Arcadia’s 10th anniversary unravelled a web of intrigue in London

Arcadia’s 10th anniversary in London couldn’t have fallen on a better day. One of the hottest days of 2018 in the UK so far. The setting was the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, London which was happening on both Saturday and Sunday of May bank holiday. The site was very well laid out with zero queuing to enter the festival. The temperature was starting to peak by the time I arrived, the cheeky security staff at the site entrance were conducting their searches in high spirits, and at the expense of my photo ID. It’s always nice to be greeted somewhere with a bit of humour and a laugh and to be honest this followed suit throughout the day to all staff involved. I’ve never seen somebody so happy to be serving ‘Chicken’ burritos on a ‘Bacon’ stand later on in the evening.

Approaching the main stage there was a web of intrigue as this is the first time I’ll be experiencing the 50 tonne Spider construction, I will be honest – my first thoughts, it was a little smaller than expected. This is largely down to context but it didn’t take anything away from the stage production that was to follow later in the evening.

Norman Jay MBE was laying down the sun kissed Moneypenny’s style funky house early doors, nothing to heavy at all and was serving as an inviting soundtrack to get your bearings with the site layout, Bug stage, bars, toilets, token offices and the ice cream van – he must have made a killing in this heat. On a day like this drinks were high on the agenda and this is how the system worked – It was 3 tokens for a reusable plastic cup up front then however many tokens for your choice of drink from then on. The refillable cups were definitely an example of best intentions not working out, it’s a credit Arcadia were thinking of the environment however it still left a mass of chunky plastic waste. Serving cans of water, I did think was a good idea and for only one token.

Next, it was over to The Reactor with drinks in hand and while it was still fairly early with room to move. Before I start, to everyone wondering why it smelt like your local seaside resort the seaweed smell was new turf flooding earlier in the week and then not draining properly. Credit to the team they even tried putting incense through the cooling fans at one point to try and get rid of it but unfortunately it stayed this way all day. If you like your clubbing hot and sweaty this was definitely the tent for you. Hadn’t it have been such nice weather I would have explored The Reactor a lot more than I did. Deciding not to watch Matador was probably my only regret of the day but the rest of the acts on the main stage so made up for it. So, let’s begin…

The programming of live acts and DJ’s were definitely on point with an instinct progression throughout the day, as mentioned earlier Norman Jay MBE was on warm up duty with a nice selection of beats but unfortunately the beatmatching let him down. Next up was Max Cooper and I cannot praise this guy enough, with him playing so early on from 15:00-16:30 I pretty much expected the way it was going to go. It was a master class in how to structure and build a set taking it from ambient through so many sub genres of underground dance music and doing it so effortless. The layering of melodies was meticulous, gradually creeping in and becoming more prominent throughout as he weaved through deep and bleepy tech house and techno and breaks to a crescendo of uplifting energy. I genuinely could not praise this set enough – lovely jubbly, a job well done, and a quick note from a friend “very accommodating for Gingers.”

Mr. Andy Cato in the form of Groove Armada somehow looking just as young as he ever has was ass shakingly good as he continued to build from Max Cooper. If you are a Groove Armada fan you know this is the music for a hot early summer day and probably the only time I’ve ever danced to Paul Simon’s ‘You Can Call Me Al’ as he laid down the Groove Armada Dub Redemption mix. The mood by this point was nothing short of smiling happy people. This is one of the reasons which made it such a great event, everyone was so cheery and interacting, it was generally such a nice vibe throughout the day. For a fairly compact site there was plenty of room to dance, sit on the grass and chill (of course I didn’t), not get bumped into and be comfortable, even the toilet queuing was pain free.

Dusky in music terms was when we received our first full dose of predominant 4/4 house and techno and yet another gear change and lift of energy. Before now there were always a breakbeat element lingering however, this set was a lot more rolling and not as deep as some of the deeper tracks they play and produce. The duo also seemed to have awoken the spider as bursts of flames sprayed into the air as they continued to drop track after track. There has not been a single bit of disappointment so far.

Following Dusky The Yallor Keeninyara did a ten minute performance of a profound story of connection, unity and worlds meeting, a moment of pure primal celebration of live drums and tribal instinct although it was quite hard to see unless you were firmly planted at the front under the main Spider stage. I found it quite fitting Sven Vath was to continue from this show. It almost acted as a reset I had a little bit of worry Sven Vath would do anyway, he’s very well known for doing this at Cocoon In The Park.

However, thank you Sven for stepping up on this occasion and upping the energy notch yet again. It was noticed and commented on by a fair few people who have seen Sven play recently that his sets are becoming a lot more progressive sounding, and by this, I mean longer breakdowns. I personally like it, others I feel missed the energy a little in parts but its each to their own. Mid Sven’s set I had to succumb to some food which lead to an adventure around the casualties of the day in the ‘time out and chill’ area where all the food stalls were situated back near the entrance. There was a wide variety but most with too long queues or they had sold out. It took longer to choose than it did to queue up and eat, but if you want a chicken burrito with a smile I know just the place.

As Sven’s set was drawing to an end we decided to head over to The Reactor as the sun was setting and starting to get a bit cooler, unfortunately we arrived too late and was kicking out time as Eats Everything was just ending his set. It was also time for the metamorphosis show to begin.

I have mainly excellent things to say about this. The production was faultless with so much going on, the mechanics, performers, pyrotechnics were executed to the highest level. I felt a bit let down by the choice of music it was programmed too though. With the Saturday being a house and techno event drum n bass and dubstep didn’t really appeal to me (on the Sunday it would have been a perfect fit) and for a half hour programmed show it’s a long time to reset your mood. Had the metamorphosis happened to the beginning of Leftfield that would have been truly amazing to watch and listen to.

Leftfield were definitely the highlight and their set selection were perfect largely playing all their peak time tracks, starting with Phat Planet and ending with Space Shanty I couldn’t think of a better way to round off the day. I personally would have been happy with some of their down-tempo tracks but to keep the energy up was exactly the right thing to do with an equal nod to both their earlier Leftism and Rhythm & Stealth albums from ’95 and ’99. A 90’s electronic band at its finest and acts like this is what I feel we are missing today who maintain both commercial and underground success. A special mention to the tall guy who aimlessly full on stomped it out with us straight the way through ‘Space Shanty‘ to that thumping acid bassline oozing the final bit of enjoyment of the day from our souls.

Overall this was an excellently executed and well organised daytime festival. The sound was on point and not too quiet which I believe was one of the deciding factors to host the festival at this site. Had this been a night-time festival it would have played into the hands of the stage production so much more. Only having a max of maybe 90mins in the dark so much more entertainment could have been enjoyed from such a well-designed structure. This was a shame really – maybe something to consider in the future Arcadia! That being said I give this event a very pleasing 9/10.

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Decoded Magazine Director and Operations Manager of Decoded Magazine Radio.

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