Parklife Festival 2017
Heaton Park, Manchester
The annual Parklife festival has a habit of relegating local artists to small stages or opening sets, but this year’s edition promised rowdy Manchester collective Levelz joining J Hus, Giggs and Boy Better Know at the very respectably-sized Temple, not to mention Manchester band The 1975 headline the main stage. Although the recent success of British urban music genres such as grime, road rap and UK Afrobeats are duly celebrated with the bookings this year, the biggest draw is undoubtedly American superstar Frank Ocean; the anticipation of his Sunday performance intensified by his well-documented recent concert cancellations.
Like many previous years, this summer’s event was looking to be a downpour when I checked the weather prior to the two-dayer. This doesn’t seem to dampen anyone’s spirits as I hop on the tram though, with the camaraderie of an Oasis sing-a-long much improving the somewhat claustrophobic journey from Manchester city centre. However, as I begin to near the Heaton Park site, the festival’s called home since moving from Fallowfield’s Platt Fields in 2013, it immediately becomes apparent this is going to be yet another year punctuated by endless trudges through the mud.
With the rain pouring down hard I take cover at the Ape & Metropolis stage and catch Yorkshire’s finest selector Toddla T, who is joined by fellow Sheffield native MC Coco. It’s good to see the crowd going mad for Coco’s ‘Big N Serious’; its banger credentials certified by a remix which features fellow Parklife 2017 acts Nadia Rose and AJ Tracey. Having witnesses the rapturous response for AJ when he supported Wiley at another WHP-organised event only months before, I’m surprised to see his set met with lacklustre reception here, with special guest Big Zuu working hard to elicit some cheers. Even hits such as ‘Leave Me Alone’ and ‘Pasta’ fail to impress the people next to me, though social media coverage shows there was a moshpit nearer the front.
With big groups of young people the festival’s main demographic, similar trends emerge as I look around walking from stage to stage, and not just in the usual identikit festival fashion. At times I do wonder how many punters are actually here for the music, though this question is soon forgotten once I’m back at Ape & Metropolis to catch the end of Dub Phizix & Strategy. The artists asking the crowd to “turn to the person next to you and say ‘having a f**king buzz mate’” confirms something else about Parklife – we are very much in Manchester, and therefore in very special territory.
(Unifying moment. Fatboy Slim brings everyone together indoors - Photo: Carolina Fauolo)
The festival isn’t known for going all out on set design and when it does treat us to props sometimes they err on the side of naff, but as I enter the Palm House stage I find myself enjoying the aesthetics of my surroundings almost as much as Jackmaster’s set. The tent’s foliage-imitating decoration and a break in the clouds revealing a beautiful setting sun suddenly make me feel like I’m at a much different party. When the Glasgow DJ drops Love Revolution’s ‘Give It To Me Baby’ the crowd intensify their appreciation and I’m again reassured this is an event where people still flock for the actual artists on the lineup.
I finish my day somewhat nostalgically, watching the end of Fatboy Slim, though I miss the moment when the DJ drops an acappella version of Oasis’ ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, which fan footage posted online shows to be a poignant moment for everyone still mourning the terrorist attack at Manchester Arena. Perhaps it would have been too eerie to hear the same song my day started with, but what the moments reveal is that the event provides opportunity for shared experiences of defiance and overcoming. Smiles reoccur as Fatboy Slim plays his hits ‘Right Here, Right Now’ and ‘Praise You’, drawing the day to a solid close.
My journey to the festival ground on Sunday starts with the chaos created by a heavily policed EDL march and I’m disappointed to miss Sampha, but I do catch Mura Masa performing ‘Firefly’ which is an especially exuberant climax. Featured artist Nao joins the stage for the live rendition, proving my annual observation that Sundays at Parklife always feel somewhat different to Saturdays – warmer in weather and atmosphere. Afterwards I head over to watch another Warehouse Project favourite, the reggae legend that is David Rodigan, who is aptly followed by Damian “Jr Gong” Marley. Both get the crowd going on what continues to be a much drier day.
It’s clear the night belongs to Frank Ocean as pretty much everyone I talk to says they are here to see the R&B singer, who released his critically acclaimed second album Blonde in 2016. Arriving 40 minutes late, the star’s four attempts at opening track Solo unfortunately can’t pass for a wheel up as the artist apologies for what can be described as perfectionism or a performer out of practice, depending on how you choose to look at it.
The sea of smartphones filming the big screen pre-recorded footage of the artist’s face is the final version of the group behaviour I see throughout the weekend, accented by the fact it imitates the footage itself, which looks like Ocean being filmed at a concert on a phone. Although this could be read as proof festivals, Parklife and indeed life itself (if you want to get philosophical, which the closing sets at festivals do usually create the environment for) are but a showreel of repeated moments it actually does quite the opposite, with the words of Ocean’s excellent cover of The Jackson’s 5’s ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ hammering the point home for me. Leaving after final track ‘Nikes’, I listen to and later read reactions online, finding that the singer’s performance gifted revellers with wildly different emotions. If nothing more, it signalled that Parklife will keep delivering surprises, which for me, is enough reason to keep going year in year out.
(Frank Ocean closing out Parklife 2017 - Photo: Olivia Williams)
Main photo courtesy of Olivia Williams