Baltic Triangle, various venues 10/9/21

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In a joint report from this year’s Positive Vibration festival, Lily Blakeney-Edwards covers the legendary reggae artists responsible for orchestrating a weekend of dance and community, while Olivia Yoxall provides a personal account of the event and the love, compassion and peace that thudded through the beat.

When a statue of Bob Marley is unveiled in the Baltic Triangle on Friday morning, perhaps its most noticeable feature is the figure’s stance. Debuted to kick off the festivities of Positive Vibration, Liverpool’s annual festival of reggae, the statue captures Marley arms up and mouth wide, static in mid-movement. This immortalised motion encapsulates the event’s essence. With an array of bustling faces and mid-tempo grooves, the festival never ceases celebration- of reggae music, of the area’s African-Caribbean influences, and-most importantly- the community who are now gathered, ready for action.

Positive Vibration Festival is a whirlwind of sensation. I begin the weekend making espresso martinis at 92 Degrees during a reggae artwork auction. I have a good feeling for the festival ahead as we bop about to dub music, catching each other’s eye with a smile and chat about the art. “Ah everyone’s so sound here” my friend says to me, and they’re right. The sense of gratitude for community is heart-warming and deeply felt. By the end of the night I catch myself belly laughing at the unexpected mischief makers around me, swapping numbers with a woman who came to find friendship.

VIXEN SOUND kick off Hanger 34’s night with a meld of old school classics and new favourites, all kicked up a gear by seamless transitions and addictive stage presence. MUNGO’S HI FI is a breath-taking highlight, with featured artist Charlie P’s smooth, effortless vocals cruising through the speakers and straight through the crowd, leaving goosebumps around the room.

ASIAN DUB FOUNDATION conclude Friday’s proceedings. The group become story tellers, wrapping the audience up in their journey as they lead the dance at Camp and Furnace, weaving flute melodies, beat boxing and crunchy basslines into their tale.

Stunning audiences with a punk twist to the classic reggae, they prove that over two decades in the game hasn’t outdated their sound- simply gifted them with an untouchable professionalism that is evident throughout their set.

Saturday means an early start and an array of exhibitions and workshops featured around the festival, which visitors meander between with ease. But as the sun sets, the live acts soon take over, as another night of the dance begins. Admittedly there are a few hitches to the evening- but the array of technical difficulties and acts unable to go on are handled seamlessly by the team, who quickly let crowds know of changes, and hand empty stages over to resident DJs.

I feel the murmur of a bassline in my legs as a woman loops a red band around my wrist. The sun has recently dipped below the horizon and the atmosphere is expanding. Smoke and steam rolls passed me, smelling of spices and sizzling chicken skin. A group of people party in front of food stalls, buying bowls of coconut curry and grilled vegetables. I wander through into Hangar 34 and it is here my night really begins. The bass ripples up my legs and lands in my chest so hard I stop breathing for a few counts. Standing still, I feel my entire body tremble with the vibration, my ear drums squeezing

CHANNEL ONE kicks the evening events into high gear, his old-school vinyl bringing a stark but welcomed contrast to the techno-heavy events of the night before, as he warmly spouts anecdotes and welcomes between tracks. Meanwhile, CONGO NATTY represents both the old school greats of jungle music as well as giving a nod of respect to the new, up coming artists. “In this place we are one,” he yells over his beats, “one, one, one, one!” he launches the crowd into an even faster tempo and we all pop.

The energy never falters throughout the weekend, with GENERAL LEVY heightening it even further late into Saturday night. He raps with unimaginable speed and precision as another MC throws water over the pulsing crowd and JOE ARIWA spins into rewinds during his set. The mic is passed between MC’s who continue to freestyle as the crowd remain bouncing. But ultimately, the night belongs to BENJAMIN ZEPHANIAH who brings a mixture of light-hearted tracks and spoken words that lift spirits, follow the dancefloor, and bring the evening to a euphoric close.

So much music, so many artists, yet each united in their love of music and dance. It is this shared passion, and the community that underpins it, which brings people together for two nights of benevolence, excitement and unity. It is a reminder that the spaces we create are merely a reflection of the community that inhabits them. This is our space, and Positive Vibration proves that it always will be.

It’s sweaty and the lights feel hot against my skin. I roll my hips and raise my arms above my head as a stranger two-steps across the dance floor to me. Our bodies become purple and pink as our sweat bounces the lights back up into the ceiling.  We groove to the same rhythm, as do the people around us. The vibe is guided by the DJ. They lean into my ear and shout over the music, “Peace is what it’s all about, isn’t it?”  I dance, nod and smile.

Additional reporting by Olivia Yoxall.

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