Skepta’s Big Smoke Festival: Sets, showers and celebrations in South London

By Cam Howe

“You know, big smoke… it’s a nickname for London,” Skepta and Jammer said in their Capital XTRA interview back in December. “This could be THE London festival if we get it correct.”

On July 6, the Mas Tiempo pair and a host of other artists took over Crystal Palace Park for the inaugural Big Smoke Festival.

Despite the wet weather, the day kicked off with a nice variety of sounds on the main Big Smoke Stage, including Janelle Wynter, Odumodublvck and Frisco’s The Den.

Skepta brought an energy that even the sudden downpours couldn’t dampen (Picture: Cam Howe)

Over on the Mas Tiempo stage, early DJ sets from the Menendez Brothers and Skepta himself brought an energy that even the sudden downpours couldn’t dampen.

JME worked through his discography at a manic tempo that brought in a big early-afternoon crowd.

Mahalia was up next, leading the crowd in a two-step and a sing-a-long, and for a brief window between showers the sun peaked through, revealing the Crystal Palace tower and lines of flats on the South London horizon.

Crystal Palace Park felt like a fitting location for this South of the River celebration. In its heyday, the old Crystal Palace Bowl hosted a number of huge acts, including The Who, Elton John, Pink Floyd, and even Bob Marley – his biggest and, sadly, last UK appearance.

The Bowl has since been mostly inactive, having fallen into a state of disrepair. Thankfully, this local landmark is now on the mend due to a recent #BackTheBowl crowdfunding campaign.

England Vs Switzerland was aired at the festival to tense crowds (Picture: Cam Howe)

The history of the park was marked by the inclusion of YG Marley on the lineup, who honoured his grandfather’s legacy by covering some of his timeless tunes.

This was when the rain finally eased up a bit, just in time for England to once again put our blood pressure to the test. For those not fussed about watching the football, the likes of Jammer, Syreeta, and Loco Dice on the Mas Tiempo Stage were a welcome alternative.

Despite an agonising extra time and penalty shootout, England won – cue the flailing limbs and beer spray – and it was time for The Streets. Mike Skinner brought a much- needed calming aura: “Relax,” he instructed the crowd. “We won the football. Go to the bar, get a drink, and enjoy.”

Skinner wasted no time getting in amongst the crowd, and even promised a grand to anyone who could hit the drum-kit with a football – no one managed it, despite some good efforts.

Skinner acknowledged the importance of the South London setting: “If you’re not from South London, pretend like you are today. Pretend you had Morley’s for breakfast.”

 Flames, strobes, and fireworks close off the finale of Big Smoke Festival (Picture: Cam Howe)

While there sadly wasn’t a Morley’s stand present, Big Smoke was the perfect platform for independent food vendors. From French-Caribbean – Bokitla – to seafood platters – What’s on the menu ish? – to Sri Lankan rice bowls – Ceylon & Beyond – there was a bit of everything for everyone.

Finally, it was time for the man behind it all to take to the stage. Skepta’s setlist demonstrated his versatility, moving from grime with ‘Same S**t Different Day’, ‘That’s Not Me’ with his brother JME, to some of his more danceable songs including ‘Gas Me Up’, to trap on his ‘It Ain’t Safe’ track and afrobeat with ‘Tony Montana’ and ‘Energy’.

R2R Moe, Nafe Smalls and Chip all made guest appearances, and the production on the Big Smoke Stage added to the performance’s headliner feel – flames, strobes, and even fireworks to close off his final song, ‘Praise the Lord’.

If Saturday was anything to go by, Big Smoke may be a not-to-be-missed event in the London festival calendar for years to come.

Pictured top: YG Marley performs at the Big Smoke festival (Picture: Cam Howe)

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Everyone at the South London Press thanks you for your continued support.

Former Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing:


If you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can make a donation which will allow us to continue to bring stories to you, both in print and online. Or please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ

Leave a Reply

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

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.