We should know by now to expect the unexpected from Stormzy. In a week when he was infamously mistaken for Manchester United signing Romelu Lukaku by an Irish newspaper, it seemed inevitable that the 23-year-old would use his headlining slot at Longitude on Friday night to make reference to the issue.
Yet the South Londoner opted instead not to add to his only public comment on the matter. “I don’t find none of this funny btw,” he tweeted on Monday as the story went viral on social media, “don’t wanna sound like the party pooper who missed the joke...”
Backstage, however, he made his anger known to the Irish media by banning press photographers from the front of the stage, allowing only Longitude’s festival photographers to take photos of him during his set.
Onstage, Stormzy instead focused on what was clearly an emotional occasion for him. “You’ve no idea how much this means to me. Oh my God. This is my first ever festival headline slot,” he said from the festival’s Main Stage. “Artists travel all around the world. And I swear to you on everything. I’m not even lying. Genuine from the bottom of my heart, I f**kin’ love Dublin. It’s my favourite city to play. I had my first show here in 2015, then Longitude last year and the first date on my album tour this year was in Dublin. And it was by far the best show of the tour. You can tell all the other cities I said that.”
Opening with First Things First from his number one debut album, Gang Signs and Prayer, Stormzy rattled through a startling set that flowed from a succession of grime bangers, including early releases Know Me From and Fire In The Booth, to silken R&B jams like Velvet, and ended with gospel track Blinded By Your Grace, with the Londoner joined on stage by Shannon Gospel Choir.
It crowned a day dominated by the explosion of exciting grime and pop artists coming out of London. Early on, Dave lit up the Main Stage, while grime godfather Wiley and the hip-hop, soul stylings of Loyle Carner shined on the Heineken Stage.
Carner bounded on with opener The Isle of Arran, its sample hook from The Lord Will Make A Way by the SCI Youth Choir, familiar to those who've heard Dr Dre's Compton LP. Clutching an Eric Cantona jersey throughout his set, in memory of his Manchester United-obsessed stepfather, the Londoner's unhurried delivery and soul-infused hip-hop was energised by what was being returned to him from the audience.
London dance-pop star Raye also fed off the Heineken Arena’s youthful vigour. The 19-year-old Londoner was so flabbergasted by the energy pouring back to her during her 3:30pm set that she remarked after just one song: “This is the best crowd I’ve ever f**kin played to. Oh my God. London gotta lot to learn.”
On the festival’s Main Stage, Dua Lipa drew the first huge crowd of the afternoon. As the fast-rising London pop princess tore into her smash hit Hotter Than Hell, the heavens seemed unable to resist the temptation to cool the capacity crowd of 35,000 with a light drizzle of rain.
Thankfully the threatened shower didn't materialise and the light ponchos that were hastily pulled over carefully put together festival outfits were just as quickly removed, allowing the audience to fully cut loose to pop hits such as Blow Your Mind (Mwah), Dreams and Scared To Be Lonely, her huge hit with Dutch DJ Martin Garrix.
It wasn’t just London pop, grime and hip-hop on show either, with US hip-hop represented by Californian G-Eazy and Atlanta’s Gucci Mane and Young Thug. It was the latter who impressed as he wheezed and rasped through cuts such as Riri from last year’s excellent Jeffrey mixtape, while G-Eazy’s dance-pop take on hip-hop was by contrast forgettable, his rhymes too full of lyrical clichés.
Irish acts were well represented with Co Kildare duo Picture This continuing to defy critics with their unstoppable rise. It was they, along with Stormzy, who were on the lips of most audience members as the “must-see” act of the day and it would be a fool to bet against them returning to headline next summer.
Elsewhere, Irish acts were largely on the festival's fringes on day one. Barq and Longford's Brave Giant opened the Main and Heineken stages respectively, while Irish DJS were well-represented by Sarah Mooney, Boots & Kats and Mix & Fairbanks on the Red Bull Stage.
This is the fifth Longitude festival and day one showed the event to have become a very different beast to that which was first staged in 2013. The age profile of the audience and the music genres drawing them in were the most evident distinctions. Yesterday’s audience was a good decade younger than that who witnessed sets by Kraftwerk, Vampire Weekend and Phoenix in 2013, with the crowd drawn in for Stormzy and Picture This almost entirely made up of 17- to 25-year-olds enjoying what for many was their first-ever festival.
Another contrast was the lack of guitar-led music. The sole outlier for rock and folk music on day one was the Whelan's Stage, which was by far the quietest corner of the festival. Irish acts such as Wild Youth, Bitch Falcon, Wyvern Lingo and Dermot Kennedy drew only a tiny section of the audience for their sets. While this could be largely down to their smaller profile in comparison to the international acts they were up against, it also signified a growing divining line for a generation of music fans.
The popularity of Ed Sheeran also seemed inescapable. While the audience that watched Stormzy on the Main Stage were mainly dancing, moshing and on their feet, there were also thousands stretched out on the grass on the festival's fringes, watching on. As Stormzy unleashed his remix of Sheeran's Shape of You, however, these masses suddenly rose to their feet and in a scene reminiscent of The Walking Dead proceeded to move towards the stage to bask in a pop slice from the biggest half-Irish star of the moment.