What a difference a year makes. Last summer Hackney figured large on the news agenda for all the wrong reasons as riots erupted in this underprivileged area of east London. This year the media headlines will be decidedly more positive.
With the Olympics poised to annex the borough from next month, this weekend it was the turn of music superstars. Billed as the largest event the network has ever mounted, BBC Radio 1’s Hackney Weekend was a spectacular 48-hour free festival with the vast majority of the 100,000 tickets reserved for local residents.
Radio 1 used its considerable heft to assemble a staggeringly star-crammed bill of music A-listers. Mainstream pop-rap and R&B major players dominated across the event’s six stages, with the lineup essentially reading like a Top 40 rundown.
Local girl Leona Lewis opened the main stage on Saturday and confirmed that she may be irredeemably bland but she sure can sing. Rizzle Kicks‘ infectious wholesome rap charmed more than Example’s aerobic rave-pop, while the inexplicably popular Ed Sheeran spent much of his set giving the crowd extremely well-spoken singing lessons.
The ubiquitous will.i.am poured high camp over his huge party tunes, and in the In New Music We Trust tent Jack White fired out visceral rock’n’roll as if his life depended on it. Saturday main stage headliner Jay-Z‘s star wattage is so great he was able to drop cameos by Rihanna, MIA – who suffered the indignity of a non-functioning microphone – and regular sparring partner Kanye West into his set.
Sunday nodded towards the local east London grime scene via Labrinth’s symphonic techno-rap and Professor Green’s shrill narratives. Plan B overcame technical hitches to confirm he is an extraordinary talent, switching easily between mellifluous Motown soul and the hardcore rap of thrilling riots-referencing recent single Ill Manors.
After mood-dampening showers, the sun came out in time for Jessie J to surpass her utterly generic material with a personality-plus performance. Her chutzpah was equalled in a far corner of the field by expletive-loving US rapper Azealia Banks, a 21st-century take on a New York B-girl.
Lana Del Rey‘s luscious, orchestral pop felt incongruous on this in-your-face bill but was utterly enchanting. Poured into a little red dress and reciting her melancholic mantras in a husky drawl, every song felt like a languorous, heart-broken exhalation. After Del Rey’s understated romanticism, Florence & the Machine’s melodramatic rock operas couldn’t help but seem overwrought.
A surprise late edition to Sunday’s bill, local hero Dizzee Rascal turned the field into a sea of raised hands with his breezy and brutally infectious rave-pop. Nobody resents this local boy’s success, despite the fact he has eschewed his formerly brittle, dark-edged rap noir in favour of chart-friendly pop nuggets.
Cheesy superstar DJ David Guetta and veteran agenda-setting US rapper Nas headlined the support stages, but for most people Sunday night was all about Rihanna. She mounted a spectacular stage show to support her sexualised, Caribbean-inflected R&B, pulled her mentor Jay-Z back for his second main-stage appearance of the weekend and temporarily turned a small corner of Hackney into her native Barbados. It was an impressive finale to an Olympics precursor that can only be judged a gold-medal production.
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