Lovebox 2018: Livewire's Review
We head down to London for the weekend to cover a festival with undoubtedly one of Britain’s most attractive bills; Lovebox has us triple-checking its Clashfinder page, but with such a strong line-up, it seems unlikely that we will manage to see everyone we like.
We arrive at the arena and immediately have trouble finding the press entrance, which puts a bit of a damper on our day – security and staff have clearly not been briefed enough and point us to the wrong locations, which results in us spending a good hour and a half walking aimlessly around the park. In all fairness, this is the first year the festival has taken place in this location, which might explain this and other logistic complications. Lovebox does run quite efficiently regardless, and Gunnersbury Park seems to be a fairly good choice, especially with it being a few minutes’ walk away from a Tube station. The first thing we notice, other than the excruciating heat already burning our shoulders and the detailed décor of some of the stages, particularly the Kopparberg and Corona stages, is the Wu-Tang t-shirts all over the place. Everyone seems as excited for the weekend as we are.
We have an interview with Jacob Banks lined up later today, so we decide to go watch his performance. The Noisey Stage is fairly crowded despite it only being four o’clock – he seems to have amassed a somewhat large following and, as his set progresses, it becomes clear why this is: Banks’ powerful voice, together with his equally captivating band, make for a spectacular performance worthy of bigger and better venues. Confident we have missed Sza’s set, we head to the Main Stage to find out we actually haven’t – she is nearly an hour late. ‘I will keep singing until they cut my mic off,’ she says, and not long later, the sound goes out, followed by complaints and some booing from the crowd. She does manage to go through four of her songs, including fan favourites Love Galore and The Weekend – delivering a compelling performance which all but cements her status of being one of the most prolific female artists of the last year, it is a shame she is so late, because her set would have been a definite highlight of the day otherwise.
Even despite not having listened to most of his songs before, Anderson Paak’s is still easily one of our favourite performances of the night – jumping around the stage with a cheeky smile and non-stop interaction with the crowd, the energy he creates could not have set the scene any better for The Wu-Tang Clan's performance that follows; the band might now be in their late forties, but they prove they’ve still got it as they make hands rise up in the air, mirroring the iconic W shapes.
If before, during Jacob Banks’ performance, the Noisey stage had been sounding just fine, now it fails short sound-wise for Vince Staples; as we stand at the back, we can barely hear him, although the size of the venue could perhaps justify this – once it starts raining outside, the tent seems to shrink as it becomes more crowded and the sound quality seems to drop even more. Vince gives a convincing performance which has the whole tent moving straight from the off. Opening with latest single, 'Get The F**k Off My D**k', the place erupts in energy with beer flying around and rain clattering on the tent. The intros of Big Fish and Party People are greeted with rapturous delight, rounding off a memorable set despite technical difficulties.
We return to the Main Stage just in time to watch Diplo wrap up his DJ set, and we sit down for some sausage and chips while we wait for the last act of the night. Despite some fellow festival goers being sceptical (pardon the pun) about Skepta being a strong enough headliner, the grime artist brings a big production with him emerging in a cage with a propeller. Kicking off his set with latest single, 'Pure Water', the whole crowd responds to the energy radiating off the stage by screaming the hook back at him. He finishes his set almost begrudgingly with 'Shutdown'; overall, he’s won us all over, proving that UK rap is at its pinnacle – and so is Skepta.
Complete with appearances from The Internet’s Steve Lacy and UK superstar Jorja Smith is Kali Uchis’ set – a perfect start to our Saturday, the Colombian-American singer instantly manages to captivate the audience and has us singing and swinging along. 'Dead To Me' is somehow even stronger live as the crowd chants ‘you’re dead to me, why can’t I be dead to you?’ Next up we watch what we believe is still one of the coolest bands on the planet; The Internet announce their upcoming album on stage, seamlessly mixing and matching their new singles with their older repertoire while showing a synchronisation very few bands can boast, their easy-going presence not faltering for a second.
The energy N.E.R.D. bring to the main stage is unparalleled to any other act of the day, except perhaps the headliner, and when Pharrell comes on stage, the entire venue seems to be full of smiles. ‘Did you all come here to party?,’ he asks. Apparently, we all have. We then wander off to explore the arena for the last time during Annie Mac’s set, but once the clock hits 9:20pm, perfectly on time, the first notes of Me and Your Mama welcome us back to the Main Stage, and Donald Glover, or Childish Gambino, appears on the main screen among screams from fans who have braved a day in this scorching weather just to see him. His choice of repertoire is impeccable, and by the time single This Is America comes around and his uber talented dancers come on stage, many of us have long forgotten just how sweaty we've been feeling all day.
When we leave Gunnersbury Park after a weekend that has, at times, felt like hard work, the heat taking out a few people and sending the rest of us to sit in the limited shade available, we walk out with a strange sense of accomplishment; it feels like a last time of sorts because we might not be seeing many of these acts in the near future, or in the case of Wu-Tang, ever again. Childish Gambino, N.E.R.D., Kali Uchis – Lovebox’s biggest achievement this year has been producing a line-up that, both before and after attending the event, feels entirely unmissable.