Review: Circoloco In The Arena & Hot Natured Afterparty, Birmingham

Jack Law enjoys a momentous day and night at the hands of Circoloco and Hot Natured, at Birmingham’s newest outdoor venue.

Last updated: 16th Apr 2012


After months of eagerly awaiting the arrival of Ibiza’s legendary Circoloco to Birmingham’s brand new venue, The Arena, the time had finally come to let loose and party in the hedonistic style of DC10 (minus the Balearic sun).

The line-up for this event continued to grow and grow into one that could easily rival the famous DC10 opening parties that kick off an Ibizan season. The majority of the Circoloco residents were there, including big guns Kerri Chandler, Matthias Tanzmann and Dan Ghenacia. Late additions in the form of Maceo Plex and DJ Sneak had even been invited.

It was safe to say that anyone with a ticket had been peeing their pants with excitement for some time. With only two site photos to go on, we were unsure of what to expect.  We arrived at the venue around 2pm, to be greeted first off by a wall of crushed cars; a gateway into the industrial space that is The Arena. The open air site, planted in the middle of Birmingham’s city centre, was set under a murky sky filled with clouds; the weather was dull and grey. No matter, because what we were about to experience was possibly one of the best days we had seen.

The stage was instantly noticeable, with a simple yet stand-out backdrop of red and white stripes twisting around an image of the renowned Circoloco clown. To the sides were huge stacks of the quality Funktion One soundsystem, a given for most events these days. Adam Shelton kicked off proceedings in the main arena in his typical warm-up fashion. The One Records boss followed up his recent promo mix for the event with his usual style of punchy basslines and recent house hits such as Frank Roger & Manuel Turner’s ‘After All’ mixed seamlessly into DJ W!ld’s ‘Take A Trip’, setting the standard that was to follow on for the rest of the day. The empty space at the front of the stage quickly began to fill, ready for the arrival of Dyed Soundorom.

Ice cannons at the ready, Dyed took to the stage with his house infused arsenal of tunes, inflicting a noticeable burst of energy into the crowd before him. The festivities had truly started. Kerri Chandler certainly seemed to think so as he watched approvingly from the floor. From this point on the main arena was thrown into a whirlwind of lively beats and funky drops with big hits like DJ Sneak’s ‘You Can’t Hide From My Bud’ and Green Velvet’s ‘Millie Vanillie’. It was hard to tear yourself away from the dance floor, but luckily there was a bar close by when it was time to spend our hard-earned tokens on what we thought was a rather nice selection of drinks.  Dyed continued to smash it until 5pm, when fellow Frenchman Dan Ghenacia appeared.

The Freak n Chic label owner turned up the pace even more, with what can only be described as a mental set that even brought the sun out from behind its barrier of clouds for just a few minutes. By this point, the place was rammed and the party was in full throttle. The Circoloco residents are all unique individuals, yet they follow on from each other in such a special way. We stomped around to Ghenacia’s deep and cheerful selection, a highlight being Andre Crom & Martin Dawson’s remix of Homework’s ‘I’m Into This’, Moodymann’s vocals echoing around the stone arches surrounding the arena.

Onto the next one, as the legend that is Kerri Chandler took his position behind the turntables. His mixing was impeccable, as he weaved a selection of house music so uplifting that we were carried up to the clouds, including his own classic production ‘Bar A Thym’, and what had to be the tune of the day, Huggy & Dean Newton’s ‘Soul Roots’. The breakdown in this track is unbelievable, a defined piano riff that smacks you in the face, sped up gradually to emphasise a real build up before dropping into the ultimate funky house beat. He followed with Storm Queen’s ‘It Goes On’ and then later the Jamie Jones remix of ‘Look Right Through’, both of which gave rise to hands in the air and a cheeky sing-along from the crowd. After hearing so much about Chandler it was a pleasure to finally witness his soul injected house.

Next up was Jamie Jones, a DJ whose success over the last year is not easily rivalled. But after a long stint in the Main Arena, we felt it necessary to check out Arena Two, where Maceo Plex would be presenting his own style of deep house. The queue into this arena boringly trailed along the stoney walls, but we persevered. Once in, we stepped onto the cordoned off street that was the second arena. Maceo Plex had already begun his thing, but to our disappointment the sound was just too quiet. If you can easily have a conversation without even having to use your outdoor voice, then it’s just not loud enough. Sorry Maceo, but we quickly vacated and got back to the Main Arena.

We have seen Jamie Jones umpteen times over the last 12 months, always a treat, but often quite samey. On this occasion, however, things were different; it was another level. The day had passed and this gave rise to great beams of light that engulfed the arena; greens, reds, oranges, blues, heightening the senses while JJ spun his magic. If you could eat tunes, then this set would have been delicious. From deep house to driving techno, it was a crazy whirlwind. A vamped up remix of Green Velvet’s ‘Flash’ bellowed round the walls before we were teased with a snippet of huge hit ‘Hungry For The Power’, which he didn’t elaborate on. An incredible finale to his set was soundtracked by the stunning Jamie Jones feat. Art Department masterpiece, ‘Our Time In Liberty’, before he handed over the reins to the final artist, Matthias Tanzmann.

The Circoloco giant wasted no time in letting rip, unleashing a massive burst of serious housey techno, picking up the pace among the thousands of clubbers still going strong. It was like the main event; the day had gradually been building up to this point. Rolling drumbeats combined with cut-up vocals and the occasional blast of white noise was the flavour, including the classic house hit ‘Jack Ya Body’. The pivotal part of the set for me was an unexpected but amazing acapella of Little John Willie’s ‘Fever’ threaded over the typical Tanzmann sound. He continued to keep the crowd energised throughout until Circoloco In The Arena inevitably came to an end. He finished off with Green Velvet’s ‘La La Land’, a great description for where the day had taken us!

We’d experienced just under 12 hours of pure bliss, a very impressive party from the Circoloco crew it must be said. And luckily it didn’t stop there; on to the Hot Natured afterparty

We heard that queues into The Rainbow were pretty vile, so took the opportunity to head back to base and freshen up. Arriving at the after party shortly after, at about 3am, we were pleased to see that the queuing had disintegrated, and waltzed straight in. This was a fully covered street party. A huge marquee pitched over a large proportion of the street, with doors leading off to the side into other rooms.  Robert James and Richy Ahmed were spinning at the foot of the marquee in true Hot Natured fashion. It wasn’t long though before another Circoloco resident, Davide Squillace, was due to start in The Warehouse to the side, so we went in that direction.

Squillace’s set was very impressive. Having only seen him before at DC10 it was a nice contrast to see him playing the after party. He kept us rooted to the front with his typical percussive beats and sexy vocals and performed a set which flowed on effortlessly. He cheekily dropped Claude Von Stroke’s new hit ‘Le Fantome’, not Squillace’s usual sound but this had great effect. The hours were trickling away however, and before long Hot Natured had started in the Street.

Jamie Jones and Lee Foss were clearly having the time of their lives. JJ had the biggest smile plastered over his face, while more moody looking Lee Foss was whipping out some weird and wonderful moves from behind the decks. A little worse for wear, some of the mixes did leave little to be desired, although that wasn’t surprising considering the copious amounts of booze flowing round the table. We even got our mitts on a bottle of JD they handed down (admittedly pretty empty). Cheers boys. The tent was packed full of eager clubbers still going mad for it, lapping up what the Hot Natured honchos had to offer. The after party was soundtracked with luscious vocal tunes like Larry Heard’s ‘The Sun Can’t Compare’ and a bag of the typical Hot Creations deep house and disco we have all come to know. Then sadly 7am arrived and although the Hot Natured crew fought their hardest to keep the party going, security got the better of them and forced the shutdown.  In just five hours we would be continuing our journey at the Visionquest party.

Arriving back at the Rainbow a good hour and a half after the final event was due to start, sadly it hadn’t even begun and we weren’t in any mood to wait around. On that note we ventured off to a pub round the corner for a quiet drink before calling it a day and heading back to Leeds.

What a day, what a night. Circoloco In The Arena was by far the biggest one-off day to hit the UK yet. Massive applause to the promoters, the DJs and the crowd… Please bring it back next year! See you in Ibiza.

Words: Jack Law

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