When the brains behind Wilderness Festival announced the debut of Citadel earlier this year, along with two impressive headliners and a smattering of offbeat, on-trend stage fillers, a number of strengths set it apart from fellow fests with bigger lineups. One such strength was the booking of Bombay Bicycle Club, riding high on waves of success from their career-defining last album and gracing just three festivals with their presence this summer. Another was its inner city location just outside of Shoreditch, which meant, along with the fact that Citadel is a one day event, that Londoners could stagger into a familiar bar, bed or shower after swaying in the sun and dust for ten hours, Tia Maria in-hand.
But the real crux of Citadel’s appeal was a conceptual one: the decision to bill the event as the microcosmic, perfect Sunday, complete with massages, feasts, lazily emphatic political debate and a chilled out soundtrack. Captioned ‘A Mirror To A City’, Citadel gives itself a thematic core, however tenuous or trite it might appear, and it truly lends the event a cohesion and warmth of atmosphere. While festivals can be heartily enjoyed as hedonistic celebration of anarchy, it is also true that they are a celebration of the things that bring us together, and it is the latter that Citadel so successfully runs with. Perhaps next year’s caption should be changed to ‘Leave Your Cynicism At The Door’.
Yes, it’s bourgeois in the extreme. Yes, I bought a lamb burger with tzatziki and harrissa. But there’s no chance I’m going to pretend that I didn’t enjoy every morsel of it. Nobody threw urine over me, and I woke up on Monday able to walk normally. Hell, there was even a spring in my step.
I start my perfect Sunday with a set by Scottish band Honeyblood, who fill one of the early slots on the Communion Stage, one of five music stages and one of seven altogether. Their scuzzy, grungy two-piece rock fails to resonate significantly but complements and provides heavy relief to a softer stage line-up. New song ‘Love Is A Disease’ shows some flair and promise, but the pair are destined to play in the shadow of sonic bedfellows Wolf Alice, who for the time being hold the monopoly on grunge rock resurrection. Later on the same stage is the much-hyped Rhodes who draws a sizeable crowd and plays a neat, warming set of his Coldplay cold cuts.
Also gracing Communion are Bear’s Den, who exude potential in their newfound, hard-earned spotlight. Debut album Islands, released in October of last year, is only now gathering some momentum thanks to Greg James’ justified airplay obsession with ‘The Clouds Above Pompeii’. In addition to this sublime, Ivor-nominated song they play banjo-heavy tracks ‘Isaac’ and ‘Agape’ as well as some electric numbers, rattling through a rousing set that is rounded off by an emotional ‘thank you’ from lead singer Andrew Davie, who seems humbled by the enthused assembly.
Perhaps the strongest feature of Citadel takes place away from the music. Sunday Papers Live, a collection of talks, debates and political discussion that had until recently taken place quarterly in Camden makes its return at Citadel after a hiatus, and brings with it some fascinating talks from some fascinating individuals. Guardian columnist Zoe Williams and The Revolution Will Be Televised star Jolyon Rubinstein enjoy an animated and engaging chat about some of the themes from Williams’ new book Get It Together, including the pitfalls and dangers of the neoliberal age and the lies of austerity and efficiency. Far from being as dull as it sounds, Rubinstien ensures the conversation is a dynamic and nuanced exploration of relevant ideas; the 40 minute chat is the highlight of the day for this reviewer.
Also dishing out words of angry wisdom are former political prisoner Maajid Nawaz and economist Anne Pettifor, who predicted the Global Financial Crash. It’s often the case that the talks stage becomes merely a place to go and sit in the shade at a festival, but Citadel deftly places the brilliantly kitsch Sunday Papers Live tent at the forefront of the occasion, with engaging speeches that seemed to bear more pertinence by virtue of taking place in a city centre rather than in a field.
The main stage is graced by energising, artistically bold sets by Anna Calvi and Bombay Bicycle Club, both Mercury Prize-nominated artists in 2014. The former, accompanied by The Heritage Orchestra, delivers riff after flawless riff from behind her electric guitar and a pair of fantastic shades, which she flings to the floor in a moment of inimitable drama half way through the set. Bombay stick close to So Long, See You Tomorrow, playing ‘Feel’, ‘Luna’, ‘Home By Now’ and ‘Carry Me’ enthusiastically and with clear relish.
As the sun dips behind the tree-line, the most insecure corner of a generally confident and assured premiere for Citadel is Ben Howard’s bathetic performance on the main stage, in a set that clearly follows the mantra ‘On Headline Shows, We Wear Black’. Howard continues to plough on acting as if his hugely successful first album, and subsequent fame, never happened, which is problematic when playing a headline slot to 50,000 people. As strong as corners of I Forget Where We Where are, during a live show Howard leans on his second album heavily, practically using its introversion and unvarying tone to punish his fan base for its brash size and scale, the kind of which he clearly never wanted nor asked for. Ben appears untroubled by this paradox, seeming to relish the chance to test his fans’ resolve, but in actuality testing their patience.
For the first 50 minutes, Howard does not acknowledge nor communicate with the swelling crowd, and the depressing ‘Black Flies’ is the only track from Every Kingdom he and his band play. He finally breaks the monotony with ‘Keep Your Head Up’, but rearranges ‘The Fear’ and ‘The Wolves’ to fit the sonic palette of the sophomore. Though the music is tenderly played and deftly composed, the homogenisation of Howard’s style sees the 90 minute set teeter towards desperately dull. This reviewer has never seen quite so many people leave a headline set before the end.
All in all, Citadel artfully carves a niche for itself in a time when festivals are as common and as numerous as package holidays, successfully placing its own stamp on the landscape and ensuring that is has enough identity to win itself a regular attendance. It should in 2016 look to extending Sunday Papers Live to cement its already distinct name as a multifaceted celebration of arts and ideas.