Respect Festival / De La Soul, Victoria Park, London

Soul searching down at the park

Nick Hasted@IndyVoices
Thursday 23 January 2014 05:06
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The Greater London Assembly-sponsored, anti-racism, free festival Respect has moved east to this big old Hackney park from last year's north London location, and has brought sunshine and uniformly good vibrations with it. Move through the small tents on its fringes, and you'll find Cuban trumpeters, white girls trying to imitate Indian dancers, dub, techno, rapped poetry and comedy – exactly the sort of cultural bazaar London's Mayor Livingstone must have hoped for.

According to the GLA, the crowd is double last year's, and it proves a rare example of thousands of white and black Londoners genuinely mixing in even numbers, with none of the violent stresses that too often characterise the city. Respect's booking policy has a lot to do with this: with De La Soul replacing last year's headliners Run-DMC, it's an older, more responsible, less hair-trigger crowd than the more culturally current So Solid Crew, for example, would have attracted.

But when De La Soul take the stage, the sunny grooves they provide are a bit more than nostalgia. Their 1989 debut 3 Feet High and Rising was, after all, an inclusive, inquisitive, summery contrast to current rap sounds, even back then. Though their five albums since have darkened and wrestled more directly with black American realities, a listen to the current, near-classic AOI: Bionix shows they remain one of their country's most culturally considered, creative acts.

As DJ Maceo revs the crowd up, and rappers Pos and Dave roam the stage, Respect's PA only transmits the subtleties of their lyrics sporadically. But it doesn't really matter, as they concentrate on old-fashioned showbiz crowd participation and getting the mood as good as possible. We're split into left side and right, ladies and fellas, for hand-waving and hollering duties and, as always with this band, it somehow doesn't seem hokey. Comfortable with a career they once sought to self-destruct, they announce that 3 Feet High is their favourite of their albums, and they hope it's ours too, before playing a generous selection.

But the subtle consciousness-raising of their big hit "Me, Myself and I" doesn't really stand out in this set, any more than starker, later ghetto laments such as "Stakes is High" and "IC Y'all". Maceo's heavy beats, vinyl scratches and squelching funk samples instead combine with Pos's exhortations to the crowd, to create a continuous, shifting rhythm and gently energising atmosphere, which gets everyone happily moving.

As the plug is pulled, Pos takes time out for a heartfelt speech about Britain being their second home, before congratulating us all for coming together "without any nonsense", and then rather ill-advisedly inviting everyone to a party that they're playing at later in Shoreditch. The respect when they finish is mutual.

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