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6 of the best bits from 6 Music Festival's big new sets for 2021

This year’s 6 Music Festival may be slightly different from what we're all used to. But even without dancing punters and sweaty crowds, we're still bringing you a plethora of new performances that will remind you just how great live music can be.

With stunning sets from Michael Kiwanuka and Laura Marling, as well as up-and-coming artists like Dry Cleaning and Black Country, New Road and Poppy Ajudha, here are some of the best bits from the brand-new sets.

1. A hero's homecoming

Growing up virtually next door to Ally Pally, Michael Kiwanuka’s set is something of a homecoming triumph for the North London songwriter, who was raised in nearby Muswell Hill. In a spectacularly cosy looking cardigan, Kiwanuka takes the top slot in his stride, casually belting out tracks from his 2020 Mercury Prize winning album ‘Kiwanuka’, including ‘You Ain’t The Problem’ and ‘Hero’.

Look out for his gorgeous vintage acoustic Gibson guitar – which goes by the name of Beyoncé, no less – and a soaring take on ‘Piano Joint (This Kind of Love)’ as well as 2016’s ‘Cold Little Heart’ and ‘Love & Hate’. A masterclass.

2. Folk’s finest turns in a career-spanning set

Laura Marling has got used to playing audience-less venues over the past 12 months. With her own streamed shows from London’s Union Chapel and a set in a deserted Glastonbury field in place of the 2020 edition of the festival, now comes a showstopping solo 6 Music Festival set.

Not that Marling lets the small matter of no crowd bother her. In fact, there’s something dazzling about watching the storied songwriter alone in a room, her powerful voice floating above finger picked acoustic guitar with absolutely zero distractions.

As well as the title track of last year’s Grammy-nominated ‘Song For Our Daughter’, Marling also delivers pitch perfect takes on ‘What He Wrote’ from 2011’s ‘I Speak Because I Can’ ‘Once’ from 2013’s ‘Once I Was An Eagle’, making for a flawless and career-spanning set.

3. A tops-off triumph

Off the back of their brilliant second album, ‘Drunk Tank Pink’, shame’s claim to being one of the most exciting young bands around has certainly stuck. The top half of frontman Charlie Steen’s natty boilersuit doesn’t last five minutes before being torn from his chest during the band’s fast and furious opener, ‘March Day’.

If there was a crowd, you’d expect the bleached blonde Steen to dive headfirst right into them. As it is, he does the next best thing and crouches by the end of the stage before stalking the edge and fixing on the middle distance with a million mile glare. Think Iggy Pop by way of Sleaford Mods.

The rest of the band are no slouches either – keep your eyes open for some serious guitar acrobatics and an epic light show during a clattering ‘6/1’.

4. One foot in the rave

Belfast boys Bicep do what they do best and bring some serious party energy to Ally Pally. If the lights weren’t so low you’d assume there were thousands of bodies dancing about the duo’s in-the-round set as they dish up their trademark moody and melancholic bangers, taken from new album ‘Isles’.

The closest any of us have come to being in a club for a whole year, the duo’s high energy set will have you thinking you’re in the middle of the dancefloor, partying with your best mates. Honest, it’s that great.

5. New jazz brings the cool

Still going from strength to strength, the UK’s impossibly cool new jazz scene was exceedingly well represented at this year’s 6 Music Festival, with two of its shining lights delivering hypnotic performances.

Following the release of her outstanding 2020 debut album ‘Source’, saxophonist and composer Nubya Garcia proves herself to be nothing less than a sensation during her constantly grooving instrumental set, totally in tune with her backing band and making the impossible seem effortless. Dim your living room lights and you’ll instantly be transported to the jazz bar of your dreams.

Poppy Ajudha deserves every one-to-watch accolade, with the South London singer playing some new and as-yet-unreleased music during a magical, politically-charged set. Kicking off with the empowering ‘Strong Womxn’, there’s also her take on ‘Herbie Hancock’s ‘Watermelon Man’ and a devastating version of new single ‘Weakness’, a slow-burning soul bop that’s the missing link between Amy Winehouse and King Krule. But what really impresses is the powerful, meditative ‘Black Joy, Black Peace, Black Justice’, written during last year’s Black Lives Matter protests.

6. Exciting new acts deliver on the hype

Perfectly impossible to pigeonhole, Black Country, New Road bring in a haunting set of their unique, wide-ranging musicianship. From gothic country to towering jazz-pop, their 6 Music Festival is a lesson in defying expectations. Fans of Bill Callahan and Nick Cave, you’re in for a treat.

Working Men's Club’s claustrophobic synth-pop also proves itself to be as addictive live as it is on record, coming over like the offspring of Human League and Happy Mondays that we never knew we wanted, while South London’s Dry Cleaning are as fresh as their name suggests.

With a razor sharp set that plugs directly into the angular art-rock lineage of everyone from The Fall and the Tom Tom Club to Sonic Youth, Florence Shaw’s deadpan delivery of the addictive likes of ‘Scratchcard Lanyard’ – and the super tight band behind her – show us why they’re one of the UK's most head-turning new acts.

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