Having won Best New Festival at the UK Festival Awards, Shaun Ponsonby finds Liverpool’s reggae festival upping the ante.
Positive Vibration were out to prove something this year.
Last year, the entire event took place inside Constellations. But after winning Best New Festival at the UK Festival Awards last year, they have upped the ante. The area between Greenland Street and New Bird Street was cornered off entirely, and they added several new venues.
Upon entering the site on a sunny Friday afternoon, the road leading up to Constellations had been turned into a Jamaican-themed market place, a feature which more than added to the atmosphere.
Yet at 5pm, perhaps Friday started a little early. Hangar 34 was empty for a number of hours at the start of the night, with Dub Defenders playing to just me and a flight of stairs. Which is a shame, because they were nailing it from beginning to end. They shook my fillings and made my drink vibrate. They got their revenge on Saturday evening by expertly keeping things moving along at Constellations to a packed house.
One a Penny didn’t fare much better numbers-wise at the start of their set following Dub Defenders, but by the end the venue had started filling up and he managed to get things moving. Just 24 hours after the election, they thanked everybody who voted for Labour, Jeremy Corbyn and the change they represent.
As it was a fairly beautiful night, it is no surprise that the garden at Constellations was heaving for much of the evening, with a succession of DJ’s capped off by Andy Smith, who spun some classics and deep cuts from the likes of Johnny Clarke until they kicked him off at midnight. The set up that looked fine in the day time took on a whole new allure after nightfall, shining brightly in the twilight.
Inside Constellations, the room was just as busy with the ever popular Vibronics packing them in. Things in Hangar 34 didn’t really start moving until Aba Shanti-I appeared at 9.30pm. Out of nowhere, the room just filled. Aba freestyled over the music to what was probably the second biggest crowd we saw in Hangar 34 all weekend. As another stage opened up at District for the Jah Shaka Sound System session – for which we spoke to a number of people who had travelled a very long way to see – Sir Coxsone Outernational Sound System had a pretty small crowd, despite being one of the legendary sound system operators.
We stayed chilled out for the first half of Saturday, with Levi Tafari presenting a dub poetry workshop and a fascinating Q&A with The Selecter’s Pauline Black, Dennis Bovell and Mykaell Riley of Steel Pulse. We were also privy to the future of reggae in the form of Staged Kaos.
Chilling over at New Bird Street whilst the sun was shining was a great idea. They had fashioned the area out with food and drink vendors and the hustle and bustle was much less than at any other area. The food vendors we spoke to were also hysterically funny and seemed to be having as good a time as the rest of us. It was only ruined by one moronic woman who thought it would be a good idea to bring her dog and let it off its lead. Why do dog lover feel the need to take their canines every-fucking-where? How did she even get in with the dog? Why is everyone stupid except me?
We headed over to Hangar 34 in time to see one of the weekend’s biggest draws, The Selecter. Shockingly, with ten minutes to go until their set, the room was practically empty and we started to fear that they might end up playing to an offensively sparse crowd.
Spending the next eight minutes or show looking around the stage and talking to people around us, when we next looked around the room, the place was packed. There was a rush to the stage, and Pauline Black entered – once a bad ass, always a bad ass.
Ms Black – with musical spouse Arthur “Gaps” Hendrickson in tow – had the room full of skankers in the palm of her hand. We’d have done anything she asked, and pretty much did. Still as cool as ever, her look makes me wonder if she has had an effect on Janelle Monae.
She didn’t shy away from the politics, saying that the world needs 2-tone more than ever, and that “Multiculturalism is the future – get used to it.”
Obviously, it was the big hits off their seminal Too Much Pressure album that received the most boisterous reaction; On My Radio and a version of the title track that featured an interpolation with The Maytals classic Pressure Drop in particular. By this point, it felt like the floor could cave in. Too much pressure?
On the way out, we overheard someone say “That was worth the whole weekend”.
Saturday had a few more bands playing, with the more laid back Hempolics mixing up roots Reggae with a touch of Hip-Hop, Soul and Electronica. They were followed by another legendary producer in the form of Prince Fatty and Horseman.
The wealth of what was on offer throughout the weekend meant that we only saw a fraction of it. There was definitely too much for one man to cover, and as a result I totally missed Scientist at Hangar 34. Massive props are due to Positive Vibration for how they have managed to expand and grow the festival into something that has grown in size, yet retains the original feeling they had last year when the whole thing just in Constellations.
The line-up was a truly exhaustive collection of reggae artists – people who you suspect probably wouldn’t play Liverpool otherwise. It felt like so much of the genre’s history was represented in some way, be that via bands, DJ’s or the artwork on display, and for an extremely reasonable price at that. I am fascinated and excited to see where it goes from here.
But the best review you can give it is in the name itself; Positive Vibration. And long may it continue.
Photos by Mark Holmes & Vicky Pea