There is an urban festival in London now almost every weekend. These multi-venue events style themselves as a utopian cross between an old-fashioned all-dayer, a pub crawl and – particularly in the case of last week’s Concrete & Glass, which incorporated intriguing new exhibitions from the likes of Gerry Fox and The Outcrowd Collective—a contemporary art happening. The reality is that you spend half the time in a queue, wandering around unfamiliar streets cursing a hopelessly vague hand-drawn map, or backed into the corner of a rammed venue, too scared to leave lest it’s another hour ‘til your next beer. Finding the correct Shoreditch art bunker from which to pick up my Concrete & Glass pass proved a mission in itself, but wristband secured, I hotfooted it to Hoxton Square to catch ZunZunEgui at the Blank Tapes showcase.
The scene at Zigfrid’s perfectly encapsulated the weirdness of Hoxton these days. Upstairs was overflowing with braying city types, while downstairs in Underbelly it was a completely different world as ZunZunEgui jammed it out for an appreciative clamour of foreign students and arty types in homemade clothes. Blank Tapes, you may remember, is the label that brought us Spring Tides and turned us on to ZunZunEgui earlier this year. Their frontman’s originally from Mauritius, their keyboard player’s from Japan, and they currently reside in Bristol, blaring out intense equatorial throwdowns. Like El Guincho, every influence they inhale is grist to their infectious global groove mill. You can hear Tinariwen, Peter Walker, The Bhundu Boys and The Boredoms in there, along with loads of other fun stuff. The singer had a minor funny turn, berating Hoxtonites for their tight trousers—if you can’t swing your bollocks freely, you’re inhibiting your life force or something—but apart from that (fuck it, because of that) they are ace.
Next up was our old friend Ralph Cumbers, aka Bass Clef. Ralph once had the brainwave that dubstep’s trademark churning bass was not so different to the frequencies emerging from the bell of a trombone. Now he makes jittery dubtronica and plays trombone over the top. It looks and sounds a lot better than twiddling a synth filter or rubbing your finger on a Kaos pad.
Onto the evening’s made event. You can’t blame Concrete & Glass for booking TV On The Radio. Having the band-of-the-moment play their first UK show in two years at your event is quite a coup for a new festival. However, the capacity for these things always presumes that people might equally want to go and see Selfish Cunt, which inevitably, they don’t. People were lining up outside Cargo at 7pm and by the time Telepathe came on at midnight to do their icy dub-punk terror thing, the snaking queue outside had become a seething swarm with hundreds disappointed. Inside, we were having to hold our drinks in the air just to be able to breathe.
TV On The Radio were fairly awesome, but they were in aggressive rather than soulful mood, and after withstanding an aural and physical battering, I bailed out early to Plastic People where Border Community were hosting their showcase. Inside I stumbled into Nathan Fake and harangued him, poor chap, about his new record. It’s bound to be incredible but it’s taking ages to finish because he’s too busy birdwatching. I think that was his excuse, anyway. On the decks was Nathan’s mentor and Border Community supreme James Holden who has now pretty much abandoned all the decrees and the dictates of the current techno scene in favour of ludicrously euphoric, primary-coloured electro splurges, like playgroup action paintings.
Concrete & Glass was another chaotic, not entirely satisfactory London urban festival. But any night where you end up grinning uncontrollably on the dancefloor of Plastic People can’t be all bad.