City Splash 2024 review by David Katz

Despite our sluggish post-pandemic recovery, Britain’s summer festival scene has grown exponentially with each passing year. As festival packages become more diverse and attract bigger names for their headliners, local town councils have warmed to the concept, staging myriad events in popular districts as a way of subsidising other events and general services. During the last few years, City Splash has morphed from a peripheral bash on the outskirts to become one of the year’s most anticipated events, with an array of stages, stars galore, and inflated entry prices to match. There is no doubting the professionalism with which the festival is run, and the lineup trumps those of the competition, the downside being the high costs and the slight sidelining of community spirit. This year’s event had bad weather to contend with too, turning City Splash into Mud Splash for much of the day.

Photo by City Splash @nanaking

Founded by Ben Ryan and Jah Bigs of RockersLDN, City Splash’s first location was Beckenham Place Park, a beautiful and huge green space in the suburban setting of Beckenham, southeast London. With no underground station nearby, getting there was hard without a car, though the debut event in 2021 with Barrington Levy had good attendance. In any case, moving to Brockwell Park in Brixton the following year was the right move. Now City Splash is in the heart and soul of Black London, an area with a longstanding Jamaican expatriate community that is easily reachable by tube from anywhere in London. That year’s event with Protoje, Kabaka Pyramid, Stonebwoy, and Luciano was thoroughly excellent, and it made City Splash the talk of the town. The festival became part of a chain of events that last a couple of weeks, culminating in the two-day Lambeth Country Show, a free festival put on by the council that shares the stages put in place for City Splash and related events such as Cross The Tracks.

I missed last year’s event with Chronixx and Koffee and had high hopes for City Splash 2024, but the torrential rain caused real problems; the site was hit by a deluge that lasted for several hours, destroying much of the grass in the park and making it hugely difficult to get from one stage to another; revellers in their finest dancehall gear got covered in mud and many an audience member inevitably fell over. Mitigating aids such as rubber ramps and woodchips were not applied until after the event and with much of the site in the open air, there was nowhere to hide. The heavy rains and lack of nearby parking made it hard to reach the site and with 30,000 people in the crowd, getting into the venue was no mean feat either.

Photo by City Splash @nanaking

I arrived in time to catch a bit of Beenie Man’s boisterous and energetic set, which was exceedingly loud, reaching all points of the site; I am told that Busy Signal went for the explicit and that a high-stepping Anthony B kept it cultural whilst delving into the dancehall side of his persona. I was hoping to catch some of Saxon on the Rampage stage but when I got there, someone else was playing somewhat generic dancehall so it time for a slippery slide down to Channel One, where Mikey Dread was on fine form, playing an engaging mix of old and new reggae and dub, aided and abetted by toaster Mackie Banton and singjay Ras Sherby. It was a beautiful vibe in the session, and even a Rasta woman who had fallen in the mud was having a great time; Channel One are mainstays of the festival with their own stage, and their set was a definite highlight, despite a few sound issues which were soon sorted. Mackie delivered his clever rhymes right from inside the audience, keeping things at street level for longtime fans. I am told that Iration Steppas and Mad Professor delivered quality sets in the same arena, but the rain and mud put paid to that before I got there.

Photo by City Splash METTY

With navigation so difficult, I missed Trinidadian Rasta artist Queen Omega, junglist General Levy, dancehall maven Shenseea, and Ayanna Heaven on the Issy Bossy stage, though I was heartened that there were some heartical Rastafari drummers holding a groundation in a small tent, keeping the community spirit alive. Veteran promoter and sound man Cecil Reuben has his own stage at the festival – one of the few covered areas on site – which also kept its community spirit intact, and I was very pleased to catch Iqulah’s intense live set there, backed by members of London roots band Royal Sounds. Having collaborated with Junior Gong and Stephen Marley, as well as Jimmy Cliff’s cousin Sipho Merritt, Iqulah has been making music since the mid-1980s and has his own style of classical roots; the full band with two keyboard players and a spirited percussionist, as well as guitar, bass, drums and backing vocals, gave a warm and well-rounded backdrop. However, the PA failed at one point, forcing a premature end to the set, but the quality roots had everyone skanking on their feet, a strong response for an artist whose work is worthy of a larger audience.

Photo by City Splash

As Capleton delivered his set in full fireman mode on the main stage, it was time to make a cautious way to the exit, but even leaving City Splash was difficult on this occasion, due to the treacherous mud and maximum audience numbers; a bottleneck made the retreat feel a bit iffy in times, reminding that contingency measures were a bit lacking for inclement weather.

Advance tickets for City Splash 2025 are already selling fast and the festival will certainly sell out well in advance; here’s hoping for better weather for the next edition!

By David Katz

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *