Lovebox’s line up this year is a gloriously Technicolor mix of acts, a diverse and multifarious affair of bright colours and vibrant sounds. What was originally a straight up dance event feels this year like a litmus test for the sound of now – it pulses and buzzes with the zeitgeist.
There are some problems: with the sun beating down it takes almost an hour to get in and overzealous security leaves you a little drained of festival joie de vivre by the time you’re in. And then there’s the notorious Victoria Park sound – at times, on the main stage, it’s appallingly submerged, leaving you trying to put your ear up against the nearest speaker stack.
Yet Friday remains full of energy. Stormzy demands it from the moment he gets on stage. Born and bred in London, this is an thrilling homecoming gig. “This is fucking beautiful,” he says, surveying the crowd. “I haven’t performed in London for over a year. Let’s go one-hundred!”. From the opening bars of ‘Scary’ the level never dips below high-octane. Lethal Bizzle even makes an appearance and the double punch of ‘Shutup’ and ‘Know Me From’ show, even though his debut album hasn’t even dropped, Stormzy is at the peak of his powers.
Another Londoner Katy B, her name emblazoned across the stage and fire steamer canons and backing dancers, delivers a lesson in pop bangers, not least her recent UK chart-topper, ‘Turn The Music Louder’ and concluding with the song that launched her, ‘Katy On A Mission’.
It’s then the turn of El-P and Killer Mike to own the stage (with inflatable zombie hands floating above them, of course). Run The Jewels are quick to build up a rapport with the crowd, El-P reminding us “It’s good for us to be here to realise both countries are run by arseholes” before they launch into ‘Lie, Cheat, Steal’. They even treat us to a song from ‘Run The Jewels 3’. It’s a reminder that they remain the very best.
Major Lazer, it’s clear, want to steal the show. They have t-shirt cannons, they wear West Ham tops, have a massive sound system, backing dancers and instruct everyone to take their tops off. But it can’t hide the fact that this is a DJ set in headliner’s clothing. It aims for a big party without doing enough to earn it. It’s only when MØ takes to the stage for ‘Lean On’ that it lights up - theirs is a headline slot that never explodes
The Saturday starts with the sartorially brilliant George Clinton, who arrives on his spacecraft with ‘Mothership Reconnection’, bringing with him members of the latest Parliament Funkadelic line-up and a seemingly endless array of backing singers, guitarists and rappers. He may be 74 but – after playing ‘One Nation Under A Groove’ and ‘Flashlight ‘and closing with ‘Atomic Dog’ – he’s convinced everybody to take off with him.
The party is a smaller affair for Rival Consoles but his Jon Hopkins-meets-Fuck Buttons electronica deserves so much more. The rest of the afternoon is a mixed bag: Jamie Woon’s syrupy smooth jazz melts in the hot sun but Miike Snow’s synth pop suits the bright rays with ‘Animal’, in particular, sounding huge.
But, let’s face it, it’s LCD who we’re all here to see. Five years since their last London show there’s a sense of expectancy hanging in the air. But James Murphy is too shrewd and too talented to fail. From the throb of ‘Us v Them’, and the opening “A-Ow! Ow!” and joyful disco-punk-funk rush of ‘Daft Punk is Playing In My House’, this is a band who’ve lost none of their ability to have the crowd eating out the palm of their hand.
Murphy seems in his element, sipping on white wine and even leading the crowd in a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ to bandmate Pat Mahoney during a climatic ‘New York, I Love You’.
The night ends with the greatest set closer of all time, what’s become perhaps the band’s anthem as James ruminates on the past, ruing and revelling in his youth and reflecting on the effects of ageing, responsibility and even mortality over two steam-train piano lines.
Yet, for all its poignancy, ‘All My Friends’ feels joyously celebratory, and as Lovebox comes to an end, it’s that realisation that sticks - the most important moments are ones like tonight, where everyone’s all together, watching their favourite band.
Photos: Sarah Doone
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