Hackney Wonderland Festival 2016 @ Hackney, London, 15 – 16/10/2016

hackney wonderland festival 2016It's a good thing Hackney Wonderland is primarily an indoor festival, ticket-holders only have to dash out in Saturday's torrential rain while hopping between venues... Equally lucky that the venues are incredibly close together. Hackney Wonderland is not of the Glastonbury, Latitude or Reading & Leeds family - there's a distinct lack of tents and muddy fields, although the rain is familiar foe. This festival is a lot more like Brighton's The Great Escape in its make-up. Five local venues - the Oval Space, The Pickle Factory, Sebright Arms,  London Fields Brewery and Mangle E8 - are taken over and play host to an lengthy list of bands, ranging from new-starters, to huge headliners. Around 50 bands are set to play over the course of the two-day festival, and it takes extensive planning to work out exactly who to see, and when.

Hackney Wonderland is only two years old. Considering its relative infancy, its drawn in some pretty massive headliners. We Are Scientists and Mystery Jets take charge of the Saturday, while Lucy Rose heads up the Sunday. It almost goes without saying that these three acts are fantastic, and it definitely goes without saying that they're the reason most people bought their tickets. This becomes abundantly obvious as the first of the three headliners, We Are Scientists, are up and guests flow into the Oval Space, filling up the entire room to capacity. It's at this point I realise how glad I am to have a photo pass, which allows my 5" self to escape the mass crowd for the first three songs, at least. Their set is exactly what the audience want; they play through the hits that made their name, but also take the time to show off the new tracks from their latest album Helter Seltzer. Their single "Buckle" is a firm favourite from their latest release, receiving an enormously positive response.

Despite a 45 minute gap, the crowd barely fidgets during the wait for Mystery Jets. There's too much risk involved - move an inch and you'll lose your space. Even the photographers pit is over-crowded, with around 10 of us tripping over each other to try and get the perfect shot of a great band. Mystery Jets are one of the most versatile musical outfits around. They can do upbeat pop just as well as they do more emotional, lyrical numbers, and they deserve to be playing to packed out warehouse in East London.

Another highlight from Saturday are Stealing Sheep - a three-piece, all-female electro pop band, whose songs will be stuck in heads for several days after the festival reached its end. In particular, "This Time" strikes a chord with the crowd with its infectious harmonies and chorus. Another impressive element to the set is the band's ability to pull off skin-tight spotted jumpsuits. As if their songs weren't memorable enough...

Hooton Tennis Club,  Jim Jones and the Righteous Mind, Demob Happy, Saint Agnes  and Paves also play on Saturday, and showcase just how musically varied Hackney Wonderland really is.

Sunday sees more of the same, with Lucy Rose at the top of the bill, allowing her delicate vocals to captivate everyone in attendance. The warehouse-like appearance of the Oval Space suits Lucy Rose down to a tee - it's sparse, with a hint of the eerie about it, which reflects the simplistic beauty of her music. Prior to the headline act taking the stage, the audience are treated to Kitty, Daisy & Lewis. These guys are really something. They are totally different to Lucy Rose in pretty much every way possible, but they are incredibly talented. The three main members of the group swap their instruments throughout the set, and play each one impeccably, showing off just what it means to be a true musician.

Theme Park play a soft, ambient set in the Oval Space, capturing the audience in a net of atmospheric melodies. But those looking for something more adrenaline-fuelling needed to head to the Sebright Arms. Asylums win the award for the most energetic set of the weekend. They jump their way through their half-hour stage slot, racing through their dynamic set-list at full-throttle. Electric Child House are up next and carry on the energetic theme, paving the way for Sebright headliner Cabbage's appearance at 10pm. Over in The Pickle Factory, Tempesst and Yuck serenade the audience with their contrasting brands of music - the former being melodic pop rock, while the latter is a heavier type of indie.

Hackney Wonderland is almost like a series of separate gigs in very quick succession. Which, admittedly, is basically what a music festival is... But, at least for me, it's far more enjoyable - if not only because of the fact that I can catch a 10-minute tube home and sleep in my own bed, rather than a cold, muddy tent. It's a festival that's affordable, but not at the expense of the quality of music. Here's hoping that Hackney Wonderland will continue to grow, as its a brilliant outlet of support for smaller, upcoming bands, but still attracts the crowds with some of the best musical outfits on offer.

 
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