Well folks, Holditdown had only gone and done it again! We have had the pleasure of working with Aaron and his team on a number of occasions for some pretty high profile names in the industry and I can honestly say that on every occasion, the shows have been seamlessly executed, granted, inside his head, Mount Kilimanjaro could well have been erupting but to the average punter, they could rest easy and enjoy the experience!
So, it was a busy Saturday afternoon in Exeter, there was a buzz in the air, the city centre was bustling with excited groups of people ranging from teenagers to middle aged folk (ahem, that will be us then…) making their way to Northernhay Gardens to indulge in an event that could well pass as one of the biggest and best that Exeter has ever seen, yes folks, Basement Jaxx were in town!
We arrived around 6:30pm, filed into the main entrance with the hoards and received our press passes that would allow us into the press pit to take some quality pictures for this very piece. A couple of things struck me upon walking around the site, there was an awful lot of ‘Where’s Wally’ characters kicking about and a lot of people wearing shades, I was confused as the daylight was fast fading and surely they couldn’t have been adding any value to the wearer, tsk, the youth of today eh?
We were able to move about easily earlier on in the evening and paid a visit to the second stage where Polly Money was plying her trade on the 2nd stage. We saw this talented Cornish singer songwriter at a previous ‘Holditdown’ event where she supported The Boomtown Rats in Exeter. She’s played at Glastonbury as well as a raft of other festivals and has supported Gabrielle Aplin, Newton Faulkner, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and managed to bag a slot with MUSE in France. Being no stranger to playing in front of huge numbers, Polly played her catchy blend of summery folk/pop that people have become accustomed to, she went down a storm and I look forward to seeing her again in the near future.
Over on the main stage, Zed Bias was shaking the fillings from people’s teeth with his heavy blend of Grime and Garage that kept the masses happy, he bought along a couple of MC’s to stir up the crowd and keep the energy levels as high as possible whilst he did his thing on the wheels of steel.
We stuck around at the main stage for the start of Friend Within’s set, he was dropping some proper house classics that sounded a little less intense than the output of Zed Bias, this mixed things up a treat and the crowd (that was getting bigger by the minute) were lapping up the floor-fillers, allowing for some great crowd shots which my photographer was all over like a rash….. We parted company with this well loved DJ and made our way to the 2nd stage to see what was going on.
We passed the main bar and marveled at the queue, it was immense, fair play to the bar staff as they were doing a sterling job of getting people served and on their way in next to no time, big events mean loads of people and therefore a lot of drinks to serve, everyone seemed in high spirits and enjoying a relatively balmy night in the county’s capital, waiting for the rest of the stellar lineup to unfold.
We arrived at the 2nd stage to a flurry of jazzy/funky/soul, the band were ‘Electric Spank’ and they were knocking out some quality tunes for the tent full of revelers to enjoy. Fronted by the very charismatic Lucy Rice, this 6-piece Devon based act did a grand job of keeping people dancing throughout their set. Lucy reminded me of the UK songstress ‘Adele’ and it was great to see the rest of the band having a really good time up on stage. We grooved to their summery vibes for some time prior to getting ourselves organized, ready to check out the remaining heavy hitters on the main stage.
It was quite a struggle making our way back to the main arena, we were getting stopped regularly by groups of people, asking for us to take their pictures, we were more than happy to oblige…. We eventually took up refuge in the safe confines of the press pit, stood alongside the burly security guards, we knew we were in safe hands!
UK Grime and rap star Stormzy was next to hit the main stage. He picked up the Best Grime Act award at the 2014 MOBO’s and was named as an artist to look out for in the BBC's influential Sound of 2015 list. He recently released his final instalment to his online "WickedSkengMan" freestyle series, "WickedSkengMan 4" debuted at number 18 on the UK chart, becoming Stormzy's first top 40 hit and the first ever freestyle to reach the top 40 in the United Kingdom.
Minutes after he strode on stage, you could see why he’s such a favourite with the fans, he had them in his clutches as he raised the bar with a mix of classic freestyle rap that he is accustomed for. He threw in a healthy dose of audience participation that whipped the capacity crowd into a frenzy, I did fear for our safety as he started to leap about, asking people to “abandon all the rules” and form a massive mosh pit, he was the twisted fire starter and the audience the fireworks, he lit the fuse, stood well back and BOOM, they went off like an ‘Aftershock 16 Shot’ rocket pack.
I was expecting mayhem but everyone managed to keep it together, at least the stage was still standing for Wretch 32 who was due up shortly….
Wretch 32 is an English rapper and Grime MC hailing from North London, he was a member of the grime collective "Combination Chain Gang" before forming The Movement with Scorcher, Ghetts, and Mercston. Wretch released his first single "Traktor" in January 2011 which peaked at #5 on the UK Singles Chart. He went on to release a further 2 singles from his debut album ‘Black and White’, Unorthodox" which peaked at #2 and "Don't Go" which hit the #1 spot!
He burst onto the stage, wearing a couple of bejeweled necklaces and sporting a very nice looking 'pimped' microphone, the audience going mad as he flew into his high energy, bass driven set. He was rapping over Chad Jackson’s ‘Hear the Drummer (Get Wicked)’ which was pretty solid, this was followed by a slower track that allowed the crowd to simmer down a little prior to him bringing them to the boil again shortly afterwards when the next round of beats kicked in.
He got some guy from the audience (Jack) to join him up on stage and with him there, asked him to dance along to one of his tracks, I’m not sure if Jack was super excited or super embarrassed to be up there but either way, he did a great job of jumping around, arms flailing about like a 2 year old on a bouncy castle after too much white bread and Sunny Delight prior to being deposited back into the throng after his 4 minutes of fame! You can see why Wretch 32 is one of the luminaries of the UK grime scene right now, long may his reign continue!
It appeared that things were over running very slightly so the transition from Wretch 32 to Basement Jaxx was a fast one, before you knew it, the stage lights dipped, the backdrop crackled into life and before your very eyes, Felix and Simon were there, stood behind the decks, dropping a nice phat tune to get the party started.
To think that these guys started playing together in the early 90’s and have gone on to release 7 studio albums is amazing. They played for a good 25 minutes, dropping some nasty beats which kept the hoards dancing along like there was no tomorrow, it was after this that they played ‘Where’s Your Head At’ which took the roof off the place, which was a bloody hard thing to do as it was an outdoor gig (had there been a roof, it would have been well and truly destroyed!). Another bout of classic pumping house followed prior to another of their self penned floor fillers making an appearance, this time, it was a stripped back version of ‘Do Your Thing’ which landed, built slowly until the place was literally rocking, when the beat kicked in, the whole place felt like it was going to erupt, such a great feeling! Before long, time got the better of us and due to a strict curfew, they were ordered to end their set at 11:30 sharp, good old environmental health eh? Still, after such an entertaining night of music, beats and rhymes, it was almost a godsend to bring the excitement levels back to earth!
I dashed off to The Phoenix Arts Centre where the after show party was in full effect, I bumped into Felix and Simon by the main bar and had a quick chat with them and congratulated them on a great set. I spent some time in the main auditorium, my guts being shaken and stirred by the bass that was pouring through the speakers, it was then that I realised that I must have looked like a dad searching for his wayward child who had overdosed on cola bottles and lashings of cream soda, I edged out of the door into the cold night and headed home.
So, that was Basement Jaxx in Exeter, it was a great event, executed perfectly and enjoyed immensely by the 5000 strong audience that had turned up to be entertained by the crème de la crème of the urban/grime scene and some of the finest DJ’s and MC’s in the business. As with any large scale event, it’s so hard to cover everything that’s going on and I’d like to offer an apology to any acts or bands that we didn’t have time to see.
For more quality events, make sure you keep an eye on the Holditdown website.
Words by Steve Muscutt
Photography by Julian Baird © www.julianbaird.com