All Points East: perfect for people who don’t like music festivals
All Points East is a music festival for people who don’t like music festivals. Which is not to deny that this annual affair, in London's Victoria Park, boasts an impressive selection of alternative music across two weekends each summer. This year, following last weekend's electric spread from Kraftwerk, Gorillaz and The Chemical Brothers came an indie feast, featuring Tame Impala, The National, and – still to come this evening – Nick Cave.
On Thursday, a relatively sparse crowd geared up for Australian headliners Tame Impala. They were helped along by American singer Caroline Polachek, who skipped on stage in a black dress and back-to-school loafers to parade her avant-garde pop. Previously part of Chairlift, the synth-pop act responsible for ubiquitous iPod advert hit Bruises in 2008, Polachek found new acclaim with her 2019 solo album Pang. She finished her short set here with its strongest single, So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings. Though well-honed after a year of touring, her vocal acrobatics and elegant dance moves were a little lost on the tepid audience.
Tame Impala also sold their own sonic world with gusto, lasers and neon visuals, while a UFO-style lighting rig hovered threateningly above the band. The project of musician Kevin Parker, Tame Impala trade on treacly bass and digital psychedelia to create a somewhat anodyne sound. “Shall we get a bit rowdy?” suggested Parker, before launching into glam-stomper Elephant, while other favourites Let It Happen and The Less I Know The Better provoked a similar rush. But if you saw ten minutes of the show, you’d seen it all. Parker may have made a song with Diana Ross, produced for Rihanna and Lady Gaga, and remixed an Elvis track for Baz Luhrmann’s recent biopic – but with a repetitive setlist light on any real hits, Tame Impala are still more famous than they ought to be.
The National commanded the headline slot far more persuasively the following night. After 24 years together, the American five-piece have mellowed into veterans of alternative rock, with a dignified air far removed from their jittery early shows. They walked on stage to I Can’t Forget by Leonard Cohen – an obvious progenitor of both the band’s poetic style and frontman Matt Berninger’s molten-honey burr. Berninger’s unique live presence – he wrestles with his emotions like they’re a particularly unwieldy duvet cover – immediately resonated, his trademark refrains bellowed back at him by the noticeably older crowd. Songs from across the band’s catalogue received an exultant response, from new single Weird Goodbyes with Bon Iver – Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold stepping on stage to supply Justin Vernon’s vocals – to old favourites such as Bloodbuzz Ohio and Mr November. It felt familiar and grandiose, in precisely the way indie headliners should.
Saturday’s crowd vastly eclipsed the previous two days, lured by the easy pleasures of headliners James Blake and Disclosure. Tasked with buoying an audience already ruddied by sunshine and hard seltzer, British artist Charli XCX held nothing back during her 7PM support slot. She took to the stage with the dishevelled air of somebody much further into their night out, later admitting, “I’m a little bit drunk”. If she was, it only enhanced her chaotic energy. Anchored by two dancers, backing tracks, and slick visuals, she volleyed banger after banger out to the young, party-hungry crowd, from Beg For You – a single off her recent album Crash – to avant-pop frolic Vroom Vroom and I Love It, her 2012 hit with Icona Pop. She steamed through the songs so fast, in fact, that her set finished fifteen minutes early.
Alongside Caroline Polachek, Charli XCX flirts on the fringes of mainstream music, and it was reassuring to see both artists spice up an otherwise conventional line-up. But it’s the bigger names who draw in the crowds, and for those seeking a typical festival experience without having to lug a tent and sleeping bag across the country, All Points East remains the safest bet for a good time.