Strange Days | Forbidden Fruit 2016 in review
“You seen these guys live before?”
So goes the exchange between my NO ENCORE partner in crime Colm O’Regan and my good self as Young Fathers take to the Original Stage, shortly after proven festival openers the Trinity Orchestra officially kick Forbidden Fruit 2016 off. It’s a rather glorious Friday evening, bright and blazing, perhaps not entirely conducive to artful aggression, but the Edinburgh-based outfit fit right in at a festival that continues to defiantly switch up its personality.
As noted in last year’s assessment of the Kilmainham-set bash, Forbidden Fruit is an odd one. Whether by design or due to the emergence and expansion of rival events vying for like-minded performers, the festival has dealt with a potential identity problem by steadfastly refusing to fully commit to any one tangible style. This approach is hardly one-of-a-kind, but for better and for worse, Forbidden Fruit remains tricky to pin down.
So to witness the acerbic Young Fathers standing tall on the Original Stage as the sun blazes makes a certain kind of weird sense. Yeah you’d rather catch them a few hours later in a tent but fuck it, here we are and they’re pretty damn great. This is a muscular turn from one of the most interesting acts out there, bouncing from impressive physicality (Steven Morrison’s stand-up percussion heroics give this writer a serious case of drum envy, for one) to daze-like meanderings. ‘No Way’, ‘Low’ and ‘Get Up’ are standouts, with Graham ‘G’ Hastings’ vintage EMS synth providing an at-times disorienting rumble for counterparts Alloysious Massaquoi and Kayus Bankole to drift off.
“We are all migrants,” notes Hastings, repeating the statement for effect.
“Every one of us. We are all migrants. And if you don’t like that, then you can go fuck yourself.”
That’s the biting cue for a blistering run of ‘Shame’, which closes things out rather beautifully. There’s anger here, sure, but it’s compelling. Indeed, Young Fathers steal the day early. A Leftfield DJ set over on the Undergrowth Stage is a fun enough time-filler until Pusha T arrives back in the main arena.
A weird one, this, as Push goes through the motions in admittedly fun fashion, paying tribute to his GOOD Music boss Kanye West by leaning heavily on welcome excerpts from ‘Runaway’ and ‘Real Friends’. That’s not to say that Push can’t hold his own; ‘M.P.A.’ and ‘Crutches, Crosses, Caskets’ both provide a fine ‘flake out in the sun’ soundtrack. Though we spot Young Fathers milling about enjoying the set, I opt not to bother them. Colm, of course, winds up with a selfie with Kayus Bankole.
A quick trip to the Undergrowth Stage sees the pace quickened by Katy B, but the Original Stage once again calls attention as Dizzee Rascal holds the most curiosity value for this particular scribe. Having previously caught Dizzee as the underwhelming main event at an Austrian forest rave (where the DJs mostly played a lot of Euphoria-friendly tracks like ‘Sandstorm’ and ‘Better Off Alone’) HeadStuff is curious to see if he’s grown into a more arresting headline presence. Short answer; he has.
It’s a solid if not exactly mind-blowing turn from the man born Dylan Kwabena Mills, one where he takes the lead and doesn’t merely allow his support MCs to put in the hard yards. He’s up for some good clean fun, as evidenced by a couple of abrupt stops to ensure that both crowd and security are co-existing harmoniously. ‘Fix Up, Look Sharp’ sounds as bulletproof as it did the first time you stuck Boy In Da Corner on all the way back in 2003 (fuck, that record is 13 years old) while the knowingly ostentatious ‘Jus’ A Rascal’ is undeniably charming in the moment.
Elsewhere, Dizzee contends with ‘Ole, Ole’ chants (because Ireland), some low-rent pyrotechnics that would have Gene Simmons refusing to sign the bill and those aforementioned stoppages, which do curtail the excitement somewhat. There’s a paint-by-numbers cover of ‘You Got The Love’ and a blast of the horrid ‘Dance Wiv Me’ but all is forgiven when ‘Bonkers’ drops its first chorus and the bass genuinely shakes Kilmainham up as we take our leave into the night, ready for…
It’s Saturday, innit. HeadStuff ambles into position right down the front of the Original Stage to be met with the iconic image of Muhammad Ali standing tall over a downed Sonny Liston some 51 years ago.
“HE WHO IS NOT COURAGEOUS ENOUGH TO TAKE RISKS WILL ACCOMPLISH NOTHING IN LIFE” burns into the screen, a fitting epitaph for a fallen, never-to-be-forgotten idol.
How does one follow such a sight? If you’re Battles, you do what John Stanier does every time he goes for that crash cymbal – reach. As with yesterday, the sun is beating down and it’s early enough into proceedings when a pedigree trio hit their marks as a sparse crowd slowly evolves into an engaged swarm but like Young Fathers before them, Battles have the acumen and the tunes to make it all sing.
‘Dot Com’ and ‘Ice Cream’ are tailor-made for bopping about in the sun and Battles are in a good mood, with Dave Konopka taking the time to both awkwardly thank “the Bulmers company” for having them and to drop a cute bad comedian riff on the name of the festival. The security are of devilish frame of mind also, as one poor soul hyper-extends his body all the way over the barrier in a bid to snatch up one of Stanier’s discarded drum sticks. Agonisingly close, the young man can only watch in horror as the security guard strolls over, gently picks the prize up and hands it to the person next to our intrepid explorer. Proud of his work, a half-smile emerges when back at his post.
What a heel.
Let’s be honest though, everyone’s here for ‘Atlas’, which is still mesmerising nearly a decade on (seriously, time is getting shorter somehow, right?) even minus the presence of Tyondai Braxton’s live pitch-shifting vocals. ‘The Yabba’ closes off a typically tight and exciting turn from the New York experimentalists before Skepta changes the tone a short while later, bringing some grime to town.
“We’re in the darkest rave”, he observes midway through. “The darkest rave that you can imagine. There are no lights in this rave. It is a very dark rave.”
You have to admire the succinctness. Though the Londoner has been a presence for the past decade or so, he’s currently enjoying his time in the sun thanks to the huge acclaim and success garnered from the superb ‘Shutdown’ and the recently-released Konnichiwa. Curiously, he seems almost apologetic about playing material from said record, but he pushes past the modesty to deliver fine runs of ‘Crime Riddim’, ‘Man’ and Boy Better Know’s ‘Too Many Man’. ‘Shutdown’, however, is the inevitable breakthrough moment. Skepta’s appraisal of it all? “Fuckin’ sick. Sick. Sick. Sick.”
Jungle, fresh from a Colm O’Regan-grilling in the Hot Press tent, cement their place as A Very Fun Go-To Festival Band in the vein of Escort and the ubiquitous Chic thanks to a smart set that knows just when and how to elevate accordingly. A sharp backing band helps, as do the likes of ‘Platoon’, ‘Julia’ and ‘Accelerate’, all of which create a lazy hazy summer feeling that melts away this critic’s pre-match cynicism. Yep, can’t lie, ‘Busy Earnin’’ is up there with ‘My Number’ and ‘Little Talks’ as far as Music Designed To Be On Multiple TV Ads goes, but throw it into this setting and it’s tough to resist.
News filters through that Freddie Gibbs won’t be appearing for altogether grim reasons that we won’t comment on here, so it’s off to Tame Impala, another for the ‘Don’t Really Get It, TBH’ pile. They’re good, clearly, but the reverie that follows them around is a bit weird. I mean, it’s just funky psychedelics and that grates after about 20 minutes, no? Still, give Kevin Parker and his band of merry bearded men a chance and you’ll be rewarded with a solid – if samey – performance that’s ideal to wind down the day to.
If you can, that is. There’s a dude next to HeadStuff who is so desperate for Parker to acknowledge his Freemantle Football Club scarf that he’s waving it about like a lunatic all throughout ‘Let It Happen’ – deployed early doors – and so we saunter away to a less vivid spot, rolling eyes and noting with a snark that this fucker should really just let it go, that Tame Impala hardly give a shit. Sure enough, Parker spots and comments upon the scarf minutes later. The power of persistence, eh?
As for the music, it’s grand. ‘Let It Happen’ is a belter, even if Irish crowds can’t help themselves by shouting along the melody like they’re at a darts tournament, while ‘Elephant’ and ‘Eventually’ are absolutely sublime. And oh look, there’s Bono in the VIP area, stoic but loving it. A real FESTIVAL MOMENT. We consider venturing over for a photo for the craic but a stern-looking security guard reads our minds, makes himself big like Packie Bonner and offers a ‘don’t even fucking think about it lads’ shake of the head. Fair enough.
Exit stage left to ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ it is, then.
The problem, for one not hardcore au fait with the DJ scene, is that when you head along to the third day of a festival which seems to deal exclusively with lads – and the odd lady, let’s be fair here – standing in front of laptops, well, you’re at something of a disadvantage when it comes to properly recapping things.
To borrow a line from aforementioned fellow grizzled festival veteran Colm O’Regan, it’s a bit like being in school when the roll is called out and generic name follows generic name as you don’t really pay attention or care all that much. I’m probably pouring cold water on a very impressive collection of genre figures, but it’s all very shrug emoji when looking over today’s line-up. What’s more, it’s extremely difficult and downright unfair to judge a DJ set when you’re only spending out-of-context snippets of time at them.
Jackmaster | Image Credit: Lucy Foster
As such, Sunday is a bit of a bust. Even with that self-inflicted issue in place, there’s an awful lot of dead air as you wait around for things to actually happen. At least HeadStuff is well-represented in the comedy tent by Alison Spittle, Gearoid Farrelly and friend of the site Jarlath Regan.
One such comedian who doesn’t fare so well is Patrick McDonnell, him off that one episode of Father Ted. Interviewed in the Hot Press tent, McDonnell reveals himself as yet another of the old guard of ‘funnymen’ who’d rather moan about political correctness getting in the way of tired gags than attempt to adapt and indeed thrive while still baring some teeth. But nah, it’s society’s fault that phrases like ‘gay boys’ and ‘retarded’ aren’t side-splitting in 2016.
Indeed, nobody is impressed when McDonnell drops these terms like lead balloons in his mock-outraged bid to show how horrible it is having to be fair to people now. Confirmation, were it needed, that his never-once-amusing schtick has had its day. “I’m a very angry man”, he notes at one point, and who could argue with such stunningly barren fury?
It’s a day of spent exasperation, really. Crushed underfoot, flower crowns wither and die, beatboxers fill the air with nothing of worth, white people strut about the place in Native American headdresses as if that’s even remotely acceptable and Conor McGregor, our golden lion, materialises out of thin air, prompting a legion of lads who model themselves upon his image to flock about like moths to a dying flame.
His Vince Staples/KUCKA collaboration ‘Smoke & Retribution’ is proof enough that Flume knows his way around a pretty intense earworm and his turn here draws on such a tone. In fact, the Australian producer seems on some kind of mission to cause an earthquake, outdoing Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Bonkers’ kick-in on Friday night thanks to a set that delves deep into a hip hop groove with thundering bass. There’s time for quiet contemplation, too, with ‘Never Be Like You’ a predictable but enjoyable feature.
Groove Armada are such a festival staple at this point that missing them feels entirely appropriate and so it’s left to Karl Hyde and Rick Smith to take us home. Amazingly, Underworld have been a going concern for 36 years. Whatever about whatever else, that’s pretty impressive. There’s life in the old dog yet, especially when they can still deliver tracks like ‘I Exhale’. Sure, it doesn’t rewrite their particular rulebook and the vocals might as well be words picked at random from an issue of Private Eye but it’s nice to know they still give a shit.
Underworld are indeed still a draw, and you get the sense that practically everybody who filed into the grounds of the Royal Hospital today are here purely to catch their tried-and-tested formula and, well, c’mon, it’s all about ‘Born Slippy’ isn’t it? I mean, it shouldn’t be. It’s a belter, of that there is no doubt, but can we really put it above the insane power and glory that is the melting of ‘Rez’ into ‘Cowgirl’? This humble writer stands tall and says ‘No. No you cannot.’ Hitting together in quick succession, the effect is exceptional. It’s a strong finish to a day that sorely needs it, and that’s Forbidden Fruit done for another year. Try to predict the 2017 line-up. Dare ya.