Visions Projection

FESTIVAL REPORT – VISIONS Festival

When: Saturday 23rd June 2022

Where : Various Venues Hackney, London, England

VISIONS Festival was back in Hackney this weekend, with the sun shining and dappled light glistening through the leaves as you walked through the park, past the church yard, you could easily mistake Hackney for a Spanish village, with its Historic buildings, weeping willow trees, coffee trailers, stalls, relaxed locals chilling under umbrellas with their beers, church spires and lush green shrubbery, there are few places that I would rather spend a Saturday. It’s was far removed from the Hackney that I knew as a child where they used to film The Bill crime scenes outside our secondary school. With many of my friends having been priced out of the area, I had some reservations about the ‘New’ Hackney, but I was delighted that VISIONS festival proved to be warm, friendly, inclusive and free from musical snobbery and I loved it.

Visions festival was the perfect opportunity to explore all the new spaces in one day, with genre defying AIM nominated musicians too. Centred around the leafy green church garden that had been managed as a park since 1894, the vibe was relaxed but on point. Taking place over five venues and three outdoor spaces in Hackney, VISIONS was a celebration of music, art, food and culture. The artists were as multi-cultural and diverse as Hackney itself, ranging from trip hop to rap, indie to goth, shoegaze to dream pop, techno to Saharan shredding. Although the festival was modest with thirty five artists in total, culturally it was globe-spanning, with artists from Dublin to Nigar, France to Australia, Florida to Serbia, Japan to Canada, Peckham to New Zealand and what it really showed was that we share that essential universal melodic heartbeat. The percussion of the maternal heartbeat, was the first thing that we heard in the womb and it is the thing that most of us crave now, no matter where we are from or what genre we are primarily drawn to. We can enjoy it all. The Visions team said that their festival: ” Represents all musical genres many of them challenging the notion of genre itself once again we have aimed to showcase how musical boundaries can be pushed stretched and removed altogether.”

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Path to Hackney Church

As soon as you got out of Hackney Central Station you were in the heart of the festival with Oslo venue buzzing as you left the station centred around the paddock outside St John of Hackney church there was a chilled sunny vibe, where you could pick up your wristbands in a low key yellow gazebo, that belied the beauty of the stunning historic buildings that housed the music. The warmth of the festival was enhanced by the annual VISIONS dog show which took place earlier in the day which was judged by members of Girl Ray, Black Country New Road, Sorry, Crows and The Golden Dregs among others. This was all dependent on weather and was open to the whole community in aid of charity ‘All Dogs Matter.’ I really wanted to enter my puppy into the waggiest tail competition, but she wasn’t up for it. The very reasonable price of the tickets made it very accessible for the whole community too. The fact that that it was all centred around the green kept the energy warm and relaxed and with everything within short walking distance, it proved to be the perfect place for a small festival. At times it didn’t feel like you were in a city at all and to the outside world, I wonder if it looked like there was a festival on as the signs were tiny paper posters outside each venue. I think that this made it all the more special.

Artists included the likes of AIM Nominated Black Country New Road, Lea Sen and Niger’s Mdou Moctar, together with RTE Choice Winner, For Those I Love, Home Counties, Okolkou, Speedy Wunderground’s Joyeria, Australia’s High School and Florida’s TONSTARTSBANDHT and many many more

Every venue had its own personality and energy. The beautiful Hackney Church- St John at Hackney right in the heart of the festival with its high ceilings stained glass and stunning sound and lighting complete with organ. Time Out had described it as “one of the most awe-inspiring places to catch a gig in London” and I must admit that seeing For those I Love and Mdou Moctar there, it was indeed awe-inspiring. Other venues included the beautiful high arched Roundchapel, a Grade II listed building and Chat’s Palace old public library and arts centre complete with Doric columns and Athenian frieze, all of which were minutes away.

Each quirky venue has it’s own energy that enhanced the music further. Oslo venue, an old  train station with open brick and the curves of train arches and ‘impeccable sound” (The Guardian) in the staged venue upstairs.

My favourite venue of all was Paper Dress Vintage, leading out to Bohemian alley. From the front it looked like a second hand 70’s clothes shop. I love second hand clothes, but inside it secretly housed a bar at the back inside, an air conditioned stage upstairs and a buzzing beer garden. That was my absolute favourite venue. Liam Gallagher‘s son’s band, Automotion, played in there and Dan Carey of Fontaines‘ fame seemed to have some new Speedy Wunderground recruits in there too. It was tiny, with more of a house party vibe and everyone was friendly almost as if we were all in on the secret. Hipsters…I take it all back…it was too hot and sweaty to be cool in there.

The Visions graphics on every venue were stunning. A lot of work seemed to go into the sound and lighting production. I was quite charmed by the booklet that they gave you as you entered. Having found my way around using an App at different festivals, I much preferred the little paper gig book and l loved the little pen drawings of each artist inside. It felt much more personal. The front of the booklet seemed Boutique and home made with LOVE from the Visions Team and it really did seem like it was made with love, in fact the whole festival did. There was so much to choose from across several venues but here are the bands that I was lucky enough to see:

Home Counties

First up was ‘the next big thing’ Home Counties. They are the fun, witty politically astute voice of post Brexit Gen Z playing upstairs in the old railway station, Oslo. Although it was only 2.30 in the afternoon the place was packed with smiling fans singing along to the witty, highly percussive tracks of the band. The buzz around the band had spread and everyone left the gig high on their sonic swirls and smart witty lyrics. Synths, punky guitars, spoken word and Talking Heads-style harmonies. They reminded me a lot of avant-garde experimental rock band The Cool Green House, Squid and Yard Act, with their intelligent politically charged songs. To be honest, the whole gig was an epic all-killer no-filler wall of sound. Full of warm defiance, intelligence and wit, mixing the spoken word with the harmonic, indie guitars with 80s synths. Any fears that I had about gentrification were voiced knowingly by the band in a way that the whole audience seemed to connect with.

Their song ‘Back to the 1970s’ had lyrics like, “Come on and hit me with tax with double figures/…and let the country collapse into pieces/ You make me wanna go back to the 1970s /….In the cupboard I find Spam, misogyny and diazepam. How would the country collapse when it’s already in Pieces?”

This band speak of the post Brexit frustrations in a similar way to the original 1970’s punks voiced their ‘Pretty Vacant’ frustrations, that helplessness caused by the incompetence of those in power. I think this is poetic, intelligent and brilliant and exactly what this generation need to hear.

Similarly tracks like ‘Modern Yuppies‘, had that “Living ,Striving, Working, Buying” reminding me of new wave Punk Pop heroes The Godfathers with their “Work school birth death” lyrics. Existential knowing rhythmic uplifting chugging…reflecting the chants which contrast with the darkness of the lyrics. I absolutely love the track ‘Dad Bod’ too whose riffs had a hint of ‘My Sharona’ which is wittily/ knowingly mentioned in the lyrics, in ‘Don’t he know he’s over paid/ Don’t he know he’s twice her age?” Catchy, chugging sound of the Home Counties track, emphasizes the hooks that make this band so appealing. There was even a huge cheer from the crowd when the band mentioned a new song that hadn’t been released yet. The more I listen the better I think they are. Go and buy their EP because they are awesome and amazing live too. Home Counties have tapped into the post-Brexit Gen Z Zeitgeist and deserve to be heard.

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Home Counties

HighSchool

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High School

Next up in Oslo, playing to a packed crowd was Australian Goth Pop band High School who played a tight, polished stadium-style rock set in in a tiny venue. Their sound had echoes of Nick Cave and Killing Joke vocals with the basslines of The Cure. Some of the ornamentation echoed Johnny Marr’s Godlike Genius riffs in The Smiths. Multi-layered mystical tales of dislocation, while synthesized tracks like ‘Frosting’ have echoes of New Order’sAge of Consent.’ At first the lead mic was pitched beneath the riffs which still sounded good if they were going for a shoegaze vibe, but they politely and professionally went to great lengths to get the sound just as they wanted it, with the lead vocals balancing the riffs and propelling the songs forwards. Singer Rory Trobbiani apologized for the delay as they addressed this, but there was no need, it was only for a minute and this was the sign that they were true professionals and garnered huge supportive cheers from the crowd. They were dark, polished and all exceptionally talented musicians and charismatic performers. It was a pleasure to see them play in such an intimate venue as I can absolutely imagine them playing at huge venues in the future. There was a real dark charm about them all stemming from, ” A lifelong obsession with Horror movies.”

Keyboardist Lilli Trobbiani added: “But the art doesn’t end with the music – for us, it extends our fashion and our videos. There’s no reason why we need to make distinctions between music and the visual side of things. Believe it or not, we’re just trying to add a bit of colour to the world.” They have made the life changing move from Melbourne to London, so hopefully we won’t have to wait too long before seeing them again. They are currently playing stadium quality alt-rock in intimate venues so now is the time to see them before they explode into mainstream consciousness.

Joyeria

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Joyeria

A short hop across the road to what looked like a second hand clothes shop from the outside, to to Paperdress Vintage and there seemed to be something very special going on upstairs. You could feel the buzz in the air. The glass eyed mannequins in the window gave no hint of the extraordinary music that was about to be showcased above the shop. Dan Carey and Speedy Wunderground are synonymous with quality having produced, Wet Leg, Fontaines D.C, Kae Tempest to name a few, so I had to check out recent signee Joyeria and I didn’t regret it. He had the wit and intelligence of Father John Misty.

From Canada via London, his name Joyeria seems like an ironic take on his cool Lounge Lizard, world-weary persona. It is that dark witty, intelligent grit that creates such a great stage presence. Songs like the ironic , ‘Wild Joy‘, “All the best dads are secret smokers/ caught in the trappings of a lack of success” and existential phrases like “Is there something after the end or is the end where everything’s dead?” all delivered with painstaking honesty, bursting into experimental breakouts. There is a real intriguing charisma there. A sense of nostalgia and baritone depth and songs like ‘Here comes trouble again” with boisterous bass notes, raw rhythms and songs hinting at honest bluesy tones.

Songs like ‘Here comes trouble’ have that chugging inevitability of ‘trouble closing in.’ There’s a beautiful dark wit in lyrics like. There’s a flag on the moon and I’m lost in China Town.” I can’t wait to see what he does next, but that dark wit and deep presentation is quite spectacular.

He was joined by an extraordinarily talented band and I would like to give a shout out to the triangle player in the band who is, hands down, the best triangle player I have ever seen.

Okoloku

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With so much going on, I was lucky to catch French electro dream pop star, Okoloku at the stunning Hackney church, in steam punk gear beneath the stained glass windows, Okoloku is at the forefront of new European electronic underground scene, fusing visceral productions with her floaty ethereal voice. The cavernous caustics of the church cradled her dreamlike voice for an angelic performance.

For Those I Love

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For Those I Love

Dublin’s For Those I Love‘s performance was one of the most intense, moving experiences that I have ever felt at a gig and I know that those around me felt it too with men in tears with their tattooed arms around each other in the crowd. It was fierce and beautiful. For Those I Love is the stage name of rapper and poet David Balfe and his whole piece centres around the death of his best friend and musical partner Paul Curran. I first saw his work on Other Voices and was blown away seeing it on video, but seeing him perform live, turning his soul inside out was one of the most moving soul-wrenching and finally euphoric gigs I have ever been at, with lads in the audience hugging each other and telling their mates how much they love them. I am brought to tears right now writing about it, with images of his friends and the lads projected onto the screen, his beloved ‘Coolock Reds’ Shelbourne FC flag and a bunch of roses tied around the mic. Light streaming though the stained glass windows of the church, it felt very much like a eulogy at a funeral that we were all attending. We all saw the pictures of him and his mates projected onto the screen, we all felt it. There was nothing at all fake about this performance, it was raw, visceral and tender, you could tell that Balfe felt every word, the way that he was looking up mournfully at the screen at his late friend was beautiful respectful and intense and he seems to channel this deep, authentic emotion every time he performs.

Unlike a real funeral, the full range of emotions after someone’s death could be expressed here; not just the happy memories of football matches, raves and listening to metalcore, but also also that raw visceral bewilderment and anger at the unfairness of the situation – that pure explosion of emotion. Hearing him sing “ I love you beyond Life” with piano twinkles and subtle ravey beats and WhatsApp voice recordings, chatting in the background, Balfe reflects on his friendship with his late friend; from school days to scuffles in the streets and playing gigs together, before the heartbreaking sign-off, “I felt like I had it all. I have a love, and it will never fade and neither will you, Paul. I love you bro.” At the end of the gig Balfe placed the flag and mic on the floor under the image of his late friend and we were left stunned. It is a performance that will ripple in the the subconscious long, long after the gig finished. It was poignant, gritty, visceral and beautiful. I don’t know of any other artist that can channel such raw emotions in such an authentic way.

Mdou Moctar

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Mdou Moctar

An artist like Mdou Moctar only comes along once in a lifetime and the audience were SO lucky to see him at Visions Festival, smiling and charismatic and an absolute wizard on the guitar, he proved that music transcends language. Hailing from Niger he is one of the most innovative artists in contemporary Saharan music with his original interpretations of traditional Tuareg tunes. Secular music was all but prohibited, he taught himself to play on a homemade guitar cobbled together out of wood and bike wires. He is a Jimi Hendrix in Saharan robes, joyful, charismatic and connected with the crowd. He effortlessly got everyone up and clapping and dancing to his rock and blues fusions making his extraordinary shredding seem effortless and he came down to give everyone in the front row a high five and said that the church in Hackney was really hot. What a showman! His performances are pure joy.

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Mdou Moctar

Black Country New Road

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Black Country, New Road

Black County, New Road brought one of the largest most excited crowd to the festival. Like Mdou Muctar, they have also been nominated for an AIM award. We caught the beginning of their set. They stretched all genre boundaries and had the crowd entranced with elements of folk, math rock and jazz. It was an experiment in high modernism and the crowd were enthralled.

Tonstartssbandht

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Tonstartssbandht

The night ended up back at Paperdress Vintage which had wheeled away its racks of clothes for the night and and had turned into a bar. Upstairs the air conditioning and more intimate surroundings were a welcome change, like being back at a house party. Like the chill out zone at a larger festival, Tonstartssbandht were the perfect way to end the evening, in such a small intimate space and with limited capacity I was keen to see them as Weyes Blood had described them as a ‘Must See.’ Florida Psychedelic rockers Andy and his brother Edwin, smiling, charismatic, long-haired and barefoot, warmed the room with their psychedelic swirls, ethereal harmonies, trippy riffs and Tame Impala style, fuzzy soaring choruses. It was hard to believe that such rounded textures were created by only two people. They played for a full hour and left the whole room euphoric. At the end of the gig, they thanked the VISIONS team for an amazing festival and I couldn’t agree more.

It was the perfect end to an outstanding day. Warm, well organised and chilled, it was a really special festival that seemed to be curated with love and I can’t wait until next year. A limited amount of early bird tickets are on sale for 2023 now. Get them while you can.

https://dice.fm/partner/various-venues-east-london/event/vk3rg-visions-2023-22nd-jul-various-venues-east-london-london-tickets?dice_source=web&dice_medium=organic&dice_campaign=Various+Venues%2C+East+London&_branch_match_id=1013930269766298815&_branch_referrer=H4sIAAAAAAAAA8soKSkottLXz8nMy9ZLyUxO1UvL1Q82SzJKM0hLTTNNNQUAoMb1ViEAAAA%3D

Photography – Carmel Walsh

High School Photo 1 – Ceri Davies

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