In its fourth year, Hackney all-dayer Visions proved to be a multi-venue festival with full rooms and little queuing.


People have been trying to pull off the one-wristband-multi-venue music festival in East London for years now, but this year, Visions may have finally nailed it.

Now on their fourth year, the festival has grown from a relatively small, three-venue affair to a full-blown odyssey around central Hackney, complete with food markets, yoga sessions and a dog show where the mutts are dressed up as Bowie, Lemmy and Prince. Yet, somehow, even as Visions grows in both scale and ambition it never seems to lose sight of its main raison d’être as a forward-thinking creative showcase.

The strength of Visions has always been the sheer amount of variety they manage to pack onto the bill. The collaborative nature of the event, with promoters Sexbeat, Bird On The Wire and Rockfeedback all working together to the book the acts, means that you always have plenty of different flavours to choose from, from DIY punk to glossy electronic pop.

I kicked things off by heading down to Oval Space to watch a bit of Japanese Breakfast, the new project from Michelle Zauner of Little Big League fame. After getting a quick dose of layered, big chorus power pop, which pretty much lives up to the excitement building around her Secretly Canadian debut album, I take the brisk walk up the road to see Ulrika Spacek, to catch their mind-bending blend of fuzz, noise and old-school psychedelic rock. This sets the tone for the rest of the day, with each band bringing something different to the buffet.


The shows at Mangle (a boxy concrete basement under a creative office block) are among the real highlights. Although the climb down from the bright August sunlight to the pitch dark of the cellar leaves you temporarily blind, the sets down there are the most intense of the day. Show Me The Body [pictured] barrelled through a set of noise-core to full blown circle pit, while Bleached and their head-nodding SoCal power punk are met by a smiling, head-nodding audience and even a spot of feel-good crowd surfing. It fell to Lightning Bolt to really get the most out of this space, though. The Rhode Island duo always work better in a confined space, and the low-ceiling and cold industrial feel of playing a subterranean car park turned gig space suits them perfectly. Chain-sawing their way through 45 minutes of volatile, explosive noise rock, they show again why they are one of the best live bands around. And while many other experimental acts end up becoming monotonous once the shock factor has worn off, Lightning Bolt managed to zig every time you think they’d zag. Gliding between menacing build ups and unexpected phases of Deep Purple-style riffing at ear-splitting volume, it’s music to keep you on your toes.

The atmospheric set from ESG is equally as impressive. Taking over the cavernous interior of St John’s Church, the venerable New York jam band bring a dash of dance music to a festival experience that was beginning to feel a bit overpopulated with young people and guitars. One of the most sampled groups ever, the original line-up has largely been replaced by the sons and daughters of the original Scroggins sisters these days, but that didn’t stop them rattling through a greatest hits set of sorts; reeling off classics like ‘You’re No Good’ and ‘Moody’ as most of the crowd dance like maniacs. For a group who have been making music since the late ’70s, it’s hard not be struck by the way their stripped-down combination of tribal drums and minimalist bass still sounds as forward-thinking today as it did 40-odd years ago.


By and large, Visions feels a lot more stress-free than a lot of festivals I’ve been to recently. The venue-hopping format suffers from some intrinsic problems – you either have to queue for ages as the whole festival tries to cram into some tiny venue, or you find yourself missing loads of bands as you trek to some venue two miles away. This year, it felt like Visions solved a lot of these problems, and while the programme at Oval Space ended up running way behind, the crowds flowed through the venues relatively easily, and a slightly more staggered line-up meant that the frantic rushes from point to point were mercifully kept to a minimum. By the time bands went on, all the venues seemed nicely full without there being any queue outside whatsoever.

Mostly people were able to amble up and down Mare Street at a steady pace, sinking beers and catching a few amazing bands along the way. Finally, an urban festival that works.