As a first-of-its-kind event in Europe given the outdoor location, MIK Festival was something easy to anticipate. Add to that a sleek-looking stage, flashy photo area and various food stalls that greeted audience members upon their arrival into Southwark Park, and expectations would undoubtedly rise.
Fortunately, the hip-hop day proved just why MIK was worth getting excited for, with a little bit of extra flair added in for good measure.
Opener pH-1 started proceedings strongly, feeding off the energy of a filling-up crowd which never really subsided in engagement for the entire day. Tracks like “Nerdy Love” felt tailor-made for the warm summer day and glided by with a seamless air of relaxation.
Muscling in a little bit of everything, including a showcase of an unreleased song, the H1GHR MUSIC star’s set had plenty of highlights in the 40 minutes afforded to him, leaving those who had arrived in the early afternoon heartily satisfied by the festival’s flavourful appetiser.
Following that, DOK2 brought with him an unflinchingly confident performance. Flanked by Puffy Santana, the duo was committed to their brand of hip-hop from minute one, navigating their way through cuts like “Beverly 1ills” with ease. Short but sweet, this showing was one worth getting in to see.
With that being said, when Jessi took the stage, everything seemed to get louder. An infectious personality, the 33-year-old carried herself as a bona fide star throughout her extended set, essentially turning a festival performance into a solo showcase that stretched past any given time constraints. Whether it was the loud, uncompromising “NUNU NANA,” or the Tik Tok famous “ZOOM,” the crowd bought into every second of action, eager to participate.
Amidst some really astute, humorous interactions with those in attendance between songs, it became clear that Jessi is an act clearly at home on stage, willing to ensure that everyone from diehard fans to casual listeners remain invested. “I’m a different type of beast,” she sings on “What Type of X,” a statement that doesn’t seem too far-fetched given the high-quality display offered here.
At the midpoint, Epik High proved why they’re widely regarded as legends of the Korean hip-hop game. A masterclass of refined showmanship, the wide-reaching setlist from the 20+ year veteran trio tapped into the new and old, while the often smile-raising moments of pre-song chatter allowed for an added bit of flavour.
Highlights included 2007’s easy singalong classic “Love Love Love” and 2012’s uplifting anthem “New Beautiful,” whereas fresher inclusions like “Face ID,” which powered through its runtime with help from an infectious bassline, kept things instantly accessible to newer onlookers.
Then, Lee Hi switched things up slightly, serving a necessary purpose as an act who shone in her honeyed vocal ability over anything else. With a welcome calmness, the emotional resonance of the rather stripped-back “ONLY,” in addition to surprises like an outing of the 25-year-old’s debut single “1, 2, 3, 4,” all felt strongly placed. Lee Hi may not fit the bill of hip-hop by the purest definition, but she more than belonged on the lineup.
Towards the tail end, Gray delivered a punchy performance packed full of his hits. A natural entertainer, the casually dressed multifaceted musician dispatched tracks of numerous different styles throughout his time slot, moving from the rhythm guitar-led, groove-tinged “Summer Night,” to the methodically melodious “TMI,” all the way to the defiantly passionate “I Don’t Love You” with ease.
Showing off his creative prowess in addition to his endearing crowd work, the man with one of the most recognisable producer tags in all of Korean music stepped into the London limelight confidently, comfortably, and memorably.
Penultimate act Loco was another standout, again working the packed audience into an excited frenzy. Mixing high-energy cuts like “OPPA” around the subtly danceable “Lemon” and the slower, resonant “It Takes Time,” the AOMG star had fun with his set, before further complementing his own solo work with collaborative performances alongside labelmates Gray and Lee Hi. It was harder not to move when “We Are” blasted through the speakers, its self-assured earworm of a chorus an adept singalong point for any music fan.
Finally, came Jay Park. Backed by extremely talented backup dancers, the 35-year-old steamed through a jam-packed set with plenty of fanfare, blending his R&B and rap output seamlessly. It wasn’t long into the performance that the audience was greeted by the synth-led “All I Wanna Do,” along with other strong tracks from the EVERYTHING YOU WANTED record in “Me Like Yuh” and “Yacht.” Sleek new single “Need to Know” sounded solid here too, as did the popular, colourful guitar-centred pop offering “GANADARA.”
Topped off by a typically engrossing performance of “MOMMAE,” before Loco and Gray reentered for the climax of “Who You,” Jay Park proved why he has such a large reputation at MIK, serving up a tightly rehearsed, plenty engaging headline show.
All in all, MIK’s hip-hop day was an undeniable success, showcasing acts not regularly seen in the UK with plenty of space for them to breathe. Enjoyable from start to finish, it’d be a real shame if this doesn’t end up as an annual festival.