For one Friday every summer Grove Road, Mile End is ‘the strip.’ The faintly rundown East London high street; ring fenced by post war Council Estates, scrubby off licenses and floodlit takeaways, is today more reminiscent of Malia than the East End: Ticket touts, thousands of happy go lucky festival goers and intermittent pockets of chiselled police looking to keep order. It runs for about half a mile from Mile End station, down past an Ecology Pavilion, the sprawling Lanfranc Estate and the Hertford Union Canal, concluding at Victoria Park, the home of Lovebox since 2005.
Given developments over the past twelve months, it’s no surprise that this year’s line-up is slightly grimier - The three Grime acts on the bill are three more than there were last year. First up is Novelist in the 1Xtra tent who trades sixteen for sixteen with fellow Lewisham front liner Elf Kid, giving an insight into what it feels like to be on location for a set at Rinse.
After Novelist we decide to cool down and wolf down some chips before heading to the main stage where we find David Rodigan winding through his striking catalogue of reggae dub plates. He’s made for the haze of a warm Friday afternoon. Forever green he leaps around stage and replenishes energy levels just as the heat was beginning to take its toll. It’s the perfect warm up for Skepta. Clad in England’s 2010 blood red world Cup shirt, he draws the second largest crowd of the day and runs us through the tracks responsible for his recent ascendency to Grime forerunner: ‘That’s Not Me’ ‘Castles’ ‘It Ain’t Safe’ and ‘Shutdown.’ Barring a swiftly resolved mic issue the set is absorbing and flows well, the only stoppage is his own as he attempts to organise three mosh pits. Job done he bellows ‘Man’s never been in Lovebox when it’s Shutdown eehhh!’ and I proceed to tangle with strangers in the sun.
Darkness descends but the magic continues when we inadvertently stumble into an enthralling performance from Action Bronson. His last performance in London saw him leave midway through to grab a bite from a nearby Chicken Cottage, but there are no such interruptions this time. He is an unexpectedly fine singer and croons “Why you gotta do me like thaaat,” the chorus from 'Baby Blue' amongst others from 'Mr Wonderful'. We had originally come for Ghetts and the stage nearly caves in when he eventually touches the stage. “We’re in the home of fucking Grime right now,” he barks and cues his DJ to drop ‘Rhythm And Gash.’ Multiple gun fingers are thrown, instinctively head bops engulf the arena and volatile mosh pits ensue, an hour of chaos.
Later it seems that everybody with a valid ticket has descended to the main stage for Rudimental. We edge in at the side, hoping to get as close as possible before being rebuffed. They burst onto stage under a hail of flares and we’re galvanized with 'Not Giving' In amongst other anthems. Kesi humbly declares that Lovebox is their home (the quartet were birthed a few miles away in Hackney) and in keeping with the spontaneous homecoming he beckons Dizzee Rascal to the stage for the first performance of Love Ain’t Just a Word. If Friday’s aim was to showcase the finest in London’s electronic music then Rudimental were a faultless curtain call.
Saturday is warmer and arrives with a somewhat more chilled atmosphere: I spot a few toddlers running about and more couples airing out the stress from a long working week. We dip into the Clash tent to escape the heat, a vast white canopy with sea blue interior. Howling are on stage. Both Frank and Ry are dressed in black, Ry; with a vest cut off at the shoulders and a green hat turned backwards croons into the mic. The closed quarter’s works well for them as the gentle melodies aren’t lost in the open air. We all sway back and forth, locked in a meditative trance. It’s perhaps the surprise performance of the weekend and hundreds begin to dive in as the sounds rumble across the rest of the park.
When Howling depart we head back outside for Danny Brown, who arrives in a blue t-shirt and black jeans. Festivals are his calling and he restfully paces the stage looking for the right opening sentence. “Whose been smoking and drinking?” he yells, “Because I have!” Booking Brown proves to be another masterstroke. His brand of conventional rap fused with trap, drill and EDM is a snug fit for the crowd and we all Harlem Shake to every tongue twisting rap laced over cataclysmic drops.
We head to a cocktail bar to kill sometime and only emerge when it’s time for Snoop Dogg to close proceedings. His cult figure has transcended rap, to the point that it’s sometimes easy to forget the class of his back catalogue. He duly reminds us with an expansive trip through the G-Funk era and follows straight into more recent hits. Laid back performers can often be a mismatch for headlining spots but Snoop’s effervescent cool is more than enough to see him through.
I chat with a lady about growing up on his music: for her it was 'Gin & Juice', for me it was 'Drop It’s Like it’s Hot' and 'P.I.M.P.' We both nod in agreement about his longevity and his innate knack for touching every new generation of rap fans. That’s the last talking we do and the crowd manoeuvre around every word and rap as we descend deeper into the night, all ages meshed under the East London sky before it’s time to head back down the strip.
Words: Aniefiok Ekpoudom (@AniefiokEkp)