent by Stanislaw Radomsky. This called time on the main stage music, as the entry gates to the impressive main hall jerked open and the masses flocked towards the next phase of the festival. 

With the music outdoors finishing at 11pm, Backyard Sessions transformed for the third and final time, with each stage of the journey pushing us into darker, deeper, more electronic territory and most of the headline acts saved for the main hall, which housed over 2,500 people. The whole process of shifting from outdoors to indoors could have broken the musical momentum, but the transition was actually pretty seamless and within 10 minutes Copenhagen house stalwart (and former iDJ scribe) Tim Andresen was performing to a packed main hall, kicking things off with his inimitable melodic sound, while local talent took over in the two smaller rooms.

Crookers-esque sounds filtered from Room 2, making for a random but welcome juxtaposition to the melodic techno rhythms of the main room – even if I did feel a little like I’d time travellled back to my university days. Jump up, get down, wild out! The following act added to the craziness as the DJ blasted out beats on the drums, mixed records and set the pace while, stage front, a young Swedish lady clad in leather jodhpurs thrust herself around with more physicality than a salmon trying to swim up river.

A particular standout was Park Hye Jin [pictured above]. At the artist dinner earlier in the evening, she'd been shy and introverted, somewhat jet-lagged maybe – but as she took to the stage, it was like watching a totally different person. She thrust herself around like an adolescent moshing out to Linkin Park in their dorm room, and her higher tempo jackin' house and bouncy techno sent energy levels on the dancefloor soaring ever higher.

Kim Ann Foxman [pictured above] followed on from Jin, and kept the tempo up high but in a more learned, composed fashion. Her experience of music programming over the last decade or so made for a slightly more sculpted performance by Kim: to be expected, of course, but at the same time a spectacle to see. 

As the night reached its peak, electronic stalwarts Booka Shade stepped up for a two-hour live set. I'd spoken with the guys earlier in the evening, and asked them how they continued to do what they do after decades together. Their answer was simple: "We love it. We love to play our music to new crowds, and being able to travel around the world to do that is amazing."

The Bontan Remix of Confessions sent the crowd into overdrive. Other tracks like Understanding’ were served up with live percussive elements sewn in-between by Arno, while Walter cut together the playlist of classics. And of course, a Booka Shade set would not be a Booka Shade set without the seminal In White Rooms, which predictably brought another rapturous roar from the revellers below. The maestros of melody were in full swing at this point and they had everyone’s attention. 

Sunday
Day two of the festival was a little more laidback, but again saw a line-up of international acts taking to the stage, with La Fleur [pictured below] bringing Backyard Sessions 2019 to a close. Like the first day, the daytime allowed families to enjoy the atmosphere with their young children, highlighting the festival's ethos that it is "for the people," just like the park it's housed in. It's also worth mentioning that the programmers of Backyard Sessions are keen to promote equality in their line-ups and had a 50/50 representation of male and female acts across the two days. 

In true family style, the festival founders worked around the clock looking after the door, the hospitality and the sound. Start-up festivals only work with plenty of dedication and hard work put into them, and the Backyard Sessions team clearly live, breathe and eat every aspect of the festival. The fact that the park is publicly owned and parts of it have to remain open could prove a headache for future editions, but Alex and the team are developing an event that transcends just music. It's culturally relevant, open to all ages, educational for the young ones, musically refreshing for the adults and an all-round great experience. 

As with all fledgling festivals there’s room for improvement, but the team already have plans to develop the event into one of Malmö’s key underground musical destinations. With support from the Malmö tourism board already in place, it’s surely only a matter of time before Backyard Sessions take over the front yard, the street and the rest of the city, too!

Words: Charles Porter Pics: Ali Jehad (main pic, La Fleur) / Marcus Bassani (Kim Ann Foxman, Park Hye Yin)

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Tags: Backyard Sessions, Malmö, festival, Culoe de Song, Tim Andresen,  Park Hye Jin, Kim Ann Foxman, Booka Shade, La Fleur