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Review: Axwell /\ Ingrosso at Alexandra Palace, London, 6th June

Setting the standard for big-room EDM ad previewing the Ushuaïa Ibiza parties ahead.

Perched on a hillside, Alexandra Palace is an imposing building that offers commanding views of an island's capital. It has capacity for a shade over 10,000 clubbers in an aircraft-hanger sized main room. Lines of cars, taxis and buses wind their way towards it along the surrounding roads, but the steady stream of clubbers have to make their way on foot up the last stretch. They're headed, of course, to Privilege. No, wait! It's actually London's Alexandra Palace, but the similarities with Ibiza's struggling grand dame are manifest and by booking artists with the drawing power and big-room sound of Axwell and Sebastian Ingrosso there's a lesson to be learned from Saturday's performance in how to work a huge space such as this.

There's no denying, the Swedish duo are a very big deal right now: headlining festivals around the world, releasing hit after hit (all of which seemed to get an airing in a jam-packed two hour set on Saturday) and continuing to roadblock Playa d'en Bossa on Wednesday evenings with their performances at Ushuaïa. There's not many acts around who can fill a cavernous building like Ally Pally with both people and a spectacle, with Axwell and Ingrosso in fine form, not only was it filled, they damn near took the roof off.

A healthily diverse crowd of young and old packed the Great Hall out early and was peppered with packs of South-of-the-river lads sporting buttoned-up polos and neat side-partings, glammed-up, out-of-towner dolly birds (Spotlight was reliably informed that London women would never wear heels that high when clubbing, too painful), and mid-30s couples, stood at the back, enjoying an evening away from the kids. There was a crackle in the air as Otto Knows warmed things up, finishing his set off with his own Next To Me before handing over to Robin Schulz, who many may be more familiar with for sound-tracking their BBQs and trips to the beach last summer. The German producer du jour ran through his summer-tinged hits and the crowd cheered appreciatively as the opening bars of his remix of Waves, or his own Sun Goes Down washed over them. He kept things interesting with a couple of nice bootlegs (Clean Bandit's Rather Be, a highlight) and didn't outstay his welcome with a crowd who were by the end of his set ready for the main event. So, warm-up complete and on to the darkened stage stepped a couple of silhouetted figures, cheers of anticipation and expectation rolled out from the crowd, they were ready…

Ah, just the technical crew setting up. For 15 minutes. Better get a quick beer in now so we don't miss the start, good idea. Except it's the same good idea everyone else has had. Fortunately, the bar staff were ready and chopping through the orders, just in time too, as now, after what seemed an age, they were really ready…

WHAM! Soundsystem up to max, lights on full blast and Axwell and Ingrosso kick things off with Barricade, an unreleased track of tremendous power that after a huge build has the crowd in full fist-pumping euphoria. A giant screen behind the duo shows some truly stunning images of bodies emerging from fog to crash against it; a great start and full credit to the team who created the visuals as they were top notch here and throughout the set. Credit also goes to the sound crew for wringing as much power and clarity as they could out of a soundsystem which was fine but not awesome; there was a bit of muddiness in the lower ends but that's to be expected at a venue with a soundsystem not designed exclusively for clubbing.

What then followed this kick-off was a relentless, sensory assault for the next hour. Big track after big track, hints of past hits emerging then disappearing into the next before returning in full voice later in the set. Builds, drops and riffs set to synchronised lasers and ear-popping fireworks all pummelled a rapturous crowd who erupted as old favourites and new bangers were greeted with cheers and beers flying through the air.

Thank goodness then for a break on the hour mark as the pair slowed things down a fraction before ramping up again for the second half. With a new album on the way, there was plenty of exposure of tracks from it: Dream Bigger and Something New, both vocally-driven tunes, led to joyous, mass sing-a-longs; as did closers Sun Is Shining and Don't You Worry Child. The crowd lapped it up in what contributed to a festival-like atmosphere, in a festival-sized venue. The energy was remarkable and no wonder the whole set lasted just two hours, an extended workout would have left everyone exhausted instead of baying for more by its end.

The lesson of how to make a room that size work was certainly given on Saturday. Here's hoping that amongst the hordes of fans who barrelled out into the London night after Axwell and Ingrosso took their bow, there were one or two scouts from Ibiza's own hilltop clubbing fortress who learned it and can restore a much-loved old lady to her former glory.

Catch Axwell & Ingrosso headlining the Cream stage at Creamfields UK on Sunday the 30th of August.

WORDS | Andrew Fulker PHOTOGRAPHY | Robert Stainforth

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