The first ever Big Smoke Festival sets the bar high

A cypher, a Skepta DJ set in the rain, and football on the main stage – here's what happened at Big Smoke Festival 2024

British summertime is more elusive than ever lately, with most of us having to leave the house prepared for a battle with thunderstorms – if we even leave the house at all in these conditions. But the weather didn’t stop grime and house fans alike on 6 July, as crowds came down to Crystal Palace park in their thousands for the inaugural Big Smoke Festival.

The brainchild of MC and cultural figure Skepta, Big Smoke’s first foray into the growing programme of UK summer festivals was a triumph. It was a testament to Skepta’s wide cultural reach as fans of all ages and backgrounds were in attendance, from diehard early grime fans to young people attending their first big festival. There was a palpable sense of community that you could feel in every area of the grounds, accentuated by playful signage reminding festival goers to stay hydrated, look out for each other, respect consent, and “leave the mixing to the DJs”.

JME at Big Smoke Festival 2024

The set times were closely kept, and heavy hitters Mahalia, JME, Lancey and more being early on in the schedule meant that fans arrived for a full day of music on the Big Smoke and Más Tiempo stages. Skepta himself bookended the festival as the opener on the Más Tiempo stage with a DJ set playing house classics such as ‘Show Me Love’ by Robin S., and a closing set on the Big Smoke Stage that saw him joined by his brother JME for ‘That’s Not Me’ and R2R Moe for ‘Miss Independent’. The community spirit was a thread through each artist’s set, with Jammer playing fellow Más Tiempo artist Ossie’s ‘Dreams’ during his DJ set, and The Streets’ Mike Skinner giving a shoutout to “Mr Adenuga” (Skepta) in between songs during their main stage performance. There was even an impromptu cypher in the VIP Village, reminiscent of the days of Channel U, where rapper Manga Saint Hilare delivered his second (and spontaneous) performance of the day.

Big Smoke Festival 2024

And when the sun finally came out, it shone down as England won the quarter final match against Switzerland – all shown on the big screen on the Big Smoke stage with its own designated set time. For non-football fans, or for people who wanted to keep the party going despite the tension of penalties in the air, Loco Dice brought a taste of his Ibiza residency tech house to close out the Más Tiempo stage. With two huge food stall areas, ice cream vans in every corner and music spanning a multitude of genres – amapiano, baile funk, afrobeats, classic house, grime, drill and more – Big Smoke felt like an international family reunion turned festival, and in Skepta’s own words, “this is only the beginning”.

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