There’s a certain amount of schadenfreude on offer as you watch a rain-sodden Glastonbury from the comfort of your own sofa, but nothing beats a sunny day listening to live music, and so it was as Citadel Festival happened to sync up perfectly with Britain’s annual 4 day burst of what the rest of the world calls ‘summer’.
Citadel Festival, held in East London’s Victoria Park is a relatively new addition to the festival season. A one day event run by the hippy-chic team behind its big brother festival, Wilderness Festival, it offered a line-up well curated enough to stand out among the dozens of festivals competing for attention. Additionally, they made the most of their location, building stages around existing features in the park.
After stumbling past the Park Bandstand Stage on arrival, which made use of the 150+ year old Bandstand, Barbarella’s Bang Bang were finishing off their Euro gypsy punk set. The crowd were melting in the sun like the chocolate they were asked to call and respond to in the breakdown of the final track, ‘Cioccolata’. Of course, call and response is usually plan A for a performer in a festival set to get the crowd involved, and it was a theme that ran across the day, save for the final act. But more on that later.
Next up were the Pierce Brothers at the Urban Forest stage, which made use of, surprisingly, a cluster of trees to create an intimate, closed off stage. The Pierce Brothers consist of two Aussie brothers playing acoustic guitar and drums to produce typically anthemic folk rock. During their closer, ‘Golden Times’, the drumming brother holds a xylophone to the guitarist brother’s mouth, while simultaneously playing the didgeridoo. It’s the kind of move that just helps to elevate the levels of fun beyond just being another band simply playing their own instruments, and makes them look a little more like Vishnu, what with his four arms….and his known love for a mean acoustic guitar. One of those things might not be true.
Nathanial Ratcliffe and the Night Sweats were doing plenty of day sweating dressed mainly in blue and black denim as the sun beamed down on the Main Stage. Nathanial’s slice of Americana-filled rhythm and blues swings enough to capture everybody’s attention, even before he shattered a tambourine into a thousand pieces by hurling it to the floor. He also indulges in what he described as his first attempt at call and response. “I’ve never done this before, but then again, neither have you guys.” ‘Son of a Bitch’ gets everyone singing along, showing that some songs just beg to be yelled out into the hazy afternoon air, whether they’ve been asked to do it or not.
Over on the Communion Stage, Matt Corby and Lianne La Havas play one after the other. It’s a fitting arrangement, as both have the most incredible vocal skills, but do so much more than just sing. Matt Corby’s performance is focused and understated, but his voice melts people’s faces right off. He dips between some of his more psych-funk tracks, and the more straight-up gospel-rock of ‘Knife’s Edge’ and ‘Brother’.
As the sun sets, Lianne La Havas plays what for her, as an East London native, is a homecoming show. While fire and brimstone moments such as ‘Forget’ and ‘Never Get Enough’ are ferocious and fun, it’s her cover of ‘Say A Little Prayer’ that’s the standout moment. Her band take a break and watch, and they do the same thing that most of us in the crowd do when she sings; tilt their heads to the side a little, and just watch in awe. It’s an impressive confirmation that even those that perform with her regularly can’t get over how incredible her voice is. She finishes off with a little call and response moment too, before the main stage headliners Sigur Rós finished off the event with the most disconnected festival headlining set likely ever witnessed. This sounds critical, but really, it’s the complete opposite.
Now operating as a three piece, Sigur Rós are known for their atmospheric and sprawling music, with a rich and diverse back catalogue. They do have their lighter moments, but the Sigur Rós 2016 experience is very much focused towards the darker, broody side of their sound. The performance was tied intricately into an array of trippy and dazzling visuals. Captivating video filters were transposed over live footage, background video was displayed on a giant screen at the back of the stage, and sail-shaped skeletal lights hummed along in accompaniment. Huge crescendos would build as tracks moved from gradual, spacey arrangements towards thunderous endings. On one occasion, Jónsi, the lead singer, guitarist, and multi-instrumentalist channels Hendrix as best he can as he shreds a violin bow’s strings (which he uses to play guitar). Older tracks such as ‘Sæglópur’ and ‘Glósóli’ get an airing and new single ‘Óveður’ opened the show before the ferociousness of ‘Popplagið’ ends it. It’s a moment where all of the visuals from the previous 75 minutes or so suddenly crash together, causing a frenzied assault on the senses. The performance acted as an entirely cohesive piece, showing the possibilities of what can be done with a festival headlining set. It was a thrilling end to a diverse and perfectly curated festival.