Live Report: Parklife 2022

Overcrowding fails to ruin a world-class weekend of music…

It’s now 12 years since Parklife first blessed Manchester’s green and pleasant lands. Back then, it was a much smaller affair in Platt Fields Park; it’s since grown to the point where even the enormous stretches of Heaton Park in the north of the city can feel somewhat overcrowded. There’s a certain excitement that comes from the festival’s sheer size, but it’s a shame that the arrests for knife crime and depressing quantities of litter cause more and more of a distraction from the actual music.

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Live Report: Parklife 2022

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Saturday

And this year, as ever, the line-up is phenomenal. The big name on Saturday is headliner 50 Cent, but there’s plenty of variety throughout the day to get people going, whatever they’ve come for. The Repercussion stage hosts a lot of the day’s best material: Chloé Robinson’s back-to-back DJ set with Four Tet is a solid slice of club-ready fun, albeit marred by some technical issues that cut the audio a couple of times.

Later highlights at Repercussion include SE-London rapper ENNY, who keeps telling us how “gassed” she is to have made the five-hour journey to Manchester (we’re gassed too), and rapper/spoken-word artist Kojey Radical, one of the day’s undeniable standouts. Kojey lights up the stage, prancing about in bright green trousers and looking as though he’s having even more fun than his enraptured audience.

On the main stage, vibes and quality vary. Joy Crookes, the singer-songwriter from Lambeth whose ‘Skin’ graced a lot of best album lists last year, gives a brief but excellent performance of that record’s best tracks – from ‘Trouble’ to a rousing ‘When You Were Mine’. The glue that binds the set together is her fantastically tight backing band, but her creativity and immense charisma is the driving force here. The highlight is a slow, soulful cover of ‘Element’ by Kendrick Lamar, which showcases just how deft and delicate a vocalist she is.

Not everyone has Crookes’ magic touch: Headie One is frankly a little boring, with the subtlety of his music submerged under a thudding, repetitive beat, and Loyle Carner gives the impression of a schoolboy out past his bedtime. He repeatedly asks the crowd for permission to carry on performing, and at one point drinks from what looks like a carton of milk.

When it’s finally time for 50 Cent, the entire planet seems to converge on the main stage to bop along. The 46-year-old rapper apparently arrived with the largest convoy in the festival’s history, and it shows: this is an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink performance, with a dazzling light show, guitar and drum solos that put hair metallers to shame, and an explosion of confetti for ‘In Da Club’ that’s still falling by the end of the song. There are times when it feels like 50 might be compensating for something with all this paraphernalia (a sore throat, perhaps?). But no one can claim it’s not fun.

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Live Report: Parklife 2022

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50’s performance ends just in time for us to catch the end of Jamie xx’s set in the Hangar, as he rounds out the evening with his signature set-closer ‘Gosh’. It’s a euphoric end to the first day. Sunday Sunday definitely feels less intense: there are noticeably fewer people here, for one thing. Arlo Parks meets the mood perfectly, filling the main stage with sunflowers and crooning her way through a lusciously laid-back afternoon set. We’ve got to hand it to her team, who do a brilliant job of balancing her breathy, husky voice against the backing, and allow us to marvel at how fantastic she sounds. “Everyone including myself got up at 3 a.m. to be here,” she tells us – which leaves us even more impressed.

On the Repercussion stage – renamed Eat Your Own Ears for Sunday – Tems and Jessie Ware give two different lessons on how to engage your audience. Tems gets us involved in a little singalong to ‘Try Me’, before descending from the stage and getting as close as she can to the crowd. And Ware – who’s reprising the hugely enjoyable disco set she brought to Manchester in December – delights by never taking herself too seriously, pausing midway through strutting across the stage to compliment one of her fans on their eyeliner.

Sunday’s high point – and, indeed, the high point of the whole weekend – is Megan Thee Stallion, who tears up the main stage and takes absolutely no prisoners. Kitted out in a black, sparkly body harness, she jumps, raps and twerks her way through 45 minutes of mayhem, punctuated by her trademark “ehhhh” noise and playful profanity. Her ego is so monumental that it steamrolls every obstacle it meets. One of the funniest moments of the set is when someone on her team plays the wrong backing beat, and she shouts “What the fuck?!” off stage as though she’s been mortally insulted. That kind of energy carries everyone along with it: who here could resist chanting along to every word of ‘WAP’ and ‘Savage’, or spitting out their mixed drinks when Megan guides a backing dancer’s face into her crotch for ‘Eat It’?

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Live Report: Parklife 2022

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Nothing quite manages to follow that performance, though Tyler, the Creator comes pretty close with his brilliantly bizarre headline set, all delivered from the slope of a giant artificial mountain constructed on the main stage. From lying on his back to screaming like an animal, he infuses his live show with all the tension and anxiety of his studio recordings – a stark contrast to Bicep’s DJing over in the Valley, which is as immersive and satisfying as anyone could ask for. It’s a step up from their 2021 slot at Parklife, with the benefit of a bigger, better stage which they rise to with grace and mastery.

When the lights die down and the crowds trudge back across the park, what sticks in our mind isn’t the swirling tornados of rubbish tossed around by a particularly inclement gust. It isn’t even the ridiculous festival outfits that will probably be in the bin tomorrow, after their one weekend of glory. Parklife’s organisers (and attendees) could certainly do more to make the festival as pleasant and sustainable an experience as it could be – but if they keep filling programmes with performers like these, we can probably forgive them.

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Words: Tom Kingsley
Photography: Rory Barnes, Anthony Mooney, Jordan Curtis Hughes

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