All Points East @ Victoria Park, London, 25-27 May
All Points East's first edition is a complete success, with highlights including Young Fathers, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, LCD Soundsystem and Khruangbin
Created by the same organisers who produce the world famous Coachella, new East London festival All Points East had much anticipation, given the big names enlisted for its inaugural year. While Field Day, whose bank holiday weekend slot at Victoria Park in East London APE has usurped, always attracted some reasonably big names, they never had the likes of Björk, LCD Soundsystem or The xx – bar a Jamie xx set in 2014. Excitement was palpable and many were intrigued as to how this new festival would differ from its predecessor at the site.
Excited and full of glee, though wary of the very threatening weather, we arrive in time to have our day kick off with London-based collective Superorganism, who are a delightful start to the weekend. Their infectious, Go! Team-esque power pop gets the already reasonably large crowd – given it's still working hours on a Friday afternoon – moving and shaking, and it's very hard to resist indeed. The octet have been something of a hype machine in the first half of this year, so it's nice to see that be substantiated as they close on their two biggest hits, Everybody Wants to Be Famous and Something for Your M.I.N.D., setting a fun note for the weekend ahead.
Next up, Leeds psych-pop masters Hookworms take to the stage off the back of Microshift – perhaps their best album to date – but are immediately smothered by the sound desk as their rumbling bass is apparently too much for the local council's DB limiters. It's a shame because they are a band to be enjoyed as loud as possible but their outdoor stage has other ideas, not allowing the peaks of new album highlights Negative Space, Static Resistance and Ullswater to really happen. Despite a visible frustration from frontman Matthew 'MJ' Johnson, the band crack on regardless and by the time of their one-two punch of The Impasse and On Leaving – from 2014's The Hum – they manage to get the crowd leaving impressed.
No such problems for Edinburgh's finest Young Fathers, however, whose rumbling bass on the main stage is thankfully allowed to play out unaltered, which makes Hookworms' audible silencing ever more curious. At this point, the trip-hop trio are widely regarded as one of the finest live performers out there today and it is not at all difficult to see why that is the case. Young Fathers take the main stage, shaking it and the crowd to its very core and proving they are more than ready to make that jump up to headline level, as their tour later in the year will prove. Juxtaposing disparate songs such as Toy and Holy Ghost and making them work in the same set is no easy task, but then again neither is writing them in the first place.
As Young Fathers' set unfortunately clashes with Hercules and Love Affair, next up is George FitzGerald, whose album All That Must Be from earlier in the year is something of a sleeper hit. His live band is an excellent addition to FitzGerald's electronica, as is Lil Silva joining for the performance of lead single Roll Back. As good as FitzGerald is at his craft, however, he is swimming in an overcrowded electronica sea – something Field Day's line-up often pointed out – and he can't quite yet stand outside of the shadow of current giants of the genre like Jon Hopkins, Four Tet and Caribou. The promise is there from his relatively short career as a solo act, though, and this reasonably impressive set certainly suggests he has the potential to eventually stand out from the crowd.
We poke our head into the X Stage – two overlapping arches with speakers inside, which is all you can hear and feel as soon as you enter the perimeter – to catch a track or two of Roman Flügel, but his moody, dark electronica feels a little out of place outdoors in the sunshine at 7pm, so we shortly move along to one of the most anticipated returns to these shores of the weekend, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. As soon as the opening notes of Y Control ring out from the main stage, the crowd is immediately placed back to the previous decade where this band briefly ruled the roost and indeed, this is a rather celebratory comeback set. What's perhaps most staggering about this set, other than the fact that Karen O is still the coolest motherfucker in music even after five years away, is just how many hits the band have in their arsenal across four albums and an EP – though the less said about Mosquito the better. Maps is still as devastating as it was 15 years ago, Gold Lion still proves to be an excellent festival sing-along and by the time of their final couplet of Heads Will Roll and Date With the Night, the crowd are absolutely enraptured while covered in pink confetti.
Between Yeah Yeah Yeahs and tonight's headliner, Phoenix take to the North Stage – a deceptively small bandstand given some of the acts playing it – to play their highly polished pop music, and perform an excellent set. All that's left now is tonight's headliner, and from the number of shirts in view all day, it's pretty clear that there's huge excitement for LCD Soundsystem's appearance this evening, as another world-renowned live band.
Following James Murphy and co's seven-year hiatus, fans snapped at the chance of another – or for some, their first – opportunity to see the New York funk-punks, and no one was let down. This is a masterful set, with the huge crowd coming together to form the world's biggest disco for the opportunity to hear such songs as Someone Great, All My Friends, Dance Yrself Clean and I Can Change, all of which ripped. Perhaps more impressive however are tracks off their 2017 comeback album American Dream, especially that album's highlight how do you sleep? – despite being perhaps Murphy's densest ditty – while tonite and call the police also send the crowd into a frenzy. Plus, a Nancy Whang-led cover of Chic's I Want Your Love is a real surprise treat. Ultimately, this is a perfect ending to the festival's opening day; a real rollercoaster ride of emotions those in attendance aren't likely to forget in a hurry.
Given Saturday's line-up, today's audience is notably much younger than the Friday and Sunday, who are rewarded with stunning weather throughout, after the threat of thunderstorms all day. Opening the day for us is French act Her, originally a duo until founding member Simon Carpentier passed away last year from cancer. Their pop-rock is very well crafted, but also very clinical and cold, though it feels destined to eventually reach a large audience. After yesterday's packed day, we decide to check out the already much-hyped Despacio stage, an indoor daytime disco with James Murphy and 2manydjs DJing in six-hour stints, and the hype was real. The group bang out tracks from funk, soul, disco and electro in perhaps one of the best sounding systems our ears have ever heard. It's an amazing experience, even if the overwhelming humidity means it's a struggle to stay in the sauna-like club for longer than half an hour.
Next on the main stage one after the other are two up-and-coming female artists, K Á R Y Y N and ABRA. The former, "pronounced Kaa-RrrEEN" according to her SoundCloud, performs an intriguing cross between Grouper-esque dream pop and soulful electronica. The latter, meanwhile, the self-dubbed "Darkwave Duchess" blends R'n'B with dark, moody electronics and gets the relatively small crowd gathered moving in the Saturday afternoon heat. Both are very impressive and ones to watch going forward. Neo-jazz troupe BADBADNOTGOOD are up next and are impressive in their breezy, old-school way, demonstrating their clear talents without showing off. They get an impressive-sized crowd who are responsive and with the Toronto band all the way, with the set climbing to become a small highlight of the weekend. Soulwax – being allowed out of the Despacio tent – play an exciting set, largely thanks to their dual facing drummers elevating their already excellent electro to a higher plane.
Rolling into the evening, Sampha wows his hometown audience, as the Mercury Prize-winner performs to his biggest crowd yet. He almost plays the entirety of his excellent debut album Process, with lead-single (No One Knows Me) Like the Piano one of the biggest sing-alongs of the weekend. Conversely, Lorde plays an impossibly small stage for her mega-stardom, an increasingly rare treat for fans and newcomers alike. Her set is full of spirit and energy, proving why she has taken the world by storm at such a young age over the last couple of years. Royals still amazes as it did on release, but last summer's hit Green Light, which closes her set, sends the mostly young crowd into something of a frenzy.
Saturday's headliners The xx also play one of their biggest hometown shows yet, as they have now reached the top-level of festival line-ups. They are a safe pair of hands for the role; people enjoy them and know what they are going to get, and while the band do take advantage of the longer set time to play a couple of deeper cuts, this is more or less the show they've been performing for over a year now. This isn't necessarily a huge problem, and the fact that Jamie xx's Loud Places is also a staple of the band's set now is particularly great for this festival setting, but after two whopper sets from their younger peers in Sampha and Lorde, this feels ever so slightly dry in comparison. Finishing on Coexist's Angels is an interesting choice but ultimately, this is a well-performed set of exactly what you'd expect.
And so to the final day, where heads are beginning to get a little blurry, and so apologies to Kelly Lee Owens for not quite being able to make her – in our defence – ridiculously early set. We don't know if there was a specific reason for this call, but it seems a shame to waste such a talent in an early slot. We are treated though to one of the low-key highlights of the whole weekend, Khruangbin, who are a perfect start to the lazy sunny Sunday vibes. The Texan trio are an absolute joy, rattling through their various worldly influences towards soul, funk and R'n'B music, while all being incredible musicians to boot. Bassist Laura Lee is an absolute force in her high-heeled pink cowboy boots, nailing the fierce-but-sexy feel that describes the band's sound in general.
Kelela's 2017 album Take Me Apart was one of the best received of the year and there was a lot of buzz around her set. While there is no doubting her darkwave R'n'B songs are masterfully well-crafted, there's not much to her performance that isn't any different to her record – she even performs over a vocal line left in on the backing track. While there is much to be said for minimalism, this largely comes off as rather uninventive – a shame given that's the antithesis of her recorded music.
Flying Lotus, however, is perhaps the complete opposite, all due to his new 3D stage show, with glasses and all. FlyLo, real name Steven Ellison, has always dealt in a healthy dose of psychedelia and so his accompanying graphics have always appropriately embodied this, but at times it feels like the crowd are paying more attention to what they are seeing on screen than to Ellison's jazz-meets-electronica stylings. Still, it's a mesmerising performance both musically and visually, in which Ellison announces to much excitement that he has a new album coming out later this year, before closing with his Kendrick Lamar-led classic Never Catch Me.
One of the only organisational complaints, which otherwise is pretty flawless all weekend, is the proximity between the X and North stages, as there's quite often a messy sound bleed clashing between the two of them, as is the case with Beck and The Black Madonna, who are both excellent all the same. Beck plays, as always, an excellent and fun set, immediately tearing into Odelay classic Devils Haircut, just because he can. While naturally his set is mostly dominated by tracks from his disappointing 2017 album Colors, one has to admit that even those less exciting songs are performed extremely impressively, thus hearing them in a different, live context is worthwhile at least. The highlight, however, comes from an acoustic cover of Raspberry Beret – honouring the late, great Prince – which, of course, the entire crowd sing along to until Beck eventually allows them to take over, in one of the weekend's most touching moments.
And so, finally, to the main event, the legendary Björk. As the storm clouds gathered to the west, similarly to The xx's set the previous night – a result of her aura and harnessing of nature presumably – she takes to her extravagantly and exquisitely created stage. All nature-themed, with Björk herself dressed as a lotus flower, featuring an all-female flute sextet dancing around her like some cosmic ballet. However, as stunning as her voice continues to be, and as beautifully crafted her most recent album Utopia is, this quite evidently becomes a slightly trying set for a festival crowd nearing the end of their weekend. The proof comes in the occasional times she does dip into her back catalogue, playing tracks like Pleasure is All Mine, Isobel and, most importantly, Human Behaviour – reportedly that song's first outing in over a decade – where the crowd do pay attention to the stage rather than the lightning on the horizon or their own loud chatter because their attention is simply not being grabbed.
Björk's performance is every bit as magical as one could hope for, but with only 75 minutes given to the veteran of 25 years and a strict, early curfew of 10.30pm, despite it being a bank holiday Monday the next day, it's hard to know what else she could do. It is a strange end to an otherwise excellent weekend because, on the one hand, Björk is every bit as amazing as she is constantly expected to be, but on the other, the crowd can't help but feel a little short-changed both by her setlist choices and by the surprisingly small amount of time she is given. Regardless, All Points East's first edition of an alleged ten-year deal on the site is a complete success, and we will be excited to see where it goes next.
All Points East, Victoria Park, London, 25-27 May https://www.allpointseastfestival.com/