Saturday, September 04, 2004

Surfeit of acts, deficit of planning

TDK Cross Central Festival
King’s Cross Freight Depot
Sunday 29 August

With its lurid pink and green livery and an achingly cool line-up you’d have thought The Guardian would have joined the event’s stock media partners like XFM, Dazed & Confused and Bacardi. We could have seen a panoply of post-rave acts: hip-hop cut & paster DJ Yoda, bedroom techno pioneers Plaid, sound murderer Cylob, the nu wave of euro-techno such as Blackstrobe, production duo par excellence LCD Soundsystem or even Detroit evangelist Derrick May. With such potential aural treats ahead, £20 a day seemed not too steep for a full day and night of line-ups across seven or so stages.

Mindful of recent over-the-top security experiences we went in narco-light. “Running orders are subject to change” warned the rave brochure caveat. Both aspects would be factors in why this event turned out to be just another disappointing urban festival. Those and the fact that the number of punters had exceeded expectations, middle-class white refugees from the carnival perhaps.

While no-one expects complete adherence to the line-up, the actual running order bore no resemblance at all. This probably added to the day’s main feature – people wandering round trying to correlate set with setting in vain. And though in my mind I took the early inquiries for pills as an inverted compliment, by the 15th time it was irritating. By the early hours no-one wandering on the fringes seemed to be enjoying themselves, but many still seemed keen to top up their intake, to give the set a chance. The drugged lemmings. If you were in the vortex of the central dancefloors things looked better – if you liked dancing within a minute radius. Of course, ravers could top up their consumption with a plastic bottle of Becks for £4. Two visits to the ‘VIP tent’ offered electrorock piss, while opposite the Secret Sundaze stage seemed the most hedonist. One time we wandered into the ‘Nu Cult Alliance’ and caught some divine electro-disco waves (Brooks? Plaid? Vibert?) resonating to a sparse crowd.

So in their efforts to put on a top rave the organisers seemed affected by a common mature capitalist malaise – trying to give us too much. Too many stages, too many acts – a little bit of streamlining and a bit more awareness of likely raver movement s would have made for a better do. The Victorian warehouses, wharfs and basements of the Goods Yard are huge; you don’t have to use the whole complex. In the end, I caught Freeform Five live – tired 80s stylings, far better when Anu Pillai was a ‘mere’ producer; Rahzel – Roots’ beatbox man impressed, failing to defer to the anthem-hungry crowd and twisting his sounds into near house-style rhythms; the clinical San Frandisco of Mark Farina (where I lost Dan for the night); and, best of all, Carl Craig, a brilliant 20-minute live version of Paperclip’s Throw, Craig standing there impassive, directing his men. A transitory moment of genuine joy in a frustrating Bank Holiday Sunday. We went to the carnival the following day – if not easy, free and a better range of sounds on offer – though the thinly veiled inter-race animosity is another feature entirely.

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