The programme for the Rise festival's celebration of multiculturalism states its intentions nicely: "Cranking up the music to play its anti-racist message loud and clear."
After seeing two recent outdoor gigs in London at which shifting mobile phones seemed to be a key concern (02-promoting balloons at Wireless, Vodafone banners at Somerset House's Summer Series), it's refreshing to see this kind of optimism. Music festivals might not change the world, of course, but there's much to be said for Rise's lack of cynicism and show of unity, the latter taking on pronounced importance almost one year to the day after 7/7.
So, Rise's tireless MCs exhorted the capacity crowd to raise their hands and shout "Yeah!" if they loved asylum-seekers, "Yeah!" if they hated racism and "Yeah!" if they hated the BNP. The mention of Ken Livingstone received a few "Boos!", perhaps due to his comparison of a Jewish journalist to a "concentration camp guard" last year, but the MCs were quick to defend him for his hand in organising the festival. Diversity was the order of the day, from the community-spirited audience to a line-up that ranged from the former Blur guitarist Graham Coxon's zit-punk to Common's conscious hip-hop. And, for once, praise be, the World Cup barely got a look-in.
It's a shame the music wasn't loud and clear, mind, with muddy sound reducing the first part of Coxon's set to tinny distortion and leaving Common's grand entrance at the mercy of the wind. The will was certainly there, though. The Hackney-based underground MC Sway had initially cancelled due to sickness but, somewhat heroically, he turned up to perform anyway, explaining that he loves Rise too much to stay in bed. And he proved himself to be a crowd-friendly rapper, too, apologising for swearing in front of children and talking the audience into a singalong about supermarkets.
Common's set was introduced as "hip-hop that educates, hip-hop that isn't about diamonds and fur". But Lonnie Rashid Lynn gave good showmanship, too, jumping into the photographers' pit, indulging in a little look-at-me breakdancing and even giving a lecture about the importance of remaining faithful in love, addressed to (on the grounds that this is an all-inclusive kind of event, you imagine) men and women. Common lapped up the attention, undoubtedly, but even he showed some communal spirit as he allowed himself to be upstaged by his cohort, DJ Dummy, whose solo spot of quick-fingered scratching and mixing was joyously received.
Coxon followed, dressed for the occasion by complementing his specs and tank-top with a revolutionary beret. Blur might once have been reviled as symptomatic of Britpop's parochialism, but the warm reception Coxon received said much about this event, as did his grin as he tore through the set-closing "People of the Earth".
In a neat bit of spot-the-difference scheduling, the Coxon-favoured Buzzcocks followed with a hits set for the ageing punks in the crowd. Proving that age is no barrier to making a mighty din (or at least trying to, with this PA), Steve Diggle and Pete Shelley barely paused between "Orgasm Addict", "What Do I Get" and the inevitable set-closer, "Ever Fallen in Love". Diggle grinned like either the cat who got the cream or the ageing rocker enjoying a second youth (thinning hair aside), and he delivered some top-form end-of-set stage-trashing.
After two indie-flavoured acts, Bob Marley's Wailers headlined with all the ease of a seasoned outfit, Aston "Family Man" Barrett still on bass. By this time, though, the day was winding down, and people began to make a slow exit as Gary "Nesta" Pine took vocals on "Stir It Up". Rise might not have stirred a whole lot up by itself, and the PA surely needed turning up. But it did a good job of bringing London out at its best, and the city could do with more of its type.Reuse content