Hackney Wonderland has been entertaining those from in and around the area for 3 years now. Though it looks a bit different than it did back in 2014. The festival boasted 3 venues back then, and had a few mid-tier bands and acts that have since been lost in anonymity. Yet it has grown over these 3 years, from 4 venues last year, to 5 in 2016. They now find themselves in popular spaces, such as the Oval Space and the London Fields Brewery. And with this upgrade in locations, the festival must also improve, in both its booking and its aesthetic.
The Mangle E8 will be a venue unfamiliar to some, having just opened. However it makes for an interesting space. Having just seen Syd Arthur support White Denim the week before, their jangling indie sound was more familiar to me. Yet, it provided no less of an impact. The band are clearly very talented, and stand out somewhat from the other long haired, alt indie bands that have saturated the genre recently. There is an intricacy in their performance that floats above the reverb-addled murks beautifully. The venue held them well, providing and aesthetic that was both raw and formative in equal measure.
Leaving the venue briskly to head over to the main space, the journey has a certain wonder about it. You are forced along the back streets of Hackney, mired in beautiful street art, you make uncertain passages through the back streets. A feeling of adventure is apparent, and the festival would do well to push this aspect, encompassing it as part of the experience.
The Oval Space is a beautiful venue. It looks ideal for some form of rave. However tonight, the space fills with the sound of droning indie synths, in lieu of harsh techno beats. Stealing Sheep were mid-set, and their sound is extremely interesting. Dressed in polka-dot latex bodysuits they stand three abreast. They are a heavily electronic outfit, though their songs have an organic quality surrounding them. The vocals are something to note when it comes to this trio, like a cross between Kraftwerk and HAIM, the hooks are infectious and have a solid rhythmic basis. What’s more, they interact with the crowd on a human level, something so lacking in electronic acts as of late. Though they are a name that not many will have heard on the scale of the two final bands of the night, they certainly held their own.
A crowd began to gather for penultimate band We are Scientists, who are on a huge promotional push for threat latest album ‘Helter Seltzer’. The first thing that is impossible not to notice about this trio is the comfort in their performance. They are a band who enjoy themselves after more than ten years together. Their energy is unbelievable and the crowd reciprocated as they played a setlist of old hits and new songs. Their sound is still the same as it was when their fantastic sophomore album ‘With Love and Squalor’ came out. ‘It’s a Hit’ is as jagged and powerful as ever, and ‘The Great Escape’ is still brilliant. Within which front man Keith Murray charged into the depths of the crowd, mic in hand. The band were phenomenal, with a comfort and a tenacity that had me checking I hadn’t slipped back to 2007.
Mystery Jets finished off the night, a band that formed around the same time as We are Scientists, but still command a heavy following. Being that this is supposedly the only London show on their current tour, they took to it with vigour. Their new songs are entertaining enough to keep those who aren’t avid fans interested, and the band frequently took the crowd in a ‘time machine’ charging into old songs such as ‘Young Love’ and ‘Two Doors Down’. Similar to the band that proceeded them, they play these songs with the passion that they did when they had first come out. Blane Harrison and William Rees swapped the position of lead vocals between themselves, providing an eclectic setlist that only affirmed their longstanding popularity in the indie genre.
It doesn’t look like your average wonderland. However, this Hackney based festival provides a great night of entertainment. The acts were eclectic. They ranged from recognisable bands trusted to bring a strong performance, to smaller bands that spark a certain curiosity. It is well managed by the team, and my hope is that the festival continues to expand, as it is something the area should be very proud of.