The moment the world's biggest dance music festival came to Hylands Park, Chelmsford
It doesn’t take being towed back to London from Cheshire, home to the original Creamfields site, to appreciate the vast distance between them. But having had that happen in 2008, it underlines it. So it was a blessing for fans of the Liverpool-born brand that in 2022, after hosting events in as disparate and far flung locations as China, Australia and Romania, Creamfields ventured into previously uncharted territory: the south of England.
With the Daresbury-based event, launched in 2006 and taking place in August, rebranded Creamfields North, Creamfields South offers not just a different location but also a festival season starting poll-position at the end May. And this year it proved canny timing, landing just at the first blush of summer swept away what had seemed like an eternal winter.
Held in Chelmsford’s Hylands Park, Friday marked the beginning of the month’s third and final bank holiday weekend, all of which has lent May an air of hedonism. And with Creamfields scattered with frankly terrifying looking fairground rides, such as Vertigo and Reverse Bungee, each blasting out their own music between the four official stages, there’s a heady carnival atmosphere from the off.
On the huge outdoor Arc, home to the festival’s headliners, Becky Hill and band are blasting covers of ‘You’ve Got The Love’ and ‘Mighty Real’ in the glorious early evening sun – a woman selling crispy duck wraps on the surrounding ring of food stalls joining in with full gusto. Over at Lovejuice, meanwhile, one of two huge tents, Sammy Porter is laying down shuffly grooves for those preferring the shade, the jaunty keys of Pawsa’s ‘Room Service’ segueing into Club Caviar’s preternaturally pumped remix of Lock ‘N Load’s ‘Blow Ya Mind’.
Runway, the other outdoor stage, has a weekend long tech-house leaning, Solardo closing out an Abode takeover – a reminder of the link between Essex and East London’s club scene. A whirl of influences, their set is peppered with 80’s New York house stabs, 90’s Dutch vocals and 2000’s French acid squiggles, a version of Corona’s ‘Rhythm Of The Night’ powered by Italo-esque synths.
The night’s big draw, however, is Tiësto, a ‘90s trance superstar who somehow managed to grow even bigger during America’s EDM explosion. Putting the Arc’s impressive tech spec through its paces, it’s not a good time to discover your plus one has a phobia of fireworks. Flanked by two giant LED screens working overtime, it’s like entering a 90s visualiser on bonfire night as the German cycles though electro house, trance, drum and bass and hardstyle in an exhilarating rush of sensory overload. As the final notes of ‘Adagio For Strings’ fade away, the lights dim and the LEDs screens switch to the times of everyone’s last train home, a jolt back to mundane reality and a rush for the exits.
Saturday’s sunburn is testament to the luxurious weather as the site becomes noticeably busier than the previous day. It’s still early evening, but Nation – the tent named after Cream’s original venue – is rammed for Carl Cox’s hybrid set; lasers and 90s-flavoured techno transporting us back to The Courtyard. Outside in the sunshine, Annie Mac closes her set at Arc with Tina Tuner’s ‘Rolling On The River’ in tribute to the recently passed star, one of many moments uniting the Creamfields’ crowd in song.
A whistlestop early evening whizz around takes in Serum’s savage bass contortions, a drum and bass version of ‘Freak Like Me’ accompanied by fizzing visuals in Lovejuice, before Chase & Status pack it out with their distinctive take on ragga jungle and d&b. Alan Fitzpatrick & wAFF, meanwhile, are hammering out a chunky version of Moloko’s ‘Sing It Back’ between the towers of Runway – so called because of an LED screen that extends high above the dancefloor – before Jamie Jones follows with dark house infused with pitched down vocals.
The tidal wave of people heading towards Arc for Calvin Harris’ headlining set is a clear indication of who most people are here to see though. As blue lights criss-cross high above the stage and camera phones fill the air, the words to tracks such as ‘I Need Your Love’ and ‘Blame’ are mouthed wherever you turn. And as in real life, there’s no escape even if you want it. Stepping in to hear Nina Kraviz in Nation, you can still see the distant ice cannons through the tent entrance, Calvin’s voice shouting, “I want to see your hands in the air”, even bleeds in during a quiet breakdown. In the end, we step out in time for his nod to Essex’s hardcore history, ‘Hypnagogic (I Can’t Wait)’, his Peech Boys-sampling piano breakbeat anthem released under the name Love Regenerator.
Sunday’s line-up suggests a backloading of big name acts to prevent any last day exodus. But with Monday a bank holiday anyway, the crowd and DJs are still peaking. Back at Lovejuice Wilkinson is dropping cuts as sharp as his namesake, Sub Focus & Dimension’s ‘Desire’ taking everyone higher as his audience, spilling out the tent in every direction, chants the bassline. Over at Runway, Ben Hemsley plays our set of the festival for a takeover by fellow Geordie Patrick Topping‘s Trick label. Building from a duo of his own clearly familiar house tracks, ‘Through 2 You’ and ‘Please Playboy’, he works through the gears of 90s hard house and trance to peak on Calvin Harris’ own take on this sound, current number one ‘Miracle’ featuring Ellie Goulding.
Creamfields signs off with a choice between Fatboy Slim and Swedish House Mafia going head to head on adjacent stages. It’s the latter back on tour nearly a decade after they split though, leading to an emotional return all round. In the midst of a finale that includes hits ‘Don’t You Worry Child’ and ‘Save The World’, Steve Angello declares: “We love you. Do you maybe love us a little bit?” A sea of face singing along to every word suggests the affirmative.