ALT+LDN 2021 review: a solid crossover concept, messily executed

August 30, Clapham Common: The first edition of the new rap and rock festival suffers from last minute line-up changes and sets cut short

Setting up home on Clapham Common in south London for its inaugural year, new festival ALT+LDN is intended as a big celebration of today’s genre rebellion now that rock and rap have joined forces. With rappers becoming self-proclaimed rockstars – and rockstars regularly citing rappers as their inspiration – it’s an event intended to bring together the two scenes into one big enjoyable day.

For its first year, ALT+LDN’s lineup is huge: popular international artists like Floridian rapper Smokepurpp and Aussie-born The Kid LAROI rock their respective sets. Elsewhere, though, the bill is plagued by drop-outs (Machine Gun Kelly, Chase Atlantic, Lil Skies, Mario Judah, Sleep Token, Ski Mask The Slump God and Princess Nokia all cancel before the festival). On the rock side, the fest ends up being quite the British affair, with the likes of Architects, Nova Twins and Wargasm representing.

Walking into the small festival feels quite underwhelming at first; the threat of rain feels ominous, and what appears to be a deserted tent is stranded behind a blue fence. The energy on site notably picks up around the second stage, however, where smaller stars with their cult fanbases bring a vibe that’s sometimes bigger than the one over by the main stage.

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Sam Wise’s set is electric. To cater to the versatile music tastes of the crowd here at ALT+LDN, he remixes his astral rap sounds for jungle-style beats with subsonic bass and heavy beat-drops tailored for the numerous mosh pits opening up in the crowd— a complete contrast to Wargasm on the main stage.

Wargasm take to the main stage (Photo by Lorne Thomson/Redferns)

Though thoroughly enjoying their set, you can tell that the rap kids are camping out for the next artists to follow; megastar producer-turned-rapper Pi’erre Bourne and the wavy rap chameleon Lil Yachty. However, London nu-metallers Wargasm still rock out and manage to get the waiting kids head-banging. The band’s dynamic duo – Milkie Way and Sam Matlock – infuse the raw grit of screamo with Way’s punk vocals for an entertaining listen.

Later, the rockers at the festival look truly lost, and it seems like many aren’t feeling the pop-rap acts after their favourites wrap up earlier in the day. It makes you feel uneasy, and a little guilty, for having fun without them. Festivals are meant to be a place of collective fun, but instead of bringing rap and rock together, ALT+LDN makes the two feel separate.

Sadly, after Wargasm’s great performance, the main stage goes downhill. While Nova Twins and Smokepurpp invoke raging mosh pits on the second stage, Pi’erre Bourne and Lil Yachty both suffer from technical and logistical problems on the festival’s biggest stage. Bourne’s music is so quiet that he’s forced to restart his set, and Lil Yachty’s songs get shorter and shorter with each passing minute (and we all know all the best songs are at the end). Halfway through his set, he tells the crowd that the festival is “rushing him off the stage” and a meagre 30 seconds of his biggest hits just isn’t enough to satisfy.

After that, The Kid LAROI and Architects’ sets run smoothly enough, with LAROI playing a similar set to his Reading festival performance over the weekend. It’s clear that a fair portion of the crowd are waiting for Playboi Carti when Architects play. Originally a three-stage festival, the scheduling can feel jarring with the remaining acts crammed onto two.

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Lil Yachty’s set is sadly cut short (Credit: Lorne Thomson/Redferns)

Through some sort of wizardry, the enigmatic Playboi Carti’s headlining set is his only one in London this year. Despite starting on time, his set is cut down by 15 minutes, and much like Yachty, his songs speed up over time. Coming out on stage covered head-to-toe, Carti doesn’t get to talk much. Luckily for the Atlantan, his music is usually enough to provide his fans with a good time – he doesn’t sing all of his songs and jumps around instead with the crowd.

As his songs get shorter (the viral ‘Pissy Pamper’ is devastatingly cut just 30 seconds into the minute-long song) the rapper keeps saying “okay” – you have to wonder if he’s replying to whoever’s telling him to move swiftly on. Despite the crowd’s overflowing love for the ‘Whole Lotta Red’ star, it’s impossible to feel satisfied, especially if you have seen him before and know what he’s truly capable of.  Losing a chunk of Carti’s set makes the whole situation worse.

ALT+LDN’s concept holds huge potential, but once the 10pm curfew hits, you’re left feeling mostly disappointment. Navigating COVID-19 restrictions remains a challenge, and inevitably, it’s the international side of the line-up that suffers from mass drop-outs – maybe with a little more organisation, a later curfew, and a greater number of rap and rock crossover stars, things might’ve felt different. Despite all the problems, though, the festival’s crossover ethos means that it presents a chance to discover artists you’d never usually watch, and that should be commended. Let’s just hope the next one runs more smoothly.

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