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All Points East 2021 CELEBRATES THE BEST OF UK MUSIC AND BEYOND

NED DYLAN reports from the field…with photos by Sara-Louise Bowrey

Last weekend All Points East returned to London with a line up that celebrated the best of UK music and beyond.

With a capacity of 40,000 All Points East is a well-sized festival in Victoria Park, which makes for a great site. This year the All Points East crowd were friendly and relaxed but also brought a lot of energy to almost every set I watched, helping to create a brilliant atmosphere all weekend.

SONS OF KEMET AND LOYLE CARNER STAND OUT

On Friday for me there were two main highlights. The first was an afternoon set from British jazz band Sons of Kemet capturing their signature riotous sound and musical chemistry perfectly. With just four musicians – saxophone (band leader Shabaka Hutchings), tuba (Theon Cross) and two drummers (Tom Skinner, Edward Wakili-Hick), Sons of Kemet create a massive sound that felt impossible to look or walk away from. The band’s take on jazz feels relevant, often politically charged and in conversation with the current UK music scene. Their most recent album Black to the Future had features from some well-loved London MCs including Kojey Radical, who rushed over from playing his own set at the opposite end of the festival to join the band on stage for a high-energy performance of ‘Hustle‘.

Later that day Loyle Carner got one of the strongest crowd reactions of the weekend, closing the West Stage.

When seen live, Carner’s intimate, soulful hip hop tracks turn into the anthems they always secretly were with everything from earlier songs like ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’ to his last Madlib-produced single ‘Yesterday’ roaring out to a crowd that was fully behind him. Performed with a confessional vulnerability, an infectious passion and a heartfelt stage presence, Carner’s music is only more effective live. Carner seems to effortlessly balance making warm, poignant, sentimental hip hop with ensuring his music still has enough drive to hold its own when closing a large festival stage. Loyle’s set gets a massive reaction but is in many ways stripped down to its raw essentials – his elite skill as a MC and his chemistry with Rebel Kleff his producer and DJ.

All Points East however, was treated to some guest appearances from close collaborators like Tom Misch, who played a great set of his own on the Saturday, Kofi Stone, and Jordan Rakei. Jordan Rakei’s gorgeous vocals brought a lot to Carner’s sound on ‘Ottolenghi’ which Rakei was originally featured on, as well as the soaring chorus of ‘Loose Ends’.

Rakei wrote Loose Ends with Jorja Smith and Loyle. Despite not singing on the final track, on Friday Jordan brought a vocal magic to Loose Ends that was just as good as the original, if not better. On the electric ‘Old CDs’ Rebel Kleff also stepped out from behind the decks to give a guest verse. Another highlight was Loyle’s powerful a cappella verse, which like almost every verse in his set, was perfectly crafted yet always felt natural, emotional and expressive. Amid all the energy around MCs making incredible drill, grime, rap, afroswing and afrobeats influenced music, Loyle quietly keeps the UK hip hop sound alive with legitimate hit albums, his own path and a setlist with no misses.

A UK hero and legend in the making.

Other Friday highlights were Jorja Smith, Mahalia and Jorja Smith-signed newcomer Enny who told the crowd it was one of her first festival shows – which you wouldn’t have known from the presence, band and energy Enny brought to the stage.

SATURDAY BELONGED TO KANO

Saturday highlights included Jamie XX, Pa Salieu and a set from the always brilliant Little Simz. During the set Simz gave the crowd a taste of her upcoming album ‘Sometimes I Might Be An Introvert‘, performing ‘Point and Kill’ a new song that she’d never played live before. In 2021 Simz has returned sounding better than ever, during ‘might bang, might not’ she triumphantly raps “You ain’t seen no one like me since Lauryn Hill back in the 90s” which by this point, few would argue with.

Slowthai arrived later that night by helicopter after playing Reading. Slowthai brought literal fire to the stage – something he excitedly told the crowd they didn’t let him do at Reading. Only two albums into his career, his setlist is already packed with explosive songs. On stage, Slowthai creates raw, beautiful, unpredictable chaos driven by his unrelenting energy. It’s not as fine-tuned as some other Saturday performances, but none of that matters when Slowthai is capturing parts of British society and culture in his music that most artists aren’t. Slowthai is fulfilling global ambitions but is still proud to be called “the king of Northampton” by his DJ when leaving the stage, because, like other great artists before him, Slowthai finds universal emotions in his uncompromising, authentic local perspectives.

To me though Saturday night belonged to an epic headline set from grime MC and London icon Kano. It’s been apparent that Kano is one of the UK’s best studio artists since his classic 2005 debut ‘Home Sweet Home’, but since his return to music in 2016 he’s become one of the best live artists in the UK too. Tonight Kano is backed by a quintet of gospel singers, live strings and an unstoppable brass section. Over 15 years into his career, Kano is still finding new ways to innovate and elevate his sound, using his musicality to take already iconic songs like ‘Three Wheel Ups‘ and ‘Ps and Qs‘ to a new level. UK anthems like ‘Ghetto Kyote‘ sound haunting with live strings and ‘This is England‘ is given new life by Kano’s elite brass players. Highlights from Kano’s 2020 masterpiece ‘Hoodies All Summer‘, like ‘Trouble’ and set opener ‘SYM‘, are deepened by his singers’ powerful, gospel-influenced live vocals. One of the most impressive parts of the set is how even with this many people on stage Kano’s charisma, songwriting, legendary flow and unique talent is never lost or outshined by the live spectacle, only complimented. It’s still Kano’s artistry at the heart of his live show. He is an artist with the rare gift of being able to touch on every aspect of life in his music – his set is sometimes aggressive, sometimes joyous, always moving. Performing with unwavering vitality, Kano manages to make music from all eras of his career sound as refreshing as ever. He seems to effortlessly tap into and connect his songs to the current moment. Before performing ‘This is England’ Kano pauses to have the screens show the Manchester Marcus Rashford mural being vandalised with abusive graffiti and then the reaction from the local community who covered it up with messages of love and support, a moment that clearly resonated with the crowd. At one point, Kano takes a moment to observe that some of the All Points East audience, me included, were “probably two” when he wrote Ghetto Kyote 17 years ago – which really puts into perspective how impressive him still being at the heart of UK music in 2021 is. The sold-out crowd erupt for fan favourite ‘GarageSkankFREESTYLE‘ as Kano raps “you can’t leng down a stage show like me”, which he proves to All Points East with a near flawless set.

This is live music at its very best.

ALL POINTS EAST PRESENTS FIELD DAY

On Sunday, long-standing London festival Field Day took over Victoria Park for ‘All Points East presents Field Day’. For the last few Field Days the festival had moved from its Victoria Park home where it had been for ten years (2007-2017) to other locations. I wasn’t there on Sunday but I spoke to some fans of the festival the day before who were happy to see Field Day return home. The line up they put together wasn’t as diverse or eclectic as some past Field Day line ups, but it did feature many exciting dance-driven artists including live sets from Bicep, Floating Points and Ross From Friends as well as DJ sets from the likes of Adelphi Music Factory, Artwork, Maribou State, Mount Kimbe, Special Request, George FitzGerald, DJ Seinfeld and Logic1000.

MONDAY, FEATURING LIANNE LA HAVAS AND FOALS – BUT WITH CARIBOU HIGHLIGHTING

I returned to the festival on Monday, which had a different feel musically to the Friday and Saturday but still managed to bring in a great crowd. Highlights included a soulful set from Lianne La Havas as well as Foals and the multi-talented Holly Humberstone.

Although a lot of the weekend felt UK-driven which really helped give the festival a musical identity, there were moments for artists from further afield too like Gangs of Youth or Canadian producer and songwriter Caribou aka Dan Snaith. Caribou’s virtuosic set was a personal highlight for me. Backed by an incredibly talented band, Caribou showed off his versatility. Seamlessly going between chopping infectious vocal samples, extended drum driven songs where he locked into hypnotic grooves playing drums alongside the other drummer in his band, playing explosive dance synth riffs and singing understated but gorgeous vocals. It was a genuinely uplifting set. Whether it was Caribou’s love for music coming across to the audience or the contagious optimism of the crowd throughout the set, Caribou’s set had the communal, joyous atmosphere of watching live music in a festival crowd that is hard to get anywhere else.

ABOUT THE FESTIVAL

All Points East had six stages; the two biggest were the West Stage and the East Stage. Both these stages looked identical and were at opposite ends of the festival. The North Arena was a big top-style stage that hosted acts included Fred Again…, Mura Masa, Romy and POTÉ. The PlayNext stage was inspired by Edith Bowman’s music discovery podcast. Compered by Edith herself, PlayNext showcased new artists like Elkka, who’s been one of my favourite newer dance producers since I heard her beautiful track ‘Stay (Warm Edit)’ a while back.

BBC 6 Music’s stage focused on bringing DJs to the festival, including the iconic jungle producer Shy FX and some of their best-loved broadcasters like Tom Ravenscroft and Mary Anne Hobbs.

Médecins Sans Frontiéres / Doctors Without Borders had a strong presence at the festival which was great to see. They talked to people all weekend and had material shown by the festival on the big screens. One MSF volunteer I spoke to had a very clear message for festival goers – everybody deserves access to free healthcare.

Music Declares were also there, campaigning on behalf of the music industry in the run up to COP26 to hold the UK government to account and urge them to take more serious action in response to the climate crisis. Centred around the striking slogan ‘No Music on a Dead Planet’, Music Declares are using the cultural and economic power given to them by their positions as artists and music business figures to lead calls for systemic change from the creative industry. They are also using their creativity to find new ways to get people engaged with the climate conversation. From running events to having t-shirt designs from legendary artists like Peter Saville, Thom Yorke and Jamie Reid.

The facilities I used at the festival were fairly decent. With the return to festivals being unsure for much of the year, some festivals I’ve been to this year have struggled to provide things they ordinarily would. All Points East managed to run a smooth event after an exceptionally difficult year for live music, which is a credit to them.

Unlike some festivals All Points East doesn’t go out of its way to create a unique, striking set up or give punters unique experiences outside the music. But despite this it still had a genuinely brilliant atmosphere thanks to an ideal location, an easy going but up for it crowd and most importantly one of the best line ups around.

All Points East is all about the music and when the line up is this good, it becomes unmissable.

 

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