All Points East review – Björk brings life to corporate festival newcomer

Victoria Park, London
Big-hitting headliners such as LCD Soundsystem and Lorde made the first All Points East a success, but thin afternoon bills and a fuzzy identity didn’t help

Late last year, All Points East sent shockwaves through the London festival circuit. Hosted by Coachella promoters Goldenvoice and its parent company AEG (founded by controversial Republican donor Philip Anschutz), the bumper 10-day event was set to oust long-term residents Field Day, Lovebox and Citadel from east London’s Victoria Park. Really, this wasn’t a straightforward case of imperious corporate giant v the little guys – Lovebox for one is owned by promoter behemoth Live Nation – but that hasn’t prevented APE from acquiring the air of a bland business venture.

It’s difficult to detect any specific identity among the branded displays and colossal Pizza Express concessions, and while its displaced forebears all have distinct party lines – Field Day continues to act as a hipster haven, Lovebox has doubled down on rap and R&B and Citadel focuses on indie and extra-musical entertainment – the All Points East lineup seems strung together by neither style nor sensibility.

Lorde performing at All Points East.
Lorde performing at All Points East. Photograph: Michael Jamison/Rex/Shutterstock

That said, the festival’s big bookings are strong enough to warrant a little fuzziness elsewhere. Friday’s main stage sported a double dose of New York City nostalgia from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and LCD Soundsystem – eminently danceable and insistently poignant, they are the platonic ideal of festival headliners. While you could argue that Saturday’s bill-toppers the xx also boast those qualities, the London trio weren’t quite as compelling: their tendency to revert to a glacial pace meant their set sagged slightly in the middle. More triumphant was Father John Misty’s polyphonic folk, and Lorde, whose unorthodox pop amassed euphoric heft along the way.

The afternoon bills felt thin, though there were gems to be found. Hookworms provided a warm blast of emo-punk; Stefflon Don gave a masterclass in sonorous dancehall; Hercules and Love Affair showcased sumptuous disco. In fact, there was a strong dance music showing, with a DJ-dedicated stage and a weekend-long outing for James Murphy and Soulwax’s brilliant makeshift club Despacio.

Karen O and Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Karen O and Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Photograph: Vianney Le Caer/Rex/Shutterstock

It was left to Sunday headliner Björk to create a lasting impression for this rather disparate series of shows. Doubling as the first UK date on her European tour, her stunning avant-pop opera had a suitably awesome backdrop in the form of a (real) full moon and lightning display – plus a lush woodland stage set. Largely a showcase of songs from last year’s “Tinder album” Utopia, the title track’s pastoral woodwind was quickly flooded by treacly bass, and the twisted bucolicism continued from there: glitchy storms of production juxtaposed against impish flautists and Björk’s unmistakable voice. The latter, both urgent and brittle, ensured that even old hits such as Human Behaviour bristled with life. In many ways, Björk’s performance felt detached from the surroundings – her career has been defined by idiosyncrasy and integrity, which aren’t exactly All Points East buzzwords – but it provided an undoubtedly sublime climax to the weekend nevertheless.

Not that this spelled the end of All Points East’s debut outing: the next few days will see the festival grounds stage free community-minded events, while the final stretch will be filled, confusingly, by a trio of one-off gigs that very much resembles another three-day festival. It remains to be seen whether its backers believe it’s worth carving out any sort of coherent character for All Points East. Currently little more than a showcase for high-calibre (and presumably pricey) headline acts, its debut proved a decent if not especially distinctive addition to the festival calendar.


Rachel Aroesti

The GuardianTramp

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