Essential Festival 2001 

Usually situated in Brighton, this year's Essential festival was relocated to Hackney Marsh which, despite the name, is actually a set of playing fields rather than a swamp.

Saturday is supposedly the more upbeat day of the weekend but, at first listen, the beats are lazy and the tempo decidedly languid. That’s because DJ Krush is taking things down a notch or several; his metronomic after-hours beats flop out of the speaker stacks to increasingly soporific effect (perhaps in an attempt to chill out the hyper skate kids fresh from their acrobatic half-pipe demonstrations outside the tent,  is all we can think of).  The Japanese trip-hop guru’s utter K- Hole of a set – the audio equivalent of watching paint dry – makes for a displeasingly down-tempo kick-off to proceedings.

Festival favourites Jurassic 5 soon pick things up, providing some old-school hip-hop relief with their good-times banter and melodic, chanty choruses, before Bristolian breakbeat-meisters Reprazent enter the fray.    Lime-green stage lights cast a ganja glow, and the tone shifts to dark, dastardly and decidedly wiggedy. Nappy-hatted MC Solaar growls along to the driving, bass-led rumble of Who Told You and dreadlocked Roni Size spins his always crowd-pleasing drum'n'bass classic, the scatter-shot beat barrage that is Brown Paper Bag. It appears we have a dance  festival on our hands.

Which leaves the crowds buzzing for the Stereo MCs, who proceed to get Deep, Down and Dirty with the glow-stick kids on the main stage.  With their tight live set-up and dynamic onstage presence,  Brixton's laziest baggy merchants have the crowd eating from their hands, bounding through their set as if the years of half-explained non-productivity had passed in the flutter of a junkie’s eyelid. They leave us punters with a funky chicken spring in our steps as we trail off to the train station.

Sunday is overcast verging on grim – but, martyrs to the music that we are, we refuse to let the looming grey crowds dampen our spirits and, ignoring the soaking wet connotations of the Jazz Ocean Arena,  ease into the groove with some Courtney Pine. ("Nice", as a certain Fast Show character would say.)  It may be the soundtrack to an upmarket coffee-table emporium in
Notting Hill but, hey,  it’s Sunday, and at least Courtney warms up the crowd,  leaving them suitably saxed-up for the funk to continue with legendary De La Soul.

The happy-go-lucky rap trio has been kicking on the scene since they were Three-Feet High and Rising but the crowd's love for them has not diminished an iota over the years.  Live hip-hop is always a lottery, but Essential’s sound engineer
contrives to butcher the set with a horrible mix that drowns their supple wordplay in alternate squalls of echo and feedback. That said,  De La Soul don’t seem to notice, let alone mind,  and,  for that matter,  neither does the crowd.  In fact, the dangerously packed tent sees some punters resorting to climbing the supporting scaffold poles in order to get an elevated view of the incomprehensible shout-fest playing out onstage.

We decide to duck out early and catch St Germain. The live outfit of French musician Ludovig Narrave makes for an interesting prospect, as the Bluenote-style jazz noodling is played live by a handful of straight-laced old session muso duffers (who look like they’ve never necked a party favour in their collective lives).  Of course, the goatee-stroking ambiance is
transported to club-land by fat deep-house beats,  and St Germain turns in one of the festival’s funkiest sets, made all the more enjoyable by the extra space in the tent afforded by the thinned out crowd (thanks, De La Soul).  It seems plenty missed one of the weekend’s highlights.
By now, the spectre of Monday morning in the office has started to permeate the festival vibe.  You can almost feel it descend on the site, prompting some to begin winding their weary ways home;  others hurry to order another watery pint to spill and skin up the dregs of the weekend’s stash.  The closing stage is set for the colourfully bedecked and heftily dread-locked George Clinton and his P-Funk crew to open tonight’s parliamentary session. Bootsy Collins and his slap-happy bass spanking are sadly absent, but the spectacle of an old bearded madman with a psychedelic mullet growling incantations nobody understands over seminal soul-funk grooves proves a suitably quirky, skew-whiff winding down to this year’s Essential Festival.

 -- Published by Netscape, 2001


Make a free website with Yola