Festival review: All Points East 2021
This year, it felt like summer ended before it even began. There was so much to get excited about as we headed into summer ’21, with the vaccine rollout going better than anyone could have expected, and the government’s assurance that all social distancing measures would be dropped by July. However, a lot of the things we were impatiently waiting for never seemed to materialise. Boris’s “Freedom Day”, along with the weather, never really seemed to pick up any traction. Now we’re staring into the end of the August bank holiday weekend, wondering where the time went.
Despite the strange summer, we sure as hell gave it the best send-off we could. With a bumper bank holiday weekend packed with festival after festival, there was a lot riding on the likes of Reading, Leeds, Field Day, and All Points East, to make up for lost time. I’m not sure I could go as far to say that they managed to make amends for the last eighteen months of coronavirus restrictions (nothing except an intensive round of psychodynamic therapy could possibly heal those wounds), but they damn well gave it their best shot.
Walking toward Victoria Park to All Points East, one of London’s biggest multi-day festivals, there was a definite feeling of nostalgia sweeping the streets of Hackney. Groups of threes, fours, and even some sixes, lined the streets each dressed up in full festival regalia – glitter, bucket hats, 70s style flares, the whole job lot. Although people seemed thrilled to be out of the house, there was also a sense that we had forgotten how to festival. Festivalgoers were excited but also perhaps a little tentative. There seemed to be a sense that, if we expressed too much overt joy, someone might rush in and take all the freedom we had worked so hard toward away from us.
Any hesitation was short-lived though. Inside the confines of All Points East, it was a different story. Teenagers and twenty-something year olds alike all seemed giddy with joy; joy at the return of live music, joy at the return of the always-eventful festival crowds, and joy at the return of the type of day drinking you only see on bank holiday weekends. It was strange to see so many people all scrambling to savour every last drop before the season disappeared for another year. It felt odd to be back in a crowd again, everybody trying to navigate portaloos and bar queues once again. Hand sanitiser was definitely more widely distributed than it would’ve been in previous years, but apart from that, it almost felt as though coronavirus had never dampened our festival spirit in the first place. Walking through All Points East, the thought that every single festivalgoer in sight had been in an enforced lockdown merely months previously, was surreal.
London Grammar and Jorja Smith (Credit: All Points East)
All Points East has been the recipient of some criticism, mostly for line-ups that seemed to appeal mostly to a millennial audience. However, Friday 27th August was the day Zoomers were out in force. This is probably because the line-up was the youngest of the long weekends’ festivities by some way. Jorja Smith and London Grammar were the headliners, and it was great to see two female vocalists absolutely at the top of their game (especially after Reading and Leeds courted controversy for only hosting a meagre amount of female headliners). However, at “all points” of the festival the energy didn’t seem to be coming from the stage, but from the crowd themselves.
Hip-hop acts Kojey Radical and Loyle Carner really managed to harness that energy. Under their steely grip, Radical and Carner both managed to turn the audiences’ unbridled enthusiasm into something really special. Kojey Radical appeared on the festivals’ West stage at about five o’clock, a difficult time for any act at a festival because people are probably more worried about what they’ll be eating for dinner than getting down to some groovy tunes. Kojey Radical combatted this through sheer passion for his craft. He really was a sight to behold, stripping down from his baggy white t-shirt and jacket to his bare chest over the course of his performance. He bounded around the stage like a puppy on acid. After his own set, he quickly ran across to the East stage to accompany Sons of Kemet in a fevered and glorious meeting of minds. Sons of Kemet are a jazz group that incorporate funk, reggae, and African folk music, to form one of the most original and commanding presences in the contemporary music scene today. From old-school hip-hop beats to the art-funk vibes of Sons of Kemet, Kojey Radical and Sons of Kemet together straddled multiple genres across multiple stages. They did so masterfully.
Loyle Carner (Credit: DIY)
Loyle Carner took to the East stage much later in the evening, at just gone half past eight. By then, crowds were a lot hungrier for something to dance and let loose to. Loyle Carner did not disappoint. Although you would be forgiven for dismissing Carner as simply a cult phenomenon, his music actually has a far greater reach than one would first suspect. Songs such as ‘You Don’t Know’ and ‘Ain’t Nothing Changed’ were huge crowd pleasers, and his decision to end on ‘No CDs’ was very wise, as the rock-inspired tune exploded across the stage. He also brought out close friends Tom Misch and Kofi Stone, both of whom went down very well with the audience and bought a bit of variety of Carner’s set. Loyle Carner’s knack for soulful, introspective lyrics was a pleasure to hear – it was great to see that so many people loved him, and knew his songs off by heart. Carner was probably the highlight of my entire summer, never mind my weekend.
Overall, All Points East was a fantastic end to a summer that has felt slightly lack lustre. It 100% satisfied my craving to get smashed in a field surrounded by strangers and I am so glad that I got to witness the Bank holiday madness first-hand.
Words by Rebecca Clayton