"Mostly what I say onstage is a reminder that we're all gonna die," said James Murphy during LCD Soundsystem's headline slot on the first night of All Points East. "It's just a fact of the mortality of life." A lot hung heavy in the air this past weekend at Victoria Park in East London, even before the arch frontman took centerstage on the muggy Friday.
Victoria Park has been at the centre of a London festival shakeup. Last autumn, AEG Presents secured the rights to host events at the East London spot in a deal with Tower Hamlets council. This forced out London's Field Day and Lovebox festivals, which have called the park home for at least ten years. In the midst of this, Goldenvoice, which is owned by AEG and runs Coachella, introduced All Points East. Its corporate reputation preceded it—and corporate it was. Onsite, there was almost always a brand logo in your eye-line. Brand activation booths were all over the grounds, though it was unclear what any of them involved. Samsung even managed to place an obnoxiously bright viewing booth in the perfect spot to ruin everyone's Instagrams of the lightning storm looming over Björk's ethereal closing set on Sunday night.
All Points East did little to promote a personality, but its bookings made a statement. The lineup, which spanned dance, hip-hop, indie and pop with an electronic thread running throughout, had a stronger gender balance than most festivals with similar lineups. Headliners LCD Soundsystem, The xx and Björk made sense next to each other on a flyer, but the mix of Lorde, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Beck, Dixon, Justice, Sampha, Phoenix and Father John Misty felt like a jumbled, if still enticing, effort to make everyone happy. The small-typeface names proved the most interesting, including Omar-S, Popcaan, Kelela, Hunee, Call Super, Shanti Celeste, Yaeji and Mr. G.
Before LCD Soundsystem's loving exercise in the sort of nostalgia their songs rail against, Friday night's calm lineup helped festivalgoers get a feel for their weekend home. I could hear Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O commanding the North Stage from the security lines and regretted not leaving the office sooner. Walking into James Murphy and 2ManyDJs' Despacio felt like stepping into a club, with an already strong crowd grooving to house and disco in the sweaty tent. Despite touring again since 2016, LCD Soundsystem's headlining set at the East Stage still felt like a fresh family reunion. Wry as ever, they opened with "You Wanted A Hit" because they want you to know that they know; it wasn't until five songs in that they played material off American Dream. Emotional whoppers "Someone Great" and "Home" were interspersed with new cuts "Tonite," "How Do You Sleep," (which they've only just started playing live, a real treat for us) and the Nancy Whang-highlighting Chic cover, "I Want Your Love." The night ended with "Dance Yrself Clean" and "All My Friends" singalongs, and probably some tears.
Last-minute, unannounced lineup changes at the X Stage, the festival's dedicated dance music stage, were a frustrating start to Saturday. Koyejo Oloko stepped in for an absent DJ Python with an atmospheric set, featuring slow jams such as Babyfather's "Meditation." Moxie then filled in for Call Super with a set that mirrored the growing excitement as day turned into evening. Shanti Celeste and Hunee followed with joyous disco and shaking hips. A strong presence on the North Stage, Lorde balanced letting her warm personality and deep emotion shine through with jumping bops "Supercut," "Ribs" and "Green Light" and quiet ballad "Liability," during which she sat on the stage's edge while the almost-full moon looked its brightest. She shouted out Disclosure after performing their sultry revenge collab, "Magnets," with an on-point observation: "I feel like they'd be here. Have you seen them? Say hi from me."
Now that it was properly nighttime, The xx could take the stage. (According to Jamie xx, the band's contract insures they only perform after dark.) Having previously seen the trio at the US venues 9:30 Club and Merriweather Post Pavilion, it was rewarding to watch them successfully grow their intimate show for the massive East Stage, boosted by the impressively clear soundsystem. They projected heat as they slinked around the stage, with glowing red graphics to match. In the middle of debut album cut "Islands," Romy Madley Croft snuck in a cover of Madonna's "Ray Of Light."
Storms threatened the last day of All Points East. In the balmy afternoon at the X Stage, Mr. G danced, kicked and jumped his way through the weekend-highlight performance. Yaeji kept spirits up, before The Black Madonna gave dancers the final release they needed with crowd-pleasing house and disco edits and classics, ending on Metro Area's "Miura." She wore a Black Lives Matter T-shirt, which further charged the political current running through the weekend—talk of Ireland's abortion ban and neon "Bollocks To Brexit" stickers abounded.
Finally, it was time for Björk. The sky was ready, too, as an appropriately theatrical lightning cloud inched closer. Wearing what could only be described as an extremely Björk ensemble, she greeted "precious little London" and closed out the festival with a dreamy comedown set, adorned by graphics of dying flowers and a stage full of greenery and dancing musicians. A sign-language translator stood next to the stage—another inclusive move, in addition to accessible toilets, low-height bars and a wheelchair-friendly viewing platform, to make the festival welcoming to all. At a festival that tried so hard to be Fun and Cool (it succeeded with the former, to some extent), Björk was unconcerned with playing up to the setting, letting her personality burst through. All Points East should take note.
Photo credit /
Jordan Curtis Hughes - Lead, Lorde, The xx
Tom Hancock - Grass, X Stage
Santiago Felipe - Björk