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Hackney Weekend 2012 Review: Rihanna, Professor Green, Plan B, Azealia Banks & Florence Wow

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On the day that England crashed predictably out of the European Championship in Ukraine, the heart of English football was bearing witness to a far more uplifting scene at the Hackney Weekend.

Hackney Marshes, the fields in North East London normally used to nuture the country's future Premier League stars, was the location chosen by Radio 1 to host the biggest music event in their calendar, a free two-day concert boasting an A-list of pop stars from the UK and America.

After a Saturday that saw Jay-Z nail the headline set with a little help from MIA and Kanye West (not to mention a certain Rihanna), it had begun to feel like the show was going to be stolen by American imports - particularly when you consider that the day's other highlight was watching Jack White and his band embark on a series of brilliantly sporadic jams over on the In New Music We Trust stage.

rihanna
Rihanna performs at the Hackney Weekend

But Sunday was a chance for the British talent to shine, and shine they did.

He's far too cool to make a big thing of it, but the delight written all over opener Professor Green's face told it's own story. Playing a homecoming gig playing to a giant crowd, who else in the lineup could open a song with the line 'welcome to Hackney'? In an energetic set he showed us both sides to Pro Green - the cheeky, 80s pop song sampler of I Need You Tonight and the more hard-edged rapper on the dubstep-inspired Jungle. Sometimes it's hard to know exactly what kind of musician he wants to be, but today it doesn't matter - he's all Hackney.

Plan B on the other hand is an entirely reformed character. It would seem churlish to mention his past as an angry MC rapping about necrophilia if it weren't for the fact that the festival featured so much hip hop, I half expected Ben Drew to get in on the act and start spitting out some highlights from Who Needs Actions When You Got Words. Instead we got material from his Strickland Banks era - tight jazzy numbers accompanied by a human beatboxer who stole the show, as masters of that particular mind-bending art tend to.

As Jessie J took to the main stage, there was just enough time to catch Santigold over on the In New Music... stage. The name of the stage is a little misleading considering she's onto her second album, but no matter, her chilled reggae fusion hits the spot, as does her brilliant outfit. Jessie, meanwhile, is doing what Jessie does: hitting the high notes and enthusing about the day with the stage school charisma that is quickly propelling her to national treasure status.

jessie j
Jessie J performed on Sunday

The real highlight in terms of new talent then takes place on the 1Xtra Stage, where American rapper Azealia Banks storms through one of the weekend's most impressive sets. Any lingering concerns that she might be a one hit wonder are swiftly eliminated - by the time you hear the unmistakable opening beats to 212, the single that made her name in the US and abroad, she's already won over a frantic crowd. She has the looks and charm of Rihanna but with some crucial hip hop credibility - she should be huge.

Back to the best of British and Florence + the Machine are the band lucky enough to take to the stage just as the sun begins to burn bright for the first time all day. Remarkably, it's been four years since Lungs first introduced the world to Flo but somehow her and her band still sound like something brand new. They manage to be uplifting and haunting all at once, and even from the back Welch's voice is beautiful to witness live.

florence
Florence played as the sun finally came out on Sunday

All that remains then is for Rihanna to close the day. The biggest pop star in the world treats the crowd to a greatest hits set, kindly informing everyone that they "rock". Jay-Z returned the favour by joining his protege on stage for a few songs, bringing down the curtain on a fantastic two days.

So much could have gone wrong with the Hackney Weekend. The weather ruined festivals elsewhere in the country, and the metal detectors on the way in gave the event an unwelcome edgy feel on the way in. But inside, the vibe was perfect as adults, teenagers and children mingled happily to watch what was unquestionably the year's most impressive pop festival line-up. No floods, no knifing, no riots. Just a lot of free fun. Well done Radio 1.

Rihanna, Jay-Z, Will.i.am and Co at Radio One Hackney Weekend
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