On a typical weekend stroll through London’s Queen Elizabeth Park, the overwhelming sight of purple and teal football jerseys coupled with the roaring sound of cheers - and especially boos of late - are ones you’d expect to experience from a park in which West Ham FC call home. But last weekend was different. The football attire was swapped for glitter and Hawaiian shirts as a different kind of crowd swarmed the park. Arcadia had landed.
With Glastonbury opting to take a fallow year, Arcadia took it upon themselves to offer one glimmer of nostalgia through hosting a two-day festival in the heart of London. The mechanical spider is native to Glastonbury and has been at the core of what makes the festival special for many years, but this year provided an opportunity for the Arcadia team to experiment with something different.
Landing in London for the first time, on the hottest Early May Bank Holiday on record, Arcadia came armed with a revamped production filled with surprises and unique experiences. From an ancient aboriginal ceremony, to innovate stage structures - there was something for everyone, as a wide range of ages descended on the park.
The Sunday of the festival came packed with anticipation, as the likes of Rudimental, TQD and Noisia took centre stage, while Ram Records hosted their own arena. Upon entering the festival, it was interesting to see how busy it was in the early afternoon - with people swarming the site at 1pm in order to soak up the glorious sunshine. But this was no surprise considering the reputation Arcadia has built for putting on some of the most enticing showcases in music. This gleaming reputation was evident during the day, as conversations of people recounting their Arcadia festival memories were overheard across the site.
The festival itself was a rather small one with three hives of activity, all of which provided differing experiences. From the monstrous presence of the spider in the centre of the park, to the intimate outdoor Bug stage and the darkened Reactor tent. During the afternoon, the main stage was consistently swamped by crowds basking in the clear blue skies, which perfectly complemented the warm jungle sounds and rolling drums courtesy of Ed Solo b2b Serial Killaz.
For those who wanted to get out of the sweltering heat, The Reactor tent offered the most obvious choice of escape - so we thought… Walking into the tent was like entering a pitch black sauna, as our eyes struggled to adjust and our bodies failed to cope with the overwhelming temperature. Despite this, throughout the day the tent demonstrated why there had been so much anticipation for Arcadia’s newest addition, which played host to a Ram Records showcase featuring the likes of Culture Shock, Killbox and The Upbeats b2b Calyx & Teebee.
Taking the form of another intense 360 environment, the indoor arena was styled like an alien command centre, with the DJs in the middle of the room below a laser reactor. You couldn't help but feel immersed in this environment - as if Ram were invading with an onslaught of dub plates and destructive drum and bass.
Who knows, maybe they were employing mind control tactics too? As the crowd seemed to be locked in an energetic frenzy throughout the afternoon - with shirts swinging above heads, people dancing with light rods and some fantastically aggressive skanking.
To add to the theme, various theatrical performances took place in between sets, resulting in an enthralling narrative that made it hard to leave the tent. Whether it was the creatures shooting lasers from their helmets and dancing around poles on top of the reactor, or the Silent Hill-like beings running around the stage wearing shimmering gold outfits that reflected the lights. Every theatrical touch added to the dazzling display of music on offer.
Delta Heavy produced one of the best performances of the day - a duo renowned for their meticulous fusion of dubstep and drum and bass. A stand out moment came in the form of a mysterious mix of a Mr Happy-sounding version of DJ Hazard’s Bricks Don’t Roll, which led to many of the crowd turning to those next to them with quizzical bass faces.
Back outside on the main stage, the energy levels were similarly reaching boiling point, with TQD and a Hospital Records showcase featuring Danny Byrd, MC GQ and Whiney b2b Unglued - whose famous bootleg of High Contrast’s If We Ever caused a huge reaction as the dub rolled out and the sun began to set.
But it was the sighting of various tribe members sporting skimpy outfits and paint markings cropping up around the stage that provoked the most interest.
As Danny Byrd finished his set, the dance floor space below the spider, which had been kept clear all day, was taken over by an ancient aboriginal ceremony courtesy of the Whadjuk Noongar nation - uniting one of the world’s most ancient ceremonial traditions with one of the most futuristic in Arcadia.
It was an incredible sight and one that sparked a mass invasion at the end as the crowd filled the dance floor to celebrate such a remarkable ancient tradition.
With darkness descending on the Olympic Park, everyone flocked to Arcadia for the finale as the stage came to life for the Metamorphosis Show, which saw mechanical spiders crawling across the crowd, people on pillars with lighting rods that created music, and even members of the ‘crowd’ getting taken up on harnesses and converted into alien lifeforms.
To add to the show, Arcadia finally erupted with fire. As incredible as this was, it all felt a little too late and not continuous enough - considering the pyrotechnics is what makes the stage so unique. But with the day being such a scorcher, the decision was understandable.
This followed suit for Noisia's closing set, who returned to the spider after provoking an amazing response to their Glastonbury set last year. Despite not having half as many flames, it didn't put a dampener on what was a spectacularly heavy ending to a weekend signifying the official starting klaxon of festival season.
If you missed out, then don't worry as Arcadia have already hinted at another show…
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