From running free parties around the outskirts of London to organising their own boutique festival headlined by none other than progressive house legend Sasha, Warm Up have come a long way in a short space of time. I wandered down to Bygrave Woods to get a little lost and found something rather special going on in amongst the golden fields of sunflowers.

Blink and you might think you have descended through the looking glass or perhaps voyaged into outer space and landed directly on Pandora. Seas of luminescent octopuses, multi-coloured mankinis, men in shark suits and outrageous Sunday catwalk sessions were all some of the sights that confronted my senses as I journeyed around Bygrave Wood. This would all be entertainment enough but it was also soundtracked by the real draw; a killer lineup of DJs from around the world and some of the capital’s sharpest resident DJs.

Rewind five years and you would find Warm Up running free parties around London; hidden locations, last-minute reveals and the word was this independent collaborative were creating something special, with a communal spirit that recaptured the halcyon days of acid house and an atmosphere that could not be matched across the capital. I first got wind of things when a friend invited me to come and sample one of their raves on the edge of the North Circular. Several visits later and I was hooked on the kaleidoscopic colours, adventurous abandon and welcoming vibe that stamped its impression on me. What became clear were that residents were at the heart of Warm Up, with the likes of founder Aiden Doherty taking centre stage. The party had an international following with London’s unique melting pot providing a truly mixed and inclusive community of loyal followers. Soon they were attracting major names from the melodic house and techno community as headliners for their daytime warehouse events but the pull was still the residents and ‘that’ special atmosphere.

When they launched their venture onto the festival circuit last year it was clear this philosophy of respecting their community and developing their own hub of residents and associated artists would be the crucial foundation of the event. Numbers were limited to three thousand tickets and big names were shunned in favour of talented emerging artists. Artistic coherency combined with an eye for detail, helped Warm Up stand out in a year when many struggled. It was fair to say that their first year was a roaring success but it remained to be seen whether this momentum could be built upon in a year which had seen festivals pulled at short notice in an undeniably harsh post-Covid market.

With a full three days of hedonistic abandon ahead of them, one could be forgiven for thinking that Thursday night would be a fairly restrained affair with energy being conserved for the weekend ahead. However, it seemed the Warm Up contingent and headliner Just Her had other ideas. The latter’s exuberant three-hour closing set really did set the tone for the weekend with the tribal stomp of Kaz James ‘Footprints’ bringing the house down towards the tail end of a driving set of melodic house and breaks. A ball of energy behind the decks, Just Her was welcomed back to the main stage like an old friend (she performed last year) and her effortless ability to straddle genres and reconstruct them into a coherent emotional journey seemed to perfectly capture the party spirit of the whole festival. Hands were raised and even a few tears were shed before we all descended back into the starry night wondering how on earth it could be topped and what tomorrow would bring.

Image credit: Jake Davis

Fortunately, Friday brought more great DJs in the shape of Teutonic duo Frankey and Sandrino who brought their own brand of muscular melodic electronics to proceedings. Their set was consummately professional but the sense of fun that pervaded the festival was never far away and they even slipped in a cheeky edit of Queen’s ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ lighting up the dance floor as the sun began to set through the encircling trees. As day turned to night Magit Cacoon set the nocturnal vibe with hypnotic late-night techno and shimmering post-trance house before taking a left turn for a strangely enjoyable Phil Collins edit. Konstan Sibold rounded things off with a precise but brutal set of throbbing Kompakt-style techno culminating in the Kevin De Vries Afterlife smash ‘Dance With Me’. Meanwhile, over on the Annex stage after an impressive set from co-founder Muther, Warm Up pairing Aiden Doherty and Jorge Martins were enjoying their back-to-back so much that Doherty’s father even joined them on stage for a celebratory dance.

Saturday brought out some big hitters notably in the form of Patrice Baumel, who headlined The House stage with a set of dynamic melodic techno but perhaps the most joyous and well-received highlight came from Eagles and Butterflies in a set which took the crowd from the eighties inspired electro to non-stop italo-influenced pumpers. Doherty himself raised the roof with an extended four-hour set which drew on the roots of the festival even throwing in a smattering of trance and progressive classics much to the delight of the enthusiastic crowd. Indeed Sunday would see Doherty return again this time back to back with Baumel but it was headliner Sasha who stole the show with a technically flawless performance of tough techno and house that went straight for the jugular. Upbeat from the off, his three-hour set fairly breezed past, dropping the dancefloor into a frenzy for Audion’s ‘Mouth To Mouth’ and mixing up sharp new material with some lesser-known classics from the vaults. The reception was rapturous and it rounded off a brilliant festival which showcased some of the best in electronic music. The overall programming and coherency of the festival was admirable and intrinsic to its fabric was a much more balanced ratio of female to male artists than can be at other comparable events. The likes of Magic Cocoon, Just Her, Timanti, Nadia and indeed Muther herself show that the festival is determined to carefully curate an inclusive and exciting lineup rather than simply conforming to the same old names to pull numbers.

That being said it was clear that Warm Up was about more than just the music. The wellbeing area was busy all weekend with everything from Reiki to Yoga on offer, tired limbs could book in a massage and if you were lucky enough to be in the boutique camping you would even get a Bloody Mary delivered to your tent. The nurturing spirit of the festival was perhaps summed up by the messages adorned around the site ‘Home is where the house is’ which encapsulated the sense of family and community which was integral to the event. They certainly act as timely reminders in these divided times that our electronic music scene at its very best offers connection and acceptance in an increasingly insular world. So take a stroll in the sunflowers, get a little lost in the words and you might just find some friends to walk you home along the way.

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