Despite the wholly expected British summer downpour, British Summer Time 2016 got off to a fantastic start in Hyde Park on Friday with an incredible line-up of bands.
Of the two smaller stages, Casa Bacardi hosted an eclectic mix of funky latino grooves, bashment and dancehall including the laid-back, sun-soaked dub reggae sounds of London native Kiko Bun setting the venue alight. His soulful voice and rocksteady skanking beats stirred up with salsa vibes left no one able to control their dancing feet. You may already be familiar with his cover of Toots And The Maytals ’54-46 Was My Number’ for This Is England ’90, and from the sounds of things this man is only getting started taking the reggae charts by storm.
Over on the Barclaycard stage, grey clouds gathered overhead as Belgian quintet Balthazar sought to draw in an audience with their melancholic, street-tripping indie rock; a sound reminiscent of the Arctic Monkeys recent album, but with more strings. The electronic synth-pop of Shura lent a perfect blissed-out festival vibe to the early afternoon right before Ghostpoet and Warpaint took to the stage. Having witnessed Ghostpoet two years ago in the dark, moody underbelly of Hamburg’s Reeperbahn festival, I felt disappointed that a lot of his subliminal delivery and lyrics were lost on the garish Barclaycard stage which lacked the atmosphere his music deserves, as well as suffering from sound complications on the outdoor stage.
Towering over the far end of the festival arena, the main Great Oak stage delivered performances during the day from artists such as emotive young rapper Loyle Carner and TV On The Radio whose wild psychedelic guitars and thick fuzzy bass lines warmed up the umbrella-wielding crowds taking shelter from the drizzly outbursts.
Then came the lightning bolt: her name, Patti Smith. Armed with Allen Ginsberg’s iconic poem ‘Footnote To Howl’, Patti read fervently to the masses who now flocked to the stage. Opening with ‘She’, her band (including son Jackson Smith alongside longtime collaborator Lenny Kaye on guitars) performed an incendiary set, slipping into a sombre cover of Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’ and dedicating ‘Pissing In A River’ to birthday boy Julian Assange. Patti’s sheer passion and shamanic presence held everyone to her as she spoke for so many frustrated by Brexit, and reaching out to the people of Istanbul – the “awesome great spirit” of the people – she cried out for freedom and unity: “We control our destiny, don’t let them take it from you”.
Determined to heighten the political mood, headlining on the main stage Massive Attack prepared to launch a visual barrage of recent newspaper headlines, consumerist brands and streams of computer code trailing in lights across the huge screen behind them. With the park descended into evening darkness and the hundreds of faces illuminated as we gazed back, the effect was overwhelmingly dystopian; a looming reflection of the chaotic world outside the gates. “Keep the doors open for everybody”, nodded a more serious than usual Robert del Naja to widespread yells of approval from the crowd.
Breaching the generational discourse, the band were joined onstage by Scottish neo-soul trio Young Fathers, vocalist Azekel and TV On The Radio’s Tunde, as well as old Bristol mucker Tricky, performing with Massive Attack for the first time in 20 years ahead of their homecoming gig in September; although del Naja points out they did not realise they would be playing ‘Eurochild’ as a requiem when writing it two decades ago. Horace Andy joins too; wheeled onstage with a broken leg to sing ‘Angel’, which still managed to raise goosebumps on my skin; not to mention Deborah Miller‘s vocals on ‘Safe From Harm’: pure spine-tingling euphoria. Beneath the words, “we are in this together”, alongside still photographs of child refugees, the performance closed with a full orchestra playing ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ and the reminder that unity comes from empathy.
If anger is fuel for the creative good, then let the people rage. We need a soundtrack to document our times.
Check out the video for Massive Attack’s ‘Voodoo In Our Blood’, right here: