Afropunk is not just a festival which draws in globally interesting and diverse artist and audience base; it is a mission statement and a movement made flesh. This may sound idealistic, but when you get to experience the festival itself (which now takes place in Brooklyn, NYC, Johannesburg, South Africa, and Paris, France) you see why spaces of expression like this are so important in a society that often silences the voices of those it does not wish to hear. Afropunk is all in it’s name. It is a space where people of colour (POC) can be themselves and celebrate their culture through a multitude of music and arts. At the same time, it embraces the expressions and ideals of punk culture; grating itself against the mainstream and what is considered normal.
The London branch of Afropunk took place this year in the Printworks, near Canada Water in East London; graduating from last year’s venue, the beautiful and spacious Alexandra Palace in the North. The venue suited the festival well; with a hard, metallic interior, which was decorated colourfully in places. The fact that the Printworks also has a system of lifts which allows those in wheelchairs to move easily around the site, reflects the festival’s mission statement of inclusivity for all people.
The first day saw most of the hard-musical-hitters all placed back-to-back-to-back; with the upstairs Red Stage featuring Nadia Rose, Saul Williams, Little Simz, Danny Brown and JME all one after another. The stage itself was so narrow, that the modest attendance seemed to stretch and elongate to fit into the room.
Nadia Rose came in hard with some early grime and bashment induced wizardry. She’s a character; loveable in so many ways and handles her bars like the pro that she is. With a refreshingly all female squad in tow, she brought a late afternoon crowd to life effortlessly, with her most well known track ‘Skwod’, and her lesser known, but equally danceable ‘Tight Up’. Rose’s portrayal of black womanhood is both humorous and defiant all at once; a refreshing standpoint to see on the UK music scene. Representing the UK once again, Little Simz brought her hip-hop influenced, unhinged and genuine lyricism to the Red Stage. Her album ‘Stillness In Wonderland’ is at times a mournful reflection of feeling alone and not fitting in; a experience that singer-song writer NAO would relate the following day: “I really didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere. So, I made music”. And this is where Afropunk upholds in it’s message; no one feels left out or side-lined. Talent shines through in every way, and black culture is celebrated without any apologies. In short; it is unapologetically black.
Rewinding slightly; the downstairs mainstage of the festival (the Green Stage) hosted a number of acts that swayed away from the hip-hop and grime influences of upstairs. Cali rock band, The Bots used the large room to reverberate their surfer-rock guitar tones and dry vocals out into a modest but highly engaged crowd. You can check out the eight tracks which summarise Afropunk to them here.
One of the crown jewels of The Red Stage was the UK’s own Cosmo Pyke. Pyke has his finger in all the creative pies; as a musician, painter, writer and probably more, he embodies a kind of expressive flexibility which can be seen prominently in his genre bending music.
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Back upstairs, Detroit rapper Danny Brown appeared, a lot more clean-cut and dressed down than usual. Brown makes very, very strange music. Somewhere between trap and electronica, his lilting vocal lines somehow tip everything over the cliffs of madness into the void. His new look seems to be a reflection of the transition in tone between his last two albums; ‘Old’ and ‘Atrocity Exhibition’. The rapper has come down from all his various highs, and is now in a reflective and sombre mood. Check out GIGsoup’s review of ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ for an in-depth look at Brown’s musical journey. His well-known hits; ‘Drinking and Smoking’ and ‘Attak’ managed to stir the crowd into a frenzy. If Brown was stoking the fire, then grime legend JME sparked the flint. Blowing out a string of hits, the London native knew his audience well, whipping the audience into pockets of mosh pits.
Headlining the Green Stage, The Internet is a very high contender for the most engaging and moving act at Afropunk London 2017. Containing so much musical talent, the five-piece neo-soul band is hard to keep track of, both in their solo and collective endeavours. Leading lady Syd appeared alongside Little Simz earlier in the day, and has been known to perform alongside the likes of Anderson .Paak at other shows. Her vocals are some of the most special and warming on the soul and urban music scene today, and she is backed by a band that is tight, groovy and simply a must see for any fans of the expansive neo-soul genre. Lead principally by Patrick Paige II’s prominent and wavey basslines, the band moved slowly and principally through their newest album ‘Ego Death’; with tracks such as the Kaytranada produced ‘Girl’ and ‘Special Affair’ providing a sexy and sultry end to the first day of Afropunk London 2017.