While many European cities’ gay Pride events seem only to get bigger, London’s has become a shadow of its former self. Where once the capital’s gay community would take over a London park with an array of club tents and live acts for one of the biggest parties of the year, the focus is now much more on celebrating the cultural side of gay life. As such, club promoters Orange Nation – the minds behind London club nights such as Beyond, Orange, A:M, Later, Deelooded and Gravity – saw a gap in the market and took their As One night, held since 2010 at Vauxhall's Fire, to Victoria Park.
The organisers must have been punching the air on Sunday morning, as the sun decided to make a guest appearance for the inaugural As One in the Park and stayed for the whole event. It probably made a huge difference to the turn out, but even then, while the atmosphere was buzzing and there were plenty of people around, this fledgling festival didn’t feel full to capacity.
Potential punters might have been put off by the overly chart-pop line-up. The first talking point of the afternoon was infamous X Factor contestant Rylan, who injected even more camp into the likes of Psy’s Gangnam Style and the Spice Girls, and then talked a lot as well to a generally bemused crowd.
He was later followed by fellow X Factor alumni Union J, who did a bunch of covers and shamelessly aped every 90s boyband cliché they could. One Direction won’t be concerned about the competition.
In-between the X Factor re-run, though, As One in the Park capitalised on unexpectedly making headlines the other week by getting former foe Helen Mirren to come on stage and introduce the Batala London drummers. It was all a far cry from her storming out of Gielgud Theatre in full dress as the Queen to berate the drummers outside promoting the festival. She did, though, still complain the music was “too loud”.
Aside from the main stage, As One had a host of dance tents that made a reasonable attempt to represent the diversity of London’s gay scene. From cabaret at Madame Jo Jo’s to the female-centric FindHrr Girls Arena and the unfortunately tucked away Popstarz bandstand, there was, as they say, something for everyone. But easily the most popular area was the Circuit Arena tent, packed out with primped and preened muscle boys and playing host to a number of DJs including Roger Sanchez and Boy George, the latter of whom drew a large crowd with his pleasing, straightforward house set.
Back on the main stage Katy B did her best to bring some class to the proceedings. Dressed down in jeans with just two dancers backing her up, she’s one of the most laidback performers you’ll see. And yet she’s both compelling and able to whip a crowd into a frenzy. It’s mostly down to the tunes. While breakout hit On A Mission is sounding a little stale now, bigger hits such as Lights On and her collaboration with Magnetic Man, Perfect Stranger, sound incredible in the sunshine. Even less familiar music from her recent Danger EP has the crowd unable to resist, and she cleverly introduces Jessie Ware duet Aaliyah by singing a mash-up of songs by the pop star with whom that song shares a name.
Holly Johnson felt a little incongruous in the Top 40-heavy line-up, and the poor showing of audience members reflected that. Undeterred, he and his impressive band ploughed through a bunch of lesser-known songs before bringing out the big guns. Solo hits Love Train and Americanos met with bemusement, but Frankie Goes To Hollywood classics such as Relax and The Power of Love finally got the crowd excited.
You got the feeling most were merely getting a good spot for headliner Rita Ora, however. Wearing a bobble baseball cap and disconcerting trousers with a face on, she looked every inch the pop star compared to the more casual Katy B. The crowd, by now pumped up after a few hours at the festival, showed their appreciation as she ran through hits such as Hot Right Now and How We Do (Party), the latter song’s refrain “party and bullshit and party and bullshit” ringing out across the park long after the song’s end.
That Rita Ora’s decent enough but hardly mind-blowing performance seemed like the highlight of the day goes to show that As One needs to up its line-up game for next year. But the fact that the crowd still seemed to be having an awful lot of fun in the sun says that this festival has got huge potential to run and run.