Every year, without fail, June in Manchester becomes all about Parklife. Whether your opinion falls toward the positive or negative, you have to salute the grip Parklife consistently holds over such a musically influential city.
This year Parklife's line-up boasted an incredibly diverse range of entertainment. All bases covered, from hip-hop classics like New York's Wu-Tang-Clan, through a fair helping of dance legends and even a surprising range of guitar bands. The weight distributed amongst six large stages, with a smattering of hidden gems to be unearthed within the festivals layers of smaller spaces, often curating their own idiosyncratic party vibes. Spurred on by this plethora of entertainment before me, I thought I'd be a little adventurous and widen my horizons beyond the usual guitar driven indie that I've come to call home. The first stop on this journey ? Well that honor was taken by the subtly nostalgic pop sensibilities of London's Elle Eyre who bounced her way around the main stage on Saturday afternoon.
At 21, Elle is the same age, or even younger than the majority of the churning sea before her. This fact alone should garner some appreciation of her achievements. Whilst she may not have been celebrating this heatwave of a weekend for the same reasons as her peers before her, she certainly found herself in a tight connection with the crowd. The sheer power of her soulful energy and summertime vibrato could have persuaded the humblist of feet to move. Eyre absolutely oozes vibrancy, her beaming smile worn beneath sparkling rounded sunglasses as she explored every inch of the stage. Her stage presence, whilst obviously comparable to her current musical peers such as Jessie J, harbors elements of the classic performances of Mick Jagger and Steven Adler, unapologetically enthusiastic and beautifully involving. After the warmth and positivity radiated by Elle, I took a wander backwards, into the shadows of the Big Top to become involved in a much more introspective set from one of Eyre's fellow Londoners, Ghostpoet.
A vast departure from the bubbling smiles only a few feet away, Ghostpoet offered a much more reflective and brooding experience beneath the peaks of the Big Top. As Obaro Ejimiwe took to the stage, the crowd erupted into cheers, clashing against the droning sirens of the acts entrance. A pounding, cathartic rhythm section sets the foundation for layers of biting guitar, at times comparable to alternative legend Josh Homme. These churning riffs and motifs flare up and vanish amongst flourishes of unsettling synths, woven together by Ejimiwe's vocal. Calm and confident, deeply familiar, yet a hidden cold detachment. His voice bearing striking similarity Maxi Jazz, that smooth and resonant cool that can craft lyrics into legend.
Ghostpoet struck me as one of the most idiosyncratic live acts I have seen in quite some time, drifting from influence to influence, though never settling too long to become pigeonholed. Some acts were born to create their art regardless of whether the rest of us take any notice, Ghostpoet is definitely a member of this elite.
Over on the other side of the festival, a charming Canadian crooner by the name of Mac DeMarco was beginning to generate a buzz. As the band skulked around in the shadows, a playlist of club classics hyped the crowd. In all honesty a playlist of club classics hyped the band, Mac's drummer enthusiasticly thumping along to the beat, Mac himself goofily prodding along to synth lines, good vibes were swelling in this tent. Keeping himself tethered down to earth, as usual, Mac finally chimed in "Shall we start then?".
Opening with his last album's title track, I instantly felt a little ashamed on behalf of the British public for taking this long to realise how perfect DeMarco's set is for a festival. The carefree, sing-a-long vocal melodies, the jangling guitars, the cheeky beats, this is the culmination of summertime smiles. It's not just his music that fits this description, the whole band's stage persona, although obviously no act, fits effortlessly with the ethos of the summer festival. Childish, unapologetic silliness that ensures the act are never taken too seriously, despite how moving they can be when they want. A perfect example being the contemplative masterpiece that is 'Chamber of Reflection', a hauntingly beautiful and ever so slightly Morrissey tinged tune that I, along with the rest of Parklife, am ecstatic to have witnessed live.
As the crowd dispersed and a few solitary Mac clones, glitter faced, clutching their dungarees and charity shop caps, danced into the wild, I longed to discover some of the less obvious entertainment on offer. My search lead me to a far off corner of the site, nestled to the left of the exit, the MK Area 10 stage. This magical little space felt like a slice of Boomtown Fair hidden amongst Parklife. The trees lit in strings of light, the Roman statues peering down, the scene would not have felt out of place at any alternative festival.
When I arrived the vibrant, colorful world of New York City's Hercules and Love Affair had begun to bloom. A bouncy assortment of synths and drum machines providing a bed for the luscious and elegant vocals. The whole act emitting an electro-pop sensibility learned from Eurasia and The Pet Shop Boys.
I could have happily drifted away to more of Hercules' set, however Jamie xx was calling from the Now Wave tent. Jamie certainly knows how to draw a crowd. Meandering toward the stage, my vision became eclipsed by the swelling hordes, spilling from the sides of the tent. With his latest outing, In Colour, now a living, breathing entity, the hype was tangible. As the space filled with an ominous helping of creeping smoke, an angelic, yellow-tinged glow allowed Heaton Park to glimpse the man himself, calm and collected, comfortable in his position as ringleader. Soulful vocal samples teased their way into our collective consciousness atop a bubbling, crackling net of vinyl pops. As the sun fades behind us, and the beats begin to morph from innocence to hedonism, it becomes strikingly clear that Jamie xx finds himself bringing in the night, in some pseudo-pagan ritual. Just as things began to take a step towards euphoria, a group of lads to my left noticed me, stood looking somewhat out of place, notepad in hand and noticeably still. As those unmistakeable steel-drums spilled into the air, the group turned to me, and after a few pleasantries, I found myself atop their shoulders. High above the evolving mass of limbs. It was here that I believe I found Parklife. A festival whose attendees are often slated for the actions of a minority, and whose public image is often dictated by a distorted media image. These lads were not the type one would assume would act kindly to a purple haired indie kid scribbling away in a spiral pad, however instantly I was one of their own. It just goes to show how detrimental stereotypes really are, never assume...
The sunlight was beginning to fade, what little left could be seen dancing from the surface of wavering flag poles and the, still firmly placed, Ray Ban's of Parklife's residents. Lit in passionate pink, beneath the spires of the Big Top, Metronomy met the stage with an air of smooth, glitchy euphoria. The rhythms setting a tight bed for club-indie progressions with just enough power to evoke feelings of late-night debauchery. With a festival so full of modern musical ideas, Metronomy felt like a subtle nod to the hay-day of the British alt-indie festival, memories of Justice and Klaxons began to take form. Working in harmony with this indie/dance influence, the band also project an air of Mersey psych. Detailed guitars and Lennon invoked vocal melodies ensure the act can fish from a deep well of influence. The vocal ability of Joseph Mount should be desired by any musician. His voice morphing through powerful, Meat Loaf choruses, noughties indie barks and beautiful crooning, all while retaining his own, immistakenably individual characteristics. The band possess an unparalleled ability to take the nastiest, dirtiest riffs and present them in a smooth, silky and cheekily sexy package, whilst never losing their bite.
As Mount expelled the opening notes of 2011's classic The Bay I reflected on the wealth of music Manchester had been so kindly exposed to in this past twelve hours. Mount's words echoing, "because this isn't Paris, and this isn't London . . .", this isn't even Manchester mate. No, this is Parklife.
Day two, after an unforeseen delay in leaving the festival resulting in a slight case of heartbreak, mostly induced by missing B-Traits at Afterlife, I found myself surprisingly rested for a second day at a festival. Using this much welcomed spring in my step, I headed straight for the gnarled iron of the Ram Jam stage to enjoy some fuzzed-out drum and bass from veteran DJ's Dillinja + Randall. The blazing sun from this "Mediterranean Heatwave" had found its singularity, perhaps as a gift to the hangovers induced by the previous day's festivities.
Over in the magical world of yesterday's Area 10 stage, today re-branded as the Kaytranada + Friends stage, Californian hip-hop DJ Madlib materialised amongst the dust clouds. Tucked away in this hidden paradise, Madlib did not disappoint, throwing some of the chillest vibes of the weekend.
Next up on my patented Parklife to-do-list was a man by the name of Ariyan Arslani, the venomous American rapper you may know better as Action Bronson. Bursting onto the looming corrugated iron stage with the force of a bull, Bronson took control of his people instantly, spurring an encompassing sense of energy before him. In his moments of conversation, Bronson offered intricate descriptions of what his tracks meant to him, "this track makes me feel like putting my head through a Picasso". A joke on the face of things, though a fitting description for the sheer power of his flows. One aspect of Arslani's ability that repeatedly knocked around my skull between firm, heavy beats was the lyracist's use of emphasis. The man is an expert at crafting his beats to allow for the power of his vocal. Occasional moments of off-beat quiet allow for a sudden impact of slamming lyrical prowess. Certainly a more intricate and detailed act than I had been expecting.
Hungry for more beats I darted back to my little paradise over with Kaytranada + Friends to catch ex-Odd Future collaborator Earl Sweatshirt. With Odd Future 'officially' disbanding last week, though in reality the group haven't collaborated in over a year, Earl has emerged as arguably the most talented, innovative and determined of the collective, arguably only next to his peer Tyler, The Creator.
Instantly it is apparent that Sweatshirt is a born performer, no fake persona or gimmicks here, only a young man with solid determination and natural talent. Joking freely with the crowd, relentlessly ushering his fans to let loose to the ice-cold beats which he effortlessly glides his verses onto. His flow bounces between a subtle rhythmic beat and a calmer, more precise form of diction that, when magnified, sends chills careening down ones back.
Stood in this hollow it dawns on me that the rap scene has quietly become the community driven genre of the youth. Where, in the 70s, punk took this mantle, rap and hip-hop have silently accepted the torch. Under its exterior as an angry offshoot, much like punk before it, the modern scene actually feels incredibly welcoming, every face eager to show appreciation to its idols and fans alike.
On my way towards the Sounds of The Near Future tent I became entranced by a small, peculiar looking wagon, boasting a Funktion One sound system, an excellent selection tunes, yet surprisingly no crowd. The mix being laid out was flawless, a brilliant expedition through slowly evolving and progressive musical elements. After my friend's valiant efforts to coax some moves out of my dance repellent bones, the DJ awarded us with free beer that appeared magically by our feet. Having managed to catch a word with the man behind the decks, John Sneddon introduced himself as part of a collective club-night, Adapt Manchester. After a brilliant chat about music and the Manchester scene I learned of the night's home over at the Northern Quarter's Soup Kitchen, a definite underground gem for Manchester and a collective you should be made aware of. With a warmth in my heart I prepared myself for the last act of what had shaped up to be a fantastic weekend, Caribou.
Having multiple stage personas must become tiring for musical genius Dan Snaith. I have previously managed to catch Daphni, his club-orientated alter-ego, in a back to back with a personal idol, Four Tet, at one of The Warehouse Project's past parties. However it is in his form as Caribou, with his equally mesmerising band, that his music morphs into its most awe inspiring. Opening to a magical, spiraling light-show, the massive club drenched vibes became entangled within the tent. The face of this sound greets you as a dancey mega-beast, willing your body into happy convulsions. However, situated just beneath is a bedrock of indie sensibility likened to the noughties' output of club endorsed guitar tunes.It is this enticing combination that allows Caribou to guide you down the rabbit hole, noticing the expertly crafted blend of the electronic and the organic as you fall. Not quite a band, not quite a DJ, something much more.
With the official front of Parklife evaporating steadily into the cold night sky, I began to reflect upon the weekend. It's easy to form an opinion based on hearsay, but when actually experiencing the festival, its people, its music, it becomes apparent that this movement means so much to so many. Unwilling to become bogged down with past, undisputably tragic occurrences and often negative press. Parklife has been good to me, until next year, it's been a blast.
Words by Sean Toohey
Images courtesy of Parklife Festival