Hijacked Festival 2015

by Matt Hacke

In my first year (2012-13), I recall the meteoric rise of Thick as Thieves, which culminated in the highly successful DirtyBird blowout at the Exeter Phoenix, including a series of massive acts from the DirtyBird label such as Shadow Child and Kry Wolf. To continue a digression into a brief history of House and Bass Music’s infiltration into the mainstream over the last three years, in 2013, Thick as Thieves continued to consolidated themselves whilst a series of charismatic nights from Beats and Bass (Our House and Hold it Down amongst many others) brought a variety of jawdropping acts to the Exeter club circuit, notably including Artwork, The Artful Dodger and Duke Dumont. This shared success by numerous outfits laid the foundations for the first Hijacked and the sell-out DJ Showcases that occur throughout the academic year. Flash forward to Hijacked 2015, with an estimated 4,000 attendees, 3 stages and a smorgasbord of dance acts, ranging between jungle, house and drum and bass. This event serves as a testament to a subgenre which has broken into the Exeter zeitgeist, without losing the cutting edge that made it so attractive in the first place. Virtuoso dance acts still dominated Hijacked 2015 – you wouldn’t see any Kygo here.

We arrived at the site early, exploring it in its emptiness whilst Duplex Sound played an early slot on the mainstage, a hotly tipped local duo who’s track, Nobody, and remixes of ASTR and Ohio Players have garnered a lot of attention on SoundCloud. If anything, it was a shame there weren’t more people here at this time to catch what constitutes an extremely exciting Exeter-based act. Wandering around the festival around midday when it was still relatively quiet, an early highlight saw Madam X take to the Jungle Stage at 13:30, a potentially familiar name to some readers considering that she fronted the Beats and Bass Women’s Night back in March. With such a solid act playing so early, this attracted the largest crowd of the day as of yet, who witnessed a slick, hybrid set that shifted effortlessly between a series of genres – exemplified in a theoretically bizarre movement from a trancy synth-pulse to Skepta’s nu-Grime smash, That’s not Me. This paradigm shift was rendered highly effectively. As someone who is watching current developments in Grime with great interest, it was great to see acts such as Madam X, and of course Big Narstie, inject this genre into the Hijacked bill, and hopefully with up and comer Stormzy and Wretch-32 billed for September with Hold It Down, this bracket will only continue to emerge on the Exeter circuit.

As the day progressed attention was shifted towards the nationally reputed acts on the main stage, that isn’t to say we avoided the local talent in any way. Primarily, its worth pointing out the University’s Xpression FM were doing a stellar job near the entrance, broadcasting all afternoon in the culmination of a weeklong collaboration with the festival – Hijacked Radio – most of which will be available to relisten to on Mixcloud. Usefully distanced away from the sound-systems of the stages, Xpression boomed their own varied setlist, including an ambient bootleg of Paris by the Friendly Fires and the higher octane Dizzee Rascal’s Bassline Junkie. Thankfully, the Pendulum CDs they had elected to bring stayed firmly within their cases. All in all I recommend checking out the rewinds of their coverage online, if only to hear Xpression presenters gamely interview a series of confused festivalgoers. “What act are you most looking forward to seeing on the mainstage?” [Extended Pause] “Say Artwork.”

With regards to the best of Exeter’s DJ circuit, we didn’t see a bad set. Tom Deuchars gave a strong showing in the Aquarium early on to a committed group of revelers whilst Drop Steady Freddy played his vibesy ska and reggae tinged repertoire to a packed Jungle tent during a brief period of rainfall. A stand-out for me was the return of Aerial to Exeter, a former student DJ, who prior to his graduation had a strong claim to being the best act on the local circuit last year. His late afternoon slot on the mainstage pulled a massive crowd, largely due to his astute selection of predomitably disco-influenced tracks, formulated an extremely fitting, summery playlist. Notably, Aerial was superb in filling in the gaps between acts on the mainstage as the evening progressed, keeping the crowd locked in in a 15 minute intermission between Big Narstie and Blonde.

At around 18:00, we set up at the mainstage until close, except for some brief forays to explore the Jungle and the Aquarium. At this point, the overriding factors of the festival experience were admittedly large queues for drink and food, as seemingly everyone B-Lined for a beer or a burger before the heavyweight evening acts. Whilst this was a problem, I have no doubt the infrastructure will be tempered in light of this next year. It was a shame that many of the festival-goers were waiting for a drink at this point instead of catching the excellent double-header of Congo Nattie and Big Narstie in the early evening. Former’s early inclusion of a singalong rendition of Bob Marley’s Let’s Get Together verged on the euphoric, whilst Narstie’s engagement with his crowd numbered amongst the best I’ve seen over the past few years. With #pain t-shirts saturating the front-few rows, his Arctic Monkey sampling of Don’t Sit Down went down incredibly and frantically, creating the first (and only) moshpit I saw of the evening. The atmosphere at the front was electric, and I look forward to checking out his mixtapes over the next few days.

By the time the open-secret guest, Blonde, took to the stage the crowd had grown to an impressive level. Blonde were perhaps one of the more mainstream leaning acts performing at Hijacked, proving thusly to be a shrewd booking – exemplified in the rapturous response to their hit All Cried out. As for Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, I would have perhaps preferred to hear more of his techno and trance influenced own work which has always seemed to me to situate itself as a pleasing equilibrium between Hotchip and Bonobo. Instead, his set was rather diverse, including track such as Frankie Valli’s Can’t Take My Eyes off of You. Nevertheless, although being a fan of his I may have this personal gripe, there’s no doubt that I was in a minority because, like Blonde, the response to his selections was unilaterally positive.

The following act, Ms. Dynamite, one the de facto headliners of the night, was an extremely pleasant surprise. This was an artist who had just enough smash hits to put together an high-quality, slick set, of course including Dy-Na-Mi-Tee, but also involving some of her collaborative work, such as that with Katy B in Light’s on. Whilst we missed some of her set for a brief detour to the Aquarium, we were back in time for the Gold Dust SHY FX re-Edit, a highlight reel track which morphed the crowd into a writhing mass of arms. For someone who admittedly stood out somewhat from the overriding thematic conventions of the event, Ms. Dynamite was awesome, and will surely prove to be a memorable point for a significant number of the attendees to Hijacked this year.

With the mainstage proving a focal point, this dissipated somewhat as three equally meritable acts closed out the festival. Artwork and Mak + Pasteman played the main and Aquarium respectively, both of which played Beats and & Bass last year, whilst hometown boys Fred V & Grafix took on the Jungle. It’s a testament to the collaborative effort that apexes in Hijacked, not only that three acts of this caliber will play at the same time, but that the quality of performance was maintained throughout. This was matched by the generation of a truly unique and friendly atmosphere, which was notably accessible, without sacrificing the underground nature of the genres which it displayed. We are all fully aware of how lucky we are to have something like Hijacked on our doorstep and, hopefully, the festival will return with a swagger next year, having truly consolidated itself in 2015.