Editor’s note: This one got seriously lost in the mix, but the festival and work that French Vanilla did was just so good that we thought you’d still enjoy reading about it.
By Day 3, we were all walking wounded, but had no intention of slowing down. It wasn’t so much the constant partying that had people worn down, but mostly the fact that this festival had 15 stages spread out over a kilometer. And this kilometer had all sorts of elevation changes, cobblestone and dirt paths, steep inclines and declines, and a schedule that just didn’t allow for any breaks because everything was just too good to miss.
I arrived early enough to catch Plan B’s band going through their sound check, and it was interesting to see and hear what the main stage looked like with myself being the only person in attendance. Something else really interesting was how clean the place was. There were very few garbage bins around, so people had no other option but to toss their plastic cups on the ground. The saddest thing about the end of the festival each morning wasn’t that the party was temporarily over, but the garbage that covered the majority of this soon-to-be UNESCO world heritage site. Each morning though, scores of people with massive rakes came in, and worked for hours to make sure that the place was virtually spotless for the next evening.
I wandered for a bit to explore the rest of the fortress, and came back for an incredible Plan B performance. For those who don’t know, Plan B is England’s latest hip hop export, who is an amazing MC and loves to sing. And oh my, can he sing. After a quick warm-up by his beatboxer Faith SFX, he took the stage wearing a sharp-looking suit and tie and told the crowd “we’re gonna play you some soul music.” His set was done in two parts, with a bit of an intermission in between. In addition to a few of his own tunes such as “The Recluse,” (we all know and love the remix by Chase and Status) and “She Said,” he also sang a couple of brilliant covers of soul classics. Accompanied by a five-piece live band, he sang “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers and “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King. For added brilliance, his beatboxer Faith SFX joined him during “Stand by Me” by beatboxing a dubstep beat and they made the song theirs. “Ain’t no Sunshine” transitioned into Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose,” and then they capped off the medley with “Forgot about Dre” By Dr. Dre and Eminem while everyone in the crowd cheered their faces off. Faith SFX started the show with some awesome hip hop beatboxing before the band took the stage. He was also left alone to entertain us once the “soul” half was over, while Plan B left the stage for a couple of minutes to get ready for the “hip hop” half of the show.
Faith SFX put on the beatboxing performance of a lifetime. He started off with some solid hip hop, dropped some dubstep beats, and then went into some pounding house and electro. He would beatbox some dirty basslines, add in the melody, and then he’d get the whole crowd to sing. We clapped to the beat and sang the words and/or melodies to “I Like to Move it,” “Zombie Nation,” and “Barbara Streisand.” He then explained that he was going to try a different scenario. “You’re in a night club, and you’ve just been outside for a phone call, but the music is still playing in the background,” he explained before following up with how he was going to put it all together. He put the microphone against the side of his throat, and beatboxed all the parts of “I Like to Move it.” It sounded perfectly muffled, impressed anyone within earshot, and we screamed some more. It was freaking awesome.
Plan B came back dressed in jeans, a skater chain, and a t-shirt, and proclaimed this half of the show as the “hip hop” half. When it was time for him to play “Ill Manors,” he encouraged everyone to start a mosh pit, to which the superfans in the front obliged. Other than the epic hiking at the festival, the only other really trying aspect is that fact that the ground is made up of really dry and dusty dirt, and you end up breathing it all in. The mosh pit was intense, and it drove a lot of people to the back because it was impossible to breathe. The crowd kicked up a dust cloud so fierce, that you couldn’t see the stage from the back. It was a small inconvenience though, because the energy from Plan B, the band, and the crowd was amazing. I couldn’t have picked a better way to start my evening.
Please please please listen to Plan B. His style is his own, though he seems to be following in the footsteps of other British rappers such as Dizzee Rascal and Mike Skinner from The Streets. They created a whole new style of hip hop and a sound that came definitively from across the pond, and so far Plan B has been able do the same. He’s like England’s answer to Drake, except he really does keep it real and is so much more versatile. I don’t mean to hate on Drake, but unlike him, Plan B actually talks about social and political issues in his music, and not about how much money he has. And he can really really really sing. His soul songs are amazing and really demonstrate his adaptability as an artist, and his live set is boss.
Here’s a couple of clips I filmed of Faith SFX Beatboxing:
Here are his most recent singles and a really cool interview on BBC1:
After Plan B, I stuck around to listen to Erykah Badu for a bit. I liked a couple of songs of hers as a kid, but she kinda fell off the radar years and years ago. Nevertheless, the main stage was packed and she was greeted to huge applause. One cool thing about shows in Eastern Europe was that artists seemed to have a bit more immortality. While acts like Erykah Badu, New Order, Duran Duran, and Guns n’ Roses are almost forgotten in the western world, they still have fans in other parts of the world. Fans who didn’t get the chance to welcome them when they were too big to tour anywhere but North America and Western Europe, and are elated at the fact that they can hear them live now. I moved right to the back, sat down and enjoyed a bit of the show, and also enjoyed the fact that so many people were enjoying the show. I also thought about how cool it was I was chilling to some late 90s R&B, was off to hear some Nigerian afro funk next, and would eventually get my Techno fix with Richie Hawtin later on. I just couldn’t get over the phenomenal programming and fantastic variety of the festival.
Erykah had a seven-piece backing back who were tight as hell, and they all put on a kick-ass show. And Miss Badu was still eccentric as ever. I recognized her classic tunes “On and On” and “Love of My Life,” and loved that it was all still relevant and beautiful.
I headed up to the Fusion Stage to hear this year’s Kuti family representative do his thing. I learned last year just how much Serbs love their Nigerian afro funk after dancing my tail off to Femi Kuti and the Positive Force at Exit last year. I guess it was expected that they would bring in his brother Seun to make sure that genre was covered at this year’s festival as well.
The entire Kuti family is no doubt Nigeria’s most famous family, and if not the most famous family in Africa. They are well-known for their contributions to art, education, religion, politics, and medicine. The late Fela Kuti was the musical genius known worldwide for pioneering the Afrobeat genre, and Femi and Seun Kuti are his sons.
Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 threw down about an hour-and-a-half of some fierce afro funk at the full 2,000 person capacity Fusion Stage. Seun sang and played the alto saxophone, while a couple of female backup singers provided fantastic backing vocals while shaking their asses. I’m not sure who exactly make up Egypt 80, but also on stage were two guitarists, a bass player, a drummer, a keyboard player, and a couple of other percussionists. Not only were they musically awesome, but there were so many people on stage that it looked like the best party every. And there was so much heart and soul in the performance that the whole place was going crazy. By the end of their performance I was sweaty and panting because they just made everyone move. Despite standing in the shadow of a giant, Seun made sure everyone knew his name, playing the show like it was his last.
I decided the best way to cool down would be with some chuggy Detroit and Berlin techno, brought to us in Novi Sad, Serbia by a guy from Windsor, Canada.
I made a mad dash back to the dance arena so as not to miss any of Richie Hawtin’s set. I showed up to a completely packed Dance Arena and waded through the crowd to one of the media towers because it was the only spot I could find to dance. What makes Richie Hawtin such an amazing DJ is his talent for turning a potentially monotonous sounding eight-minute techno track with basic sounds into the most aurally delicious thing you have ever heard. He brilliantly strings together drum loops and layers several simple sounding sounds to create deeply engaging symphonies. To be completely honest, while I’ve always enjoyed sitting back and throwing on a pair of headphones to listen to Richie’s mixes, he’s been hit or miss with me at parties (though to be fair, I think he was playing a lot more minimal at the time, which I don’t have much of an interest in). This time however, he really impressed me, and anyone who was privileged to hear his set at Exit. I couldn’t tell you what he played, but the point of listening to Richie wasn’t to play “Name That Tune.” It was more about getting lost in the sounds and really listening to what was going on, because the point was the journey and not the identifiable rest stops along the way.
Here are some decent amateur videos of the performance.
Claude Von Stroke played a cool set very well suited for the wee hours of the morning. He played some really cool melodic tech house and his mixing was tight. He didn’t do anything overly spectacular, but the tunes were well-selected and programmed, and it was a beautiful way to greet the morning. Richie Hawtin was a tough act to follow, but Claude kept everyone moving.
Here’s a decent amateur video of Claude Von Stroke at Exit.