London’s Hackney is the ideal set for one of the most appreciated one-day boutique festivals the city has to offer. Visions Festival celebrated this years its fifth edition, with an eclectic menu of about 30 acts, spread amongst five venues and three outdoor spaces. Not to mention a comprehensive offering of street food and craft beer, as well as art exhibitions and film projections. Everything you want and need, really, to spend a Saturday afternoon, early August, and escape the routine for a little while.
I hadn’t planned to be at Visions Festival, although I eventually had the chance to get there and attend a few live sets with bands I was definitely looking forward to listen to live. What a sweet chance to wander between Hackney and London Fields too, and getting to enter small venues as well as iconic places for the London underground scene.
It’s a beautiful day of typical English summer, the sun comes and goes, hiding behind a curtain of clouds. And there’s a lot of music, amongst the five bands and artists I plan to see, with the usual taste of regret for not being able to make it to a few gigs I would have loved to go to. Here is what happened, then, between NTs and Sebright Arms, with a quick stop at Oval Space for a Frankie Cosmos’ live set I almost completely missed.
Puma Blue | NTs
Here’s an odd story. I knew about Puma Blue as I had the chance to see him opening for Otzeki at Off The Cuff about a year and half ago. He played a solo set back then, picking his guitar strings and depicting a melancholic soundscape that I found a bit underwhelming, despite the huge potential hidden behind his soulful voice. I am quite happy to know that South-East Londoner Jacob Allen is the first on the bill at NTs to play, with a full band, the best tunes out of his production, including the recently released EP ‘Swum Baby’.
His set is just mind-blowing. Hints of jazz, blues and soul are blent together and create a soundscape that pairs perfectly with a grey-ish sky and a quite chilly afternoon. Nice to meet you (again), Puma Blue.
Soccer Mommy | NTs
Soccer Mommy – moniker of Nashville’s indie singer-songwriter Sophie Allison – follows up on stage shortly after Puma Blue’s set. She’s one of those artists I had in my “ones-to-watch” list, especially after the recent release of a mini-album, ‘Collection’, via Fat Possum Records. She plays at NTs the way the world got to know about her through her Bandcamp: a guitar solo context that showcases all the skills of a “bedroom-pop” artist who has chosen to play with a full band on her new release, giving her songs some extra drive.
After all, Soccer Mommy is the expression of DIY that is finding its own way to evolve and grow. Her best numbers ‘Allison’ and ‘Out Worn’, as well as track from her 2016’s ‘For Young Hearts’ sound smooth, somehow soaked in melancholia. That’s how I like it.
Her’s | Sebright Arms
I had the pleasure to listen to Her’s latest efforts and write about the Liverpool duo here on Indie + Tonic. I’ll be quite straightforward: Stephen Fitzpatrick and Audun Laading are one of the funniest acts I have seen recently. Sebright Arms is packed and the temperature in the basement is close to what ‘Lucifer’ is bringing to Mediterranean countries these days. Her’s play their guitar and bass with pre-recorded drum riffs and they are genuinely engaging. They play most of their recently released ‘Songs Of Her’s’ and literally make you want to dance with them through a setlist that alternates moments of upbeat psych-pop (‘Speed Racer’ live is a banger) with more chilled ones.
There’s a third man on stage, it’s a Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond made of cardboard. It stands behind the band and makes me wonder whether that is the third of Her’s or just a guest for the evening.
Amber Arcades | Sebright Arms
Amber Arcades is the moniker of Dutch musician Annelotte de Graaf, indie pop project I didn’t know anything about. Most of the set is taken from the EP ‘Cannonball’ (including the beautifully crafted ‘Can’t Say That We Tried’), the latest release by the artist, whose story is as fascinating as the music she writes, some sort of dream-pop that merges with indie guitars, ethereal choruses and ostinato drum patterns.
Annelotte has two law degrees and works as a legal aide for Syrian refugees in her native Utrecht, with a past at the United Nations tribunals dedicated to war crimes. Quite a background for a singer-songwriter, indeed.
Happyness | Sebright Arms
I was looking forward to Visions Festival mostly because of this London-based quartet, Happyness, who are one of the brightest examples of alternative/indie rock this Country has to offer nowadays, at least in my humble opinion. I am stunned by their ability to changing skin on stage. They can be playing a soulful tune and switch to a fast-paced number soaked in punk electricity a minute after. And again, slow down and back to a more experimental indie rock that’s all about distorted guitars, delays and acid bass lines. All of this is Happyness and their set is the ideal gig to draw the curtain on my Visions Festival.
Their 2017’s album ‘Write In’ makes it obviously to the backbone of the setlist. Other highlights are the main singles from ‘Weird Little Birthday’ (2015), just before the grand finale. The end is somehow epic, with the slow-core ‘Montreal Rock Band Somewhere’, a track that was brought to life only as a bonus track, yet it represents one of those moments when you want to close your eyes and be taken by the hand and let the wave bring you miles away.
“Let’s call it a day, if not now when?
What do you do when you hate all your friends?”