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Live Review: Carnival Magnifico
Music Critic Greg Woodin reviews Carnival Magnifico 2018 at the newly opened B5 Arena
The Magnifico team really did come up trumps when they decided to move this year’s Carnival from Boxxed to the newly-established B5 Arena, whose inaugural outing was last week’s Birmingham Pride. In fact, the Pride banner was still hung proudly above the site entrance as streams of be-sequinned ravers flooded through into the Sunset Disco Yard, and the kaleidoscopic rainbow of colours on display made the event seem almost like Pride’s spiritual successor. It was immediately obvious how crucial this venue change was: not only could the new site take more people, but its general ‘newness’ meant that it felt a bit like uncharted territory. All of this definitely made the afternoon more memorable. I couldn’t help but feel a slight pang of sadness at the memory of the now-deceased Rainbow Arena, but time marches inexorably onwards… However, the venue will be making a comeback as the Digbeth Arena under the control of Bristol-based concert promoters MJR Group.
“The outside sound system did unfortunately suffer from a lack of clarity, but this didn’t really matter at first
Another key decision by the Magnifico team was making this summer’s instalment a daytime event, which meant that we happy ravers could bounce along to the tunes while basking in the warmth of the sun – which, let’s be honest, makes everything better. It’s impossible to underestimate the power of the elements in determining whether or not an outdoor event will be truly successful, and fortunately the weather we enjoyed this year was worlds away from the now-legendary monsoon of 2017. The sun made all the garish (some might say ‘shit’) shirts and barely-there outfits make sense, like we really were in Rio rather than in some industrial space in the middle of Digbeth. If anything, it was a little too hot, but that’s a classically British complaint.
The venue quickly filled up and the crowds made the heat a little overbearing, but the bass was thumping and looking around it was clear that everyone was in high spirits. The outside sound system did unfortunately suffer from a lack of clarity, but this didn’t really matter at first: as long as there was a beat to dance to and drinks to be drunk, no one seemed to mind (though there was a conspicuous absence of wine). But as the day went on, the overpowering bass presence meant that the stylistic differences between Salary Boy, Lukas Wigflex and Crazy P became somewhat muddied, resulting in a slight feeling of monotony throughout.
As a result, revellers began to gravitate towards the indoor B5 Carnival Arena, which resembled a makeshift aircraft hangar. This stage provided some respite from the heat, with open entrances on either side that allowed a refreshing breeze to circulate throughout the venue. It was a relief to find out that movement between the indoor and outdoor spaces wasn’t restricted, which made the event far more relaxed and easier to navigate. It was much less stressful to know that a decision to head inside wasn’t a long-term commitment and wouldn’t involve lengthy queueing times, and it was easy enough to flit between the two spaces. None of this caused any problems and, in this respect especially, the event was extremely well-run.
Inside there was more of a main stage feel – festival vibes, you might say – and it was nearly time for headline act Gentleman’s Dub Club to step up for a live set replete with guitars, trumpets, drums and all the trimmings. I’ll admit that dub isn’t really my bag, but the group impressed with a series of seriously head-bopping reggae-fusion bangers that got the crowd moving and took the energy levels up a notch. Frontman Jonathan Scratchley’s enthusiasm was infectious and it was clear to see how much he enjoyed being up on stage, showing off his versatility with a mix of traditional reggae vocals and more dexterous emcee work. GDC were the triumphant stand-out highlight of the event, doing justice to their headline status.
“Frontman Jonathan Scratchley’s enthusiasm was infectious and it was clear to see how much he enjoyed being up on stage,
Next up was New York Transit Authority, who was to perform a ‘carnival set’, which evidently meant branching out from his dark, bass-laden habitat to explore brighter but nevertheless hard-hitting sounds. We had crowd favourites such as Redlight and Ms Dynamite’s ‘What You Talking About?!’ as well as some reggae-d’n’b mash-ups, with the hype levels escalating throughout his set. As the crowd began to flag from being on their feet for hours, the intensity only increased, more or less forcing those ravers taking a break on the outskirts up onto their feet to start dancing again. This culminated in an incendiary drum and bass set from Krakota, aided by MC AD, who worked the crowd with the skill befitting an emcee of his experience. All told, it was explosive stuff.
The B5 Arena has breathed new life into the popular Carnival Magnifico brand, and in a big way. By far, this was the most successful event the Carni team have hosted since its debut back in 2016, and it owes a lot to this exciting new space. The B5 Arena is symbolic of the local scene’s ability to adapt in the face of adversity, to innovate in spite of government attacks on dance culture. Here’s hoping that this exciting new venue will continue to be used for these kinds of mini-festival events – and more importantly, that the local scene will continue striving to Make Birmingham Great Again.