London festivals showcase best, brightest of U.K. music scene

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Let’s be honest: Concerts are often only really half about the person on stage and half about the people gathered there to watch them. Music makes a community of us all, if only for the few moments between an entrance and encore.

At festivals, however, the moments aren’t so few: They stretch from single sets to long, lazy afternoons, spilling from day to dusk and slipping into nightfall under the watch of musicians wooing us to the stage. We enter the gates among complete strangers and leave as something a bit different from that: maybe not friends, sure, but as witnesses to each other’s experiences — the crowd that makes up the collective we’ve been a part of all weekend.

The collective of a festival crowd is especially strong when it’s a festival that’s been booked with care and attention to the community attending, such as London’s Born & Bred festival in Haggerston Park on June 4 and 5. As a collaboration between London festival promoters Found Series and radio station-cum-record label Rinse FM, Born & Bred showcases some of the best up-and-coming MCs and DJs from London, in London and for Londoners. With artists such as Benga, Novelist and Wiley — who hail from boroughs only 12.2, 7.5 and 2.2 miles from Haggerston Park, respectively — it’s a bit like putting a stage in your living room, really, and inviting your mates ‘round for a knees up. Only you’re headlining a festival now, and this is the big time.

Held for the first time last year by Found Series, Born & Bred particularly comes at a fascinating point in the London festival scene. The London Evening Standard has called it the “ultimate grime festival” and The Guardian called it “London’s Best Summer Bass Fest.” Grime is taking off both in the UK and overseas — most visibly with Kanye West’s performance of “All Day” at the 2015 Brits featuring grime MCs such as Jammer, Skepta and Novelist, and Drake’s 2016 signing onto Skepta’s label, Boy Better Know.

Found Series has its finger firmly on the guttural bassline pulse, booking key members of the scene for not only Born & Bred, but for its other festivals, too. Dizzee Rascal, who penned 2003’s grime classic Boy in da Corner and is considered by many to be a founding father of the genre, headlines Love Saves The Day in Bristol on May 28 and 29, alongside collective Section Boyz and rising MC Stormzy. Field Day in London on June 11 and 12 boasts grime heavyweights such as Skepta, Novelist, Little Simz and the man who co-founded Rinse FM at age 16 and even hosted the station in his house for a time, Slimzee.

Even with festivals, such as Field Day and Loves Saves The Day, that cast their nets wider than grime, house and drum ‘n’ bass, there’s still a community. There’s this unifying sense among strangers of all coming for the same thing: There’s something we all need somewhere in the music, whether it’s in the electric wail of a guitar, the squelching of a bassline, the harsh clap of a kick or the tenderness in an acoustic voice. We all come for different acts from different subcultures, different suburbs — hell, even different cities and different countries.

But billing this diversity together, bringing together Mbongwana Star, Metz and Floating Points fans at Field Day, or uniting Hot Chip, General Levy and Katy B fans at Love Saves The Day gives us a chance to get together across those subcultures and suburbs — to get to know the people who we might otherwise deride for wearing different shoes, for having different priorities or for living a different life — and in that getting together, they can help us see from the other side of the fence.

Celebrating cultural and musical diversity is so important, and that’s why British music culture shouldn’t always be left solely to British press. There’s a whole world out there, and the fact that we can’t get there on BART doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek it out all the same.

Festivals are about visibility — so often music seems anonymous, both for fan and musician, in the age of Spotify and iTunes downloads. Musicians send music out into the void and get some stats back about who’s listening; fans plug into computers or phones or car stereos and pull that music out and make it part of their lives. Rarely do the two get to meet. But there, at concerts and festivals, we get to make something of the music, something of ourselves. We burst out of the tiny circles of our lives into something bigger: We discover artists we’ve never heard of before, meet strangers who might become our new best friends or, as in the case of Palma Violets, meet strangers who might make up a new band that’ll play festivals of its own one day.

Who plays these festivals shapes not just a few weekends of our lives but sometimes our Spotify playlists and, in turn, our musical tastes for weeks or months or even years to come. More than that, actually, they shape our ears for years to come, redefining what we think of as musically possible and pushing the boundaries and limits of song and sound. MCs such as Skepta (who defined himself recently in an interview as “not a rapper … an activist”) and Novelist, (whose brilliant track “Street Politician” features the MC rapping angrily over a sample of David Cameron’s infamous refrain “keeping people safe is the first duty of government”), for example, redefine and change the game with their music. And that music, in turn, redefines and changes us.

And holy shit, just look at those line-ups: Shura, Awesome Tapes from Africa and Hot Chip at Love Saves The Day; Newham Generals, Lady Leshurr and Bugzy Malone at Born & Bred; and Parquet Courts, PJ Harvey and Beach House at Field Day. Summer comes along every year, sure, but lineups like this only come around once.

Contact Tyler Adams at [email protected].