By their very nature, festivals are a strange beast. Sure, the notion of coming together to experience and celebrate is not a new one – look at the Ancient Greeks and their symposiums, or the yearly tradition of Christmas. But with the entry fees and barriers and long-drops, festivals are similar to night-clubs in their ability to create new spaces that exist outside of day-to-day life.
For the time these places exist, normal social rules seem to fall away. Breakfast is a can of cider. Otherwise explicitly and stereotypically heterosexual men don enough glitter and lycra to sink a pride float. We throw ourselves around the flags and the uplit trees without asking ourselves why they’re there, before moving around the novelty stalls, the lights, the art installations, the burger vans and the crowds. Essentially, for a weekend or a day, a festival offers the chance to be lost in the immersive theatricality of an imagined utopia – the memories of which can then be used to fill the rut and tedium of the everyday, until the next time we’re back in a field.
In each iteration of these spaces, that performance takes on a different form. For every utopia, there’s a dystopia. There are fuckboys and couples; children and families; greying men who resemble Peep Show’s Super Hans, chatting at hyperspeed next to teetotallers juggling fire poi. As each new festival arrives, there’s a different space to explore, and this weekend was the first of these explorations in the shape of the edition of inaugural All Points East – gloriously acronymed as APE. Taking place in east London’s Victoria Park (a space previously occupied by the Field Day, Lovebox and Mighty Hoopla festivals), APE ran for ten days from Friday 25 May to Sunday 3 June, with headliners from LCD Soundsystem and The xx to Björk.
I headed down to this first APE to see where it falls on the scale of dystopia to utopia; to find out whether the people in attendance were gurning their way through breezeblocks of MDMA or more likely to enjoy an evening at the Picturehouse with a glass of red wine; and to answer the ultimate question: who goes to All Points East and what space does it create?
I found my first punter: Jessie, from Denmark, who moved to London four years ago. “The music makes like 80 percent of it” she said, when I asked her what stands out about All Points East. “I would ditch a festival if the line up was crap. The other 20 percent though, is the people. People have definitely made an effort to come here and dress up and be really on it. They’re all really welcoming and you can just chat to guys next to you.”
Okay, so far, people who go to APE like friendly people who "make an effort to dress up" which… is nice? As I looked round I could see what she meant: people were talking and hugging, drinking and dancing with each other – a swirling mass of limbs made sentient, a human bee-hive made from sequins and glitter. One group were laughing at the guy who’d managed to drink so much that he’d undertook the misadventure of napping in the early afternoon sun; another were challenging each other to games of giant Jenga outside the whiskey bar, like some sort of snapshot from a booze ad campaign once daylight savings time starts.
“That’s what’s really lacking in pubs in London – you can’t chat to people around you,” Jessie continued, taking a bite from her loaded halloumi fries and looking out over the arena. “When you go to a festival people are really engaged and can be nice to each other; that’s really great”.
A blistering set from Kojey Radical came to prove Jessie’s hypothesis somewhat true. “I grew up just over there; these are my ends,” he shouted to rapturous applause at one point. That neighbourhood has no doubt changed in the time since Kojey grew up in Hoxton. Like so many people from the area, his is a story buffeted by the winds of gentrification, a story shaped by class and race, and an experience of life that – on the surface at least – most of the crowd did not share. Their connection to the park is born of those same winds of gentrification, though instead of being buffeted by it, they ride those winds. A festival like this highlights how quickly parts of London change. Victoria Park and its surrounding areas have become a place dominated by a certain notion of east London – one that’s predominantly white and middle class, and here, at APE, has people munching on falafel as they sweat off their hangovers from last night’s LCD Soundsystem set.
Elbowing the park’s previous tenants out of the way in a unique form of festival gentrification (Field Day and the Mighty Hoopla had to relocate to south London; Lovebox to west), All Points East is run by the behemoth promotions company AEG – AKA, the company that looks after Coachella, and was founded by a dude who has reportedly donated to anti-LGBT organisations and maybe hates weed. Presumably because they’re huge, AEG were able to secure Victoria Park for ten days this year and have a contract to be on site for the next five years while Field Day, in their new home in Brockwell Park, had to fight the council to be able to put on this year’s event (and did so with a line-up that, in AEG’s shadow, pales in comparison to previous years). Clearly, money talks, it makes the world go round – stuff it in your pants and have a dance, because some people don’t mind about this kind of stuff and that’s exactly the sort of crowd that were at APE.
“We flew in from New York City specifically for The xx” says Kareem, who was the second punter I bumped into and obviously a massive fan of computerised music that makes people want to touch each other. “People here are definitely so much friendlier than [NYC’s] The Governor’s Ball”, he continued, before wondering if that’s because “New Yorkers are just rude”, which is probably true (shout out London, where the streets don’t smell of hot trash from May-September) but also isn't (we'll still call you a dickhead under our breath if you step in front of us on the tube).
Next up on the punter carousel were Stevan and Evan, who I stumbled into while searching for some shade. “How do you get the right soul to a festival? That’s quite difficult” Steven began. “I’ve been to quite a few festivals on this site, and I think people are much friendlier at this than any of the others. I’ve found it much accessible than others”. Evan then added “The curation of this festival has been really great, it makes me feel really grateful to live in London, and this part of London particularly” – a statement that, whether intentional or not, comes across with an anemic sense of self-awareness when placed into the historical context of Victoria Park and its surrounding east London areas.
Still, Evan was right: APE was an indie paradise and reasonably well-curated in other genres, with the likes of Jesse James Solomon, Stefflon Don, Jelani Blackman and Abra showing up for the rap fan contingent, while Omar-S and the Despacio tent held it down for the danceheads, and Rhye and Rex Orange County appeared for people who yearn to feel things. I guess money can’t buy you everything but it can fund a festival that should appeal to every member of your friendship group. The big name sells were, of course, the acts toward the top of the bill – in this case, artists like Nick Cave, LCD Soundsystem, Justice, The National, Lorde and The xx.
London is a hard city to live in: it’s brash and obnoxious, difficult and testing, complicated and complex. Like most love letters, All Points East ignores a lot of this, choosing instead to focus on a present-day nostalgia and packaging it up in an arena selling halloumi fries and fish tacos. Despite the obvious commercial sheen plastered over the festival, though, sometimes in order to see something the clearest it’s necessary to wear some rose-tinted shades, just for a couple of days, if only so you might fall in love all over again.
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