Arriving at Leazes Park for the first ever Tower Fest I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Getting people to hip-hop events in Newcastle is difficult at the best of times, never mind when you’re asking people to come along to an outdoor event and stand for nine hours when it’s pouring down – despite it being free and boasting a line up filled with some of the top names in the North East. Thankfully, the weather let up after a few hours and despite a few hiccups, Tower Fest 2018 was one of the most entertaining hip-hop events I’ve been at in a long time.
Due to start at 12, the live music didn’t end up kicking off until about two due to a delay in stage set up – however this didn’t affect the day all that much, artists dropping out meant that the festival was still running just about on time. The first acts on were younger musicians, products of the youth development charity CHAT Trust; acts like Cameron Sparks, Two Twice and Kay Supreme & Sebastenelli all showed maturity beyond their years – with the youngest of the acts, Cameron, holding his own despite having the pressure of opening up the entire festival.
“Smile for the Camera” rapper Reali-T was the first to really own the stage. His performance oozed confidence and charisma – when you can tell an artist is really feeling their own performance, you start feeling it too, and that’s exactly what Reali-T brought. The Hackney born MC was on top of his game, with a guest appearance from frequent collaborator Naughty40 being the icing on the cake of what was a top drawer set.
Grime duo NE Dons followed Reali-T with the same confidence and on par execution, but after experiencing the intensity of their set at an intimate venue like World Headquarters or even the O2 Academy 2, the outdoor Tower Fest stage felt a little disconnected – plus there just wasn’t enough people in the crowd ready to match the hyped-up energy of the Dons’ set.
The newly formed duo of 90Bro and Max Gavins AKA RuMaz were next up. Arguably veterans of the scene in their own right, 90 and Gavins seem to click with a tangible chemistry when they’re performing together – their beats feel fresh, their flows feel fresh and their performance felt refreshing as they got amongst the crowd. Adding a touch of class to their set, RuMaz took a minute out to pay tribute to Mac Miller after his recent passing, with Max encouraging the crowd to sing along to the first minute of Mac’s classic track “Best Day Ever”.
ZICO MC’s set ended up being crashed by a surprise guest – his son! The “Dancehall Style” rapper performed his entire set accompanied by his young boy, in what was a heart-warming moment the two danced and sang together, bringing smiles to everyone’s faces whilst really encompassing the ‘family friendly’ vibe of the fest. Despite having to play on stage babysitter, ZICO still smashed the set with his signature upbeat dancehall vs dub style vocals that never fail to get a crowd moving.
A veteran of the North East hip-hop scene, Rex Regis was another artist that brought his A game. With Tower Fest being a ‘family friendly’ event, the normally explicit, tongue in cheek lyricist did well to adapt and censor his tracks without them losing any edge. Rex treat the ever-growing crowd to some new tracks from his upcoming – and potentially final – album ‘Parting Gift’; describing the album as the most ‘experimental’ body of work he’s ever put out, Rex showed his ability on a grime beat with “Well Aye ‘Wor Kid’”, leaving us excited to hear what else he’s got in his bag of tricks for the album.
Nearing the end of the day, Newcastle’s favourite busking rapper NATO was tasked with injecting some much needed energy into the lagging fest goers. Quickly drawing the largest crowd of the day so far, NATO’s performance was all about engaging the fans; some artists like to go up, smash out their performance and leave, regardless if the crowd give a shit or not, but not NATO – NATO feeds off crowd reaction. Shouting along to hooks of songs that some of them had only just heard for the first time, it was clear NATO had succeeded in lighting up the festival once again.
With the sun going down, it was apt that the upbeat tone of the day would get darker thanks to the duo of E-Mence and Claymore. The Wearside grown rappers came with one of the most intense sets of the day, spitting bars filled with aggression and horrorcore inspired imagery – “Bloodshed” rounded off their set in the most dramatic way possible, both rappers stood next to each other screaming their hearts out, bringing an atmosphere more akin to a metal gig than a hip-hop show.
Overall, Tower Fest 2018 felt like a success despite the odd bumps and delays throughout the day – most can be put down to first event hiccups. The artists that did turn up put on some of the best performances I’ve seen from those individuals – however, last minute replacement acts that weren’t on the bill took away from the event’s spark; arguably it’s a good thing to have as much live music as possible, to give more local artists a platform, but when the act is having to play tracks using their mobile, which is then interrupted by a phone call mid-song, it isn’t a good look for the act or event.
Hopefully this is the start of something big for the region with Tower Fest, fingers crossed it comes back year with even more top upcoming talent!