We Out Here festival review – celebratory weekend of raucous dance and cosmic jazz

The musical taste of Gilles Peterson – the BBC Radio 6 Music broadcaster and curator behind Worldwide FM and Brownswood Recordings – is nothing if not eclectic. We Out Here, the festival he stages across the August bank holiday weekend in leafy Cambridgeshire, is proof. Taking its name from a 2018 Brownswood compilation showcasing London’s fertile jazz scene, the festival sits somewhere between a specialist affair and a more mainstream event, its lineup boasting acts as disparate as jazz legend Pharaoh Sanders, superstar rave duo Overmono, south London rapper Enny, and footwork selector Sherelle.

Now in its third year, We Out Here jolts to life on a grey Thursday, revellers in cowboy hats and waterproof jackets perusing non-musical attractions like the on-site record store, skating at the roller rink and testing their abdominal strength during a limbo session at the Lemon Lounge.

At the tree-lined Lush Life stage, festival goers tap into exploratory music from some of Britain’s alternative rising stars. George Riley performs a set of intimate, jazz-tinged electronic R&B, Hackney rapper John Glacier showcases her nonchalant rap poetics and Welsh producer Koreless finds a middle point between brain-melting electronic and slow-burning ambient. Not every local upstart gets a smooth run: A set by buzzy techno duo Two Shell at the Rhythm Corner stage comes to a halt only a few tracks in due to supposed power issues, prompting boos from those keen to kickstart their weekend. “Transmission is back,” a robotic voice calls out some 40 minutes later – then it’s back to business.

Gilles Peterson performing on the main stage at We Out Here festival.
Gilles Peterson performing on the main stage at We Out Here festival. Photograph: Nigel R Glasgow/Alamy

Thursday night’s clashes are enough to break up a friendship group: is one to see celebrated junglist Tim Reaper or techno producer Parris? Birmingham selector Jossy Mitsu or Overmono? Thankfully, powerhouse New York duo Masters at Work, celebrating 25 years of their Latin dance project Nuyorican Soul, prove a great unifier. Their heartwarming set, in front of an idyllic lake backdrop, sees kids dancing with their parents and friends bounding into each other’s arms.

It’s not the only anniversary celebration this weekend: electronic label Hessle Audio is here celebrating 15 years, while Total Refreshment Centre, the cultural hub that’s nurtured many of the jazz acts playing, is marking its 10th birthday with a Friday night Lush Life stage takeover. Other tastemaking labels and DJs get a chance to curate small sections of the festival, too, such as Touching Bass – the London club night, record label and artist hub – as well as Josey Rebelle, whose Saturday night takeover includes an adrenaline-fuelled set from speed fiend Sherelle. Best of all is grime originator D Double E and artist collective Steam Down’s one-off link-up at the cosy Hennessey tent, a raucous weekend highlight that has attendees talking it up long after the set is over.

Related: Charles & Eddie’s Eddie Chacon: ‘It took me 10 years to recover from being a one-hit wonder’

On the festival’s main stage, 90s R&B legend Eddie Chacon is a clear standout. Running through unreleased material and highlights from his 2020 record Pleasure, Joy and Happiness, Chacon’s enthusiasm is infectious, his printed shirt and wide grin radiant. Chacon compliments an audience member on their bright shirt before praising the talents and stamina of his bandmates. Performing the title track of Pleasure, Joy and Happiness, Chacon brings out Los Angeles pianist John Carroll Kirby, who helped restore Chacon’s career – yet another marker of the festival’s collaborative spirit.

At its core, We Out Here is a showcase of the brightest talents in UK jazz, and they’re here in abundance this weekend. Emma-Jean Thackray, Nala Sinephro and the Comet Is Coming all grace the main stage, with the latter group laying down a suitably cosmic set featuring frenetic material from their forthcoming album. The Comet Is Coming create a palpable air of excitement ahead of Underground Resistance, the pioneering anti-corporate Detroit techno label founded by Mike Banks, Robert Hood and Jeff Mills. The iteration of Underground Resistance that graces We Out Here features a turntablist, synths, and saxophone, and they’re clearly thrilled to be here, expressing admiration for the UK’s love for Motor City sounds.

They’re not the only artists keen to show their love for this festival and its audience: on stage, drum’n’bass veterans Fabio and Grooverider say We Out Here is “one of the best”. Just three years into the festival’s existence, it’s cultivated a strong identity that many of its stalwart UK peers could stand to learn from.