The sound of south London: Giles Napier Q&A
London’s electronic music scene has grown in recent years, as large capacity, high production value festivals and events have popped up all around the capital. IQ speaks to one festival director competing with such events, while maintaining the ethos that an “intimate party vibe” is best.
Giles Napier is the director of GALA, an independent day festival taking place in south London with a focus on classic house and disco music, as well as local craft food and drink.
Launched in 2016, GALA’s first home was in Brockwell Park but has since moved to its new location in Peckham Rye Park. The event aims to retain its small, independent nature, competing with many bigger festivals with ample corporate backing.
As London’s festival scene continues to grow, IQ speaks to Napier about the inspirations behind GALA, why the festival won’t increase its capacity, and how to carve a space in London’s competitive music scene.
How did GALA originate?
I met my business partner and co-founder of GALA, Jonny Edwards, around eight years ago whilst at University in Newcastle [UK]. Jonny gave me a job flyering for a big electronic music night called Zap at [1,400-cap. nightclub] Digital and I very quickly became intoxicated with the club scene up there.
After a year or so, Jonny handed me the keys to Zap while he focused on other projects and I haven’t really looked back since. Once we’d both made the move down to London in 2015, it wasn’t really a question of if we were going to continue throwing parties together, but when.
Thankfully Lambeth Council were very receptive when we approached them about doing a festival in Brockwell Park and after several months of knocking our heads together and forming some strong partnerships with various friends within the south London music and food scenes, GALA was born.
“We want all our guests to have a more rounded experience where lasting memories are made throughout, not just from the bigger dance-floor moments”
How would you describe the essence of GALA and the type of fan the festival is aiming to attract?
GALA is an independent, music-led day festival that also celebrates some of south London’s best-loved breweries, chefs and restaurants, as well as record labels and parties. Our music policy is driven by a love of classic house and disco and a fascination with iconic clubbing institutions from the ’70s and ’80s, such as New York’s Paradise Garage and Chicago’s The Warehouse. I think that’s probably one of the main reasons we’re recognised for being such an open and inclusive event with a particularly well-spirited crowd.
In terms of the type of fan we attract – open-minded people is all we’re after. Obviously it helps if you appreciate good food and drink, and our specific music taste, but there really isn’t a particular demographic that we’re marketing to.
What I would say is that all our guests are encouraged to come early – have a nice lunch in the park, enjoy some locally brewed beer, explore the site and make a full day of it! It’s not an all-out party from start to finish, we want all our guests to have a more rounded experience where lasting memories are made throughout, not just from the bigger dance-floor moments.
How does GALA compete in the increasingly saturated urban festival scene?
What I really hope people take away from the GALA experience is the attention to detail in everything we do – from bespoke stage design, to the sound, to the countless number of hay bales transported by tractors all the way down from Essex!
You won’t find any big top tents in Peckham Rye Park – we really want everything to feel as honest and natural as possible. We pump most of the budget into the festival’s production elements across all areas rather than top-end artist fees, ensuring people come back more for the quality of experience as opposed to just seeing a particular ‘big name’ act.
“The intimate nature of GALA is something we will always protect, even though financially it might make much more sense to increase the number of guests”
How is the festival suited to its home in Peckham Rye Park?
I often find it hard not to romanticise about Peckham Rye Park! It has a huge amount of natural beauty and a cosy feel that is almost unheard of in other London parks, and it therefore fits in perfect harmony with the intimate party vibe we always wanted to achieve with GALA.
In terms of the area, Peckham has a tight-knit passionate music community which we’re proud to be contributing to and a brilliant independent food and drink scene, so it really does work brilliantly for us on every level.
What does the future hold in store for GALA and, more broadly, London’s electronic music scene in general?
We would love to add a second day to GALA somewhere down the line, but we have no ambition or intention of increasing the current capacity or footprint of the festival. The intimate nature of GALA is something we treasure and will always protect, even though financially it might make much more sense to increase the number of guests.
In terms of the future of London’s scene… I’ll try and keep this as concise as possible! The electronic music landscape in the city seems to be continually shifting towards larger-scale, big production-value events and somewhat away from the traditional clubbing scene.
The answer as to why is as contentious as it is complex. However, I think the power and prevalence of social media, as well as healthier living amongst the younger generations and the well-documented lack of protection from London authorities for nightlife in the city, are perhaps the biggest reasons for the change.
Hopefully, this will balance itself out over time and both can thrive alongside one another. We have some of the finest nightclubs in the world, but the festival industry has so much corporate backing at the moment it’s becoming a lot harder to operate venues in the city.
GALA takes places on Sunday 26 May in Peckham Rye Park. Information regarding tickets and line-up can be found here.