Cross the Tracks 2024: overcoming hurdles to curate a day worthy of the weather

Eve performing at Cross the Tracks 2024

The taste of an overly warm can of lager. The creeping sense you’ve committed to seeing the wrong set, at the wrong end of the site. Come to that, the creeping sense you’ve already gotten sunburn. The wrong footwear for mud. A headliner pulling out hours before their set. Ah yes, with May bank holiday come and gone, we can officially declare British festival season open.

All of the above sound like critiques. They’re really, really not. They’re like the mannerisms of an old friend you’ve not seen for a long while, reminding you of half-remembered nights out gone by. In short, it’s good to be back.

Cross The Tracks (and the many other London day festivals that take place over the final weekend of May) has often felt like the starting gun for the summer, the first taste of a few months of live music bliss. This year, however, the omens weren’t looking good. After a few days of sunshine, Sunday was looking like a bit of a washout. Add to that the cancellation of the headliner, Erkyah Badu, after doors had already opened, and it would have been easy for the festival to have been somewhat of a misfire.

But, come our entrance to Brockwell Park, the sun is shining, and Badu’s replacements have, on the whole, enthused the crowd – Madlib and Freddie Gibbs are to take to the main stage for a last-minute repeat of their set from Friday’s Project 6 festival, and En Vogue promoted to headliner status. As we wander through the site, the sounds of reggae, funk and soul drift over us, and all seems to be well.

The order of the day was beautifully arranged modern soul, with standout sets from the likes of Jalen Ngonda, Thee Sacred Souls, and Lady Wray. Ngonda’s soaring alto voice is the star of his set, with tracks from his debut album Come Around and Love Me rapturously received, whilst Josh Lane – lead singer of Thee Sacred Souls – spends most of their set wandering through the crowd, looking like he was thoroughly enjoying himself.

The standout, though, comes courtesy of Canadian progressive jazz outfit BadBadNotGood, who take to a sunset slot on the main stage with aplomb. With no singer, a wholly instrumental set full of experimental flourishes and time signature changes might not be a first bet for a slam dunk. But nonetheless, the gently undulating groove the band leads us down is mesmerising, bolstered by the novel accompaniment of a film projector onstage – the projectionist feels like part of the band as he blends between various grainy, nostalgic-feeling reels of celluloid.

A brief glimpse of Madlib and Freddie Gibbs on the main stage reveals a duo who are totally in sync with one another and their delightfully maximalist approach to hip-hop – but perhaps not with the audience. The abrasiveness that makes Gibbs unique as a vocalist also stands him a world apart from the rest of the Cross The Tracks bill and there is a sense of the audience being jolted out of the jazzy reverie the rest of the day has provided, compounded by their mics being cut off and set cut short (a running theme on the main stage).

The lack of Erykah means that audiences have an alternative headline choice to make, and as tempting as the 90s pop R&B of En Vogue is, we opt for the dub wizardry of Dennis Bovell. The UK reggae pioneer seems pleasantly taken aback by the crowd he draws, and bashes through his hits (and many lesser known B-sides) for almost 2 hours, whilst delivering rambling stories of life spent in music between tracks.

Ultimately, Cross The Tracks 2024 does exactly what it needs to do – delivering a (mostly) sunny, blissed-out cocktail of jazz, funk, soul and reggae in the centre of Brixton on a Bank Holiday Sunday afternoon. It’s out of the festival’s hands, but the lack of a headliner is sorely felt – previous years topped by the likes of Anderson .Paak and Khruangbin stick out in comparison. Ultimately, however, it’s very hard to feel annoyed by any of that whilst you’re wandering around Brockwell Park to some of the sunniest music imaginable.  

featured image: Angela H

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