Victoria Park at lunchtime on Saturday still bore the brunt of LED Day 1: the ground was damp and trodden on and the main stage looked lived in, yet abandoned. Where was everybody? Fairground waltzers flashed and spun amidst an eerily deserted space.
Past an abandoned ice cream van and an empty carousel, suddenly all became clear. Sub Focus had commandeered the Annie Mac tent and had a full house bouncing. A set of the friendly drum and bass he made his name on, including ubiquitous anthem X Ray, also veered into house, breaks, dubstep and Soca-influenced booty bass, all of which was tinged with the crowd pleasing vibe he excels in.
Northern electro poptarts Kids On Bridges had taken to the main stage and were making an impressive amount of perky noise for three lads in shiny shell suits. Nevertheless, the ghost town feel couldn’t be displaced by any amount chirpy scouse chirruping. South African rap duo Die Antwoord struggled to lure the punters over too. But chart-botherer Professor Green most certainly could and a still-rammed Annie Mac tent happily lapped up his somewhat nasal urban raconteur bit, accompanied by a full eight piece band. After his INXS molesting single Need You Tonight, the Prof was off, to be replaced by Shy FX and his decks. While the DJ fiddled with his equipment, the crowd revealed just how easily pleased ravers are by happily having it to piped-in filler music featuring On A Ragga Tip and Outer Space. When Shy FX actually started, he launched straight into a jungle greatest hits sets, featuring usual suspects Helicopter, Pulp Fiction, Original Nuttah and the like, which ensured the easily pleased ravers remained that way.
Meanwhile, down the side of the main stage, a fenced-off corridor leading to the VIP area can be found. For an additional wodge of cash, a punter purchases the right to queue up and access some slightly less boggy ground, decorated with a tent playing ’90s hits’ and actual flush toilets. Capitalism in all its finery. If, by finery, you mean a barefaced exercise in profiteering.
Despite the wristbands and fundamental right to taps and squirty soap, when the heavens opened, absolutely everybody got wet. That rain that the BBC and our friends at the Met Office promised us would be in absentia poured it down as indie electrolytes Friendly Fires took to the main stage. Their likeable line in dance-pop was pleasurable on the ear but almost lost amongst the sudden downpour. They get points for resilience however, as most of their audience scattered for the nearest tree.
Across a huge grey foreboding sky, an enormous rainbow suddenly arced across Victoria Park. As though it were a planned stage prop or a colourful analogy for her arrival, Alison Goldfrapp swept on stage dressed as a shimmering flying squirrel. The ominous sky was battled back by the glam rock electro stomp of classics Strict Machine and Train, but the gentler, less ballsy ’80s inflected tunes from recent album Headfirst paled in comparison.
Back in the now rather damp Annie Mac tent, the woman herself had just finished regaling the crowd with a mixture of dance tunes and chart fodder before it was time for Aphex Twin. Perhaps the only act on the bill for whom swirling angry clouds provide the perfect backdrop, an opening segment of nightmarish noises slammed instantly into an assailing wall of brooding, banging electronica. A spectacular array of visuals and lasers accompanied this highlight set. Not a well-kept secret, but surprising nonetheless: Die Antwoord popped up on the stage for a brief collaboration with the elusive, singular twin.
The strange scheduling at last makes some sense for the very end: all eyes are on the main stage for the first London performance in a decade for Leftfield. The sound on the main stage had seemed anaemic all day and this unfortunately stayed the same for the headliner. Rumbling anthems from their two albums, Leftism and Rhythm And Stealth, including the transcendental Phat Planet, were reminders of how potent an era for UK dance music the late ’90s were. But sadly the setting and the sound couldn’t quite bolster the music.
Overall this new event suffered some deep teething problems. If the cause was financial issues then some kudos has to go to the organisers for making it happen at all. However it just wasn’t up to the standards expected on a weekend that coincided with SouthWestFour and Creamfields, as well as numerous other music festivals. Field Day and Lovebox had both struggled in the past, and maybe it simply takes a few attempts before these Hackney gatherings get it right (or, in the latter’s case, become three-dayers). Let’s hope so, because if Victoria Park can host a successful dance music festival alongside those it already has, that would complete a fine armoury of music events in its arsenal.