‘Fire In The Booth’ has long since become a staple of the UK rap scene, Charlie Sloth having amassed over 500 sessions across both BBC 1xtra and Beats 1 since its inception. The premise of the series is a simple one: rappers enter the studio to prove their worth as lyricists over a myriad of instrumentals as Sloth slams his finger against his soundboard accordingly. On air, the entertainer is a firework, ready to explode at any moment after being lit by a particularly fire verse or bar. Returning MCs’ videos are marked as numbered parts that help to weave together a narrative that the audience can follow and this, coupled with Sloth’s unmatched energy, can make a new ‘Fire In The Booth’ feel like an event.
2019’s ‘Fire In The Park’ was an attempt at bottling the excitement incited by a new ‘Fire In The Booth’ and letting it spill out into an actual event all over Sheffield’s Ponderosa Park. The one-day festival featured appearances from the likes of Nafe Smallz, Big Tobz and the landlord himself, Giggs, who fittingly served as the headline act. Throughout the day, artists, DJs, and hosts alike would reiterate that this year’s festival was the first-ever ‘Fire In The Park’ and that the day was a historic one.
The nascent festival was let down somewhat by the surprisingly short sets, with each act only performing a handful of tracks, mainstage headliners such as Polo G and Yxng Bane being no exception. The brevity of each performance was something of a double-edged sword. In some instances, the short set times barely allowed enough time for lesser-known artists like Mic Righteous and Big Heath to win over the consistently difficult crowd. Mic Righteous, in particular, had showmanship in spades but it proved not to be enough to enamor the audience. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that ‘Fire In The Park’ fell outside of what is typically considered to be a festival season, but the crowd were oftentimes static during performances by artists whose tunes they weren’t familiar with.
As far as curation for the lineup goes, when putting together future installments of the festival, Sloth and co may want to consider the fact that there were instances in which the crowd were more engaged by DJs playing Stormzy’s “Vossi Bop” through the monitors than they were for some of the artists that were actually present. When speaking to RWD mag, the presenter said that the idea behind the festival was to bolster homegrown talent and while he was certainly successful in doing so, some of the said talent coming from less commercially visible corners of the UK rap scene meant that at times, the awkwardness in the crowd was palpable when an unfamiliar face took the stage.
While the shortness of the sets proved to be a hindrance for some, artists higher up on the bill were able to use the time they were allotted to captivate the crowd. Yungen proved his worth as both an MC and a performer, being in the minority that delivered their raps without being carried by their own backing vocal track. His energy was boundless during his “One Take” freestyle and he led the crowd through a rendition of “Bestie” like a true showman. D-Block Europe took crowd participation to the next level, inviting a fan on stage to perform “Home” with them and had the set been live-streamed on BBC iPlayer, the kid would likely have some kind of brand deal by now.
Jay1 indisputably made the most of his time on the mainstage. His stage presence was so effortless and commanding that he was able to twist an interruption brought on by a brief skirmish in the crowd into an opportunity for wheel up. He had an air of cool confidence about him as he guided the crowd through tunes like “Your Mrs” and “Mocking It” which enabled him to get the oftentimes difficult crowd on his side. His was a set that revealed the full potential of what ‘Fire In The Park’ could be; when the artists are armed with not only stage presence but star power and well-loved tunes, things will undoubtedly liven up.
Charlie Sloth’s own set and ‘Fire In The Booth’ live proved to be the highlights of the night. Unknown P bursting onto the stage and asking the crowd to make some noise if their parents were middle class before being escorted off stage was darkly humorous. Wretch 32 and Avelino were some of the special guests that remained shrouded in mystery until the day and the performance of their acclaimed 2015 ‘Fire In The Booth’ was a welcome surprise, although it did beg the question as to why the pair weren’t simply given their own main stage sets.
‘Fire In The Park’ hit its apex when Giggs made his way onto the main stage. His entrance was heralded by Sloth rallying the crowd into repeated chants of “Holl-ow, Holl-ow” — it’s worth noting that it took a few attempts to get all of the crowd chanting loud enough for the landlord himself to come out. Giggs’ headline set was painfully short but packed with enough certified heaters that it hardly mattered. He treated the crowd to verses from notable features including JME’s “Man Don’t Care,” which set the crowd ablaze and as the opening bars of Drake’s “KMT” rang through the speakers, the screams were deafening. “Talking Da Hardest” naturally incited chaos and a number of wheel ups and as Giggs bounded around the stage, in his headline set, he further cemented the idea that the festival could benefit from including more bonafide stars of UK rap.
Ultimately, ‘Fire In The Park’ 2019 was a good time despite the fact that it sported the blemishes of being the first of its kind. At times, it felt as though it was more of a showcase and less of a festival, with the aforementioned short sets and each performance being broken up by the always energetic Sideman. While he hyped up the audience with ease, each performance being broken up by his antics sapped all of the suspense that can actually help to enhance the audience’s excitement as they wait for the next act.
A UK music festival dedicated to spotlighting the country’s finest MCs is an excellent idea on paper but ‘Fire In The Park’ is clearly still in an embryonic stage. Were there more stages that artists of different profiles could be more appropriately dispersed across, you might find that less commercial artists would be met with better reception. With some structural reform, ‘Fire In The Park’ could go on to be something truly amazing for the UK’s thriving music scene.