Citadel festival, returning to London for it’s third installment, is a unique one-day experience set in Victoria Park. It runs on the Sunday of the same weekend that also sees Lovebox festival at the same location.
This year, Citadel boasted the only UK festival performance from the mighty Foals, something we were determined not to miss, even if we were under the threat of rain. We attended the first Citadel festival that had a few teething problems but returned hoping they’d been addressed.
Entry into the festival site was fairly fast and security, although en masse, were friendly and helpful. It was quite restrictive though, owing to ‘the current security climate’, with a request to not bring any bags over A4 size or any liquids at all. Some photographers (there on behalf of the festival) were also denied entry to take photos, though this was down to individual staff being unaware of the correct procedures.
Once in we took a wander around to get our bearings. We didn’t need too much reminding as cleverly the organisers have kept most of the original layout intact which helped us orientate ourselves quickly. The familiar swing carousel was back to the delight of most people and the main stages were in the same places making our act list easy to suss out.
Also returning (sadly) were the queues, though this year they were confined to the toilets, not the bars. The toilets by the main stage were fairly busy from mid afternoon, though after any act finished queues were out into the festival site. Another set of toilets by the Kasbah stage had a horrendous queue, and after finally getting in I realised there were urinals (most of which were free). Some signs or separate queues here would have helped massively.
In total there were nine stages and tents for a wide variety of music, from Michael Kiwanuka providing a soul fix, to House Gospel Choir with stunning vocals and Yonaka for some moody alt pop. All in all the lineup was very good, catering for all types of tastes, and considering it is only on for one day, it had something for everyone...and not just musically.
There were talks on at the Sunday Papers Live tent covering poetry and political talks amongst other topics, kids activities at the Hackney Playbus, group yoga, Swingtrain, and even Voga! Not to mention the various immersive performers we spotted throughout the day, entertaining on-the-go. Such as Sista Mary Berry and Sista Pauline Hollywood, who stopped by to remove our demons and give us a thorough chakra cleanse. If you ever encounter these two roaming around at your next festival and fancy a good giggle / dose of inappropriate enlightenment, I highly recommend you ask for the same treatment. A great addition to this year’s Citadel!
We were also spoilt with a huge amount of stalls from festival getup staples Out of the Ordinary, Pica Pica Feathers, and Retro Bambi, to glitter stations and the array of food options that managed to please every taste.
Crowd-wise the festival continues to draw a great mix, lots of families out for the day with pushchairs and toddlers donning protective headphones, groups of London cool kids and full-on music fans. Plus a few hungover heads who’d managed to brave it there after Lovebox. The site felt spacious and relatively chilled the entire time we were there, unless you were brave enough to push down to the front of the crowd for a headliner, but even then we were met with friendly faces. One notable difference from year one was that it felt like there was so much more going on. Citadel felt quite sparse and spread out in it’s debut year; two years on and it felt like there was a great array of things to see and do - but still without feeling too busy or too overcrowded. Even once at the very front of a headline act, if you needed to move or wander out to the loo, the crowd parted easily and it never felt too packed in. I think part of this is also down to the crowd Citadel attracts, a nice, fairly chilled Sunday vibe vs the headfirst party mode of its preceding Lovebox.
In 2015, I recall walking around thinking it was almost like an event that was put on to mark the end of Lovebox. Like a wind-down after a heavy weekend of festival-ing. This year it really felt like Citadel had come into it’s own in terms of accomplishing the atmosphere and programme of a day festival in it’s own right. People were up for getting glittered up and getting fully involved in what the day had to offer, and it was fantastic to see a festival maturing so quickly in all the right places.
Onto music. As every festivals goers does, we had pre-picked our must see acts and we picked some beauties! Australian singer-songwriter RYX delivered a breathtaking set, with his trademark haunting and high pitched vocals floating across the stage. Plenty of people joined us we watched, many sat around in the warm weather on blankets, a perfect setting to listen to his most popular song, Berlin.
Bonobo, one of my favourite DJs was also on the main stage, treating us to a live set backed by a full live band. Opening his set with "Prelude/Kiara/Ten Tigers" immediate brought the crowd to their feet. It’s such a great opener, starting softly with sweet Chinese style violins that wouldn’t be out of place on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, then leading into the beat and stuttered vocals. As always, the bass got everyone roaring and led into a performance that was a visual delight. Not just from the normal stage lighting; it was also amazing to see songs that we’ve listened to over and over brought to life by live musicians.
Onto the Foals. They were electrifying! Having had the pleasure of seeing them twice before I knew what to expect, but they have such a presence on stage that I watch them as often as I can. They are another band who play each and every song immaculately, exactly as you’d hear it on their albums. They chose "Mountain At My Gates" to open their set, and with singer Yannis Philippakis leading the Oxford quintet it was a roaring starter. Not only did we have the privilege of witnessing their only live UK gig this year, we were treated to an extended set which allowed them to play through their hits and included plenty of tracks from their debut album too, giving older fans a nice surprise. Yannis also dropped a few jokes in between songs, commenting at one point about "A Knife In The Ocean" being ‘a cheery one about the end of the world’. Towards the end of the night, he was stripped to his vest top, owing to the energy he emits bopping out, singing and yes...talking his usual walk down to the crowd barrier where his fans went absolutely nuts. Climaxing with "Turning it up to 11" resulted in a huge explosion of ticker tape and smoke from several stage canons, and as the photos show, it was quite a sight.
Other plus points were the festival app which worked really well and covered not just a schedule and map, but social media feeds and a really clever artist info section where, if you clicked on a name, it took you to a page with the time and stage they would be playing. I loved this!
The sound systems were excellent, neither seeming too loud or quiet even though the site is in close proximity to lots of residential homes. On the way out, the crowds dispersed quickly and being London, there were plenty of taxis around to get people home.
I’m sure some people would like to have partied on longer, but finishing at 10.30PM was also a welcome break from the normal early hours finishes, meaning we woke (fairly) fresh on Monday for work. Plus there was the official afterparty at Village Underground for those who didn't get enough of Bonobo the first time around.
Overall, Citadel proved to be a great day out. If you are looking for a London festival with a great and varied line up, lots to see and do and shop, guaranteed well-selected headliners playing extended sets, and an easy laid back vibe, Citadel should be top of your list. After last Sunday it’s now up there as my favourite one-day London festival, for me it has everything and a little bit more. Looking forward to next year already!
latest on this festival
Citadel 2017 review
line-ups & rumours
two new stages of acts, joining Foals, Bonobo & more