It's always tricky when you've got something precious, something that you cherish and that you're reticent about sharing with people. The Southern Soul Festival - in the deep, deep south of Montenegro, near the Albanian border - is exactly that. A small but perfectly formed celebration of all that is soulful and left-of-centre, and one that has steadily grown over the past couple of years, whilst still remaining bijou enough to feel like nothing else. I am lucky enough to be one of the founders of said festival, and below are some of my musical highlights so far, as well as a hint of what's to come.
Words by Dom Servini - Co-founder, host and resident DJ at Southern Soul
Shuya Okino - Still In Love feat. Navasha Daya (Kyodai Remix)
One of 2014's beach anthems. Japanese producer and DJ Okino was a big hit on the Southern Soul sands last year, as were the brothers from Berlin, Kyodai. Their re-rub of Okino's classy Rose Royce cover probably got played more than any other tune. Not bad for a record that was limited to a handful of copies worldwide!
Romare - Roots
This young producer's rise has been nothing short of meteoric. Originally signed to Black Acre, snapped up by Ninja Tune in 2014 and with his debut long-player due for imminent release, we all better make sure we've got our Factor 30 on when this fella hits the stage! Roots is reminiscent of ex-Ninjas Zero dB with its dark, tense and dramatic feel. One for late on in the dance, just as the sun rises over the black mountains.
B.J. Smith - Prototype
Another anthem from last year, singer-songwriter B.J. Smith's version of Outkast's Prototype not only got plays on every stage of the festival, but also perfectly captured the warm, inviting and yet foot-friendly feel of our most unique event. Lush strings, sweet soulful vocals and something of an epic structure made it the surprise hit of the weekend.
Matthew Halsall - Journey to Satchidananda
We're really excited about having Matthew play this year. He debuted in Montenegro in 2014, playing an intimate gig at the place it all started; Caspar Bar in Budva. But this year takes his place on the main stage, where he belongs. This Mancunian trumpeter has a rare tone, and I for one am looking forward to hearing his gorgeous version of Alice Coltrane's Journey to Satchidananda as the sun sets.
Fatima - Technology
Her album, Yellow Memories, won Album of the Year at Gilles Peterson's Worldwide Awards in Januar, and for these ears, this track is the highlight. On an LP with a number of producers taking on individual tracks, it's hip hop producer Oh No who really comes up trumps with this sparse yet beautifully judged slice of modern soul. Fatima's performance with the full Eglo Band, as well as label boss Alex Nut, is sure to be one of the highlights of this year's festival.
Dorian Concept - Ann River, Mn
Another star of the Ninja Tune roster (there will be a few of those pesky fellas hanging out on the beach this year) this gifted Austrian multi-instrumentalist and producer will be gracing the main stage with free jazz loving percussionist Cid rim and fellow Viennese musician The Clonious. I can't wait to hear the cinematic beauty of Ann River, Mn on the festival's mighty sound system, as well as welcome the band to the stage with some kind of terrible joke about their names, no doubt.
Andrew Ashong - Flowers
There aren't many times where you'll find yourself on a beach at 1am entranced by an extended, deep acoustic set from someone like Andrew Ashong. His main stage performance in 2014 was not only magical (with his big hit, Flowers, being a highlight) it also illustrated Southern Soul's fearlessness and trust in a few talented musicians to hold a capacity crowd at peak time on a Friday night.
Lay-Far - Yes You Can (Ashley Beedle Remix)
One of this year's headliners remixed by one of our very first. Ashley Beedle tore up the beach with his finely tuned mix of soul, disco and house in 2013, and here he adds his sophisticated touch to Moscovite Lay-Far's sublime original. We simply cannot wait to welcome Alexander Lay-Far to our musical oasis this year.
Max Graef - No. 5
A couple of thousand people on a beach, and amongst the palm trees, sweaty bodies, ironic t-shirts and big smiles this monster of a tune drops. It's Berlin producer Max Graef in control, at the height of his game. The Southern Soul faithful lose a small part of their minds, it's a wondrous moment that I'll never forget... and it hasn't even happened yet.
Eddie Harris - Turbulence
But this certainly did happen. 2013. 4am. A Detroit legend has the crowd in the palm of his hand. He can play whatever he likes, and then he plays this. The tune is Eddie Harris' 1973 free / funky jazz workout Turbulence, perfectly pitched and quite literally a dance floor destroyer, putting many of the crowd (and a number of the DJs backstage) on their knees. The DJ, of course, was none other than Theo Parrish, and this moment remains my most beloved of the festival so far.