How to standout when there’s so much competition? That’s the key question any organiser must ask themselves before wading into the saturated market of the British music festival. An identity is a hard thing to forge when such a vast array of musical genres and whimsical thoughts have already been captured and turned into numerous frivolous events up and down the country. I guess it helps when you have the wondrous grounds of North London’s Grade II listed Alexandra Palace to play with.
Adorned with brazenly colourful stages, effervescent installations and a plethora of activities on offer - of which including everything from hip hop karaoke and science experiments to comedic exploits aplenty - Kaleidoscope managed to conjure up a vivid and playful technicolour festival experience. The sun-kissed grounds of Ally Pally served as the perfect setting for a Saturday afternoon of festivities, whilst the natural slope offered great views of the Main Stage from all angles, all played out against the spectacular backdrop of London from atop Muswell Hill.
There’s no denying it was a rather middle-class affair, complete with Paella stands, eccentric actors dressed in Victorian attire roaming the fields posing for selfies and a sea of picnic blankets and panama hats scattered across the site. However, this all helped to play a part in what was always billed as an immersive, family-friendly arts festival for all ages. We were in North London after all…
The musical offering crossed a spectrum of mostly acclaimed acts. Beth Orton overcame a set blighted with early technical difficulties to set a dreamy mid-afternoon tone with her textured folktronica, whilst The Go! Team upped the ante as they expertly transferred their sample-heavy recordings to the live arena with an energetic live show that borrowed from old school hip-hop, whimsical indie rock rand 60s northern soul. The infectious ‘Ladyflash’ brought many of the punters comfortably seated on their neatly placed picnic blankets joyfully to their feet.
All the while a patio based dancefloor had broken out outside the entrance of the Palace’s main entrance in the form of Cloud 10. An assorted DJ mix of some of Britain’s best tastemakers from the reggae-flecked beats of the legendary Don Letts via the tropical vibes of the 2 Bears to the old-school house and soul classics laid down by M People and Haçienda Classical impresario Mike Pickering.
Mystery Jets’ brand of indie pop seemed somewhat out of place amongst what otherwise looked a carefully curated selection of more ‘acclaimed’ acts. However, it appeared the crowd thought otherwise as their ‘arms in the air’ style ‘Ooooh-uhh’ choruses went down a treat amidst the searing North London sunshine.
The criminally under-appreciated (people seemed more concerned with finding food before the headliners) Ghostpoet was on electric form as he prowled the stage zigzagging through his impeccable back catalogue, executed with aplomb by his highly talented band. The trip hoppy murkiness of his sound and gravelly baritone maybe alienated a few of the more fair-weather revellers perhaps, but there was no doubting the technical execution of tracks like ‘X Marks the Spot’, the brooding ‘Butter Not Better’ and brilliantly glitchy dénouement of ‘Freakshow’.
Elsewhere, on the Words & Comedy Stage, legendary performance poet Dr John Cooper Clarke drew a sizeable crowd for a surrealist performance that meandered through a series of sporadic themes that included: hire cars, guest lists, dark jokes and obesity. All rapturously dispensed with his trademark machine gun style delivery and a range of comic accompanying accents. The chance to witness the great man regale the iconic ‘Beasley Street’ in particular, stood out as a rather poignant moment.
It stands to reason that if you’re going to name your festival ‘Kaleidoscope’ it seems only right to book The Flaming Lips as your inaugural headliner. An astute booking as the Oklahoma art rockers brought all of their vibrant colour and showmanship to the palatial grounds for a greatest hits set of epic proportions. The mood was one of celebration as Wayne Coyne strode onto stage dressed in his traditional space pirate outfit, eye patch and all, conducting the band through a stirring rendition of ‘Also Sprach Zarathrusta, Op. 30’, more commonly recognised as the opening theme to Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.
The bombast kept coming as they delved straight into the big hitters, a confetti covered ‘Race for the Prize’ was swiftly followed by the psych-folk anthem ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt.1’ which saw Coyne joined onstage by a large inflatable version of the aforementioned Pink Robot. In fact, across the set there were a wide range of inflatables and props used ranging from a shimmering disco ball and blow-up rainbow to Coyne performing 2017’s ‘There Should Be Unicorns’ whilst riding across the front of the stage on an actual multi-coloured flashing unicorn.
A spectacle only matched by covering David Bowie classic ‘Space Oddity’ whilst inside a zorb ball, something that has now become something of a staple in The Flaming Lips live shows, before attempting briefly to venture out into the gleeful audience. Whilst to a lesser act such visual stunts could be seen as something of a cheap trick, the Flaming lips utilise such moments as a window into their own kaleidoscopic world they have spent the last 35 years constructing.
The Flaming Lips off-kilter psychedelic art pop truly served as the perfect match for the festival’s colourful aesthetic. ‘Do You Realize’ acting as the seamless, anthemic ending to a day of artistic indulgence.
In spite, of the slight disparity in stature between the headliner and the rest of the acts on the bill. It would be safe to deem Kaleidoscope 2018 a roaring success as it managed to carve its own niche out of the bustling London festival season with a programme packed with fun, culture and one seriously good view.
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Words: Rory Marcham
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