With words from from Becky Hill, Ella Eyre and Bru-C
Luke Ballance
11:31 20th July 2022

More about:

There are few festivals quite like NASS. A pillar of the West Country bass music scene and a home to some of the sporting world’s most daring subcultures, the Somerset festival has established itself over the past decade as a champion of homegrown electronic music as well as all things BMX, skateboarding and street art. Catering for 24,000 guests across nine stages, 2022’s edition was spearheaded by three London rappers: drill trailblazer Headie One, hip-hop sweetheart Loyle Carner, and multi-genre polymath AJ Tracey. As we look back on some of the highlights, we’re also able to share some words from Becky Hill, Ella Eyre and Bru-C, who caught up with Gigwise over the weekend.

Pulling guy-ropes taut as the distinctive voice of Devilman permeated the campsite from afar, the tone of the weekend was instantly set from the moment we arrived, with DJ Looney’s afternoon set foreshadowing the music to come. Backstage, Bru-C, who’s just secured his first top 40 single with “No Excuses”, takes every opportunity to sing the praises of the song’s producer, SHAPES, who’s also his tour DJ. “A lot of the artists I was speaking to when COVID first hit were just waiting to see what happened,” the Long Eaton singer and MC recalls. “SHAPES wasn’t waiting, so we hit it off and we’ve built something really great.”

Newly signed to 0207 Def Jam, Bru-C smiles as he tells me that his recent success has “made me hone in more on who I am”, and he’s still happily based in his hometown: “There’s no way I’d move anywhere. It can be lonely, because there’s an abundance of like-minded people to meet in other parts of the country, but Nottingham’s my home.” Spanning D&B, bassline and garage, his shows are a lively affair, and he even dives into the audience at one point on Friday. To him, it’s important that the physical barriers between an artist and their fans don’t feel imposing. “I don’t want it to feel like you’re coming to see a performance,” he explains. “I want it to feel like I’m part of the rave, and I kinda feel like that’s reflected in my music as well.”

With its vast expanses and dazzling light show, the Hangar often proved more popular than the main stage. It hosted some of the biggest DJs of the weekend including Andy C, Sub Focus, and Shy FX, whose electrifying set included Chase & Status and Irah’s remix of the foundational “Original Nuttah” and an inventive take on Beenie Man’s dancehall classic “Who Am I”. Sadly, some equally revered drum and bass acts were overlooked by punters; the Southbank, home to genre-defining DJs like Fabio & Grooverider and Calibre, was desolate on day one, but eventually picked up as jump-up enthusiasts packed out the room for DJ Guv and SaSaSaS. A short stroll away, the reggae-oriented outdoor stage Fatty’s Yard was a resounding success, with playful song selections like Aphrodite Delacruz’s version of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” going down a treat in the heat.

On Saturday, we caught superstar Becky Hill moments before she stepped onstage to perform mega-hits like “Lose Control” and “Remember”. Four days earlier, she’d launched a new residency at Ibiza Rocks with the aim of creating “a commercial queer party that makes everybody feel really included”. While the first show went down well, it wasn’t exactly a seamless experience: “When we got there, none of our bags had arrived, so our outfits and makeup weren’t there. As you can tell, with drag artists, it’s really not ideal! We had to traipse around Ibiza in jeans and sweatshirts to try and find a whole new wardrobe on the day. It was pretty terrifying, but I had the best time and can’t wait to go back.”

Interestingly, Becky’s frequent visits to Ibiza have also led to a collaboration with hitmaker Joel Corry: “His residency is the day after mine every week, so I’ve been spending a lot of time with Joel and we thought it would make sense to do a record together. I’m really proud of this one and he’s so lovely to work with.” And Ibiza’s not the only Spanish island she’s visited recently – within days of our conversation, she jetted off to Mallorca to perform a twelve-minute medley in the Love Island villa. An avid viewer of the show, she relished the opportunity: “It’s gonna be very surreal going in there after watching it for all these weeks,” she exclaims. When I ask her if she’s got a favourite couple, she’s happy to lay her cards on the table: “I like Indiyah and Dami. I want them two to win.”

Elsewhere, it was pleasing to see grime so well-represented. For Grime MC FM, Jme recruited a who’s-who of unannounced guests including Merky ACE, who recently spent some time away, and man of the hour Blay Vision, who debuted his self-produced “Cammy Riddim”. Currently a staple on DJs’ USBs, the instrumental has been laced by countless MCs in recent weeks, and at NASS, masked enigma CASISDEAD and Birmingham grime forefather Vader jumped on the trend. The latter took place during another landmark 140 set as Big Mikee, flanked by a posse of West Midlands mic men, went toe to toe with Westy and N.A.S.T.Y’s Makten behind the decks. Later on, Killa P tested out some new sixteens, accompanied by colleagues from So What and Killa’z Army. Linking up afterwards, the Brixton MC reports that he’s been recording “seven songs a week” and is currently putting the finishing touches on his long-awaited debut album for a 2023 release.

Gracing the main stage, Ella Eyre raced through bangers old and new, ranging from the chart-topper “Waiting All Night” through to new single “Deep Down”. Still feeling the adrenaline rush back in her dressing room, she tells me that having a live band is “unbelievably important” to her: “My management only just convinced me to do a PA without them for the first time this year.” When I ask whether she still identifies with the R&B influences that shone through in her earlier work, the Jamaican-British singer reveals that bringing these back is “exactly what I wanna do” on her sophomore album: “I wanna make music that I would put on a playlist and I’ve been focusing on doing just that; creating my own little world.” Currently, she’s listening to Mahalia, Little Simz, and generous doses of reggae. Even popstars need to unplug from music sometimes, though: “I’ve been listening to hella true crime podcasts. There’s one called Red Handed and it’s just fascinating; I think I’m a full-blown detective. I also love watching court cases – maybe I’m gonna get a law degree!”

As the sun went down on the final night in Shepton Mallet, AJ Tracey closed proceedings, breezing through a series of rap and drill numbers before surrendering to the incessant chants of “oh, Thiago Silva” and performing the now-classic grime tune to rapturous applause. While he didn’t entertain the idea of another Alex from Glasto moment, he did wheel it up, and one last rendition of the track, as fans from the front to the back recited every bar, felt like the perfect note to close things on. Heading home, ears ringing, the following morning, it dawned on me that while a sense of national identity over here is typically invoked via pomp, circumstance, and copious bunting, NASS had me feeling prouder to be British than a jubilee ever could. Few festivals offer such a comprehensive showcase of UK bass music encompassing everyone from the pioneers through to the ones to watch, and I’ll be returning for that reason.

Grab your copy of the Gigwise print magazine here.

More about:

Photo: Luke Ballance