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The Outlook Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall

The organisers of The Outlook Festival certainly didn’t hold back for the festival’s tenth birthday celebration at the Royal Festival Hall last Thursday. A celebration of soundsystem culture, the line-up was one of a caliber more likely treated to over a whole weekend festival. According to MC Jilla’s closing remarks the whole thing was organised in only three months, which only makes it more impressive. The twenty-strong Outlook Orchestra, conducted by Tommy Evans, displayed exceptional musical ability providing the backing for all the night’s varied performers.

Following a few short words from Radio 6 Music’s Mary Anne Hobbs, the event was opened by the orchestra with some interstellar ambience worthy of 2001 Space Odyssey. This deceptively relaxing start gave way to Pharoahe Monch storming onto stage with his most famous track, ‘Simon Says’. This banger launched the crowd to their feet and where they stayed for the whole show.

The genres being celebrated, which the organisers described under the umbrella term of ‘soundsystem culture’, are ones best enjoyed dancing. The Royal Festival Hall is very much a seated venue, with a distinct lack of space to dance. Despite this, the audience shimmied out into the aisles and stairs, not letting something as petty as allocated seats hold back the party.

Pharoahe Monch was on for what felt like far too short a time for such a world-renowned act but considering the number of performers the night had lined up, this was necessary. The only performers who got anything more than one or two tracks were Ruby Wood from Submotion Orchestra and MC Jilla from Gentlemen’s Dub Club, undoubtedly due to the fact Tommy Evans plays drums in both those bands. I didn’t begrudge this special treatment because Ruby Wood’s stunning voice worked particularly well with the ambient backing provided by the orchestra and MC Jilla was his usual whirlwind of hype and long flailing limbs.

Among such strong performers some were always going to fade into the background but there were standout performances from General Levy, Foreign Beggars, Ruby Wood and Jenna G, who brilliantly covered ‘Sincere’ by MJ Cole and ‘In Love’ by Chase & Status. Congo Natty didn’t bring his usual energy to the stage but he did bring on a prop joint, which smoked throughout his bit and is actually far funnier than bringing on a real one. Dawn Penn’s stage presence felt a little tired (we must remember her 65th birthday was the day before the show) but this didn’t reflect in her voice and ‘No No No’ was one of the most memorable performances of the night.

Despite these sensational performances, it was the orchestra who were the true stars of the show, moving seamlessly from one genre to the next and finishing with a cracking cover of Dubkasm’s ‘Victory’. Matt Roberts’ brass section brought bags of energy to the stage, skanking the hardest of anyone in the hall. General Levy was a close second, coming on dressed in full fur, which he had to shed after 45 seconds of jumping around. His machine-gun MCing over drum and bass, as well as jungle, got even the string section dancing some bizarre sitting-down-moves.

The sound system of the venue kicked out a bass you could feel in your chest, definitely not disappointing for an event dedicated to soundsystem culture. The audio levels were a bit off for a few of the performers, with the vocals for Newham Generals and Pharoahe Monch slightly muffled. This was the only slip from the sound crew who had the herculanean task of managing the levels for a twenty-piece orchestra as well such a varied line up, from hip hop to ambient soul.

When the night’s acts came on for the final bow all even they could do was stumble about filming each other, in awe of the atmosphere and talent of the performers. The following day the London Philharmonic Orchestra performed on the same stage – a testament to the openness of the venue but probably not one appreciated by their audience, who would be sitting on seats smelling of beer spilt by those of us having a riot the night before. All in all, I had an unreasonable amount of fun for a Thursday night.

Featured image: Outlook.

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Charlie L Jones

Born in London, now study here and judging by this pollution, probably going to die here.

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