East v West London battle for music festival dominance as relaunched Hyde Park takes on Olympic Park rival


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The Independent Culture

A geographical battle for the capital’s musical soul begins tomorrow when Hyde Park is relaunched as a gentrified, “green” concert location in a £3 million bid to lure festival-goers from an Olympic Park site described as a “concrete dustbowl”.

An East-versus-West clash commences in earnest on Friday evening when Bon Jovi headlines the first concert at Hyde Park since complaints from Mayfair residents forced a reduction in the number of shows which can be staged at the Royal Parks location.

The foliage-lined new Great Oak Stage will play host to The Rolling Stones, playing the first of two shows on Saturday, to 65,000 fans who are promised artisan food markets and themed zones including a continental town square and Caribbean carnival.

Saturday will also see around 50,000 Mumford & Sons fans descend upon the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for the next event in the Stratford venue’s attempt to usurp Hyde Park as London’s premier live music attraction.

Last weekend, Bruce Springsteen was able to complete his Hard Rock Calling headline concert, the first event at the location since the Olympic and Paralympic Games, without falling foul of a curfew, as embarrassingly occurred when he played in Hyde Park.

Volume levels appeared considerably higher than the “transistor radio” levels endured at the central London location.

This marked a victory for concert promotion giant Live Nation which quit Hyde Park after last Summer’s complaints and relocated Hard Rock Calling and the Wireless dance music festival, which will star Jay-Z next weekend, eastwards.

But the Olympic Park experience had its critics. Concert-goers complained that the music arena was located in a concrete “building site”, away from manicured greenery enjoyed by many at the Games and bemoaned lengthy bar queues as well as an extended trek from the park to reach public transport.

The Hyde Park venue is now operated by Live Nation’s US rival, AEG Live, operators of the O2 Arena, which has spent £3 million upgrading the site for the Barclaycard-branded British Summer Time concerts, after discussions with local residents.

The Royal Parks laid 150,000 sq metres of reinforced Lincolnshire turf to prevent a repeat of last year’s mud-bath. A tree enfolding the main stage has been garlanded with 10,000 individual leaves.

Jim King, festival director for AEG Live, said: “We’ve set out to deliver a unique event and we’ve built everything from scratch. Hopefully people will see that when they arrive on the site.

“We’ve got the largest ever video screen, which is 900 sq metres. We sat down with the world’s leading acoustic engineers to find a solution on volume. The stage has been rotated 30 degrees away from residential areas. Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood came down with their production team yesterday and they were very happy.”

AEG concedes that, with the audience capacity for the shows cut from 80,000 to 65,000 under Westminster council’s licensing conditions, it is likely to make a loss on Hyde Park.

But the company has a five-year deal and is gambling that by offering a more gentrified experience to concert-goers, including fully-flushing porcelain toilets and seated restaurants, it will encourage music fans to part with more money.

A strict 10.30pm curfew will be in operation though, even for the Rolling Stones, who last played in Hyde Park in 1969, Mr King said. However Nile Rodgers, who performs with his seminal dance group Chic at a concert headlined by Lionel Richie next Sunday, said he won’t be turning the volume down.

“Come on, this is rock n’ roll, this is electronic music. It’s coming out of amplifiers and sound systems,” Rodgers told The Independent. “Sometimes you get excited and you start competing with other people on stage and the next thing you know we’re just blasting it out. I hope the people that are in the surrounding areas like our stuff and say ‘turn it up!’. I hope they complain that Chic weren’t loud enough.”