Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Hackney Weekend

Having been slightly disappointed by Lovebox on the previous weekend, I didn't know exactly what to think going into BBC Radio 1's Hackney Weekend on Saturday.  Would I spend another two hours being outraged at the lack of variety of acts and fighting the urge to leave and walk home?  I mean, I like Drum & Bass as much as the next guy, but between the hours of 5 and 7pm, when you aren't on any Class A drugs, and that seems to be ALL that is playing on every single one of the five stages, it's enough to make you want to eat your £50-ticket and storm out.  If the Groove Armada hadn't swept in with one of the most engaging, beautiful, theatrical sets I've ever seen, I think I would have done just that.

But that was Lovebox, and this was Hackney Weekend.  For starters, the tickets for HW had been FREE (and well worth the faff of an endlessly crashing website on the day of release), so if it was terrible, I could just wash my hands of it, nothing lost or gained, and walk out.  That was the contingency plan.

We were warned by email, website, and news coverage to allow two hours to get through the queue.  This seemed outrageous, but we weren't worried about catching the early acts, so we moseyed up about two hours after the 1pm start, drinks in hand, prepared to wait.  I guess if you were trying to get in for half ten when the gates opened, then it might have taken two hours.  We ended up abandoning a Strongbow and half a Crabbies because we couldn't finish them before the bag search.

We were in by 3:30, having breezed through the hyped-up security points.  We arrived at the main stage and caught the end of Rizzle Kicks.

(A brief warning: All of my video footage from this event is pretty shoddy.  The iPhone 3GS does not agree with heavy, resounding bass, so I've done my best to trim and dull the sound, but please forgive the appalling quality.)

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I have had a slight crush on these Brighton boys since I first saw this video, but my Brighton-boy date has some personal beef with them involving the ill treatment of a lady friend, so we didn't stick around for long.  I always try to side with the better treatment of ladies.

We did buy a £7 programme so we'd know what was on which of the six stages at any given time, and it was a valuable investment.  We could see right away that we didn't want to see much on the Main Stage until Jay-Z at 9:50pm, so we headed to the In New Music We Trust Stage, which proved to have the best lineup throughout the rest of the day.

After a wander to suss out the food situation, we settled in out of the rain with some terrible fish and chips to wait for the Maccabees.  This ended up being our first happy accident of the day (the waiting, not the fish), as we ended up seeing Rudimental.  The opening -- which I tried (and arguably failed) to capture in the video below -- was incredible.


Yes, I had to mask most of the sound from the above clip, and it's pretty shaky and blurry, but those drummers are wearing rabbit heads, and that's the kind of theatricality that I love.  They proceeded to play a fantastic set, including this song, which has one of my favourite music videos at the moment.  It was amazing.  I can't actually remember whether we saw the Maccabees.

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We made another tour of the grounds, and stumbled on Nicki Minaj.  Now, I know that Nicki Minaj is not the most amazing singer, but I am a fan of her cheek (pun intended), and I expected her to put on a good show.  What I saw was not bad, it was just exactly how it sounds on the radio.  Because it was all prerecorded.  

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See that woman in clear view singing along to the Nicki Minaj track?  That's what Nicki Minaj was doing.  Singing along (sometimes) to a recording of her singing.  Sometimes she just skipped around the stage, clearly not lip-synching to the track that was playing.  I still sang along to Super Bass, because hey, it's catchy.

We caught Jack White back at the In New Music We Trust Stage (why he was there is a bit confusing) with his all-male band.  We got there early, which meant we were up front with the die-hard fans, so we were in a bit of a jump-or-be-jumped-on situation; I chose jump.  Jack White was incredible, and finished just in time for us to get a drink on the way to the Main Stage for Jay-Z.

Jay-Z was... exactly as amazing as I expected.  He opened with 'Run This Town', and as he stepped out of the darkness onto a smoke-filled stage, who should step out from behind him but Rihanna.  It was an incredible, high-energy opening to a set of greatest hits.  Check it out here (somehow the BBC's footage is slightly better than mine).

This was one of my favourite moments, and also one of the only ungarbled bit of footage I have:

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After 'Dirt Off Your Shoulder' and '99 Problems', the unmistakable opening of 'Paper Planes' began playing, and sure enough, there was MIA, guest star number two.  Unfortunately, her mic stopped working halfway through the one song she came to perform, but she managed to grab one off a backup singer (rapper?) and carry-on.  

Jay-Z's set ended around 10:15, but we all knew the license ran until 11, so we eagerly (and at this point, damply) awaited the encore.  Several minutes of theatrical silence from the stage and cheers of 'More!' from the audience followed, and then a gigantic American flag dropped down from the rafters.  It looked like this, only slightly less blurry:


Jay-Z stepped out onto the stage with his signature hoodie pulled low over his face, head bowed towards the audience, back to the American flag, hands clasped in front of him.  Suddenly, and with great flourish, he pulled back his hoodie, raised his head and began-- oh my god it's Kanye!!  It was Kanye West, not Jay-Z.  They pulled the old bait and switch, and they got us all.  

Jay-Z came back out, and the show finished up with several tracks off their collaborative 'Watch the Throne' Album.  At that point, I realised that all of my footage would not only suffer the inadequate technologies of an iPhone camera, but also the constant and uncontrollable movement of my dancing.  Lesson learned: enjoy the concert, don't try to capture it for others on your new toy.  

Other valuable lessons of the day included: even if you're sure it's about to rain and you really want to get some food and find shelter, don't go to the one food stand without a queue, especially for fish and chips; your fish will be microwaved and soggy and your chips will have been refried several times for similar, heat-retaining purposes.  Also, don't buy too much booze for the entrance queue if you're arriving mid-afternoon, and don't panic about the hyperbolised security warnings: I saw everything from bottles of vodka to much harder stuff inside.  I'm pretty sure the guy who checked my ticket was 16.  

Allow me to conclude by saying thank you to the BBC for creating this free event and giving access and priority to local residents.  It was great to be on what now feels like my home turf, enjoying East London in all of its drizzly glory.