Parklife 2018 - Festival Review
I wasn't planning on going to a festival this year. A mixture of crippling debt and just general lack of enthusiasm put the festival spirit very much out of my grasp. This was until the line-up for Parklife 2018 was announced, and after missing Frank Ocean at Parklife 2017, I was determined to make it to this year's event. With the acts ranging from Liam Gallagher to A$AP Rocky, it was truly a festival for everyone and throughout the sun and the rain, the spirit of Manchester prevailed to make one of my musical highlights of the year.
My Saturday started at around midday when I arrived into Heaton Park, greeted by the warmth of the sun and the musk of cider. In order to come to terms with spending £5.50 on a pint of Carlsberg I went to catch my first performance of the weekend: Tom Misch. As soon as he stepped out onto the stage, the energy in the tent picked up as his summery and bouncy guitar licks matched the clear blue skies outside. His jazzy vibes oozed from the stage as everybody bounced and swayed to the smooth synths. Despite not bringing out any of his featured artists, leaving some songs feeling hollow, it was a great way to kick off the festival.
A short trek and another overpriced drink later found me at the Parklife Main Stage, a grand purple archway at the back of the field. How he performed in a tracksuit in 25°C is beyond me, but Sampha brought the passion of his last album to the main stage. The crowd was ridiculously small for a man of that talent but that never stopped him as he performed as if it were to the whole festival, singing his lungs out on the emotional ballad '(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano'. The whole performance was inspiring from start to finish and it reminded me of how criminally overlooked he is in the UK music scene.
After a short and touching tribute to the Manchester bombing of last year, Lorde was up on the main stage. An artist who's solely responsible for sound-tracking my high school experience, it's fair to say I was excited. In a set consisting mostly of classics from her 2013 debut Pure Heroine, Lorde was on point from her vocals to her charisma. Out of all the artists at Parklife, Lorde was the most excited and genuinely happy I'd seen. Every song ended with a bit of crowd interaction whether it be hugging people at the barriers or joking about British drinking culture, she put on one of the best shows of the weekend, so good that I almost dropped my halloumi in the commotion.
I then made the difficult decision to go 'The Valley' stage to get in place for A$AP Rocky, despite missing N.E.R.D and The XX on the main stage. I arrived just in time to catch AJ Tracey, the only real disappointment of the weekend. Now I love AJ don't get me wrong, his Secure The Bag! EP was one of my favourite projects of 2017, but something was just lacking; it was the weakest set I saw all weekend as he constantly called for more energy from the crowd but couldn't seem to reciprocate it himself.
Luckily, the grime legend Giggs managed to rile the crowd back up again, filling his set with a career-spanning selection of bangers, sneaking in his features on the grime classics Man Don't Care and 3 Wheel-ups. His set was lively, sweaty and fantastic and if Giggs has learnt one thing in his years on the scene it's how to control a stage (even if though he didn't perform Ultimate Gangsta, which left me a little sore).
It was then time for the main attraction, A$AP Rocky, the reason I came to the stage so early and got close to the front. After a long delay he finally and enthusiastically jumped across the stage, playing the hits from his new album. The culmination of this was without a doubt the collaborative performance of Praise the Lord (Da Shine) between him and Skepta, as the charisma between the two reflected onto the pulsating and bouncing crowd. A few classics and a few new songs later and it was already 20 minutes past the festivals closing time at 23:20. He was escorted off stage multiple times before triumphantly returning for one more song until his mic was cut off and the music silenced. The abrupt end left the crowd disappointed and angry, however looking back on it, he did a fantastic job considering his frustrating circumstances of his flight being delayed. Overall, while it's sad that he didn't get to perform more of his classics, he put on one of the best shows of the weekend and closed out Saturday in style.
My Sunday started slower than the Saturday. I instead opted to lounge about in the sun; during my lounging I managed to catch glimpses of Kelela, Not3s and Sigrid. I'm not familiar with Not3s or Sigrid but as I observed them from a distance, they seemed to put on great shows and the crowd seemed to be somewhat livelier at the main stage than on Saturday. And even though I only saw 10 minutes of her set, Kelela was electric as is to be expected from one of the most interesting voices in alternative R&B.
Next up was Dave, and despite having to stand awkwardly around the outside of the packed 'Sounds of the Near Future' tent, he brought the fire back after a relatively slow morning. Mostly playing hits from Game Over, Dave owned the stage and even brought up a fan at one point who, surprisingly, rose above the pressure and absolutely killed it in front of thousands of fans. Of course the set could only conclude with the legendary duet between Dave and J Hus on Samantha which lead directly into J Hus' set on the same stage.
I decided to miss J Hus' set due to the rain and also not really being a fan of his. Luckily, however, during the commotion of trying to find shelter from the downpour, I managed to catch the end of Everything Everything's set on the main stage and as anybody who knows me can attest to, I am in love with them. Having also seen them earlier in the year in Norwich I wasn't overly fussed about seeing them again here, however I wish I had because they were just as amazing as before. I only managed to catch the final song of their set which also incidentally was their best song in No Reptiles, a song whose epic chorus seemed to be reflected in the lashing rain making the event seem so melodramatic and surreal.
We then began to take shelter in the, now empty, 'Sounds of the Near Future' tent where The Internet were beginning their set. The mellow and funky vibes contrasted the downpour outside and created a bubble of relaxation in which everyone was invited. Playing some new material as well as some songs from their debut album, the 5-piece seduced the crowd as everybody seemed to fall under the spell of Syd and Steve Lacey's angelic vocals.
The real reason for getting to the 'Sounds of the Near Future' tent so early was to get a good spot for Vince Staples who is by far one of my favourite artists currently, and by god did he deliver on my expectations. With a career-spanning selection of songs ranging from the cool and sleek 745 to the absolute banger that is Yeah Right, Vince engulfed the stage in a way that no other artist could even sniff at. He kept the crowd on their feet throughout the performance as he ran and jumped across the stage with each chorus, encouraging the crowd to sing along. I always wondered how hard it is not to run out of breath as a rapper but somehow through all his athletics he still smashed every note and every word making him easily one of the best performers of the festival, although I might be a bit biased.
The final tough choice came through the decision between Jamie XX in the 'Palm House' or Skepta on the main stage, as all my friends were seeing Skepta, I decided to quickly jump into the 'Palm House', and I'm glad I did. The tent was ebbed and flowed when I arrived as he played a blend of his discography in a way much more akin to a DJ set rather than a conventional performance. Each song flowed seamlessly into the next and I couldn't think of a better setting for his summery and bouncy beats than under the cover of plastic palm trees. Resentfully, I left the joys of Jamie XX to join my friends over at the main stage and I arrived just at the right time as Skepta brought out his brother JME as well as other Boy Better Know members Frisco and Shorty for their new banger Athlete. Even though we were on the outskirts of the crowd, everyone was dancing and rapping along to one of the most known names in UK music. His best performance was by far was No Security with fire plumes and confetti cannons going off as the infectious hook kicked in. Safe to say Skepta was suited to the main stage and he knew it, as the lights flashed over the whole of Heaton Park during Shutdown, a UK anthem so well-known he left it to the crowd to sing the hook. Just like A$AP Rocky did on Saturday, Skepta closed out the festival with prowess and clearly left an impression as the crowds chanted the words to Man on the way out of the festival grounds.