Many will have felt mixed emotions upon arrival at Cambridge’s Childerley Orchard this year: the much-loved festival has been hit by a bunch of setbacks.
2022’s Strawberries & Creem festival was meant to happen over three days, before Friday’s lineup took a hit with R&B and afrobeats stars Ella Mai and Rema being dropped. And let’s not forget the untimely disappointment when it was announced that Lil Wayne wasn’t going to appear because our Home Office rejected his VISA application. There were definitely grumbles about whether his replacement – the Fast and Furious ‘00s rapper Ludacris – would be able to live it up to the expectations Wayne set.
Going by the murmurs on the way home after a rainy Saturday, Ludacris just about wins over the crowd with his collection of bolshy, macho southern hip-hop tracks. He proves on stage that, when it comes to the art of being a great spitter and delivering clever lyrics, he can do that. And on Saturday night, with us already doubting his abilities, the Atlanta-raised rapper earns our respect as he takes us down memory lane of all his hits.
Perhaps thinking back to Jack Harlow’s recent Number One single, ‘First Class’, Ludacris performs his featured verse on the sampled track of Harlow’s hit, Fergie’s ‘Glamorous’. Atop of this, he delivers more of his hit features on songs like the T-Pain-assisted ‘All I Do Is Win’, as well as cheeky, salacious tunes from his 2010 album ‘Battle Of The Sexes’ like ‘How Low’ and ‘My Chick Bad’ (but he skips over Nicki Minaj’s featured verse, upsetting some barbs in the crowd).
He ends his set with his most famous track, ‘Move Bitch’, and you can see members of the crowd take this literally, pushing their friends around in the pouring rain. For our first headliner of the weekend, Ludacris (please pardon the pun) disturbs the peace with his set. But before all of this, there were some other glimpses of a joyous time shaded by miserable clouds.
With our rain parkas intact (and if you didn’t have one – tough, since the festival ran out of hoodies and rain ponchos in an hour) you see most people preparing for Ludacris at the Girls Can’t DJ stage where you find some great dancehall and rap sounds from DJs like Izzy Bossy, or have the raving queen Katy B serenade you. If you found the Magnum tonic wines in The Orchard, you could happily sip one and have fun at this stage.
Or you could be standing at the main stage, watching a range of sounds from Kenny Allstar’s star-studded group of friends perform. He brings out UK rap legends in Nines and Potter Payper, before having a moment’s silence for the innovative music tastemaker, Jamal Edwards. A tear nearly slips from the crowd, but Kenny Allstar keeps partying in his honour.
Following that, Tion Wayne delivers his set dripping in all-white. Everyone goes berserk for his Number One collaboration with Russ Millions, ‘Body’, and plays the viral verse that made Ardee a household name. He even brings out the ’00s popstar La Roux to sing the chorus of his latest single, ‘IFTK’, which samples her track of the same name: ‘In For The Kill’. To calm the rap heads down, one of pop’s leading women, Mabel, comes out and puts on a choreographed show to all of her commercial and inescapable hits.
Those who don’t show up on the Sunday – in light of Tems‘ cancellation – miss out, as there are some magical moments on Strawberries & Creem’s closing day. As we all wait to find out who is replacing the charming R&B powerhouse, people like the Jamaican music-loving David Rodigan get the energy up as he mixed reggae and rare groove classics into their drum and bass remixes to lure those stuck under the dance tent all weekend out to the main stage.
After that skanking fest, one of the hottest rappers out of Kilburn, Knucks, steals the show as his fans rap back his thoughtful, imaginative depictions of his inner-city life experiences living around Mozart estate. He plays some of the first tracks that gained him notoriety like ‘Rice and Stew’ and ‘Vows’, and the crowd shouts those songs right back. All this before they demand Knucks performs ‘Leon The Professional’ from his Top Five-selling debut album, ‘Alpha Place’, and then take over, making the 27-year-old wheel up the track and make them do it again.
That all leads up to the new Sunday headliners, NSG: it’s fun to turn up against the fiery sunset with these East London boys. Performing two years to the date since their debut mixtape, ‘Roots’, dropped, we dance to their floor-filling classics we’ve heard over and over. However, they still come up good on a day like Sunday. They, of course, sing over their chart-climbing hits like the Top 20 hit ‘OT Bop’, but when they end with their highest-charting tune, ‘Options’ (without Tion Wayne), they do their Top 10 justice.
They all have autotuned mics, of course, to get their computerised vocals down. Yet, when they do ‘Options’ the first time around without the instrumental, their harmonies as a six-piece feels euphoric as the sun starts to sun-kiss them and the crowd.
Yes, there’s a nagging sense of what could have been at this year’s event. However, with numerous setbacks and all the failed promises, 2022’s Strawberries & Creem festival wasn’t a train wreck at all. It pulled through and was a much-needed intimate affair this festival season.