Simon Green, aka Bonobo, has become a bit of a household name in recent years. His earlier work found its home in the ambient alcoves of the electronica scene, but newer releases have progressed from the downtempo style, adopting a more dance floor-friendly tone. Suddenly Bonobo’s tracks were being spun in the clubs as well as after it. The North Borders was the Brighton native’s first album to break into the charts, leading to a 50+ date international tour ending in London’s largest standing venue, Alexandra Palace. Even Green has said he’s been surprised by his success.
Clearly keen to keep this momentum during his hiatus of studio releases, the Ninja Tune signee has turned his attention from creating to curating – announcing Outlier, the international event series taking place in London, Paris, Berlin and New York. The first point of call was London’s Tobacco Dock in association with LWE, with acts such as Yussef Kamaal Trio, Glenn Astro, Special Request and Gilles Peterson featuring on the all-day lineup.
Tobacco Dock is a space more associated with exhibitions or conferences than parties, but based on Outlier, the latter needs to happen more. Strolling around a Grade I listed building felt similar to being at Covent Garden, that was until you ventured down to the Car Park stage, which is actually used as just that during the week. Suddenly the Tobacco Dock felt more like being at an illegal warehouse rave than ambling around the busy London area.
But before venturing too far into the Car Park, it was time to watch the Yussef Kamaal Trio at the Little Gallery, the smallest of the three stages. The group is one of the many exciting offerings coming out the 22a imprint, and Henry Wu and co. further justified this hype with their brilliant blend of electronic, hip-hop and jazz elements, playing out like one big improvised jam. Drummer Yussef Dayes offered a particularly animated performance that was brilliant to watch. As one hazy soundscape subsided, in came another courtesy of Glenn Astro. After witnessing a show as emotionally and visually stimulating as the Yussef Kamaal Trio, staring at Glenn between the decks did have less magnitude. However, the Berliner offered a tight set of dusty, blunted beats, a sound that has become synonymous with him and the rest of the Money $ex Records posse, mixing tracks from the label with cuts of a similar vein, like the infectious ‘Basic Instinct’ by Madlib’s side project, Quasimoto.
Next on the agenda was Kiasmos, the duo hailing from Iceland. The Great Gallery stage would have been almost pitch black if it wasn’t for the bright white lights aiming at Ólafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen, a spotlight they certainly revelled being in. The pair were restless throughout their performance, grooving in time to the gradually building assortment of milk bottle chimes and other off-kilter sounds. ‘Throw’ was particularly effective live, with its high-pitched chords echoing beautifully around the arena.
Interestingly, it was Bonobo who followed on from Kiasmos. Usually you’d expect the individual whose name was on the posters to be the main spectacle, the act everyone was waiting on throughout the day. But by doing this, Green reminded us Outlier is about more than just Bonobo. Of course, the Great Gallery was still packed, and he satisfied those who had come mainly to see him with tracks such as ‘Cirrus’ and ‘Know You’, fusing these with some harder numbers by artists like Brownswood’s Owiny Sigoma Band.
Upon hearing the group’s Kenyan house classic ‘Nyiduonge Drums’, the prospect of heading to Gilles Peterson seemed like a good idea. The much-adored Radio 1 DJ’s set panned out similarly to his weekly show, touching on jazz, hip-hop, soul and electronic cuts, from Anderson Paak to Shy FX. It felt a bit like listening to a ‘Now That’s What I Call Music’ album, but with, well, amazing music, and although it was very chop and change, the powerful selection of sounds old and new meant it was one of the most enjoyable moments of the day.
Then it was time to explore the dark secret of the Tobacco Dock – the Car Park stage. Gone were the vehicles of the Canary Wharf businessmen and in came hundreds of sweaty ravers basking in the up-tempo floor fillers laid down by recent XL Recordings’ Special Request. This really is a space that thrives for club events.
It maybe too early to call Outlier the first successful festival of the summer, but with the warm weather beating down, the cans of cider and the sunny-blushed beats sound-tracking the day, it sure felt like it. This, combined with a great location and lineup ensured Bonobo’s first venture with Outlier was a success. Be sure to keep one eye on the rest of series as it unfolds.
Words: Nathan Diamond
Featured image: Luke Baker