We spent a day exploring the best underground music at Visions Festival

Visions 2017 showcased some of the best underground talent in the UK and beyond.

11 months agoText by


Over the last five years, Visions Festival has become a gem amid an ever-expanding list of mini city festivals in the UK. A vast amount of these small independent festivals book acts already on the festival circuit in hopes to avoid financial risk, leading to near identikit line-ups up and down the country. Visions festival is something greater than all these and offers something different. Spread across Hackney and London Fields, it’s expanded from four to five venues this year, with Oval Space and London Fields Brewhouse serving as the backbone of the festival. Promoting an eclectic range of new emerging music every year, Visions has never lost its touch by sticking to their mission statement. It’s a one-of-a-kind music festival that celebrates both international and national talent with its niche mix of many sub-genres. Trap, indie-rock, J-pop, techno were all represented at this year’s festival, not the mention the countless and ever evolving niches of London’s yet to be named scenes.

Opening the Oval Space stage was London-based duo, IDER. Meg and Lily steered a sound of brooding electro-pop in their writing – coupled with vocal harmonies and blissful minimalism. Introducing their set with ‘Pulse’, the crowd were so engaged in their performance, you could hear a pin drop during in the song’s dynamic transitions. Extending and adding intricate details into their set, the pair possessed the flair and prowess of an experienced act far beyond their years.

Only a short walking distance from the Oval Space, something huge was about to happen. Denzel Himself was making his first-ever festival performance at London Fields Brewhouse. The stage was fueled by fuzzy, gruelling bass guitar with heavy-distorted sub-bass, referencing not only hip-hop but also hinting at punk, hardcore and jazz. Throwing in new cuts, such as ‘BANGIN’ and ‘State Ya Claim’, the South-London rappers live set thrilled throughout. Politically charged, thought provoking and energetic, tapping into the headspace of Denzel Himself for a half hour is an engaging experience. It was clear which sort-of genres, sounds and vibes collated at each music venue, and the Brewhouse had the sound in place to capture bass-heavy genres from hip-hop to techno. Pairing up with rapper Dariés Street Soul, Benny Mails laid down singles and improvisations over on neo-soul and jazz beats. The pair captured the free spirit of the festival by styling fun freestyles and juggling double-time flows and slow neo-soul drum grooves.

Top: Denzel Himself. Bottom: Benny Mails

Round the corner from Visions HQ (Space Studios) was the NTs stage and rooftop bar. The stage itself was neatly perched by a window with a view of an overground train bridge and London’s buzzing landscape, the ideal backdrop the hazy inner-city sounds the venue was dealing in on Saturday afternoon. Indulging Puma Blue here was a very different experience to how his music sounds on record. His rich jazz and neo-soul influences flourished, complimented by his live arrangement of saxophone, drums and bass guitar. Much of the minimalistic delivery subsided, and his live show saw the songs really come alive in front of you. Much of this experience in its surroundings and general hushed atmosphere, felt like catching a live band in an inner city jazz bar.

Britain’s finest J-pop-meets-indie group, Kero Kero Bonito embraced the main stage equivalent, Oval Space for one of the day’s later sets. The group blurs the lines of house, hip-hop and pop, with poignant bassline hooks and pristine vocals. Never ceasing for a moment, KKB singer Sarah Bonito whipped out a flamingo toy, and a miraculous cheer filled the room. Both experienced fans and first timers were easy to pinpoint, dotted around the crowd. Using the two languages gained from her parents, Sarah spits her lyrics in half English and half Japanese. Recognisable hooks, such as “How many shrimps does it take to make your skin turn pink?” had the crowd shouting for more. A performance that defined Visions of its aesthetics and drive, their set felt at home and genuine amongst the line-up.

Past Cambridge Heath station, a Visions signpost that reads ‘Sebright Arms’ stands outside a crevice connecting to the venue. Located under the pub’s floor, the Sebright Arms stage saw Amber Arcades fill out the basement room. The crowd was caught in a trance of Amber’s honest, relatable lyric writing and compelling indie-rock arrangements. One half of the set displayed Amber’s softer side of stripped-back indie ballads, while the other progressed with gritty bouncy rock charms. Her vocals stood out behind a contagious vibe of duelling guitar hooks, punchy basslines and boy/girl harmonies that recalled SORRY’s earlier set in the Sebright Arms underground room with brooding garage-finessed tracks.

Top: Kero Kero Bonito. Bottom: Puma Blue.

The evening drifted in, and Cosmo Pyke emerged on to the stage bathed in purple light. Very Prince, though Cosmo is closer to Jimi Hendrix with his loose stage presence and wild, blues perfected fretwork. The Peckham based artist’s vocal delivery is much of a performance of itself, journeying through blues inspired phrases and dynamic bounces. ‘Chronic Sunshine’ and ‘Social Sites’ from ‘Just Cosmo’ EP were notable crowd favourites, judging by the gleam of smiles and singing that surrounded the room.

Now drifting into the final sets of the festival, we wondered to Oval Space for the last hour of live music. An artist who chooses to remain shrouded in mystery, SOPHIE emerged centre stage surrounded by darkness, adorned in an oversized puffer coat, hood drawn. Having opened his hour set with a dense instrumental of trap and glitch music, SOPHIE had each attendee locked in an unnerving mix of brash sub bass and trap re-works including an especially amped version of Vince Staples collab ‘Yeah Right.’

Visions’ spread of venues was the real strength of the day, however. If you were in the mood for gritty, sweaty rock in a basement, Sebright Arms had your back, or if you were feeling in need for relaxed and chilled vibes, NTs offered that. It was like Visions housed many miniature festivals under one roof, with its broad line-ups and festivities. Hackney has always been a place of authentic culture and creativity and Visions Festival is thriving and growing with the community.

All photography Antony Yates.
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