Skepta’s Big Smoke Festival Is A Triumph

An excellent debut for the festival...

Big SmokeSkepta’s inaugural festival – took place at Crystal Palace park on Saturday in what was a celebration of the music that has shaped the North London artist’s career. Spanning multiple decades, there perhaps hasn’t been a more important artist in terms of changing the landscape of UK Rap and opening doors for the next generation. 

However, Skepta’s influence does not stop there, having transitioned into a new wave of club culture thanks to the founding of Mas Tiempo with fellow BBK member Jammer. Both sides of his vision were proudly on display at the event, combining multiple genres that made for an outstanding occasion.

It was fitting that the festival kicked off with a grime set, with Frisco and DJ Oblig replicating their iconic The Den club nights on the main stage. There were cameos from the likes of Manga Saint Hilare who brought infectious energy and Flowdan who performed his verse from the GRAMMY winning hit ‘Rumble’ by himself, Skrillex, and Fred again… On top of this, there was also a full circle moment for Frisco as he was able to bring out his son, rising Tottenham rapper ThaFirst, and share the stage with him in what must have been a point of pride for both artists.

Elsewhere, Nigerian rapper ODUMODUBLVCK demonstrated why he is so highly regarded with a performance full of energy and spirit. Playing songs from his critically acclaimed 2023 album ‘EZIOKWU’, he was able to get a youthful crowd who perhaps weren’t too familiar with his music to reciprocate his animated stage presence. Jme who performed later in the afternoon did not need to translate his catalogue to an increasingly lively audience, rattling through hits with guest appearances from the likes of House of Pharaohs and £MONZO. As one of BBK’s most prominent artists, his performance did not disappoint and it was only right that he ended his set with ‘Man Don’t Care’; a hugely important song in grime’s second resurgence in the mid 2010’s.

The main stage was not the only place for great music and the inclusion of the Mas Tiempo tent ensured that a variety of options were served up for an inclusive atmosphere at the festival. DJ’s Ossie and Kitty Amor both had vastly impressive sets, with Ossie tapping into House sounds while Amor blended different styles of African inspired electronic music. This was before Uncle Waffles took to the stage, who was able to draw a huge crowd thanks to her Amapiano selections and her notoriously enthusiastic dancing and all round performance.

With a (not so) brief interlude for England’s victory over Switzerland in the Euros, Mike Skinner and The Streets were able to ride the wave of positivity from the football supporting crowd thanks to the Birmingham frontman’s formidable crowd control. Playing hits such as ‘Blinded By The Lights’ and ‘Fit But You Know It’, the legendary band set the table perfectly for Skepta to close out his day. The Mercury Prize winner was able to showcase his legendary discography, from ‘Nokia Charger Wire’ all the way through to ‘Gas Me Up (Diligent), every time receiving a pop from the swelling crowd. It is testament to his hit making ability that across his hour long performance the vast majority of the audience were able to be involved, while he also brought out the likes of Nafe Smallz, Chip, and Jme.

Skepta’s performance was undoubtedly the highlight of an excellent debut for the festival. Throughout the day there was a vast array of excellent talent on display, demonstrating the North London artist’s continued pull and influence in the UK scene and beyond. With Skepta announcing on stage plans for this occasion to continue next year, it will be interesting to see how the festival grows and evolves, but for a first attempt it certainly delivered in terms of artistic ability and has the potential to become a mainstay on the summer calendar.

Words: Joe Simpson
Photography: Haruki

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