I love city festivals, especially those held smack dab in the middle of a bustling neighbourhood, like Victoria Park in East London. Covering more than 80 hectares of grassy patches, for two days last week Victoria Park was where 40,000 Londoners – mostly – gathered to hear and watch some of the brightest, biggest and bashful names in music. The moment you got off the tube – whether at Mile End or Bethnal Green, depending on what was the closest tube station for you – it was easy to spot the festival revellers. Dressed for a day of fun in the sun and armed with a ‘refreshing’ drink for the 15-minute walk to the venue, Grove Road is where the pre-party began. Acknowledged by many fans as the festival that puts the spotlight on fresh talent, Lovebox 2014 managed to do that. Though there were biggies like US rapper NAS, rapper-and-songwriter MIA, Bonobo, German electronic music project Moderat, UK favourites Chase and Status and Katy B, DJs like EZ, Duke Dumont, Adam Beyer, The Martinez Brothers, there were also more experimental acts like minimal duo Mount Kimbie, travelling nu-disco band Hercules and Love Affair, Bipolar Sunshine, Lovebox favourites like Horse Meat Disco and a lot more. Truncated into a two-day festival this year – it was three days last year – 2014 was the first year that Lovebox was completely sold out. It was bigger than last year, as were the headliners. So does bigger mean better? Not always. I checked out Saturday at the festival, and came away with some thoughts and tired feet.
He is regarded as one of the best hip hops acts of all time and Illmatic is consistently ranked as one of the top hip hop albums. So was Lovebox excited to hear Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones? You bet! The crowds swelled up and the Main Stage erupted when NAS hit the stage to perform Illmatic in its entirety, celebrating the record’s 20th anniversary. With tracks like One Love, NY State of Mind, Represent, NAS electrified the arena even with the very modest sound levels. Overheard in the crowd: “I never thought I would get to see NAS.” Well neither did we.
2. Mount Kimbie and Bonobo Live
When we walked in to the Big Blue Top, Mount Kimbie were putting the final touch-ups to their set-up in front of a sparse crowd. Five minutes after they started there were hundreds of people who were bobbing to the dark-yet-melodic electronic music.
His prowess as a musician is not to be doubted and the Simon Green’s live show at the Big Blue Top did nothing to harm his reputation. Splitting at the seams, Bonobo clashed with MIA at the Main Stage but the Brighton musician held his own and very well I may add against the razzmatazz and lights of the Main Stage. Unlike MIA who was plagued by sound issues, Bonobo’s show was crisp and every bit as good as he’s made out to be.
Lovebox 2014 upped the ante this time with a wide number of stages and curations this year. Competing for attention with the lineup at Main Stage, Soundcrash presents at the Big Blue Top, RBMA presents were DISTRIKT – the electronic music collective from Burning Man – Noisey, Inside the House Party, which was designed like a house with windows. If you wanted to skate all weekend with disco, the Roller Boogie stage was perfect for you. Nando’s had a tiny acoustic stage as well. If hanging out a stage wasn’t your scene, then you could check out the hippest and newest acts at The Bearded Kitten Manor, Little Gay Brother, Kubicle.
4. Sound and production
On a sweltering day, a loud and crisp sound could’ve distracted us from thinking about how effing hot the sun was. But alas that wasn’t to be. Friday and Saturday were plagued by production issues, with MIA being the worst affected.
Making a statement on stage with 20 people wearing “Stop Tamil Deportation” T-shirts, the singer repeatedly asked for her mic to be turned up, leaving her clearly irritated. End result, she cut her set short by 25 minutes amidst boos.
5. Food and booze
It’s London and East London at that, so how can you not have the best food at your festival? From jerk chicken to slow cooked lamb and organic vegan food stalls, there was everything the mind and heart desired. But the sheer numbers meant that you had to tackle long queues and even when you made it to the counter, they had run out of the burger you wanted. Queues at the bar were the longest and hence more excruciating. Maybe there were enough bars but with 40,000 people at the site, they certainly didn’t feel enough!