Festival Review: Stealth Halloween Festival 2019

Anyone familiar with tech, whether you’re an avid raver, a new apprentice, or even a second-hand listener from your housemate’s speaker that’s just a bit too loud, you’re sure to have heard of Stealth’s immense Halloween Festival. An event with headliners as renowned in the genre as Danny Howard, Michael Bibi, and local lad Latmun was one sure to have big expectations. Walking through Wollaton Park, with the dreary weather surroundings and mud covering every square-metre, I have to say this was the exact pick-me-up needed.

The bass could be felt a mile away from the venue, and already the music I could hear edging closer was distracting me from any mud I was trying to walk through. As we moved through security and just outside the tent, the site was truly decked out for a spooky session of groove and rhythmic tunes. Just outside the big top we could hear the last of Archie Hamilton’s set, warming up the crowd nicely for previous resident DJ, now a big name on the tech circuit, Latmun. Walking through the Big Top tent, steady basslines and euphoric synths filled the space above and rocked through everyone inside. We grabbed a beer, joined the crowd and enjoyed the rest of the set. I have to say that Latmun really was a highlight for me; for anyone who isn’t already familiar with tech music, his set really summed up what it’s all about – balance between standout basslines and soft synths to create an irresistible groove.

Seb Zito took over after an hour or so and brought a simpler but classic rhythm to the tent. He maintained what Latmun brought nicely, with shoulders shaking and hands flowing to the solid rhythm. We enjoyed a while longer of Zito’s set before taking a breather outside and noticing another bar. As we headed over, our ears caught wind of the entirely different tempo that was drum n’ bass. We grabbed another can and enjoyed the resident DJ’s sets, gun fingers in the air and head-nodding in time with the fast hi-hat rhythms.

"Bibi commanded the crowd with his set and really finished the night off with style."

After some time, we headed back into the Big Top and in time for tech house king, Danny Howard. Howard’s set was a long one but kept the crowd moving the whole time. By this time, it seemed nearly everyone in the vicinity had now congregated in the main tent to hear Howard’s layered grooves. There was no minute spared from dancing and everyone had their hands in the air waiting for each drop patiently, but enjoying the crescendo of synths and percussion before each one. Distinct from headliner Michael Bibi, Howard’s sound seems to incorporate a lot more of what we hear in other house variations, but combining the charming grit of the underground tech sound we all know and love. His set was, of course, a standout. Keeping the crowd hyped up, Howard continued playing for a little while longer than planned but maintained the energy well before Bibi’s long-awaited presence.

The night climaxed during Bibi’s set. A king of tech and a well-known name amongst fans and professionals alike, he captures in full swing what makes a sensually grimy and classic tech house track. Bibi’s sound is pretty distinct, especially comparative to Howard for example. His set is intended to throw anyone into the eye of the tech storm, not hiding away from what the genre is at its core; groovy and heavy basslines, with a deep synth assist. His renowned remix of Hanging Tree was a crowd-pleaser as ever, pulsing through the crowd and every inch of Wollaton Park with its unmistakeable sound. Bibi commanded the crowd with his set and really finished the night off with style.

Following the sterling end to Saturday night, it was surprising to see so few people returning for the gargantuan duo of Patrick Topping and Denis Sulta on Sunday evening. However, while the tent was half empty in attendance, those who had turned up more than compensated with their energy and determination. With a low fog circling at the feet of Wollaton Hall and the bitter winds biting at the backs of any stragglers, one could be forgiven for expecting a low mood in the marquee. However, as Topping and Sulta crusaded into their set, the crowd became alive.

"With burned-out cars surrounding the Big Top, and persistent ‘zombies’ instructed to stalk punters making their way into the tent, Nottingham certainly received its money’s worth for production value."

While the duo delivered their usual diverse brands of house, dance and techno, the audience was further treated to some left-field additions, such as the Dizzee Rascal hit Dirtee Disco, which was unleashed to a magnificent reaction. Staying true to his reputation of being Britain’s king of house and techno, Topping treated the crowd to a selection of his favoured tracks of old and new, including new release Dungeon Freak and the 2017 hit Be Sharp Say Nowt, making for one of the standout moments of the evening.

As for Denis Sulta, I cannot praise his energy enough. While it may have been cold outside, his dancing, vigour and aura warmed the tent. In my humble opinion, there is nothing worse than a DJ staring into the mixer all night; the dynamic duo of Denis and Patrick could not have been further from this. Their energy and charisma projected into the audience and no doubt carried the set through the cold October night, once again demonstrating why these two are firmly in the upper echelons of the British tech and dance scenes.

Image courtesy of Stealth

A review of this weekend would not be complete without honouring Stealth for their production and organisation of the event. On a weekend where the organisation from Stealth’s noisy neighbours may have lacked, they certainly led by example. With burned-out cars surrounding the Big Top, and persistent ‘zombies’ instructed to stalk punters making their way into the tent, Nottingham certainly received its money’s worth for production value.

With a superb display from the scene’s biggest stars, paired with the stunningly spooky décor, ravers left satisfied. Unsurprisingly, Stealth’s first Halloween Festival can only be described as a success. Like many others, I hope to see a return of Stealth’s Halloween Festival to Nottingham’s own haunted house in years to come.

Lucy Gray and Tristan Phipps