Stormzy returns home for his UK exclusive headline performance

© Khali Ackford

Stormzy, Kehlani, Sampha, Knucks and Lucky Daye launched Luno Presents All Points East 2023 in electrifying fashion, marking the return of East London’s celebrated music festival. Teaming up with All Points East for his curated ‘This Is What We Mean’ day, Stormzy took to the stage for a homecoming show and a UK exclusive headline performance. The Brit icon delivered a pulsating set of high drama, searing songs, and banging beats.

‘This is my hometown. You lot are my family,’ he told the crowd. ‘As long as I’m here, and as long as I have a career, I will not stop saying ‘thank you’. You lot have changed my life. You’ve changed my family’s life.’ Bedecked in a camel shirt and matching shorts, the rap trailblazer took the enormous crowd on a journey that explored every nook of his celebrated career to date.

Last year’s acclaimed album “This Is What I Mean” was given a generous airing, as Stormzy declared his headline set a ‘special show’, before explaining how the album had emerged from a period of ‘stillness’ in his life. ‘It was a beautiful thing: to look at myself in the mirror,’ he said. ‘It’s a world of distractions… it’s a world built to distract you from your main goal: to know yourself.’

Acknowledging the ‘poetic’ nature of the rain that started to fall before a storming performance of his diss-track “Rainfall”, it was a sign of things to come. The heavens opened for a torrential downpour that refused to let up, with the grime star removing his trainers and raising his feet for a raucous “Big For Your Boots”, parading up and down the walkway. The torrential downpour that dominated the final hour-plus failed to dampen spirits. This was a special and unique communion with the Londoner and quite the homecoming. Stormzy’s stamp on All Points East was monumental, memorable, and mighty.

Drawing a huge crowd over on The West Stage, Kehlani’s shimmering R&B had the crowd in the palm of their hands from the first note to the very last. Playing a set packed with crowd pleasers, the charismatic Californian took a moment to thank London specifically. ‘My second biggest listeners come from London after my hometown…We are nothing without the people who show up for us,’ she said. This act of gratitude heralded a closing run of songs that ramped up both the energy and the hit count, including the likes of “Toxic” and beloved single “Gangsta”. ‘I’m working on a new album,’ they announced as a stirring set-closing rendition of “Nights Like This” came to a thunderous close and they departed the stage.

© Khali Ackford

Earlier, Sampha’s sumptuous and spiritual soul cast a hypnotic spell on the East Stage. Clad in an all-white and circled by a four-piece comprising percussion and keys, the Mercury prize-winner delivered a set that veered from soft serenades to stuttering electro – the latter best exemplified by a bewitching take on recent single, “Spirit 2.0”. Sampha succeeded in shrinking Victoria Park’s vastness into an intimate, welcoming space. Playing songs old and new, he dusted down a cover of Roy Davis Jr’s “Gabriel”, played a sublime “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano” and concluded with a spellbinding “Blood on Me”. ‘It’s been an absolute pleasure’, he said as he signed off. The pleasure was All Points East’s.

Blessed with a sweet falsetto, Lucky Daye showcased exactly why both his studio albums to date – 2019’s “Painted” and 2022’s “Candydrip” – have attracted Grammy nominations. Stripped to the waist and pacing up and down The East Stage’s long gangway, he looked at home as he summoned swaying arms and applause from his substantial crowd. By the time he rounded out his set with the hit single “Over”, his smooth sound had slipped down like honey in the early evening sunshine.

Earlier in the day, Debbie had delighted with her rich, retro-styled R&B on the East Stage. The east Londoner, and recent Stormzy collaborator, shared her diaristic songs of heartache and hope to an eager and enthusiastic crowd. The singer prefaced her soon-to-be-released single “I’m Different” with a vulnerable declaration about its substance and message: ‘This is a song about insecurities…and about body positivity’. Three years ago, Debbie had worked behind the bar at the festival. As she departed the stage, those present were in no doubt that this is an artist whose journey is only just beginning.

Additional highlights from APE’s ‘This Is What We Mean Day’ included WSTRN, Elmiene, Amaria BB, Rampage Sound, Nippa and more, while the day kicked off on The 6 Music Stage with French-born British DJ, Gilles Peterson.

Saturday night sees the return of APE Presents: Field Day for their 16th anniversary. Headlined by Aphex Twin and Bonobo, and supported by a stellar line-up including Arca, Fever Ray, Jayda G, John Hopkins and more. In The Neighbourhood returns for free activities from Sunday 20th August to Wednesday 23rd August.

© Khali Ackford
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