Visions 2021 review: Hackney all-dayer bounces back

August 7, Hackney: UK talent takes centre stage at the East London festival

“Up until a few weeks ago, this still felt like a very blurred vision,” reads the welcome message inside Visions’ festival’s programme. Since 2013, the Hackney all-dayer has taken over numerous local spaces to host some of the most exciting acts in indie-rock alongside record fairs, food stalls and a dog show. Thanks to COVID-inspired uncertainty though, the 2021 edition is a smaller affair with an emphasis on “discovering your new favourite British acts”.

Complicating things, one of their three venues faced licensing issues, with Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club stepping in at the last minute to act as their second stage. It means venue hopping becomes somewhat of a trek and with three stages running concurrently, people must make their choices in advance and stick to them.

And it isn’t just the festival’s setup that can feel a little last-minute either. With Biig Piig still in LA and Lava La Rue booked to play Sussex’s Brainchild Festival, just the lads from London’s NiNe8 Collective turn up for their Saturday afternoon set. Looking nervy at first, rappers Bone Slim, LorenzoRSV and Nige – alongside MacWetha on the decks – take to the stage and stumble through their first song.

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The NiNE8 Collective hit their stride (credit: Sam Huddleston)
The NiNE8 Collective hit their stride (credit: Sam Huddleston)

The only hip-hop act on a stage full of guitar-driven music, the four-piece have their work cut out to win the crowd over, but as soon as they loosen up and start having fun with the challenge, they soon make it look effortless. With LorenzoRSV constantly hyping the crowd up, Nige and MacWetha dancing about the stage and Bone Slim providing his own Co2 cannon sound effects, it’s hard not get drawn into their world as they deliver a fiery, excitable set that pulls from their individual back catalogues as well as NiNe8’s.

It’s a similar story for Manchester’s Porij who, facing technical difficulties, start 20 minutes late. Guitarist Tommy remains onstage for the duration of the “check-one-two”, perhaps too excited to leave. Their tropical indie might be better suited to an outdoor stage but leaning into the groove of the dance-floor, the four-piece make the confines of Oval Space feel like a blistering getaway.

Across the road at The Pickle Factory, Bermondsey rapper Flohio is causing absolute carnage. Tearing through tracks from her upcoming debut album alongside a fierce selection of her back catalogue, she gets the entire room bouncing – even if most people can’t see the stage. Caught up in the energy, she plays the recorded version of her next single through the speakers to keep the party going, and when she eventually leaves the stage an hour later, people are still demanding one more song.

Porridge Radio take to the stage (Credit: Sam Huddleston)

On various livestreams over the past 18 months, Leeds band Yard Act have been a breath of fresh air but their spoken word art-rock meets post-punk has always felt more like a curiosity. Today though, their crushing forty-five minute set is unrelenting and brilliant. Following a gnarled intro, vocalist James Smith finally takes to the stage and launches into a punishing ‘Dark Days’. Refusing to pander to the crowd (“What part of London are we in? It doesn’t matter, none of you are from here anyway”) and carrying himself with a real swagger, there’s a touch of Liam Gallagher confidence to the singer, while the band inspires comparisons to Idles, Primal Scream or Pulp. Breakout track ‘Fixer Upper’ is an absolute beast live while new song ‘Land of The Blind’ sees Yard Act broadening their horizons. “Good, right?” asks Smith halfway through the set, knowing they’re the best thing to take to the stage that day.

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Porridge Radio are just as confident as they bring their Mercury-shortlisted album ‘Every Bad’ and a lot of pot plants to close out Visions. Their music might be moody and cinematic but live, it’s charged with urgent purpose and the band fly through an assured hour-long set that’s never anything less than thrilling.

Overcoming the challenges of a multi-venue inner-city festival in the immediate aftermath of lockdown restrictions being lifted, Visions understandably feels like an awkward day out at times. However, as the event goes on, it quickly feels like a celebration, and a chance to ease back into the hectic swing of festivals. And yes, The Dog Show will be back next year.

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