Saturday June 6th
Manchester’s Parklife festival found itself at its expanded home of Heaton Park for a third time in 2015. The site is around four miles from the centre of town and upon arrival there are already signs that a few have hit the bottle too hard on the short journey.
The odd lethargic-looking frame can be seen slumped against the park’s outer fence as disgruntled, soberer, friends attempt to cradle them back into consciousness and get them through the festival’s gargantuan security operation.
Even at the VIP gate it takes over an hour to get into the festival, as punters are rigorously searched and stripped of everything from ketamine to corned beef sandwiches – and that’s before we get into some of the more bizarre prohibitions including umbrellas, ‘man-bags’ and ‘selfie-sticks’.
But those who have either done things by the book or slipped through the net with some kind of creative smuggling technique already appear to already be in the swing of things by mid-afternoon.
The Collanade area at the far end of the site, nestled in a crater in the ground surrounded by forestry, hosts a bumper set from house DJ Ben Pearce who has what looks like thousands in the palm of his hand hours before darkness even threatens to fall.
A trip to the Parklife Big Top then yields an ever-impressive set from London-based rapper Ghostpoet, who delights fans and no doubt some previously some unfamiliar stragglers with tracks from his recently-released third album Shedding Skin and old favourites like ‘Survive It’ and ‘Finished I Ain’t’. There’s a new distorted, guitar-led feel to the 32-year-old’s live show that makes it a far more immersive experience. A Saturday highlight.
With a line-up that places Radio 1 chart-botherers like Rudimental and George Ezra alongside oddballs such as Mac DeMarco and Machinedrum, it’s not surprising that the clientele also encompasses a broad range of social conventions.
There are the obligatory vodka-Red Bull swilling porn boys, unnervingly protruding from their BOY London wife-beaters as they pose for photos with fake tan-drenched, wannabe glamour models, itching to show their Instagram buddies they’re witnessing the latest tech-house sensation.
Then there are the exam-fresh students, enhancing their weekend of stumbling around pretty clueless who is on in front of them. Until they are able to join in a distinctly Surrey-accented and slightly ironic sing-along of “[Mum and Dad’s] Cash moves everything around me” during Wu-Tang Clan’s ‘C.R.E.A.M.’.
A surprisingly busy crowd for the demographic seem enchanted and confused by the Canadian in equal measure. An early rendition of ‘Blue Boy’ and some later poppier moments that even conjure memories of Blur keep the crowd bouncing, but some surreal audience interaction and more leftfield segments get a little lost in the ether of the huge tent.
Perhaps the biggest profiteers on the first day, however, are Metronomy who – despite having slightly less glitzy stage props than usual – set the Big Top alight. Their hour-long performance takes most of its numbers from last year’s Love Letters and 2011’s The English Riviera and the audience lap it up. We reckon the four-piece will relish the opportunity when they make the step up and headline Portmerion’s Festival No. 6 in September.
After catching a snippet of 90s beat king Fatboy Slim stick to what he knows yet electrify the Chibuku Stage, it’s time to make a break for it to avoid the inevitable stampede of 70,000 shitfaced revellers all trying get back to the city centre from a usually quiet suburb at once.
Sunday June 7th
Second time around there is less of a bottle-neck on entry to the site and it’s only about half an hour from the outer gate to the site. But one nuance is the introduction of gender-specific search queues – perhaps some kind of Saturday drugs analysis revealed females to be the more smuggle-likely sex, as handbags, purses and make-up carriers are rifled through by stewards and explored by expectant sniffer dogs.
The Main Stage is blessed by a cloudless sky following the early evening showers of the night before – and what better way to soundtrack the occasion than the feel-good vibes of Craig Charles’ funk ‘n’ soul show. He brings his monthly residency at Manchester’s Band On the Wall to the open air with glorious effect.
Then it is time for perhaps the most curious booking of the weekend and someone who may have contributed to a slightly more age-diverse attendance on the Sunday, Grace Jones.
The 67-year-old enchants both young and old with a set that draws on pop, reggae, R&B, soul, dub and everything in between. This is all coupled with a typically outlandish live set-up that sees the pensioner gradually strip off throughout the show from a cloak, mask and tribal head-dress, right down to nothing but a translucent cat suit. There’s a feeling that a few enjoy the spectacle more than the actual music, but she definitely goes down as a Main Stage highlight.
Following Grace comes another sun-kissed extravaganza from last year’s groovy pop sensations Jungle, who treat fans to an energetic collection of tracks from their Mercury-nominated self-titled debut album.
But over on the Sounds of the Near Future Stage (the same space that was the Now Wave tent yesterday), the prize for most excitable early evening crowd most definitely goes to Todd Terje and his band The Olsens.
Terje blasts out his constantly uplifting brand of funky disco while backed by two live percussionists and bass. It’s a fusion that many a laptop DJ would do well to get inspired by. Signature hit ‘Inspector Norse’ from last year’s It’s Album Time inevitably gets the biggest cheer, but the whole thing produces prolonged euphoria.
Another pop-up delight that arrives on Sunday is David Rodigan’s Super Ram Jam. This is an oudoor arena to rival the Main Stage – and perhaps the most sobering and refreshing moment of the weekend comes when the Radio 2 and 1 Xtra DJ addresses an unpleasant anniversary that has so far been shied away from by organisers and performers alike.
Rodigan holds a one-minute silence at the beginning of his DJ set in memory of Robert Hart, the man brutally beaten to death at last year’s Parklife festival. It’s observed admirably by the crowd and followed by a huge applause. A touching moment.
In terms of causalities this time around, it’s pure idiocy over violence that hits the headlines, as six people are taken to hospital after mistaking poppers on sale from Parklife reps as novelty alcoholic shots. Sometime you have to wonder.
Back to the music though and a trademark Bob Marley sign-off from Rodigan is followed by the unrivalled eye-popper from this year’s bill, as Nas arrives to twist and turn through every classic moment from his iconic hip-hop masterpiece, Illmatic.
The field is packed out, causing us to wonder how the likes of FKA Twigs and Earl Sweatshirt might be getting on elsewhere. But with tens of thousands with arms aloft, belting out anthems like ‘Life’s a Bitch’ and ‘The World is Yours’, it’s hard to care. Sometimes digging out old records to tour them in their entirety can come across as overly nostalgic or desperate. But with a passion, sharp wit and constant appreciation of his beginnings, the LP sounds as fresh as ever being pumped out into the evening sky.
He gives the audience even more than they bargained for too, with a greatest hits encore featuring the sublime ‘It Was Written’ and finally, ‘The Don’.
Then there’s time for one last euphoric showstopper, as Canadian crossover king Caribou brings the Sounds of the Near Future stage to a close. There’s strobes, a career-spanning set and a ten-minute encore of ‘Sun’ that proves the perfect final swansong.
Getting home is an absolute nightmare as the festival’s poorly supplied shuttle buses and dedicated trams become packed out in minutes. The prepaid transport passes that were offered for a tenner aren’t worth the paper they’re written on as hundreds simply storm the platforms.
But after a two-hour expedition of rushing for buses, trams and negotiating with taxi drivers unprepared to go lower than ten pounds per mile, the overall assessment is of a festival that – despite having to deal with some obvious kinks that have arisen as it has grown – is still a place to catch some very special moments.