Ablaze in colour, sun, world music, art and local talent, the annual Rhythms of the World festival in Hitchin stuck true to its slogan, showering visitors with “music from around the world and round the corner”. The two-day event which begun in 1992 regularly sees up to 30,000 festival-goers over the weekend and, after a year off, 2014’s Rhythms was set to be enjoyed by all.
Heading toward the main stage at opening on Saturday with the sun blazing down, anticipation is seeping out of every passer-by. With first act Sir Walter J Wallis Band already on stage, a crowd had started to descend, setting up picnic blankets and camping chairs in prime positions for the day. With the stage being set for the next act, Kev Maher entertains the growing audience with his acoustic covers, playing hits by The Killers, Jonny Cash and Erasure, all met with cheers and claps to which he gleefully responds “Are you getting drunk?!” Next up is Nadeem Leigh and Dubious Luxury, fresh from last years BBC’s The Voice, whose eclectic mix of jazz and blues with hip-hop is the ideal scene setter for the beer-in-hand weather of the first day. Leigh’s cover of Tinie Tempah’s Pass Out as a jazz/funk remix was a standout track of the set, taking the crowd by surprise and loudly followed by enthusiastic woops and cheers.
Taking over the stage with americana, CC Smugglers encouraged the first mass dance of the day, joining the two boho ladies who hadn’t stopped hipshaking since opening. Between bouts of wild west music and harmonica blues, frontman Richie Prynne gave a shout out to his mum which he quickly followed up with asking if there were any drunk girls in the audience, dedicating song ‘Whiskey in the Morning’ to the delighted responders.
Over at the BBC Introducing Stage, Kumara opened with a longer than average 40 minute set to a younger audience, swimming in flower-garland headdresses, denim, and fringe. On the return for Spacepope, a band with a classic American rock sound and vocals with a Kings of Leon edge, the crowd make up had grown to include many pierced and black clad individuals, with a kaleidoscope of hair colours, eagerly awaiting metal band Kill Confirmed.
Later in the day, the Priory Park Stage – weekend home of the DJ’s, was the place to be for some euphoric dancing in the sunshine. Reggaematic brought a purpose to the pleasure, pleading for justice for Leon Briggs, a local Luton man who died in hospital after being in police custody last November, before bringing the tone back up and dropping more beats.
As the torrent of rain began its assault on the festival, Soma in the St. Mary’s stage tent was everyone’s first choice as they sheltered from the rain, to which the world music performers joked “This rain is very good for business!”. With the weather continuing to drive people toward the tent, the Kakatsitsi Master Drummers from Ghana played to a packed crowd after a few technical difficulties, subtly covered up by a lesson on how to pronounce the bands name (Ka-ka-chi-chi, if you were wondering). The drummers, who played at Glastonbury last year, soon got into their rhythm and chant, increasing their tempo, with one member impressively using both his feet and hands to bang the drum.
The sun came back out for Toque Tambor on the Main Stage who, adorned in colourful Carnival costumes and dancing girls, brought the spirit of Brazil to Hertfordshire. On the way over to the BBC Introducing stage, Indi and the Vegas,- as well as half the crowd – could be heard covering the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song, followed up by their own upbeat sound and funky bass putting everyone in the mood to party. Dancing about, bopping the occasional beach ball, or lying chilled out in the sun, Indi’s high-school summer ambiance was soaked up, all topped off with explosions of rainbow-hued confetti. Far from over, the festival continued with Tides picking up where Indi and the Vegas left off, the audience blissfully unaware of the dark storm cloud looming ever closer, and despite the fat raindrops beginning to slowly fall, the crowd continued to dance and shimmy to the local band.
After procuring some noodles from a Thai food stand, Ryddim Kings ft. Kareem were next on the list at the Arcadeclectic Stage, where the Kings surprisingly consisted of two Queens providing vocals, as well as male guitar, bass and keyboard players. The combination of the ladies and Kareem’s voices created soothing tones, enticing a growing crowd hipshaking in the woodland setting, peering into the bohemian dressed Arcadeclectic tent.
Behind the Introducing Stage, the dipping sun bled across the darkening sky while Atlas vocalist Flo Kirton aptly crooned “the light might be fading but the sunset’s not the end”, with the haunting siren calls of track ‘Summer Jams’ still resounding in listener’s ears days later. Inviting hip-hop duo Phili’N’Dotz onstage, Atlas combined rap and bassy beats with Flo’s melodies, turning day into night before Phili’N’Dotz took over the stage for their own set. Unleashing newfound energy into the bouncing crowd, the duo rapped “put your motherfucking hands up” to which an 8-year old boy on his dad’s shoulders dutifully pumped his fists in the air.
Headlining the first night of the Introducing Stage were Josephine and the Artizans with their unique blend of hip-hopera. Classical instruments opened track ‘Dies Irae’, closely followed by Josephine’s operatic vocals, the crowd reacting by looking at each other in stunned silence, until the rap kicked in and the crowd started jumping, hands in the air, with onlookers surging to join them. Whilst Josephine and the Artizans' opening song didn’t stop drawing a bemused crowd, Main Stage headliners Freshlyground maintained a dense, dancing crowd with their plucky guitar strings, feel good beats and girlish vocals from Zolani Mahola. The South African pop band left festival-goers twirling round in circles long after the main stage closed for the night, providing the perfect music for sipping beers in a park with mates.
Camping not included at this festival, we entered the arena on Sunday fresh after a nights sleep in a bed followed by a shower, etiquette previously unheard of at a festival to see Garden City Samba already in full swing outside the Icehouse, greeting new arrivals with the sweet sound of samba. Scattered about, families picnic and watch the performers of all ages playing drums and twirling ribbons, with the gentle breeze carrying over the rhythmic sound of Alex Bay on the main stage. Bay’s smooth soul accompanied by his full band of guitar, bass, keyboard and drums set the scene for day two as the arena begins to fill. More family based this morning, the air is rife with the smell of suncream, the fierce sun creating the illusion of holidays. Chilled vibes thrive with Nathan Watson and the Freakanomics onstage next, playing their funky electric soul, the crowd cheering when hearing they still have another two songs left.
Over at the Arcadeclectic Stage, a crowd has gathered in the dapple shade of the trees, taking in Laura Victoria’s playful acoustic verses. Meanwhile on the BBC Introducing Stage, Herts Music Service present The Prophecy, covering recent hits including Paramore’s ‘Still Into You’, with confidence and a strong stage presence, the lead singer shimmy and shaking across the platform, interacting with both her band and the crowd. Later, male traditional heavy metal band Neverworld, bedecked with long hair and dreads, are met with a crowd of cheers and metal horns to their Jack Black ‘Tribute’ styled guitar, drums and high pitched screams. Vocalist Ben Colton remarked at the crowd changing atmosphere with, “Nice to see people standing up now, I’ve never played a gig with people sitting down!”, whilst somehow managing to sound like he’d be a top gentleman offstage, metal band aside.
Next up on the Introducing Stage was Electronic/Dance act One Bit, who were an instant hit between their techno and echoey vocals. With poppy beats to get your body in motion, track ‘Daydream’ was something for everyone at Rhythms whether chilling or dancing. Met with loud cheers and applause, the crowd “fell into a daydream”, thriving off One Bit’s stage presence and club music vibe, with haunting cover of Vance Joy’s ‘Riptide’ only recognisable by the lyrics.
After a brief respite from the sun, taking in the artsy vibe in the shady Holistic Garden and watching some wood sculpture carving in action, it was back to the main stage for The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. His chilled out vibes and crowd sing-alongs made for idyllic summer day music, before heading back to Introducing for girly pop band Delora, whose whimsical nature had us falling head over heels to catch the wristbands thrown into the crowd, and feeling light-headed after spinning in dizzy circles to Whirlwind’s chorus.
Then it was a quick bite to eat backstage, and a re-energising under the Quiz In The Tree before the headline acts, soaking up the atmosphere and attempting to guess as many artist names as possible from the paintings swinging in the branches. Whilst hearing artists from the Icehouse and Arcadeclectic stages either side, battling it out to be the loudest.
Headling the BBC Introducing Stage were Childhood, whose indie summer beats had the crowd non-stop dancing, including a 50 odd year old man going absolutely mental for them on his own, whilst Ben Romans Hopcraft played his guitar in the air next to his head, completely owning the stage. Meanwhile over on the Main Stage, the steel pan drums of Courtney Pine were being enjoyed by all as the last act of the weekend, gathering a huge, dynamic crowd, with the finale of the set including a cover of The Lion King’s ‘In The Jungle’, the audience a sea of bobbing heads, hands in the air and inflatable giraffes.
Pleasantly surprised as a first-timer to Rhythms of the World, this festival holds the excitement of hearing local up-and-coming bands, dancing to your hearts content at the DJ stages, and experiencing the wonder of world music, I will definitely be returning for future years.