Festival Review: All Points East - Christine & The Queens, Victoria Park 26/05/2019
Taking risks on festival bills is something that has been consistently done throughout recent years. Who would’ve thought that Eminem could be the headliner of Reading Festival, which is normally synonymous with the biggest names in rock or punk? Or that Kanye West would be top of the bill at Glastonbury? I mean, that being said – do people still go to Glastonbury for the music, or just so that they can put it on their social CV and say that they have been? It seems as though newer festivals have found the right balance.
As all of the festivals were announcing their line-up, in 2018, there was one question that kept cropping up, time and time again – where are all the female musicians? The internet was rife with debate which led to a few responses from organisers saying that they would make this happen in 2020/21. My instant thought was – why should this take so long? Considering the festival season was only just about to get started and that 2019’s festivals were mere glimmers in our eyes? Were organisers waiting for a new host of female musicians to gain popularity? Were ‘women in music’ just a lesser species that demanded a whole new strategy in terms of festival organisation? Surely not.
This is where All Points East came striding along, ready to start pushing boundaries. 2018 was the first time they took over Victoria Park for two weekends, and they made sure that there was more of an equal gender spread. Björk, Patti Smith, Courtney Barnett, Lorde, Warpaint, Cat Power, St Vincent and Jade Bird were amongst the fierce females who performed at the festival in its first iteration, and what a fortnight it was! In what may seem to some as a confusing choice, they really hit the nail on the head by choosing Christine & The Queens as their Sunday headliner for this year.
With just two albums under her belt; Christine & The Queens aka Chris aka Héloïse Letissier delivered a performance full of sensuality, theatrics and nonchalant authority. Her second album saw her drop the ‘& The Queens’ part of her moniker, in a move where she re-claimed her sexuality and idea of femininity. It inspired a conversation of what it is to shift the female gaze out of the hands of men, in the unapologetic search for pleasure and self-confidence. The entire day was a perfect curation in feel-good pop music in various form.
Toro Y Moi kicked off the afternoon, and it couldn’t have been better. Whilst being caught in scattering light showers, Toro Y Moi brought the tropical vibes with their Lo-Fi R&B sound. Festivals are as much about the visuals as they are the sound, because sometimes the crowd is so large that you need screens to see what’s happening on stage. Toro Y Moi were grooving across the stage in hazy psychedelic hues of purple and blue and it brought in the perfect mood for Kurt Vile & The Violators. Kurt’s laidback Americana brought the sun out, and his complimentary banter brought smiles that grew wider during his badass solo in ‘Walkin on a Pretty Day’ which was played on an electro-acoustic guitar. I’ve never seen that before!
Feeling the need to have a bit of a boogie, Kamasi Washington was next on the hit-list. It was the kind of set that made you feel like an extra in a Bond movie. ‘The Rhythm Changes’ transitioning into a cover of ‘Abraham’ by Miles Mosley induced stank-face and head rolls for days. The shimmering percussion and the jazziest woodwind section really worked well in the park setting. Having limbered up and perfected the obligatory two-step needed for when you don’t know how to dance, I shuffled on over to the X Stage to see the ‘Gandalf of Techno’, the English DJ and producer Andrew Weatherall.
Playing one of a small handful of London shows of the year, Maribou State brought their chill electronic vibes to the West Arena and the enclosed tent setting was perfect for the reverberation of sound. After catching a few of their songs – most notably ‘Steal’ and ‘Midas’, for which they brought out vocalist Holly Walker, it was back out into the gloomy grey in order to see James Blake. One of the most talked about albums of this year was his declaration of love, ‘Assume Form’. Wearing a chameleonic green and red leopard print shirt, James played most of the songs from this new album – whilst perched at his keyboard like a mad scientist – with a few songs from ‘Overgrown’ thrown in for good measure.
Getting a little bit tired of the ironically male-heavy acts that I’d seen throughout the day, I felt like it was time to head towards the East Stage to prepare for the overwhelming excitement of Christine & The Queens. The heavens opened up just as she had settled in on the stage, and dissipated as she played ‘Comme Si’, ‘Girlfriend’ and ‘The Walker’. As she slickly moved around the stage with her dancers, there were little quips that came out, in order to immerse the crowd in her world of discovery and acceptance. Explaining that this is the “start of something bigger [with] no judgement, only love. You can change your mind, you can change your name, you can dissolve if you want to.” All that matters is being comfortable in your own skin.
Chris powered through her set with the air of someone who knows that this is what they were born to do. After performing ‘Goya! Soda!’ a small fire broke out side of stage, and it appeared that Chris had no idea what was going on, whilst the crew extinguished it. ‘Damn (what must a woman do)’ felt a new burst of energy seep through Chris as the sexually charged performance climaxed in her growling the title in the middle 8. Following on with the free-spirited feel, Chris addressed the reason in which she was there and how it made her feel. “London, this is the first festival I’m headlining. You make me wanna be naked and utterly vulnerable.”
Chris’ flowing sanguine shirt felt like an accessory to the lust that bleeds out of her music and the aptly chosen cover of Janet Jackson’s ‘Nasty’. Being such an emotive performer gives Chris the perfect balance of expression. Whilst on a whole there is an exuberant energy, emotions and vulnerability are never far away. As the performance neared its end, Chris informed us that our relationship is “long term, whether you want it or not.” Whilst singing ‘Saint Claude’ Chris held her microphone in the same hand as her ‘we accept you’ tattoo, which was projected on the main screen to thousands of onlookers, and I cannot think of a more fitting moment to capture and close the entire day.
Thanking all of the sound engineers, and technicians who believed in the show, Chris introduced all of her dancers and left the crowd lingering for more, with her club number ‘Intranquillité’. Whilst we may be a little bit far off of having female-centric festival line-ups, Christine & The Queens proved that a fierce female headliner is exactly what we’re all lacking in our lives. If we live by her rule of ‘no judgement; only love’ maybe we can make the music industry a more open and welcoming place!
Words by Tyler Damara Kelly
Photography provided by Outside Org