Essential Weekender : London Hackney Marshes

Public Enemy, Stereo MC's, Sizzla and Ice-T are among those performing at the re-located Essential weekender...

The relocation of 2001’s Essential Festival from Brighton to a remote corner of London allows for a breathtaking sense of scale. Never mind that it seems decadent to revel in the midst of so much deprivation and hopelessness, check it out. Two sunny days, nine large marquees, and a host of performers contribute to a feeling of information overload.

Saturday is Dance Day and DJ Hype electrifies the drum’n’bass tent with steamroller electronic rhythms and a shifting phalanx of MCs. The garage arena is deserted in comparison, though Wookie rolls through a brutal ‘Battle’, and DJ Luck And MC Neat mangle well-known hits into a new two-step puree.

While Q-Bert shows an astonishing turntable dexterity, hiphop wise, on the rap stage, fearsome political veterans Public Enemy show up with full crew and DJ Lord (as a replacement for Terminator X) and rip the place apart. Their original audience might be thin on the ground, but Chuck D, Flavor Flav and Professor Griff still don’t take shorts. And its a surprise to see an expanded Stereo MC’s go back to basics and emerge with a heavy, electronically enhanced, trunk of funk in which only ‘Connected’ seems dated.

Sunday announces itself as Roots Day and allows a new audience to experience perennial faves and test new waters. No-one ever thought Black Uhuru would reform their best known line-up, minus the late Puma, and therefore get to watch Michael Rose wail over live Sly & Robbie rhythms, and it’s a definite highlight. Sizzla also burns rebellious and righteous fire, and chants down oppression and repression in typically outspoken style.

Technical hitches aside, De La Soul are positive as well, if somewhat alarmed at current US ghetto runnings. And Ice-T, who performs on both days, takes us back to the old school, with updated Iceberg Slimm tales of pimps and hustlers, as well as a funny Rakim re-write. It’s left to George Clinton, Parliament/Funkadelic, and a grown man in a nappy to take us back to the true meaning of funk, guitar squalls and all. Luckily, he’s not turned into an illegal drug yet.

Dele Fadele