Let’s be honest: festivals in London can be a mixed experience.
The city’s increasingly tight laws on volume and curfew often disrupt the fan experience, while a surfeit of options has led to all-out booking wars between promoters and line ups spread a little too thinly across the capital’s many, many outdoor events.
Cross The Tracks, though, is a breath of fresh air. Announced earlier in the year, the Brixton one day event was expertly laid out, easy to get around, thrillingly diverse, and boasted a line up that drew on the very best of soul, funk, jazz, and reggae.
Brownswood jazz outfit Maisha open the main stage, before jazz-funk legends The Blackbyrds rip it up in the mid-afternoon sun. Poppy Ajudha is on magnificent form at the Ghost Notes Rail Yard, with her lucid, magnificently intelligent material finding a warm reception from the hefty crowd. Soulful and eloquent, Poppy hurls herself around the stage, interrupting this show of abandon to drop in a snippet of new material.
Martha Reeves and the Vandellas are living history, with the Motown icon able to draw on one of pop’s formative catalogues. 77 years old and still touring across the globe, Martha Reeves is joined by two of her sisters onstage, and the Reeves family display the transformative power of soul in a party-friendly set.
Highlights are almost too many to pick, but a sumptuous tribute to Marvin Gaye with ‘What’s Going On’ and a wonderfully apt ‘Heatwave’ have the huge main stage crowd poppin’ their fingers and shakin’ their hips.
South London collective Steam Down take control of the Ghost Notes Rail Yard, and their scorching set is easily one of the day’s highlights. Displaying near telepathic interplay, their interstellar afrobeat leaning explorations fuse gospel backing vocals with spoken word sections, a truly freeing, post-genre experience.
Gleefully exuberant and relentlessly upbeat, they literally have the crowd ‘grandpa skanking’ before departing to a heroes welcome. Go check out their summer itinerary now, or head down to their Deptford residency.
Jordan Rakei previews material from his soon-to-be-released new album on the main stage, while Clash opts for Norman Jay’s positive vibes at Cross The Tracks Junction. Throwing in a dubbed out version of ‘Everybody Loves The Sunshine’ he captures the atmosphere perfectly, before handing over the decks to Jazzie B.
The Soul II Soul selector doesn’t disappoint, throwing out party favourites while giving them a fresh twist – overlaying Marvin Gaye’s ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ with club-centric effects, the impact is enough to secure a reload, with a field full of gun fingers saluting the Motown classic.
Nubya Garcia leads her ensemble at Ghost Notes Rail Yard, and it’s a superb, exploratory set from the saxophonist and composer. Joined by Joe-Armon Jones on keys – who would follow this by sparring alongside Maxwell Owin – it’s a magnificent set, with the band pushing outwards against the material, forging new pathways in the process.
Heading towards the main stage we are immediately enraptured by the sheer energy of The Comet Is Coming, with Shabaka Hutchings’ terse saxophone lines blasting across the site. The raw bedlam explodes out the speakers, with the three-piece attempting to rip a hole in the o zone layer with their astral jazz travels.
A common complaint about London festivals is the quiet, sometimes muffled sound – not so Cross The Tracks, with The Comet Is Coming simply plugging in and cutting loose, an ear-shredding but completely invigorating experience.
With minds blown and ears ripped apart, a section of the crowd snakes out towards the rear of the site, while City Splash has been holding court all day with roots vibrations. The mighty Dawn Penn is followed by legendary soundsystem crew Channel One, whose ultra-righteous low end sound never fails to disappoint.
Relishing the atmosphere of a South London crowd, they spin exclusive dub after exclusive dub. Toying with those at the front, one MC sums up these Sunday vibes: “Just go to work late tomorrow… and if bossman says ‘where you been?’ Just say: Channel One. And him say: ‘good’!”
An eclectic, carefully curated bill, Cross The Tracks makes a deep and lasting impression by choosing its lane and following it, stamping out a unique identity with its first instalment. The crowd, too, follow suit: peaceful but still party hardy, it’s a diverse mix of backgrounds and ages, one that fully represents the community around it.
The site slowly shuts as the crowd makes its way to the main stage, with disco icon and soul sister Chaka Khan playing a headline set. The band are incredible, while her voice – moving from harsh to smooth, soaring up into the heavens – defies the passing decades. Opening with early cuts from funk group Rufus and a Ned Doheny cover, she saves her iconic hits for a mid-set blast, with ‘I’m Every Woman’ providing a moment of incredible unity for the capacity audience.
Promoting in London can be incredibly tough, but Cross The Tracks have managed to pursue something innovative and fresh in their opening year. Small but immaculately presented, its laid back atmosphere made for the perfect Sunday party.
- - -
Join us on Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.