Rage Against The Machine, Gogol Bordello, Roots Manuva, The Gallows

Luke Fussell 06/06/2010

Rating: 4/5

It's not too often that hip-hop infused heavy rock music reminds me of Monty Python, but at dusk on a balmy Sunday night in a jam-packed Finsbury Park I can't help but think I've been suddenly placed into a contemporary re-make of The Life of Brian. There's definitely something funny about 40,000 or so individuals shouting “Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me!” perfectly on cue anyway. With such a startlingly uniform wealth of non-conformists out to stick it to 'the man', whoever he might be, it would be easy to think this one-day festival was all an elaborate joke. What's that? It's dedicated to putting one over on Simon Cowell in the pop charts back at Christmas time? Really? Well, it's free so I guess it's OK. But only because it's free. Oh yeah, and because it's Rage Against the Machine.

I arrived just after 5pm to find the park around half full and The Gallows just starting their set. With tattoos over every inch of available flesh and voices set firmly to 'shouty' the band have clearly been well chosen for this event, and there's a sizeable bunch of neo-punk types jumping up and down a lot for the bulk of their set. This was slightly tempered for me when I learned that the lead singer Frank Carter went to a Catholic school with my friend (apparently then called Chris -alliteration just isn't very punk). Their songs were the sort of average skater-punk/nu-metal drudgery that you can usually find emerging from the over-sized lime-green skull-candy headphones of any Hemel Hemstead teenager, and I felt myself drawn within seconds towards the call of the bar. Incidentally, my friend reliably informs me that Chris Carter and the Gallows boys are in fact from Hemel Hemstead (not their press home of Watford - damn you alliteration!). Apparently Carter was top of the NME 'Cool List' in 2007. Whoopee. This confirms two things to me: 1. cool lists are perhaps the least cool things ever conceived, and 2: The NME are a gaggle of twats.

Moving swiftly on and next to grace the stage was Roots Manuva. I was pleasantly surprised to see the London-based rapper on the billing, although I remain a little confused as to the motivation behind the selection. He and his band played a technically impeccable set, but there was something in their demeanour that belied a lack of conviction in why they were playing to the crowd assembled before them. Did they really want to be associated with the 'Rage Factor'? Did they give a flying fuck about the Christmas number 1? I'm not so sure. Even the earth-shattering, bass whomping of Witness couldn't seem to get them too excited, and if that doesn't work then I guess you may as well go and drink some over-priced Carling.

The line-up for the day's festivities was nothing if not eclectic and the penultimate act Gogol Bordello certainly weren't about to buck that trend. With attitudes so perilously up-beat and with a frontman sporting a moustache to rival that of many a Victorian gentleman it was hard not to get carried away with these gypsy-folk knees-up merchants. The slowly swelling crowd lapped it up as an air of anticipation of the main event gradually began to build. Nobody seemed to mind that these hirsuit mentalists had effectively been playing the same speed-oompah tune for 40 mins, and the day's theme of beardy pogo-ing was continued with ever-increasing fervor. And why not?! It's free! Who cares!
And so, with the light rapidly fading we arrive at the real reason why all these formerly-angry former-teenagers had gathered in a field in North London on a Sunday night that kept threatening to rain: Rage Against The Machine.

Sirens blared as a giant red star of communism was raised behind the stage to the deafening roar of an already excitable crowd. Next in line a cartoon version of Simon Cowell with a bafflingly Australian accent appears on the screens which flank the stage, and the theatre of nonsense continues. I know it's good that X Factor didn't get the xmas number one slot last year, but it all seems a bit strange at this time of year and I can't help thinking that nobody really cares all that much any more. The Rage boys themselves clearly do though, with frequent references to 'making history' at a number of points during the set, lest we forget. Yes, we know.

My petty niggles were set aside though within about 4 milliseconds of the LA four piece taking to the stage. As the opening, military-style drums and effects-drenched guitar of Testify sounded out, all hell broke loose. I don't think I've ever seen quite so many people going quite so nuts in one place; it was simply staggering. Next on the set list was Bombtrack and the riot continued. Song after classic song, the set was the definition of the phrase 'all killer, no filler' and I was reminded just why this band had quite the following that it does. Tom Morello offered a guitar masterclass in how to make noises that you're pretty sure don't actually come out of a guitar, except that he's there doing it right in front of you. Emphatic frontman Zack De La Rocha gave the sort of performance that most can only dream of, with a sense of conviction which is utterly compelling. It was something of a surprise then to have a 'Children In Need' moment thrust into the middle of the set, complete with giant cheques and a smile for the camera. The facebook group duo of Jon and Tracy Morter were brought out on stage to yet more historical references and a great deal of hugging ensued. Yes, well done everyone. Again.

Thankfully a cover of The Clash's classic White Riot brought things back to earth in the best way possible. Then again classic after classic track left you wondering just how they managed to write this many hooks: Know Your Enemy, Sleep Now in the Fire, Bullet in the Head and many more stirred the crowd to dangerous levels. An encore of Killing in the Name predictably rounded the night off in style. A strange day all in all, but certainly one to remember.

What next for the now feverish crowd of non-conformists? Stick it to the man (it's Simon Cowell by the way) by shouting “fuck you I won't do what you tell me!” to a mounted policeman, shortly before sheepishly doing exactly what he tells you. Have that, Imperialist!