Hackney Wonderland – various venues, London, Saturday October 10
Ear-bleeding psychedelia, math-pop and a Libertine descend on east London
Four venues within a one-mile radius, 21 artists, and not enough time. There’s almost too much on offer at Hackney Wonderland, and it’s difficult not to feel a little bit sorry for the musicians not playing the largest venue, Oval Space. From acid punks Bo Ningen all the way down to lone Libertine Carl Barât and his Jackals, there’s little reason to venture outside to the other venues involved in this one-day mini-festival.
An utterly absorbing set from London-formed Japanese four-piece Bo Ningen is the first of five varied onslaughts from the Oval Space lineup, and is possibly the deadliest of the lot. Their three albums so far don’t really do their live act justice – in person, they’re able to lead you by hand on their relentless, mind-boggling psych trips. Gloopy delay effects make the lyrics inaudible, but that’s fine – they really have a tight rein on their sonic frenzy, and it’s unleashed in an eminently enjoyable way.
Androgynous frontman and bassist Taigen Kawabe flits between Kevin Parker-ish vocals and otherworldly roars, channelling Kate Bush’s expressive hand gesturing and sporting glossy raven hair that wouldn’t be out of place on a Pantene advert. After he leaps into the photographers’ pit and starts playing his bass vertically, he gazes out into the audience, gurning as if speaking tongues. Suddenly, astonishment at his own mad virtuosity seems to register on his face as he lifts his guitar above his head, behind his back, playing all the while. And as ‘Daikasiei – Part 2 & 3’ reaches a furious climax, Kawabe lumbers back up to the stage, engaging in a balletic freakout while guitarist Kohhei Matsuda whirls his guitar in wild circles. How the hell do you follow that?
With another, very different psych-influenced band – London five-piece Electric Child House bring things slightly closer to Earth with cuts from their recent EP ‘Goochie Goochie Goo’. Their finale, though, is similarly wacky, mixing bluesy harmonica and solid basslines with animalistic screeches.
Next, the upbeat and irrepressibly fun math rock of Manchester’s Dutch Uncles bursts in, in a time signature all of its own. “Does any of this make sense yet?” frontman Duncan Wallis asks halfway through their set, presumably meaning, “are xylophone duets in 5/4 time accessible enough for you?” The answer: a definite ‘yes’.
The crowd’s at its most mobile yet, led by Wallis’ gelatinous dance moves, which are approaching the same league of brilliance as Future Islands frontman Samuel T Herring. ‘Cadenza’ has him restless, ‘Nometo’ expansive, ‘Upsilon’ thoughtful. The Uncles’ 45 minutes draw from their second, third and fourth albums, and it’s all very complex stuff, but they make it look easy, particularly the labyrinthine ‘Kiss From A Rose’.
It’s a sheer drop from their emotive rhythms to the dour psych of Toy. Frontman Tom Dougall’s stage presence is almost vampiric when the five-piece open with immersive second album closer ‘Fall Out Of Love’.
Their theatrical, eye-linered persona presides over much of the set, with the exception of ‘My Heart Skips A Beat’, a moment of notable sweetness. Closer ‘Join The Dots’, though, is an explosive, eight-minute lesson in decibel production, and one more reminder of the grim introspection Toy are capable of triggering.
Grim would not be the way to describe Carl Barât & The Jackals’ triumphant headline set. The betrilbied Barât looks totally at ease minus his three Libertines – though there are plenty of Libs jackets in the crowd – and starts things off with a meaty ‘Victory Gin’.
“It’s an honour to play here tonight, beautiful Hackney – just round the corner from where I used to live back in the day,” he notes, before launching into 2010 solo track ‘Run With The Boys’. Then comes ‘Glory Days’, the drunken opener from The Jackals’ 2015 debut ‘Let It Reign’, before a two-song solo interlude where the band – guitarist Billy Tessio, bassist Adam Claxton, and bare-torsoed drummer Jay Bone – leave Carl onstage with his acoustic.
It’s Libs classics time. ‘Grimaldi’ and ‘France’ spark pandemonium, and when the band return for the closing ‘I Get Along’ limbs are flying everywhere. Before he departs, Carl jokily sings, “Walking in a Hackney Wonderland”. Seems appropriate enough.