From the stream of sparkly pink cowboy hats pouring out of the tube station, it’s clear that Mighty Hoopla is about to sprinkle glitter over Brixton. Now in its fourth year after COVID-19 thwarted the 2020 event, this one-day pop festival welcomes a predominantly LGBTQ+ and female crowd who really come to party.
One on level, it’s a fabulous antidote to some of the more testosterone-fuelled rock fests; on another, it’s an unexpectedly touching and perhaps slightly subversive exercise in nostalgia. At Mighty Hoopla, pop acts like Atomic Kitten who might have been dismissed as “disposable” during their chart heyday can prove their longevity by attracting a large and adoring audience.
This doesn’t mean, however, that Mighty Hoopla feels entirely like a Y2K vacuum. Slaying the main stage early on, in-form hitmaker Becky Hill reads the room – or a vast expanse of south London’s Brockwell Park, to be precise – when she announces proudly that this is her first Hoopla since coming out as queer. Her growing arsenal of dance bangers from 2014’s ‘Gecko (Overdrive)’ to current smash ‘Remember’ really hit the spot, too. If the mass singalong to ‘My Heart Goes (La Di Da)’ is anything to go on, the Bewdley belter already has another hit on her hands.
By early afternoon, Mighty Hoopla’s other stages are popping, too. London duo Nimmo – whose lineup comprises two queer women, Sarah Nimmo and Reva Gauntlett – deliver a stellar DJ set speckled with club classics like Gala’s ‘Freed from Desire’ and Livin’ Joy’s ‘Keep On Movin”. Nearby, ’90s R&B group Honeyz remind us that their back-in-the-day bops ‘End of the Line’ and ‘Won’t Take It Lying Down’ still slap.
Arriving on the Club Bump stage straight after Nimmo, west London rapper Lava La Rue strikes another blow for queer representation with an impressive set of box-fresh bops. “Pretend it’s a hot day because it should have been,” they tell the crowd before performing the shimmering ‘Angel’, a song they introduce as a “queer song about being in a long-distance relationship”.
Mere metres away, Atomic Kitten get a packed House of Love tent hollering along to early noughties hits like ‘Eternal Flame’ (a slinky Bangles cover) and ‘Whole Again’. Wisely, they sing the original version of the latter rather than their opportunistic Euro 2020 remake ‘Southgate You’re The One’. Also received rapturously is Alexandra Burke, who rips through bangers like ‘Bad Boys’ and ‘All Night Long’ on the main stage. Her confident performance screams “proper pop star” so loudly that she even gets away with dropping in her drippy X Factor cover of Leonard Cohen‘s ‘Hallelujah’, a song no one came to Hoopla wanting to hear.
On the main stage, where she’s backed by a fantastic band, Sister Sledge’s Kathy Sledge dials the clock back to the disco era. In a way, she’s an off-brand booking for this festival, which tends to prefer its nostalgia acts a little more recent, but she delivers copper-bottomed classics like ‘Lost in Music’ with complete self-assurance. Elsewhere, LGBTQ collectives including The Bitten Peach, Hungama and Queer House Party showcase an array of progressive and incredibly entertaining queer talent on the Birdcage stage. Later, when RuPaul’s Drag Race girlband United Kingdolls perform their hit single ‘UK Hun’ in the so-called ‘Pleasure Palace’, the roar of “bing bang bong!” seems to ricochet around Brockwell Park.
Back on the main stage, Gabrielle‘s gentle pop-soul bops envelop the crowd like a warm hug before she concludes with a joyous rendition of ‘Dreams’, her chart-topping debut single from 1993. Then Raye underlines her future superstar status by performing a mix of huge hits like ‘Bed’, her recent chart-conquering collab with Joel Corry and David Guetta, and songs that deserved to do better, like last year’s clever Dolly Parton update ‘Natalie Don’t’.
It all builds towards a slickly choreographed headline set from Cheryl, who delights the crowd by bringing out her Girls Aloud bandmate Nicola Roberts during a triumphant ‘Fight for This Love’. It’s a moment that acquires added poignancy less than 24 hours later, when it’s announced that fellow group member Sarah Harding has sadly lost her battle with cancer.
Right before Cheryl, east London drag collective Sink the Pink manage to encapsulate the infectious incongruity of the Hoopla experience. In between dazzling drag queen dance routines to Madonna‘s ‘Hung Up’ and Dua Lipa‘s ‘Physical’, there are short solo spots from Mabel (a brilliant rendition of ‘Let Me Know’), ‘Saturday Night’ hitmaker Whigfield – yes, really – and RuPaul’s Drag Race fave Bimini, who performs a mash-up of The Prodigy‘s ‘Breathe’ and their punky single ‘God Save This Queen’.
Like so much of Mighty Hoopla, it doesn’t entirely make sense, but plays like an amazing party. Here’s to the 2022 event, for which bookers should already be wooing Rachel Stevens, MUNA and Sugababes‘ Mutya Buena, who, incidentally, is spotted attending this year’s event as a punter/selfie magnet. Taste.