The early May Bank Holiday normally kicks off festival season. Not year, of course. Put that sourdough recipe away, though, though because the global pandemic hasn’t stopped some diehards attempting recreate the grinning chaotic energy of dashing between stages, cramming yourself into sweatboxes to see the next big thing or dancing about like nobody’s watching.
This weekend’s Unity 2020 Festival was probably the most fun you could have without leaving your front room. Curated by BBC presenter Abbie McCarthy, the lineup of – as she put it – “queens and legends” took over The SSE Arena at Wembley’s Facebook Page for a bustling daytime party. The aim was to raise lifesaving funds and awareness for Women’s Aid, a charity working to end domestic abuse against women and children, an issue that’s only worsened during the lockdown, with calls to relevant helplines having risen by 25 per cent during the first three weeks of self-isolation.
A festival with a flavour of MTV Cribs, this eclectic bill of lockdown livestreams sees all-killer, no-filler 20-minute performances from the likes of Years & Years’ Olly Alexander, rising alt-pop star L Devine, viral successes Tones & I and NME favourite Yungblud. Even indie-poppers Everything Everything pop up for a split screen, full-band run through of the apocalyptic party ‘Spring/Sun/Winter/Dread’.
Elsewhere Nina Nesbitt delivers no-nonsense pop from her kitchen, flipping off fuckboys with ‘The Best You Had’ and ‘Loyal To Me’ while her washing machine handles a load of whites. Dance sensation Georgia apparently has a room in her house solely for raves, which is perhaps why the pulsating energy evident during ‘The Thrill’ seems to come so naturally.
Joy Crookes’ emotional soul shines bright as she tears into ‘Anyone But Me’ and transforms Frank Ocean’s ‘Lost’ into a haunting meditation on loss and folk star Jade Bird, alongside guitarist Luke Prosser, heads to the garden for an acoustic cover of Radiohead’s ‘Blackstar’ and a sneak-peak of dreamy new track ‘Golden’.
While Bird offers a sense of escapism, A-lister-in-waiting L Devine leans into the chaos of the situation. A mannequin holds her microphone as projections, smoke machines and a my-first-disco light set-up make her performance feel like a proper gig. Dialling everything up rather than stripping things down, she dives into the romantic ‘Like You Like That’ with everything she’s got.
The slow-burning ‘Daughter’ deals with first loves and homophobia, while closer ‘Don’t Say It’ is a glitchy number about pain and beauty that sees her sing “give me the real shit” down the barrel of the camera lens as though she’s actually onstage at Wembley Arena rather than livestreamed via their Facebook page. It won’t be long until she is, though.
Indie scamps Fickle Friends bring a party starting spirit with tracks such as ‘Brooklyn’, ‘Swim’ and ‘Glue’ (even though vocalist Natty’s cat manages to snooze through the whole set), while newbie ‘Write Me A Song’ inspires a bedroom country hoedown. Yonaka’s frontperson Theresa Jarvis and guitarist Alex Crosby strip back their angsty punk-pop, revealing the beauty within. ‘Rockstar’ sees them tremble with hope and is sung “for the dreamers.”
Emo-poppers Muna open with the sadbanger ‘I Know A Place’ before diving into 2019’s buoyant and superb ‘Saves The World’. ‘Stayaway’ wows with its stunning three-part harmonies before singer Katie Gavin moves her snoring dog Sparky and delivers a solo, slowed version of ‘Number 1 Fan’, which really brings out the message: “If you’re alone, maybe now’s the time to learn how to be your number one fan.”
Closing out the night, Yungblud – who normally lives with everything turned up to 11 – offers a rare acoustic set. Even with an acoustic guitar on a LA rooftop, Yungblud manages to create a sense of havoc.
His usually pounding new single ‘Weird!’ is very much an anthem for the times, dealing with pressure and uncertain next steps, but it ends with Yungblud admitting: “If you’re out there feeling scared, I’m the same. Jinx. Ditto.” True to form, though, he turns that feeling into a cause for celebration with the swaggering ‘Loner’. Even hundreds of miles away, it’s impossible not to sing along to its bratty message of rebellion. Yungblud is a rockstar whatever the situation.
A cover of The Cure’s ‘Friday, I’m In Love’ is surprisingly delicate before the triumphant ‘Casual Sabotage’ takes on new meaning in these trying times. “I need to exist,” he sings, desperate for space. Events like Unity 2020 help with those feelings of isolation, reviving a community spirit in the comments section and inspiring a bit of normality in a world gone wrong.