Being at the helm of Metropolis’s freshman offering must have been nerve-wracking. For one, as Ireland’s first indoor winter festival (and first music festival ever held in the RDS), the organisers had to break a lot of new ground with little precedent to guide them. To complicate matters further, the RDS had to be broken down and rebuilt into a venue suitable for the myriad of acts playing from CHIC with Nile Rodgers to Jamie xx to Giorgio Morodor in time for the weekend having hosted the Web Summit earlier that week. Luckily, the nail-biting bore fruit; stepping into the RDS on that chilly Saturday afternoon, the festival buzz was palpable.
The focal point of the festival had to be an outdoor structure dubbed ‘The Arcadia’, an art installation built from repurposed military and industrial scrap and transformed into a DJ deck fashioned like a flamethrower, complete with tongues of flame spilling over the apex. Various DJs blasted their sets from a glass-cased deck in the centre of the structure. The Arcadia was poised directly in the middle of a square with flame torches at each corner, each flame surrounded by plastic dendritic tree-facsimiles emitting smoke and lights.
The stages were generally clustered close together which made for relatively simple navigation. However, the space would have profited from some better signage, as it was at times difficult to find stages or even simple things like bathrooms and drinking water stations. The high-vis clad staff seemed to be still acclimatising themselves, as asking them even simple directions would generally result in getting even more lost than one was before. These are all things that only reveal themselves during the live run though – nothing can ever be perfect, and initial kinks are all part of the process of founding a festival. Overall, however, the RDS was a surprisingly suitable setting for the event, a testament to the place’s versatility, which has served in its time as (to name a few) exam hall, wedding showcase and show jumping arena.
Dunleavy is a talented Irish vocalist who has teamed up with acts such as CLU and Murlo in the past and, undoubtedly, shows huge promise. However, her offering at Metropolis, located in the relatively remote Serpentine Room, was bizarre for lack of a better word. She arrived on stage flanked by perplexed looking backing singers wearing slate grey costumes plucked straight out of a bad remake of Dune. Behind her, an ambitious and contrived “visual art piece” played on a screen, alternating between cuts of religious imagery and pouting women. Dunleavy presses her lips to the mic and begins to sing, only to falter while shooting glances at her bandmates before waving them off with a hand as the stage’s lights shut down entirely and the act exit.
The crowd are perplexed – “Is it over?”. It is not, and instead Dunleavy returns and launches into an overwrought and experimental set, queuing in badly-organised backing vocal harmonies and continuing with the oddly Ecclesiastical vibe for her first few songs, singing – “He has forsaken me” repeatedly. When Dunleavy takes up her mic and simply sings without the need for ill-thought out, arthouse rigmarole, she’s at her best. It’s a pity the singer got so distracted by attempting to pilot some quote-unquote “edgier” performance styles, because they only served to detract from the act.
Irish duo CLU brought their lights-and-sound show to the Serpentine stage, spinning tracks while simultaneously live mixing the visual effects to cater to each one. The insulated, windowless venue allowed the lights and kaleidoscopic shapes on the screen to completely fill the room, creating a multi-sensory and utterly immersive electro and house experience. This was reflected in the excellent turnout, particularly in light of how early on in the day the Irish duo’s set was. Nestled within a lineup of international heavy-weights, it’s good to see a homegrown act hold their own and prove that they earned their festival slot.
Most notable for his collaborative track with Kanye West U Mad, the Chicago-born rapper brought his explosive charisma to the Metropolis main stage. His set was laden with teasers of the aggressive horn instrument hook from U Mad, but nevertheless the other tracks on his setlists elicited just as strong and warm a reaction from the crowd, particularly Drive Me Crazy, a track which features fellow Metropolis act Kaytranada. Mensa brought to his performance a sense of humour – at one point, he instructs the crowd to split apart and create a path, yelling “Part that shit like Moses.” He made some off-beat choices in the set, dropping Thin Lizzy’s Boys Are Back In Town, Jump Around by House of Pain (the people went wild) and Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. He put on a hell of a show, and it’s maddening to think a person can so readily command a crowd at the tender age of 22.
The Roots play an eclectic fusion of jazz, hip-hop and soul, with Black Thought’s quickfire verses punctuated by bass guitar rolls and smooth brass instrument interjections. They represent the kind of amazing and skilful crossover-genre music which colours a lot of the Metropolis lineup. Possibly one of the only ensembles which could pull off having the entire band line up towards the end of their set and launch into a zig-zagging, step-ball-change dance number without it looking hammy (if anything it just made them look cooler). The dance number was tight and well co-ordinated and all the more impressive when one considers that The Roots were all still playing their instruments, even the guy who was pretty much wrapped in a sousaphone.
Vince Staples has been called one of the funniest rappers on the scene at the moment, with people commenting that he is quick-witted and utterly gregarious in interviews (the implication being that other rappers aren’t, which is frankly an insult to Kendrick). Staples has definitely earned this title – the young rapper was, throughout his set, equally as compelling during the tangential discussions between songs as he was when spitting into the mic. Repeatedly, he turned to his DJ, Westside Tyler, and quizzed him about the cop movie Canine, the clash between Tyler’s insistent repetitions of “I haven’t seen the movie.” and Staples’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the cast, cinematography and setting, stating “It’s a ghetto-ass movie you need to watch” had the smack of a well-timed comedy sketch.
Staples conducted himself with unfaltering energy and spitfire off-the-cuff remarks, jumping and stamping during performances, using the stage in its entirety and drawing out of the crowd a rabid, throbbing fanaticism, with people below swaying and pushing, clamouring to get closer to a man so captivating he could probably start a cult. During a rendition of North North, Staples jumps off the stage and tries to enter the crowd, only to be held back by security. As compromise, he instead stands up and agilely balances on the barricade, holding the hands of the hands before who were practically scratching each other to get to the front. Staples has declared previously that he feels more like a punk artist than a rapper, and this show corroborates the claim; it was hip-hop with the aggressive, electrifying energy of a heyday Sex Pistols concert.