It’s the first weekend of June and some huge events are taking place in the Scottish city of Glasgow. Local heroes Celtic have beaten Inverness 3-1 in the cup final at Hampden Park — a world-record treble that’s made the atmosphere electric. Temperatures, meanwhile, are nearing 30°C — a rarity in a city famed for its grey skies and rainy days. And no-one is happier about the weather than the team, artists and crowds descending on the Riverside Museum for this year’s Riverside Festival (RF), who after last year’s overcast conditions have never been more ready for a weekend of sunshine, house and techno.
To really understand the significance of a festival like Riverside, you have to look at how it came to be. With Scotland’s strict licensing laws to contend with — and the loss of venues like The Arches and the Art School — Glasgow’s nightlife has faced much uncertainty over the years. The electronic music community in the city is concentrated, and Riverside started life as a new venture between old colleagues.
“Riverside Festival was spawned from the Electric Frog Festival, which took place at SWG3 in the early days of the venue,” festival co-director Mark Mackechnie explains. “From there, the collaboration with Pressure [Slam’s club night] formed and Riverside was born. We were the first dedicated festival of its ilk in Scotland that was based on the European model of taking nightclub music into an outdoor environment — that hadn’t really been done before.” Fast forward 10 years — and headline performances from the likes of Jamie xx, Andrew Weatherall, Floorplan, Amelie Lens and Disclosure — and DJ Mag are in attendance for the 2023 edition.
Riverside’s urban location immediately sets it apart from other festivals of its kind. When DJ Mag arrives at the sun-soaked, waterfront site, we speak with the Riverside Museum staff, who tell us that the museum remains open for business while the weekender takes place. It’s a truly unique experience and setting, and it feels particularly Glaswegian: that sense of community and unity and pushing through.
From the second the doors open at 1PM, it’s clear that supporting local talent is at the forefront of RF’s programming. The main stage, the Square — which sits in the shadow of the museum, offering some shade to the dancers — is opened by local DJ BETH, who drops anthems like Julio Bashmore’s ‘Au Seve’ and MD X-Press’ ‘God Made Me Phunky’ early doors, before rising Glasgow artist Hayley Zalassi takes the reins. The crowd is bubbling by this point, and her drops of Gorillaz’s ‘Dare’ and a remix of ‘Summertime Sadness’ go down a treat in the freak heat.
“I’ve been going to Riverside with my mates for 10 years, and it’s always such a big weekend,” Zalassi tells us after her set. “Seeing everyone from around Glasgow in one spot is great and creates such a buzz. To get to play the main stage after all these years was really something.”
While the main stage continues to heat up with Patrick Topping on deck, the Satellite stage — first introduced in 2021 to focus on local talent — is on fire from the word go, with the likes of DIJA, Wardy & Dom and Hijack X Headset keeping the crowds moving. It’s a little quieter round at the Waterfront stage next to the Tall Ship, but DJs like Glasgow staple Bonzai Bonner and Beautiful boss SHERELLE are keeping the tempo up.
Back at the mainstage, two Glasgow favourites, Big Miz and Eclair Fifi, step up for a B2B. It’s immensely hot, but the crowd are loving it, and the security are on hand to get water to those in need at the front of the barriers. It’s a high-energy set of mostly house cuts. “Riverside is such an important festival as it supports so much homegrown talent alongside the big names,” Miz tells us. “This year it’s so good to play a B2B with Fifi.”
The most anticipated sets on Saturday come from headliners Denis Sulta and Mall Grab on the main stage. The former drops signature bangers like Alex Gaudino and Crystal Waters’ ‘Destination Calabria’ and his cult Numbers track ‘It’s Only Real’, and the latter mixes his own productions with hard rave cuts. While New York’s AceMoMA, Palms Trax, and Avalon Emerson deliver standout sets at the Waterfront, and the Satellite Stage winds down as the sun sets, it’s truly a moment to appreciate the array of talent on offer at this relatively small inner-city festival.
As Saturday seeps into Sunday, there’s a few sore heads from Riverside’s famed afterparty at SWG3 (affectionately known as Swedge), where the likes of local hero Nightwave and Mella Dee kept the party going. But it’s all systems go, and the crowd seems to have doubled in size with a day of hard techno and dance on the cards. It’s an incredibly well-curated line-up, with the Satellite stage once again boasting a selection of some of the best local talent: powerpot’s Inez, Kintra — sisters from Glasgow who also perform as a DJ and violin duo — and VXYX, among others.
On the main stage, however, it’s Patrick Mason who’s igniting the crowd from the mid-afternoon. With his electric stage presence and energy, RF’s main space is alive, and a hard techno remix of Rihanna’s ‘Disturbia’ and a theatrical rendition of ‘Freestyler’ as Mason passes the reins to SPFDJ are highlights of the day. It’s halfway through SPFDJ’s set that an announcement is made, informing the crowd that the Waterfront stage is at full capacity, where Farnaz and Parfait have been shelling down. Shade seekers and fans of darker, industrial techno have filled up the access routes and dancefloor for London DJ and producer Charlie Sparks, who has been the name on everyone’s lips since the doors opened.
As the sun sets over the Clyde, the energy is still at a peak, with Héctor Oaks and Paula Temple delivering lashings of pounding techno to an elated crowd — with a firm moment of euphoria coming from the latter dropping a remix of Tomcraft’s rave classic, ‘Loneliness’. Due to illness, Brutalismus 3000 are absent, so Paula Temple extends her set before handing over to Glasgow legends Slam — who are also co-directors of the festival — and Frazi.er. It’s an epic close out to a decade of RF madness, and the team are thrilled.
“The festival is a two-day opportunity to see some of electronic music’s cutting-edge provocateurs, alongside fantastic production,” Orde Meikle of Slam says after their historic closing set. “Stuart [McMillan] and I eternally play back-to-back as Slam, so to introduce Frazi.er into the mix for the festival’s 10th anniversary was an exciting experiment for which we didn’t really rehearse. The crowd responded in an amazing way. To close out the final day at our own festival will forever be a highlight.” Here’s to another decade by the riverside.