The time is 5pm, a misty London afternoon, and St John’s at Hackney is docile. For the young couple walking their bemused dog, the scene is quiet and still.
All that changes as night approaches.
St John’s, a fully operational Church, is transformed into a miraculous concert hall, with ceilings higher than a falsetto screech. The loose structure of the festival sees bands performing throughout the afternoon, but we arrive to see Bill Ryder Jones purring to the crowd as punters trickle inside. His sound was the perfect introduction to the evening, like a slo-mo Alex Turner with grungy, yet melodic guitar work and dry Merseyside lyrics. Not one for talking, his jokes between numbers mostly fell flat, while he seemed indifferent to the audience at best, even on his knees mid-solo. Ultimately he preferred to slow the pace and let the music do the talking.
Next up was Oslo, a trendy bar in a converted railway station building at Hackney Central. Here, Cherry Glazerr were the antithesis of Bill Ryder Jones, with a wild, unkempt, howling stage demeanour. With the fuzz turned all the way up to eleven, the crowd appeared to be loving it, heaving and sweating through song after frenzied song. We struggled to match their enthusiasm however, and they seemed to be a band that was great to say you have seen live, but not much fun to actually see. The fact that the bassist’s earrings were the highlight for this reviewer says a lot about this band’s wider appeal.
In the midst of all this chaos, however, was something rather more serene. To Paper Dress, a vintage clothing shop just across from Oslo. Here Bad Language, a literary/poetry collective based out of Manchester, hosted spoken word artists. The audience was clearly receptive and taking in everything the articulate performers had to say. The poets segued seamlessly from brusque, humorous poems about council tax to the despair of bereavement, all lapped up by the crowd. As one of the performers noted, it was great to see people willing to put the music to one side and watch poetry instead, giving hope to the enthusiasts of a supposedly dying art form.
Similarly, Moth Club offered something a little different for the busy festival goers. Although a little further from the rest of the venues, this bar based in a converted East End members’ club was vibrant and sparkling and well worth the walk. Once Hunck got on stage, the floor immediately filled, their particular mix of psychedelic dream pop and jangly guitars making them the most danceable act so far. Allah-Las too, back at St John’s, were soaked in reverb, with their frontman doing his absolute best John Lennon impression. A nice listen but as the night wore on the exodus to the seats above said a lot about their danceability.
And so it came to the much-awaited headliner; Bat for Lashes. Really the first artist to make full use of the space, the church being at full capacity, they were the most full on act of the night (as is to be expected). Slow building and ethereal, they were supported by an immense sound and lights display, with a disco ball behind. In fact the disco theme came out in the music at times, although the content of the set was erratic at best. One of their most famous songs, ‘Laura’, didn’t seem right for the crowd as an emotional intense ballad. The constant chatter never truly died down. Yet this was counteracted by the sheer charisma and stage presence of Natasha Khan, the artist behind the band. Her powerful voice and spaced-out attitude really summed up an act that was clearly musically strong, but lost in its own world.
Mirrors did well to cope with the pressures of the difficult sophomore year. But, in the end, this was all about one act and one venue. It would do well to go further in embracing the diversity it showed a little of this year, but for a small and vibrant festival that caters to eclectic tastes, Mirrors was not bad at all.