Leaf 2015 – A Reflection

Art & Culture

After a year of absence in 2014, LEAF returned last weekend, taking up residence at their new home Tobacco Dock, Wapping. Billed as "a two-day cultural celebration of electronic music, art, technology and digital futurism", DJ and Bestival co-founder Rob da Bank curated a series of talks, workshops and performances by some of the key figures within the scene.

Taking up one side of the first floor at Tobacco Dock, LEAF Day 1 was divided up into the Pennington Room where arguably the biggest talks of the day occurred; the Wapping Room which presented a range of films and interviews; the Point Blank Performance Masterclasses Room where a cross section of producers came to speak about their workflow; and the Native Instruments Room, showcasing the latest advancements from the NI camp. 

Undoubtedly one of the biggest draws of the weekend, a 3 hour "Unmoderated, Uncensored and Unlimited" by Nile Rodgers. Nile spoke with great candour and modesty about his work, his life and his inspirations. He offered pearls of wisdom such as "Music for me, is not perfect, it's malleable…. it changes over time" and straight up zingers: "If I haven't practised for one day, I know it. If I haven't practised for two days, you know it. I haven't practised for three days…. But usually I'm smoking".  

The Pennington Room also featured talks by some of the UK's top labels both old and new, with RAM Records, Ninja Tune and Black Butter Records discussing the pros and cons, challenges and victories of running a label. Following on from her BBC documentary, B.Traits hosted a panel discussing the serious but very relevant issue of drug use, the purity of drugs available, legal highs and how to prevent drug related fatalities. Overall there was a feeling of frustration over the way the UK government and police force are dealing with drug use and the panel felt there could be safer, more efficient ways of working collaboratively to save lives.   

The Point Blank Room had a few difficulties throughout the day with Sasha unable to make his 11am workshop and DJ Hype hospitalised, also unable to make his slot (we were told he is okay). Ironically they also suffered sound issues over the course of the day with loud cracks and pops intermittently blasting through the room. However, speakers Ben Pearce, Busy P and Dusky proved popular with punters as they shared their knowledge and experience of the industry.  

Perhaps the most varied programme of the day took place in the Wapping Room where subjects as diverse as overcoming obstacles and giant mechanical spiders were discussed. Certainly one of the more intimate rooms, speakers discussed subjects based on their own experience and from a personal perspective. The day's proceedings ended with two legendary interviews: 808 State's Graham Massey interviewed by Modeselektor and DJ Harvey interviewed by Rob da Bank. The artist to artist format proved successful in the way it gave a particular insight into the world of working musicians from a perspective of shared experience and understanding.  

In the Native Instruments Room, representatives talked us through the latest innovations coming out of the company and how to make the most of them in DJ and production settings. I didn't spend a lot of time in this room however punters I spoke to said they thought there was a little too much pressure from the speakers to buy the latest gadgets.  

On Day 2 LEAF moved to the other side of the Tobacco Dock for the 'Club' portion of the programme. A stellar line up of DJs from the 4/4 end of the spectrum took over three rooms from 12 til 11 and served up a plethora of beats and bass.  

Playing a little too early, Tale of Us smashed apart the LWE room with their signature brand of melodic, banging techno. In the Sunday Best Room, complete with balloons and streamers, DJ Harvey brought the festival vibe by playing some chunky disco numbers. Downstairs at Second State, Modeselektor mixed total headfuckery with banging techno, followed by Pan-Pot who banged out something fierce.  

The price of drinks inexplicably increased 50p overnight between the conversation and club sections of the programme and moved to that annoying ticketing system. I understand why this is done but it is painful to have to line up to buy tickets before lining up to exchange them for drinks. The food offer could have been better with fairly slim pickings available over the two days, but Union Street Café making an appearance was a plus. The Pro Ticket also seemed somewhat flawed with not enough goody bags to go around to those who had paid extra to gain the perks.  

It's not a perfectly formed festival but LEAF is definitely on its way to filling the gaping hole in London's electronic music scene. It seems criminal that despite London's place within the world of dance music that there is no offer to rival ADE in Amsterdam or IMS in Ibiza. I applaud Rob da Bank and his team for taking steps to introduce such a festival celebrating London's iconic status and hopefully over the years the festival will get bigger, better and even more varied.