REVIEW: Cosmic Roots Festival 2021

Festivals are often projected as holistic experiences, where each aspect of an event has been thoughtfully considered, planned and executed. Whilst social media accounts might wax lyrical about seamless production or sound design, it’s unlikely that the word prescient would be widely used in any kind of marketing copy. 

Photography by Saul Asghar

Defined as “having knowledge of events or desires before they take place”, this seems an apt description of Cosmic Roots as a whole. Based at a six acre walled garden with a dilapidated cottage at its centre, the festival’s four singular stages (Pond Life, The Quadrant, Wormhole, Tropicle Popsicle) were spread either within or just outside of the estate’s perimeter, with camping concentrated in one field a short walk from Pond Life.

Emphasis should be given to the word short – the beauty of Cosmic Roots is that getting to and from anywhere onsite took no more than five minutes. Late night journeys back to the tent for a few cans were an absolute breeze, although the tangible sense of community in the campsite often resulted in an elongated route back to the music. 

Photography by Saul Asghar

Last weekend felt like consistently having one’s expectations subverted but never in a way that was unsettling or unnerving. Rather, it was refreshing to spend a weekend at a festival that always felt one step ahead of the curve, aware of what was needed in that precise moment before you even recognised it yourself.

That could be a figurative arm around the shoulder, trusting that a nap on a Pond Life sofa might soothe any hangover and gently get you moving again. A few hours later you might find yourself lounging around in the grass by The Quadrant, sipping bloody marys with strangers and basking in the afternoon warmth. And, when the sun did eventually go down, the walled garden was the perfect place to just wander around, doing laps of the estate and taking in different, sublime details each time.

Photography by Saul Asghar

East Raynham’s site deserves special mention, not least because it managed to exceed already considerable expectations – the production team transformed an idyllic natural environment into something that was magical, particularly at night. From the dazzling canopy of luminous trees and installations at Wormhole, to the tranquil metamorphosing tower in the east of the site, the space was abound with mesmeric embellishments, before any of the stages are considered and the array of artists that played over the weekend.

Photography by Saul Asghar

Each stage initially appeared to be distinguished by some identifiable sound but it became apparent that rather than being associated with a specific genre, the names playing were given free will to show the full and varied extent of their record collection. Take Tropicle Popsicle as one example, the first and final venue visited by our group. After arriving on Thursday afternoon and watching Sisu Crew’s Shauna lay down a footwork edit of Depeche Mode, not only did we know Cosmic Roots was off to a flyer, but we felt this would probably be the place for something quick and intense later in the evening. 

Fast forward 48 hours and under the same tent, couples were showing off their finest salsa moves to the rhythms of Marshmello and Minus Kendall as they rounded off the weekend with a range of contemporary jazz. It’s hard to say how many festival stages would be able to get away with playing these disparate styles over a short space of time, but with such high quality DJing, backed up by a willing crowd, it completely worked.

Photography by Saul Asghar

Wormhole was similar in this regard, with an immersive and euphoric light display which left more than a few members of the crowd open-mouthed at times; a stage where the likes of Kiara Scuro and Tim Reaper had laid down some incredible high tempo sets on consecutive evenings, yet on the final day was also the scene for one of the most restrained and poised performances of the entire weekend.

Space Afrika’s live show was a special moment during Cosmic Roots 2021. A time to pause, take a breath and think about to what extent live music like this has been missed over the last 18 months. At a festival with more than its fair share of bangers, it was incredibly moving to see two artists strip everything back to an absolute minimum, to almost revel in the absence of sound for the majority of that one hour. It was a glorious set and at least to this writer’s ears the unquestionable highlight of the festival. 

Photography by Saul Asghar

Similarly, Pond Life served as another reaching arm of respite amidst the mayhem, a counterpoint to the formidable production and larger crowds at Wormhole and Tropicle Popsicle. This was a small-cap listening stage, equipped with sofas, chairs and most importantly a brilliant soundsystem. 

The intimate setup was the perfect environment for the likes of Brilliant Corners founder Aneesh and UK legend Frankie Valentine to put their wax to work. When the soundsystem is exquisite and the crowd is committed, all you really need is a stellar record collection – a sentiment which seems to sum up the festival’s ethos as a whole.

Photography by Saul Asghar

The organisers gave the lineup a flawless canvas to express themselves and every single artist that played made their mark. It was easy to lose count of the times you found yourself sitting around The Quadrant, in some ways the nub and beating heart of Cosmic Roots, hearing a tune and having to stand up, dance and move closer before it vanished into the ether again.

Some of the weekend’s happiest moments were spent like that: nowhere in particular to be, whiling the hours away and waiting to see where the festival would take you next.

Photography by Saul Asghar

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