You’re caught between the heavy bass magnetising you from one stage and intoxicating indie-pop coming from the main stage. You’re four Smirnoff Ices down, with Mancunian spirit sending your serotonin levels off the scale. You’re at Parklife 2018, and there is not a care in the air.
80,000 donned their best outfits and flooded into Heaton Park on the weekend of the 9th of June to see the likes of Skepta, Liam Gallagher, Sampha, Tom Misch, Jessie Ware and many, many more. Music editors Clare Redman and Meg Firth bring you the highlights.
Sigrid is the simultaneously the comfort blanket and party-starter; the 21-year-old effortlessly glides between aching vulnerability (‘Dynamite’, ‘I Don’t Want To Know’) and feel-good anthems (‘Plot Twist’, ‘Don’t Kill My Vibe’). She covers every inch of the stage, effortlessly possessing both her audience and her band to dance with her. At no point is a moment meaningless; she locks eyes with her fans, beaming at those singing along or clambering atop of shoulders to feel closer. She’s completely in her element, and loving every moment. “We’ve got time one more song before my train leaves,” she says to an audience who evidently don’t want to see her go. She closes with recent single ‘Strangers’, a song that perfectly captures heartbreak before piecing you back together with an anthemic chorus. As Sigrid and the band wave goodbye, it’s clear that many hope her train is delayed so she can play an encore.
The sun is blazing as you come over the hill to see Mancunian trap-jazz rapper IAMDDB. It is her homecoming, and she’s working the Valley Stage like a catwalk. She is magnetising, gliding through syllables per bar with effortless authority and a magnitude of potential. Yet, the crowd seem to be against her. Someone requests an AJ Tracy song, who’s playing after her, and she swiftly gives them the finger, rightfully spitting “IAMDDB, bitch.” She treats the stage as if it were a tabletop at her own house party, throwing shade at certain audience members and dipping through tracks in an uninhibited bliss. Although her delivery may have not captivated those far bar back in the crowd, her presence certainly entranced those at the front as she showcases her power to magnetise you with her confidence alone. Yet, leaving the set short, her performance didn’t live up to expectations. Heaton Park just wasn’t her crowd.
As the sun starts to set, there’s no better antidote to the dizzying day than the slinky and atmospheric sounds of The xx. The main stage became a place of refuge, with many being sedated by the guitar tics and syrupy vocal harmonies of Jamie Smith and Romy Madley Croft. Their sparse beats and melancholic hooks are poetic under the orange sky, tranquilising the crowd with a poignant set of purity and expression. The lights go down, and Madley Croft humbly steps forward; “This song means a lot to me, I’ll be playing it on my own,” she says, before playing ‘Performance’ with perfect execution. The vast field became an intimate scene in a film before the credits roll, the sky gradually fading from orange to purple. The minimal ‘VCR’, ‘Fiction’ and ‘Infinity’ somehow became colossal in the live set, with Oliver Sims’ synths and beats delivering the perfect amount of atmosphere. The set closed with ‘Shelter’; “I’d like to dedicate this last song to the LGBT community here,” Madley Croft says. “Years ago I got on a Megabus by myself to Manchester pride and had the most beautiful time.” With it being LGBTQ+ HIstory Month, it was a touching end to a near-perfect set.
The Valley stage is set like a dystopian city, with seedy stores boarded up and post-future advertisements looming. Annie Mac is the mayor of the night, the decks her soapbox, as she magnetises crowds into the dusty streets to dance to her mixes in unimpeded bliss. During a play of ‘Dished (Male Stripper)’ by Purple Disco Machine, a group of rain-mac clad partiers started doing the Macarena, causing what seemed like half of Heaton Park to join in. The rain was pouring but spirits were high, the dust turned to mud as Mac dropped EAcapella’s version of Mall Grab’s ‘Feel Good House’. Any pretence in the crowd washed away as the rain showered down, and Annie closed her set unapologetically with Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ -Legend.
— T In Techno (@TinTechno) June 15, 2018
After a 90 minute rain rave with Annie Mac and no shelter to be found, the novelty of the downpour began to fade. So where do you go to dry off in the darker hours of Parklife? Your answer is head to the Palm House, where you can shake your sodden clothes dry to the sounds of Jamie XX’s turntable magic, all under the sweaty shelter of a tropical greenhouse oasis. The mammoth set from one third of headliner The XX saw a selection mostly focused on deep house and techno, with a lighter change towards a mix of house and seventies disco towards the end. Live remixes of tracks from his debut album In Colour, such as ‘Seesaw’ featuring The XX pal Romy, went down a particular treat with the crowds. If you want an escape from the glitter-swamped masses of the main stage, Jamie XX is your place to be.
Parklife 2018 –
Jamie xx. pic.twitter.com/0FCMQhS9IJ
— The Warehouse Project (@WHP_Mcr) June 12, 2018
New Zealand’s finest musical export to the world graced the main stage of Parklife for an early evening set in the baking Manchester sunlight. By the end of her set, one thing was certain amongst the crowds- Lorde was by far the “coolest” goddess around. Here lies a certain irony, whereby Lorde’s lyrical focus is actually on her own “uncoolness” as an outcast and deliberate commentary on an image-obsessed society. This presented an interesting dichotomy between Lorde’s lyrical prowess and the identikit glitter and sequin clad audience absentmindedly singing along. Audience accusations that she’d “obviously copied Dua Lipa’s outfits” were quickly silenced by what was ultimately a spellbinding performance (are we seriously still comparing the appearances of female artists in 2018 anyway?). Perhaps the core of Lorde’s heartfelt honesty and social observation was missed by Parklife’s audience, and so we’d recommend seeing the Kiwi queen at one of her own concerts to get the atmosphere she deserves. Nonetheless I think we can all appreciate her ability to carry on singing when hoisted into the air by her squad of dancers during ‘The Louvre’. Lorde was absolutely in her element, smiling and chatting to the crowd throughout the whole performance. She’s a rare example of an artist who seems genuinely grateful for the career and fans she’s earned.
Parklife should have been the perfect chance for Scottish band Chvrches to showcase their live skills. They’re a talented trio but unfortunately neither the crowd, weather nor technology were willing to cooperate on the day. Lauren Mayberry’s gorgeous vocals filled the air as she ferociously stomped around stage, but were hard to hear above overpowering synths. Their minimalist set up relies on a fine balance between these two aspects, but sound control let them down on Sunday. Their set came an hour or so after the rain started, so the crowd was sparse and preoccupied with shivering in the evening chill and not in the mood for Chvrches brand of synth-pop. Nonetheless, we’d highly recommend seeing Chvrches live, but perhaps in a concert setting where the environment is a little more controlled and will do the band justice.
A festival set in the fields of Manchester would of course be incomplete without one of the Gallagher brothers to round off the night. He kick-started the show with a string of tracks from his debut solo album, such as hit single ‘Wall of Glass’, before the inevitable slew of Oasis songs. The set highlighted the sheer volume of Oasis’ back catalogue and impact on music history, with ‘Some Might Say’, ‘Supersonic’ and ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’ reeled off one after another, all hungrily devoured by the excitable home crowd. The latter seemed as relevant to its audience in the current economic climate as it did upon its original 1994 release, evident in the particularly enthusiastic crowd sing-shouting. ‘Live Forever’ was poignantly dedicated to the victims of the Manchester bombing attack last year, making everyone forget about their differences for a little while and join in a collective ensemble of 90’s singalong and arm-swaying bliss.
Words by Meg Firth & Clare Redman
Feature image by Andrew Whitton