The first week of September saw the hotly anticipated return of Cross The Tracks, a one-day event which only came into being two years ago but has since galvanised festival-goers, homegrown talent, and international stars alike. Apocalypse Music co-founder Pia Rose Scattergood was there to report on the festivities.
On Sunday afternoon, Brixton’s Brockwell Park glowed orange as revellers from far and wide basked in glorious sunshine in anticipation of the return of South London’s largest offering of Soul, Jazz, and Funk. In its debut year back in 2019, Cross The Tracks boasted an eclectic mix of artists, from the legendary Chaka Khan and Motown icons Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, to fresher faces such as Oscar Jerome and Poppy Ajudha. This year’s line-up was similarly thrilling in its diversity and generational scope and once again succeeded in bringing something for everyone.
The Mainline stage was lit up by an electric set from Mercury Prize-nominated jazz saxophonist Nubya Garcia, who would go on to join Lianne La Havas’ set later in the evening. This was immediately followed up by the silky tones and ambient musings of singer and multi-instrumentalist Jordan Rakei, who likely accumulated new fans just in time for the release of his new album What We Call Life on September 17th. On the other side of the park, the Terminal stage was equally busy, hosting experimental drummer Yussef Dayes, perhaps best known for his acid jazz/hip hop-infused collaboration with Tom Misch, and the self-described ‘psychedelic RnB’ singer Greentea Peng, both of whom will doubtless return to the festival circuit on larger stages next year.
The festival’s extensive roster of brilliant talent often left one feeling that there was simply too much to explore in one day. The combination of lack of signposting for various stages and multiple clashing set times meant that emerging talent perhaps did not get the amount of love it deserved. But those seeking a short respite from running between stages were able to experience other energising activities, such as a perusal of the festival’s many artisan market stalls or attending a series of important workshops and panel discussions courtesy of festival partner, Black Minds Matter UK.
The charity launched last year shortly after the tragic murder of George Floyd, and presented thought-provoking talks titled ‘Black Mental Health in the Music Industry’ and ‘Emerging Black Artists; How Hard is it to Break Through?’, as well as breath-work and movement workshops. Since the beginning of the pandemic, a renewed discussion of the lack of both gender and ethnic representation in festival line ups has begun to take place. Conversations like these serve as an important reminder that the future of music-making and indeed all cultural production is wholly contingent upon the continued work of diverse, imaginative, and committed performers, festival directors and programmers, as well as engaged audiences.
Industry icons Sister Sledge provided the most high-energy set of the evening, bringing disco hit after disco hit to the main stage. Ever the consummate professionals, this set was a feast for the eyes, with multiple bejewelled outfit changes and vigorous choreography performed in pointy stiletto heels. The raucous chanting which accompanied classic banger We Are Family perfectly captured the community spirit any festival aims to foster from within, and the inter-generational crowd that the set appealed to were nothing if not happy and well mannered: they were there for a good time and a good time only.
Towards the end of the night, revellers were spoiled for choice between four acts: primary headliner Lianne La Havas, German favourites Seed, renowned DJ and record label owner Gilles Peterson, and talented keyboardist/singer Reuben James, a decision which will have doubtless divided families and friendship groups alike. Upon entering the main stage in a feather-adorned two-piece and poised with acoustic guitar in hand, Brixton-born Lianne La Havas stunned the 25,000-strong festival crowd into complete silence as she began a melancholic rendition of her 2012 release No Room for Doubt. Intimate moments like these are rare on such big stages and the singer’s candid and unassuming appreciation of the crowd only made them fall in love with her further. This primary headline spot gave La Havas ample opportunity to debut her new album on home turf, with the singer fondly recalling mid-set how the impressive volume levels of the festival reverberated right through to her Herne Hill abode just down the road. The softer, less familiar numbers in the set failed to hit the spot at times, but the singer’s roaring vocals and unparalleled vocal perfection in crowd favourite Bittersweet certainly did not disappoint. Neither did the encore of La Havas’ rousing anthem Unstoppable. The crowd’s collaborative wailing of the song’s chorus felt like a big f*** you to the pandemic, driven by the unfaltering determinism of an industry which has suffered countless setbacks and cancellations.
For many, Cross The Tracks will have marked the end of a summer of dreams. Going forward, the festival surely signals the return of live music as we all know and love it, and the utopian possibility of a more diverse artistic landscape that is well within reach.
Cross The Tracks, Brockwell Park, SE24
Words by Pia Rose Scattergood
All photographs © Apocalypse Music