Thousands of revellers will look back fondly at a second iteration of Hijacked Festival marked by eclectic music, captivating stage design and no shortage of fun that, despite a few teething problems, will go down as a triumph for the young team behind the event. Even though the evening weather did its level best to dampen the mood, sprits remained high as Big Narstie on 420 throughout the day, with the festival representing another landmark reached by the student-run music collectives intent on amplifying Exeter’s soundscape and reaffirming its place on the contemporary musical map.
After much build-up, the Exetera team arrived at Powderham Castle just after noon and embarked on a whistle-stop tour of the site. The luscious grounds had been transformed into a haven for those that made the short trip over from the city centre. Food tents and a bar lined one side of the site, with the Aquarium tent and woodland-saturated Jungle stage occupying the other. At the intersection stood the main stage, flanked by an impressive sound system that pumped out the soundtrack for those who found themselves flitting around the middle of the park during the day.
As with many of these day events, the main stage remained largely empty until mid-afternoon, with attendees preferring to catch up with friends and graze on the grass. But this was one of the best things about the relatively small site: the condensed area allowed for fluid wandering and easy intermingling while still managing not to feel claustrophobic. And when one stumbled into the Aquarium stage they were confronted with the standout piece of innovative design. DJs manned a submarine-like construction at the front of the tent that, alongside the shattering sound system and strobes, served to create a dark, immersive setting for the likes of bass-mongers Bok Bok and Last Magpie to showcase the contents of their own idiosyncratic record bags.
Back at the main stage tentative dancers began to swell. Student DJs delivered a slew of pitch-perfect sets before crowds flocked to see the first of the big draws in Congo Natty. MCs Nanci and Phoebe joined the jungle pioneer to whip up a frenzy. Genre classics such as “One Love” and “Jungalist Soldier” complemented new reggae sounds released by the likes of Chronix and Protegé. Big Narstie then offered a change of pace with his distinctive blend of bass-riddled grime that, for all its novelty value, lacked the cohesion of Natty’s set. The performer-cum-Internet-personality kept the energy up – a mash up of the Arctic Monkey’s “Dont Sit Down” prompted a mass singalong – and, despite some nauseating shifts, was largely entertaining.
No British festival would be complete without precipitation, however. As the rain began to fall, flocks of revellers herded into the Aquarium stage only to be greeted by a carefully curated selection of techno delivered by Dark Sky. The trio offered a perfect tonic to the weather outside, as their particular brand of moody, atmospheric productions meshed with the stage’s amphibian aesthetic to great effect.
This writer regrettably missed an act or two as the evening fell to watch the FA Cup Final. But more committed and informed Exetera writers commented on the vibrancy of the Jungle stage throughout the day. Ensconced in green mirage, the stage played host to Madam X, Mermaids and Dropsteady Freddy. Nanci & Phoebe once again impressed, packing plenty of energy and drive into a set, while watching local exports Fred V and Grafix deftly orchestrate the mood with the turn of a knob will live long in the memory. More broadly, the huge numbers present throughout the day served as a reminder that no-nonsense jungle sounds and drum’n’bass will never be rendered obsolete by the more trendy, chart-friendly house sounds.
This is all not to say the day passed without any cause for concern. Exeter students are used to being the meat between a sweaty and mouthy chino-and-shirt sandwich in club queues. Yet few queues could rival Hijacked, with the longest and most tedious snaking out from the single bar. The drinks token system was meant to enhance efficiency, but only three taps and a lack of tinnies made for a distasteful cocktail of boredom and frustration. The Hijacked team must come up with a solution to this minor but important growing pain when next summer rolls around. But it would be wrong to let this gripe detract from the overall quality of an operational setup unprecedented in its scope and scale.
Standout act TEED delivered a crowd-pleasing set back at the main stage. Cutting edge tunes such as “Waulking Song” and “Stomper” complimented disco classics and tech-house beats. Veteran R’n’B star Ms. Dynamite then took to the stage and showed just why she was touted as perhaps the most attractive name on Hijacked’s bill. The Londoner opened with “Dy-Na-Mi-Tee” and never looked back, packing hit after hit into a brisk half hour performance that was as energetic as it was professional. Punters Wiled Out to “Light Up” and “Dibby Dibby Sound” before a “One Love” mash-up crowned a set that confirmed the enduring power of R’n’B’s undisputed Queen. The skies then opened but the party continued as headliner Artwork capped off the day’s schedule with a perfectly composed party set all delivered with the finesse and dexterity of Santi Cazolra’s performance earlier on in the Cup Final. Mak and Pasteman brought the curtains down at the Aquarium and, when you account for Fred V and Grafix closing the Jungle stage, it’s hard not to be impressed by the progress made by Thick as Thieves and Beats and Bass since they burst into Exeter’s musical consciousness a little over five years ago.
All three headliners proved a fitting end to an almost pitch-perfect day. The party continued at Phoenix until the early hours of the morning with a spontaneous line up of DJs that would rival any other night in Exeter. Artwork, TEED and Dark Sky b2b2b2b was a surprise addition to the late night party and one that we all relished. Resident DJs ensured the crowd never stopped dancing, and it was only when then lights came on that blurry eyed festival goers reluctantly filtered out and stumbled to post-drinks, more parties or, perhaps most comfortingly, bed.
All those involved with the organisation and execution of the day can be proud of an achievement that served as the perfect way to end the term and begin the summer. We can look forward to doing it all again next year.