This weekend gone was the inaugural All Points East, much-hyped for its bold move of shaking up the London festival scene by turfing out other well-established outfits – Lovebox, Field Day, Citadel – from their Victoria Park home.
Certainly its gargantuan lineup stepped up to the mark: an onslaught of classic festival names as well as the hottest artists for 2018 filled a choc-a-bloc schedule. The crowd and social media were already raving after Friday which kicked off proceedings with the likes of Hercules and the Love Affair’s disco-infused techno and Richie Hawtin in the tented West Arena, Canadian electro duo Chromeo and Phoenix on the mini-main North stage plus of-the-moment Young Fathers, genre-bending Glass Animals, and indie-rock icons Yeah Yeah Yeahs alongside dance-punk veterans LCD Soundsystem on the festival’s East stage.
Saturday presented a dizzying timetable to pick through. My highlights included much of the West arena’s lineup: Sevdaliza with her unique left-field pop, Toronto-based BADBADNOTGOOD’s jazz interpretations of hip-hop and Swedish Lykke Li, whose ability to pack out a tent despite the rare English sun blazing outside and humid mess stirred up inside (not least for the artist most bravely dressed in PVC trousers and a floor length trench coat…) testament to the draw of her addictive beats and vocals, most aptly captured in 2011 track ‘I Follow Rivers.’
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Able to better enjoy the rays were those gathering at the North stage for British wordsmith Alex O’Connor aka Rex Orange County, Soulwax, who despite their years still offered a masterclass in live experimental electronica, and Lorde, whose resolutely feminine energy and earnest performance of favourites such as ‘Royals’ and newer material from ‘Melodrama’, lit up the stage with the help of Kate-Bush-reminiscent contemporary dancers. On the East stage, rap artist and Londoner Stefflon Don’s ‘Instruction’ was impossible not to shake ass to and Sampha’s (best known for his collaborative work with the likes of SBTRKT, Drake and Solange) subtle honeyed vocals were positively soothing on breakout solo tracks such as ‘Without.’
The day culminated in a truly ambient set from The xx’s Romy Madley Croft, Oliver Sim and Jamie xx, with Romy and Oliver’s to and fro vocals lulling a hypnotised crowd with tracks from 2009’s ‘Crystallised’ to 2017’s Jamie xx-remixed ‘On Hold.’ The trio dressed in spacey black and white backed up by a dazzling light show, endearingly revealed their well-known humility, at numerous moments highlighting just how much it meant to them to hold the prime spot at the London festival, and conveying a raw sense of emotion as Romy shared that ‘Angels,’ their parting song, had been written in that very park.
Sunday was another day of highs with the delicious combo of meaty bass lines and playful vocals of Sylvan Esso getting feet moving on ‘Coffee,’ ear-wormy ‘Hey Mami’ and ‘H.S.K.T’ (Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes). You couldn’t fail to be charmed by UK four piece Django Django’s genre-mash-up from 2012 summer anthem ‘Default’ to fresh dancehall-inspired ‘Surface To Air’ off recently released ‘Marble Skies’, for which collaborator Rebecca Taylor joined them to perform live, with much in the way of percussion, schoolboy excitement and visuals in between. Father John Misty was simultaneously hilarious and captivating with his deadpan wit, all-out 70s style and engrossing musical storytelling, performing the brilliant ‘Mr Tillman’ from forthcoming ‘God’s Favourite Customer’ (out 1st June), as well as ‘Please Don’t Die’ and closing on ‘I Love You, Honeybear.’
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Indie-rockers Friendly Fires grabbed their slot firmly with two hands, firing up the North stage with a seriously sweaty rendition of their back catalogue from 2008’s ‘Jump in the Pool’ to 2011’s ‘Hawaiian Air’ plus latest track ‘Love Like Waves’ and ending on 2009’s ‘Kiss of Life.’ They were a perfect warm up for the oldskool cool of Beck who picked up where they left off, taking the crowd by storm in a way only someone who has been handling festival audiences for the best part of three decades can, treating limb-flailing fans to the inimitable audio collage that his music forms from 1994’s singalong ‘Loser’ to 1996 ‘Devil’s Haircut,’ a cover of Prince’s ‘Raspberry Beret’ to the already-a-classic title track from his 13th studio album ‘Colors’, ramping up the feel good with chat like: “Dearly beloved, we are here to celebrate a thing called music,” and “I can feel something in the air tonight London…”
Then it was music goddess of Björk who had breaths held for a stunning final act, donning a white, sculpted, balloon-sleeved dress and orchid mask, with digital flowers blooming behind her and a futuristic incarnation of a Midsummer Night’s Dream stage set-up surrounding her, complete with a troop of flute players and a harpist. As if bringing the elements themselves under her spell, an electric storm sent lighting bolts running across a full-moon-lit sky as her ethereal voice sang out a melange of material including unexpectedly 1995’s ‘Isobel’ and 1993’s ‘Human Behaviour,’ (its first performance since 2007) as well as showcasing latest album ‘Utopia’ with ‘Sue Me’ and ‘Features Creatures.’
If there were to be any criticism, the festival perhaps became a victim of its own ambition, overstretching the line-up to the point of selling some of its artists short. I found myself running around rather chicken-without-head-style rather than wholly absorbing each gig to its fullest and totally missing some (I couldn’t even poke my head into Justice…). And to watch festival-goers stream away from Lorde’s ‘Green Light’ climax and Beck’s mainstage-worthy set not to miss the opening track of The xx and Björk on the Saturday and Sunday respectively seemed criminal. Without committing music-critic-suicide, in both cases the understated tempo, though enthralling, I venture, bordered on anticlimactic…
However, curating your line up as to end on notes of poignancy rather than crowd-pleasers perhaps would counter claims of this being a soulless, corporate affair. Plus, what struck me from my taste of All Points East was the quite overwhelming amount of female talent on display. Not in a jump-on-the-#metoo-bandwagon self-conscious way, but genuinely allowing the full breadth and originality of female artistry our music landscape offers to shine through, right from Sylvan Esso’s jean-short-clad Amelia Meath with her edgy electro-pop vibes to the understated cool of The xx’s Romy Madley Croft murmuring over her guitar, from Lorde’s uninhibited zeal to Björk’s wonderfully idiosyncratic creative spirit.
As the Icelandic artist sang out on her final number, “Isn't it odd? / Isn't it peculiar?,” the otherworldly songstress well reminded us that a bit of peculiar is sometimes just what we need to save us from the boredom of genericism.
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Words: Sarah Bradbury
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