Heading down to London solo, Nelson experiences Afropunk in all it’s multicultural glory.
Having been subbed in off the bench last minute, I didn’t have the time to assemble a team to hit up Afropunk with me.
I can’t say I’ve ever been to a festival by myself before, would I be looked upon like a social pariah eating alone at a restaurant?
Luckily in my search for the venue I found myself swallowed up by a crew of south Londoners who were also at a loss in search of the entrance. Intrigued by my accent, they invited me to tag alone with them for the weekend.
Although I didn’t realise it at the time, this was probably the best possible introduction to the festival and its ethos, one that stressed inclusiveness, a theme underlined time and time again by the hosts in-between acts. This made it all the more painful to read on social media that disabled music fans, had really struggled with access.
Growing pains such as this are to be expected for a festival which has exploded over such a short space of time. What began as a short documentary celebrating black punk culture is now a fully fledged transatlantic capitalist venture. Given its musical and commercial success its no surprise that each year the festival faces a purist backlash, as the old guard laments about how we’ve strayed from its roots and lost its emphasis on black punk culture.
However, today neat subcultures like punk are harder to place as musical and cultural lines blur, moreover speaking to people over the two days, it’s clear that the festival has evolved and taken on a new meaning to its younger audience, as a celebration for all black people who know what it is to be othered.
This was summed up by two girls I was speaking to each in flamboyant African dashikis one with flowers in her fro, the other with colourfully beaded braids, who said “I’ve tried dressing like this where I live, but I can feel people staring at me” Afropunk provided a space for her and many like her to express themselves fully.
Another reason I have no qualms with the emphasis on the punk in Afropunk softening, is because the weekend did a stellar job of highlighting the vast diversity amongst the black community and within black music. Within five minuets I had gone from watching young couples slow dance to Corrinne Bailey Rae to being whipped in the eye by dreadlocks in Danny Brown’s mosh pit.
Rae had one huge advantage over the rest of the line up; the power of nostalgia. With a decade long career, and a number one album, hits from which instantly transported me back to my childhood. I know I wasn’t the only member of the crowd singing word for word songs I had completely forgotten existed.
Elongated live versions of songs like Put Your Record On, which included call and response with the crowd, were clearly massively appreciated as she received the loudest roars of the weekend. As did her confession “I wish this community had been here for me when I was 15”.
Black Sabbath’s Iron Man filled the room, much to the confusion of a lot of the crowd. Danny Brown bursts on stage looking like a cartoon villain, in his smart multi-coloured suit.
After opening his set with Die Like a Rockstar, he ticks his tongue out and gives the crown the metal horn sign. Making his way through bangers form XXX, Old and Atrocity Exhibition, only JME got the crowd this energetic over the whole weekend.
Fan favourites like Drinkin’ and Smokin’ and Pneumonia received raucous crowd reactions, but my favourite was everyone erupting with laughter at the line “I fuck bad bitches to Stacy Lattisaw, while you niggas got blue balls like an avatar” in Adderall Admiral.
I have to admit, I was yet to be sold on Little Simz. I know she has been getting a lot of plaudits, and friends constantly recommend I listen to her, but so far I just haven’t gotten it. However seeing her interchange seamlessly between live band and DJ, as well as the fact she appeared to give it that little bit extra that artists always do at a hometown gig I felt compelled and go back and listen to her with an open mind.
What made Thudercat’s last LP so good, was how much he let his weirdo personality shine through something that was amplified in his between song ramblings live. Album songs where transformed into musical odysseys, by adding ample solos and new meandering elaborations on ideas that appeared on the album.
The issue of restrictive terms has been a stubborn issue for black British music, as the ridiculously vague, but equally sticky “urban” is bandied about as a meaningless one size fits all term for black artists, so broad that it fails to describe anyone well.
Afropunk provides an unusually attentive audience with a smorgasbord of genre bending artists. Long may it continue.
Photos from Afropunk via Chazz Adnitt and Tatenda Nyamade