Damp, dark and ’round midnight, the backstreets of Bethnal Green were thronged with herds of black sheep and punctuated with security shepherds in high-visibility jackets. One such luminous guard standing sentiel outside a church urged the pre-gamed revelers to keep the noise down. Perhaps partygoers took the advice around hallowed grounds too seriously. When I bought my ticket for Jamie XX & Friends (The XX‘s party to launch their new album Coexist) I was looking forward to a night of DJ’d dancing, a loud bass pulsing through bodies with hands aloft. Instead of hands, I got a sea of serious centre partings, bopping along to mid-tempo, mid-volume music.
Our party arrived at Oval Space with high hopes and in high spirits; When an event sells out in mere hours, there is a feeling of exclusivity attached to your attendance, it felt more like an invitation then a ticket purchase. Having danced around a neighbouring kitchen to our own dj’d set, we landed at our industrial/space age looking venue (complete with giant, skeletal gas holders) at the witching hour. Expecting to join a jostling crowd in the moon’s shadow of this dramatic architecture, we were instead directed inside to, essentially, a large and half empty marquee. Not being an easily deterred bunch, we got our £5 spirit-mixers from the bar and made our way to the front. We saw people standing. We saw people shuffling. We saw the line of girls with dents in their abdomen from the guard rail they had so steadfastly jammed themselves against at the front, like fans at a film premiere (was everyone else just disappointed they weren’t at a The XX gig?) And then finally we saw pockets of activity on the dance floor. There were people, just like us, that wanted to have a good time.
Before we knew it, Jamie XX’s 2 hour set had come and gone. The only real indication of his presence was the swell in numbers as he began and the exodus as he ended. Otherwise, there was nothing at all to indicate we were being graced with his work. A shame really, when you consider the widespread acclaim for his remixes of Gil Scott Heron, that the late, great one’s haunting voice was never heard.
One night events are tough to get right, and all credit where it’s due to The XX for holding a night to celebrate with their fans in the first place. We stayed and danced and were willing to go through to the advertised 6am end. Unfortunately, it seems as though Oval Space has some tight insurance regulations to deal with. The music got quieter as the night progressed with a noticeable dip in volume at 5am- the same time the bar stopped serving. Which was time for us to move on.