City-based festivals are often strange landscapes, ones in which you’re totally vulnerable to the vagaries of the area itself.
The collective experience of the 70’s free festival utopians is anathema; no one is having quite the same time, for better or worse. Forget 20,000 people standing in a field, sorted for E’s and wizz – more likely one idiot standing at a cashpoint, because the sodding chip and pin machines are broken at the swanky rooftop bar.
This is a situation I found myself in at Visions Festival, the annual celebration where your £30-45 gets you access to eight venues, across an area you could loosely define as London Fields – from Oval Space and the Sebright Arms all the way up to St John at Hackney Church, with several right around the then-deluged park itself. Early on, an impressively loud lightning bolt struck at the heart of the festival and knocked out power to Netil 360, the seasonal bar atop Netil House on Westgate Street.
The storm had been brewing since the festival kicked off at midday, with a early scattering of drizzle falling upon the annual Visions Dog Show in the aforementioned church’s gardens.
It wasn’t about to dampen the pooches’ spirits however, who clearly relished every second of the clamour they caused – a Twin Peaks costume round caused a particular outbreak of “awwww”s…
Fleeing the rain, me and my companion visited the Institute of Light, an all-too hidden gem right by the Overground station. This railway arch is now part-cinema, part-cafe – with the food currently being handled by British barbecuing’s Billy Smokes.
We had a vegan-ified version of the hash and their distinctly non-vegan take on Eggs Benedict – the latter was perfect, with the texture and the flavour of the beef cheek melting into the eggy sourdough, with the tang of the hollandaise for good measure at the end.
The accompanying cocktail (an Old Fashioned defanged with the addition of a piece of grilled peach) was pricey at £9 but well worth sharing, and I’m planning a return to check out their dinner menu for more smokey fun.
We slumped into one of the many banks of sofas that make up the cinema half of the venue’s rows of seating, and caught our breath while watching Joan Cornellà’s latest animation, a hilarious study in black-comic timing made from the Spanish cartoonist’s twisted, gleefully ultraviolent strips.
Visions does this kind of thing very well – the adjunct activities also included crate digging courtesy of Tome Records‘ pop-up stall, beer pong, and even the opportunity to get tattooed up at SPACE Studios (albeit in worryingly low lighting).
While Brooklyn rockers The Men scythed the roof off of Mangle with their clanging punk and raggedy power-blues, Frankie Cosmos and Kero Kero Bonito were warming up for their sets unconventionally, via a crepe-off. (For my money, Cosmos’ Nutella-based offering was the tastiest of the two recipes cooked up by Le Merlin.)
After a return run to Netil 360 for refreshment, and to admire the now-visible view of the City of London) we decided to get stuck in to the music side of Visions.
Sacred Paws workshopped the songs on debut album Strike a Match around their London, Brighton and Glasgow bases for years. The result is one of those wonderfully neat collections, like the first Strokes album or Reign in Blood: short and to the point, the same key ingredients – in the Paws’ case, Rachel Aggs’ junk-shop Jerry Harrison guitar, her harmonies with breakneck drummer Eilidh Rodgers, and layers of bright brass – reconfigured, like coloured felt, in vivid new ways from track to track.
Live, the brass is gone but it’s replaced by a cubic crapload of energy. The sun streams into the Night Tales venue while they bang through songs like ‘Ride’, single ‘Everyday’, even relative slowies like ‘Wet Graffiti’, and the sweaty masses feed off their effervescence.
Unfortunately, a planned sojourn to see the pulverising Blanck Mass was kiboshed by the queue (although to be fair, there weren’t too many of these throughout the day) so we set off on the bus down to Oval Space to catch Jenny Hval.
The Norwegian’s live experience is set up to confound, so issues with the mix failed to corral the deadpan glory of her songs and mesmeric performance style. With on-stage pronouncements like “What is the self?” and frequent changes in headgear, Hval seems at home with confusion, but her powerful neo-goth always has the power to cut through, and her show is, in parts, brilliant and affecting.
Visions was at times irritating (the weather and over-the-top security especially, plus I can barely walk 5 metres around Hackney nowadays without someone getting on my tits) but frequently brilliant – much like London Fields itself. In the treacherous festival business, Visions’ urban eclecticism feels like the future.