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New Kid On The Block: All Points East Enjoys A Winning Start

Friday, 08 June 2018 Written by Helen Payne

Photo: Rory Marcham

The first staging of All Points East had a lot riding on it. A new London festival with a stellar line up, plus several similarly star-studded sideshows, it had to overcome an already stacked calendar of competitors and some inevitable teething problems. And it did. Helen Payne found some awkward stage timings to navigate during an otherwise perfect, if excessive, few days.

Imagine this.

It’s 25 degrees in late May. Victoria Park, London. By 6.30pm, you’re dancing to the tropical pop beats and singalong sounds of Friendly Fires with the confidence of two ciders in your gut, the sun on your back, and your friends by your side. You’re showered in rainbow confetti. It’s the most perfect scene. You’ll remember it for what feels like forever.

Sounds familiar, right? Festivals. Every year we think it’s a great idea to spend extortionate amounts of cash to see our favourite bands (and discover some new ones) in a field, and then crouch in paperless and soapless portaloos and jump and scream till our feet and throats hurt. And at times like this, it really is a great idea. Festivals live and die on these moments. Welcome to the party, All Points East.

When Ed Macfarlane and co. close their set with the superbly bouncy Kiss of Life, you get your breath back and turn your attention to the Marmite Father John Misty. Backed by a string orchestra and his band (who all look identical to their Father) he runs through a repertoire of songs that think they’re cleverer than you are. The busy I Love You, Honeybear, the ironic Pure Comedy and the tuneless whistling of the eponymous Mr. Tillman don’t quite do enough to win you over.

Tillman leaves the stage 20 minutes early, according to your trusty print out. Having missed the beginning of his set due to the walk between the North and East stages, you realise this has happened a few times already. Sub-optimal, because on the line-up builder provided by All Points East on their app - the only (official) way of finding stage timings pre-event - it looks as though there’ll be no clashes. Given it’s being sold as a festival for discerning music fans, you reconsider how well the logistics have actually been thought out.

Perhaps it was naive to think that you (and 70% of Beck’s audience) wouldn't have to leave before the end of his colour-fuelled, exuberant set to make sure you don’t miss any of Björk’s. You still feel guilty. It is of course difficult to avoid clashes when you’ve got such a huge line up, but the impression given before your arrival is that there will be very few occasions like this. With a 15 minute walk from one end of the site to the next and no gap between the big acts? Not so much.

That said, the calibre and quantity of artists makes up for missing a few songs, right? You can forgive missing the War on Drugs to secure a perfect viewing position for the National. You can forgive cutting French indie-pop darlings Phoenix out of your timetable to get a fight-worthy spot in the front row for LCD Soundsystem.

Eyes wide, you watch the already anthemic Tonite and Call The Police from last year’s ‘American Dream’, and witness All My Friends concluding one of the best live sets you’ve ever seen. James Murphy, Nancy Whang and Pat Mahoney joke with each other, steal drum heads and generally have a blast. It’s preceded by fellow New Yorkers Yeah Yeah Yeahs, with the happiest drummer in the world, Brian Chase, filling Heads Will Roll, Maps, and Sacrilege with smiles. Karen O’s name is branded in sparkles over her backside while she deepthroats a microphone. It is the best day.

Twenty four hours later and you’re reunited with your friends. Saturday evening’s stage splits mean that while you are checking out a boiler suited Sampha, they’re  spread out over the site catching sets from dance phenoms Justice and pop queen Lorde. When you’re back together again after sunset, you witness an “I was there” moment: lightning blasts through the sky overhead, framing the stage for an unforgettable show by the XX. They rework Shelter into a playground of house beats for producer Jamie xx, master the vocal plaits on Crystallised, and play on nostalgia by recalling having written a couple of songs in this very park.

Jump forward another 24 hours, and you’re watching the completely inimitable Björk, with her wonderful voice and particularly yonic choice of stage accessories. She could never lack vitality, but something doesn’t sit right. Although recreating tracks from her latest album ‘Utopia’ in her effervescent, euphoric style, there’s no climax to her headline slot. There are zero nods to the hits and it ends early, just as seamlessly as it began.

The evenings of All Points East are full to the brim with acclaimed, unmissable musicians, but the East Stage only holds its own from around 5pm. You manage to catch Young Fathers give a profile-raising performance, and bop under the inflatable pineapples being thrown around during Glass Animals’ set. But the afternoons are slow. With 30 to 40 minute gaps and nothing of huge interest to fill them, it makes for a good time to grab some food before the evening rush. But could these spaces have been filled by one of the bands you have to miss later in the evening?

A week of work later, you arrive back in the park on Saturday expecting a specifically curated line up for fans of the National. This is an All Points East sideshow - a trio of events also featuring Catfish and the Bottlemen and Nick Cave. It’s forecast as a totally separate thing, but the second All Points East weekend doesn’t feel much different to the first. It’s still got first class bands, evening overlaps, thin afternoons and a fondue fries stall, just one less stage.

Through a mysterious tunnel, you stumble into the JägerHaus, home to a small industrial style stage and picnic-bench garden, in time for Cosmo Sheldrake. The skinny, awkward Londoner blends what could be Björk’s flute army into a jaunty Dr Seuss musical. You’re astounded. Sheldrake introduces his biggest song, Rich, by explaining how he ripped apart a cow carcass for the percussive samples. It’s gross, and you can’t unhear the sound of churning gristle.

You float over to see a disappointing Rostam on the main stage, and decide getting that delicious Moorish wrap again would be far more entertaining than his lazy, unexciting display. This Is The Kit pick up the afternoon, as Kate Stables and her band (which seems to has more members every time you see them), could never let you down with their delicate banjos and folky, intricate vocal harmonies.

Both Public Service Broadcasting and Warpaint blow you away with captivating performances, and Cat Power’s soulful idiosyncrasies are well worth the sunburn. But you do wonder how relevant some of the acts are right now. Huge names and acclaimed musicians, yes, but Cat Power hasn’t released an album since 2012’s ‘Sun’, and Warpaint have been pretty quiet since ‘Heads Up’ dropped two years ago.

Again, it feels like the evening is far more in touch, as Future Islands knock you for six (and seven, and eight, depending on how you mix your metaphors) with tracks from ‘The Far Field’, which come across even better live than they do on the record. And the National give it everything they’ve got, performing new favourites from last year’s ‘Sleep Well, Beast’, as well as classics Mr November, Fake Empire and Graceless. They include a touching tribute to Scott Hutchison on one of their most heartfelt numbers, About Today.

Over the course of both weekends, you’ve gained a significant number of hair-flick worthy-oh yeah-I’ve-seen-that-band-they’re-amazings. On reflection it’s definitely worth the ticket price. You’ve had a week of jaw-dropping music, spectacular food and amazing fun, and decided that, actually, missing a few acts here and there isn’t the be all and end all when you’ve ticked off a huge chunk of your bucket list. You suspect that next year, All Points East will have another good a line-up, but will cut off some of the excess trimmings and make it easier to see the bands that you, the discerning music fan, paid a lot to see.

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