Every September, crowds swarm London’s Roundhouse for 30 days in hopes of seeing some of the best in music. So many unique genres and a wide variety of artists take Camden’s Roundhouse stage for a month-long celebration of music.
Pop, rap, classical, folk and legendary icons are all represented during the month. Indeed, the iTunes festival has successfully created a platform and a place where it’s normal to see the iconic Elton John one night and rapper Kendrick Lamar the next, followed up by the king of pop, Justin Timberlake or folk-rockers of The Lumineers next. It’s undoubtedly a celebration of music across all platforms.
Originating in 2007, the iTunes festival (sponsored by Apple, Inc.) has gained a massive presence through the years. The diversity of a city like London – specifically, its’ eclectic borough of Camden – provides the perfect backdrop for the festival. Highly coveted tickets are given away for free to UK fans and Apple users through prize-draw competitions and applications.
Week one of this years’ festival featured a wide-range of performers with one common thread – they each know how to put on an amazing show.
It was quickly evident that Lady Gaga had plans to prove herself Sunday night, as she took the stage of Camden’s Roundhouse. After months of being out of the musical spotlight, Gaga kicked off the month-long concert series, previewing new ARTPOP tracks.
After suffering a broken hip, the Roundhouse gig served as an optimal opportunity for a comeback performance. Taking the stage 25 minutes late, Gaga opened with new ARTPOP track, ‘Aura.’
From inside a cage suspended high in the air, Gaga flew over the audience, belting out lyrics “Do you wanna see the girl who lives behind the aura?” Gaga’s opening set the tone for the rest of the evening, as themes of her personal transformation and taking off the makeup and costumes were common throughout her new material. Yes, Gaga’s new album is based around ideas of revealing a true sense of self. She continued the transformation theme in a literal sense as well, with several of her costume changes taking place onstage and giving fans an insight into what actually happens behind the curtains.
In a more emotive moment – and a nice break from the pink confetti showers, glittery attire and strobe lights – Gaga spoke to the roaring crowd as if they were all her best friends. “This is my real hair,” she said, taking off a towering mass of blonde curls and revealing a short black crop. “I used wigs for a long time to become different people. When I didn’t feel strong enough to be me.”
She went on, further explaining her motives behind the new album. “In order to grow, I knew I had to show you what’s underneath all the theatre…so here I am,” she said. Flying pigs, psychedelic glowing drum sticks and grafiti-inspired canvases thrown into the crowd were all part of her debut of ‘Swine.’
Next performing ‘I Wanna Be With You,’ Gaga broke into tears at her piano, explaining to the audience that she wrote the song after being forced to cancel the rest of her Born This Way tour. “I’ve been waiting so long to play this for you,” she said as the crowd broke out in waves of cheering.
True to her revolution theme, Gaga seems less fixated on creating pop singles and topping the charts. Instead, she’s mixing art and pop, creating a new form of expression and cultural blending. “We belong, don’t we? And when we’re in this space together, we make the most beautiful thing – we make love. Maybe my dream can come true. And maybe art and pop can belong, too.”
Day two of London’s iTunes festival marked a tremendous musical contrast from Gaga’s opening night. Coming straight from a headlining performance at End of the Road festival, Sigur Ros offered a highly magical and other-worldly show.
Hailing from Reykjavik, Iceland, the rockers of Sigur Ros possess a newly fierce sound that seems ever-present in tracks from their 2013 release, Kveikur. While still maintaining their ethereal instrumentation mixed with frontman Jonsi Birgisson’s iconic falsetto vocals, there’s a new darkness to the latest Kveikur tracks.
Creating a sense of urgency in a live setting through these heavier feeling songs, Sigur Ros showcased their rock influences beautifully at London’s Roundhouse. Filing onto a dark stage, lit only by small bare lightbulbs and littered with a vast assortment of instruments, the band quickly took away the Roundhouse audience of 3,000 – the smallest UK venue they’ve played in in quite awhile.
They created an immediate vastness and presence taking the stage (ten members strong), picking up instruments and beginning to play without any hesitation. These Icelanders do not waste time speaking between songs – in fact, there was only one moment of dialogue in the two hour set, as lead singer Birgisson commented, “Thank you. Thank you for coming to see us.” They allowed the music to speak for itself.
From the very beginning, the audience seemed transfixed. As Birgisson began his signature guitar-bowing, all eyes were on him. He stood unwavering, belting out the Icelandic lyrics in his heavily falsetto range. The emotion of each track was easily translated and felt, and the feeling never felt adrift in the language.
Incorporating classic aesthetics – beautiful globe lights and naturalistic photography backdrops in soft blues and greens – they created a minimalistic atmosphere that never overpowered or took attention away from the music. Instead, it showcased the authenticity of such a multi-dimensional band.
The multiplicity of Sigur Ros allows this band to create an incredible range of sounds, as many members play various instruments – often leaving the drums to play the keys or abandoning the electric guitar for the more eclectic xylophone.
Playing five tracks in a row from Kveikur, the band also made time for fan favorites. Birgisson began “Festival” alone, with the others joining him onstage as his soft solo grew into a wailing roar. Another favorite, “Hoppipolla” resulted in a 3,000-person strong sing-along, causing the usually strong and still postured Birgisson to move head to the beat and urge the audience to clap along.
Sigur Ros is a band that should be experienced live. The intensity felt on all of their recorded material is amplified even further on-stage. For the small crowd of lucky ticket-holders, the magic Sigur Ros made that evening in an eclectic corner of central London will not soon be forgotten.
Denver, Co. natives The Lumineers showed London much more of what they have to offer than the ever-popular “Ho Hey” on Tuesday night. After a summer spent playing festivals at home and across Europe, the band headlined the iTunes festival – known for hosting some of music’s best in the world.
Opening day three of the festival with ‘Submarines’ from their self-titled studio album, the charming folk-rockers won the crowd over from the beginning. They took the stage with a casual confidence, making London’s Roundhouse feel more like an intimate living room concert than a crowd of 3,000. Everyone was on their feet immediately, dancing and swaying along as the band urged them on.
New York’s Grand Central Station and an American flag provided the initial backdrop, making it clear that the audience was in for a night filled with rootsy, Americana style folk.
Performance highlights included a cover of “Ain’t Nobody’s Problem” where lead singer and guitarist Wesley Schultz lead the audience in a sing-along. Starting “Ho Hey” acoustically and unplugged created another sing-along moment, as the band took to the microphones to belt out the familiar chorus.
Another highlight was The Lumineers singing on a makeshift stage in the middle of the Roundhouse. Walking through the crowd with guitars and instruments held high in the air, the band found their way to a platform of wooden crates. Urging the audience to put away their phones, Shultz asked for everyone to simply “be here with us, right now.”
Playing tracks “Darlene” and “Elouise” among the crowd was a highly memorable moment – complete with flying tambourines and a miniature xylophone solo by drummer Jeremiah Fraites, as pianist Stelth Ulvang provided accordion accompaniment and barefoot non-stop grooving.
Cellist Neyla Pekarek’s vocals shined in a new track titled “Falling” – an acoustic duet shared with Shultz. Playing an encore of three tracks and finishing with “Big Parade,” The Lumineers proved to be as infectious and charming as always.
You can check out the festival through the iTunes app, where you can stream the concerts for free. Performances are available through iTunes, Apple TV and via the iTunes official app.