Parklife: Finding diamonds in the rough
All things considered, my weekend at Parklife was probably good value for money. This is ultimately the true test of a good festival, so you could say that Parklife passed; however the fact I won my tickets in a library scavenger hunt means it was a more of a win by default (the two sweetest words in the English language).
Parklife has become rather infamous, not least for the tragic, and as yet unresolved, death of Robert Hart and two stabbings at last year’s event. Consequently security was heavy this year and entry was a tedious process. Security were also slightly heavy handed in certain regards, for example searching wallets without asking for permission, but this was perhaps understandable given the circumstances and meant the vibe in Parklife also wasn’t exactly the festival stereotype of peace and love. I wouldn’t describe it as threatening at all; it just wasn’t as friendly as your 2000 Trees of this world. Still, over the course of the two days the atmosphere came to grow on me, and Parklife is mostly just a bit rough and ready because Manchester is a bit rough ready (not like Reading and it’s Surrey teens who can’t handle their drink), and worse than the atmosphere is the emphasis on consumption.
I know the free festival is an ideal lost to the past and that even Glastonbury is subject to corporate ties, but Parklife feels like it is purposefully designed to stop you getting comfortable. There’s no camping or places to sit and relax, so you can’t just take five and eat or drink something that’s not hideously overpriced. Consequently you always feel like you have to be doing something, whether that be moving to a new stage (each of which has its own bar), or spending money on a ride, a drink or something to eat. Luckily our guest tickets gave us access to the VIP area which had some space for downtime (and also a Seven Brothers Brewery stand, shout out to those guys for good beer and Wu-Tang/BBNG chat), but in general it was not a place that favoured anyone without deep pockets and a heavy pre-drinking session.
Still, Parklife is mostly a festival for 9-5’ers or local students who can get nice and turnt beforehand, whereas I’m a broke Welshman who drove up and had work at 8 on Monday. That didn’t stop me watching the music though, and there were some really surprising, and excellent, acts to watch, with the booking at Parklife seemingly done entirely through compromise (I imagine there were multiple conversations with higher ups telling organisers that they can have one BADBADNOTGOOD for every James ‘oh look at my silly hat’ Bay). So, without further ado (he says after 500 words), here are Parklife’s Diamonds in the Rough.
Obaro Ejimiwe released the excellent Shedding Skin earlier this year, a less electronic album that has been more reminiscent of his live sound, which has always utilised a full band, and the new songs already sound polished. Particular highlights include Shedding Skin standouts X Marks The Spot and Sorry My Love, It’s You Not Me, and some great older cuts like Survive It and Cash and Carry Me Home.
As his name might suggest, Ghostpoet occupies the space between styles and genres. He has a spoken, melancholic and flowing vocal style, but he isn’t quite a rapper and the way he builds into choruses is reminiscent of punk/alternative stylings. He has glitchy, house influenced production, but utilises electric guitars and acoustic drums. He’s a marathon runner who loves gin. His live show really brings this all across and shows him as a truly unique artist. If you get the chance to see him this summer you should definitely take it.
Okay, so this wasn’t quite Wu-Tang Clan, but it was still Wu-Tang Clan, you know? Method Man and a few others weren’t there, but we still got GZA, Ghostface and Raekwon. The energy and stage presence might not be what it once was, but technically they were still right on point. They might have plugged solo albums, but the old songs still fucking bang; and they knew that’s what people wanted.
They went heavy on 36 Chambers with C.R.E.A.M., Bring da Ruckus, Da Mystery of Chessboxin’, Clan in da Front, and when it started to rain they dropped a one-two of Shame and Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t nothing Ta F’ Wit, with the crowd, and the group, getting more animated as it started to get heavier. Throw in an ODB tribute (Shimmy Shimmy Ya) and a solo from Mathematics on the ones-and-twos; you’ve got yourself a good show. So whilst they might not be the best group in rap anymore, they’re still Wu-Tang Clan, and that will always be worth seeing.
The Toronto jazz collective are probably most well known for their (excellent) album with Ghostface Killah and (excellent) production credits for Earl Sweatshirt. With both Ghostface and Earl on the bill many people went to the Kaytranda and Friends stage, situated beneath a beautiful Victorian archway, in the hope of some unannounced guests. It’s a massive credit to BBNG that they still managed to captivate an audience with such expectations at two on a Sunday afternoon.
The four are supremely talented musicians, combining incredibly intricate patterns with relentless, driving drums and the kind of bass that you can feel in your throat. They mostly play a set of their own compositions, infused with heavy periods of improvisations, and add a Flying Lotus cover in for good measure. It’s an hour long exhibition of musicianship and even without the guest spots, or a single lyrics, it’s an absolute blinder.
Imagine lots and lots of fire emojis and lots and lots of weed, that’s Action Bronson. Playing Rodigan’s Ram Jam stage, he wanders on and tells the DJ to shut the fuck up, before launching into Brand New Car, the opening track from this year’s Mr. Wonderful. He immediately clambers into the crowd and the bangers from that album just keep coming with Terry, Actin’ Crazy and Baby Blue, which he says he’s going to swing sweetly for us.
He criticises the crowd for the lack of smoke in the air, telling them they should have hid their baggies under their nuts (“they ain’t gonna check you there”), and throws in some deep cuts from the mixtapes before finishing with the massive Easy Rider. He then casually wanders off stage to do whatever it is that Action Bronson does on the day to day, presumably something to do with all green mink.
Annoyingly Earl was brought forward by about an hour without so much as a tweet (another few points off Parklife’s organisation score). Luckily, I got to the stage thirty minutes early to get a good spot and managed to catch half the set, but there were people turning up just as Earl was finishing, which was pretty much exactly when the (£7) programme said he would start, who were understandably pissed off.
Still, Earl delivered more in the half set than most could in a two hour headline. He rifled through tracks from ‘I don’t like shit, I don’t go outside’, arguably 2015’s best, or at least most complete, rap album; and it’s a testament to Earl as a performer that dark, lyrical and introspective tracks like Grief and Faucet still get the crowd as rowdy as an Odd Future show. After finding out he doesn’t have enough time to finish the whole album he changes pace (“we’re gonna turn you guys up a bit”) by dropping two new tracks that sound like they could be lost OF cuts and had me reaching for the fire emojis again. The fact Earl makes such a wide variety of music that’s all ridiculously good is just disgusting when you remember he only turned 21 in February, which pretty much makes him the Joe Root of rap (and you thought this review wasn’t going to get any more niche).
These are the highlights I managed to catch, although if it weren’t for clashes this list would have also included the FKA Twigs, Nas, Hudson Mohawke, Jamie XX, James Blake and Caribou. There was also a fine array of DJ’s and producers, as you would expect from a festival associated with The Warehouse Project. Madlib was a technical masterclass, blending funk, soul and hip hop seamlessly whilst drinking from a hilariously oversized wine glass which he kept throughout the day, sipping it classily side of stage for Earl Sweatshirt. Rodigan and Fatboy Slim were excellent as always, Mark Ronson played a great set that began with soul classics and moved forwards through time to end with some contemporary slappers (or maybe they were bangers, I get confused), and DJ EZ brought the whole thing to a heavy and rowdy close on Sunday (find a vine of him dropping ‘Feed ‘em to the lions’, it’s brutal). There were also numerous after parties to choose from, although these were again charged (which I imagine leaves a slightly sour taste in the mouth after already spending upwards of £150 for the weekend), and I had a four hour drive back to Wales to look forward to, so I ended my Parklife early and chose the M62 over MK.
All things considered, I think I would recommend Parklife, although with the warning that if you want to get into it properly be prepared to spend money or pre-load heavily, and to make sure that you find the right acts / stages to avoid the James Bay crew. Still, it’s worth putting up with that if you get to see Wu-Tang, it's just a shame about the emphasis on all those dollar dollar bills y'all (... sorry).