With Field Day, Wireless and South West Four tearing up parts of the English capital’s open spaces, surely there’s no great need for Londoners to look further afield for festivals any more.
Or are these parties just becoming generic playgrounds for the 16-year-old in roll-sleeve Aztec print? Despite providing recent crossover chart-botherers like Duke Dumont and Route 94, the Lovebox line-up also boasts appearances from indie faces such as The Horrors, Crystal Fighters and Bipolar Sunshine. And, of course, this year’s killer booking: Nas.
And so here we are on Saturday, the day after Friday’s thunderstorms threaten to upset play, leaving crop top-wearers dragging ill-advised wellies over the baked grass. Invading London’s oldest green space, Victoria Park is awash with a young, vibrant crowd to enjoy this solid bill.
The sold-out festival eases us in with swathes of low frequencies – seven-piece Submotion Orchestra provide a relaxing start to the event’s second day. They do a wonderful job of proving that dubstep can still be more than just a laser-heavy carnival of mid-range agony.
Unfortunately Scuba is taken ill, but party starter pros Krankbrother pop up as replacement in The Manor (a stage complete with a house façade – where black cats creep behind its windows and smoke wisps out of a chimney). Its front garden sees an influx of sweaty topless ravers pumping fists to a pounding, Detroit techno-heavy set while the DJ duo peeps out of the second storey.
Thanks to an error on the printed programme we miss Monki banging out what we gather was a characteristically break-infused set, but we choose to fling ourselves into Mount Kimbie’s welcoming bosom in the giant blue Big Top tent, playing emotional renditions of ‘Cold Spring Fault Less Youth’ cuts ‘Home Recording’ and ‘Break Well’.
Our highlight is, of course, Nas (pictured, main) – who reels off ‘Illmatic’ cuts back-to-back as a UK exclusive to mark 20 years of the eternal classic (Spotlight!). Proving the most popular act of the festival, people cram in to watch the Queensbridge don relay ‘Life’s A Bitch’ and ‘Represent’.
When that's done (“...and that was ‘Illmatic’!” he yells, pointing out that half the audience weren’t even born when the album dropped), the 40 year-old moves on to a selection of classics such as ‘I Can’ and ‘Made You Look’. This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and the rapt crowd knows it.
Contrastingly, M.I.A. fights through sound problems – one report suggests an audience member caused the power outage by knocking a cable. After handing out giant foam glow-stick batons to her audience, the gold-cloaked rapper is visibly pissed off with the turn of events, running off stage and leaving confused onlookers behind. She returns for three songs later, but it’s a huge anti-climax after Nas’s showmanship.
Chock-a-block with outstanding talent, Lovebox can feel a bit like a furious, chaotic attempt to see a few brilliant sets while having to undertake lengthy booze admin (or chicken admin, if that’s what you’re after) and the occasional tug of war with your pals. Perhaps it might benefit from swelling into the three-dayer that it used to be.
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Words: Felicity Martin
Photos: Victor Frankowski