Lovebox isn’t just a music festival. It’s much more than that.
You hardly recognise Victoria Park as you step through the entrance. When I think about it, Lovebox Festival is essentially a parallel universe; a joyous, vividly colourful, and incredibly wondrous place where people of all backgrounds come to take in hours upon hours of great music performed live by some of the greatest artists around. If the gateways from the game Ni No Kuni: The Wrath of the White Witch actually existed, Lovebox is the place you’d be transported to on the other side of Tower Hamlets.
Last year, Starchild (the editor in chief) & I went and we had an incredible time. We took in the likes of Friendly Fires, Groove Armada, David Rodigan, Hospitality (Hospital Records all-star DJ set, which is a festival in itself), Maverick Sabre, Boy Better Know, Magnetic Man, Rita Ora, Emeli Sande, and more. This year, my fiancée and I went together. I remember saying at some point last year that I didn’t think Lovebox 2012 could be topped, given that it made one hell of a first impression. I was proved flatly wrong. Simply put: Lovebox 2013 far exceeded the standard they originally set in 2012.
We arrived on Friday and headed straight to… the bar. Despite the lengthy queue (which you come to expect at festivals of this magnitude), we headed over to Red Bull Music Academy with drinks in each hand and got stuck into David Rodigan’s Ram Jam. We got in just time for Venum Sound, who spun some great tunes. After securing more drinks, we went back to Ram Jam and Artwork provided the soundtrack for the first heavy dancing session of the night. Artwork spun some classics from the early 90s and lit the place up proper just until David Rodigan arrived. The noise inside that tent was tantalising when Rodigan’s arrival was announced and even more spellbinding when he finally took over after Artwork’s great set. Last year, Rodigan smashed the living daylights out of his set when he was invited to spin some tunes as part of the Hospitality arena set Hospital Records puts on. This year? Rodigan stepped it up a notch, spinning some fresh new school/ol’ school mashups; roots and bashment; a bit of lovers rock; and old school jungle. It was absolutely insane and I’m sure those present would agree that Rodigan’s set that night was definitely one of the best, if not the best. Jazzy B of Soul II Soul then hit the decks, meaning there was no time for a break. More dancing ensued. Jazzy’s mashup’s were every bit as good as Rodigan’s and the session overall was magnificent.
Once that was finished, we procured more beverages of the alcoholic persuasion, tucked into some delicious jerk chicken wraps, and then bopped over to the Main Stage. We just missed Rudimental but from the sounds and looks of things, it seemed like they had a brilliant set of their own. All was not lost and the disappointment soon subsided because it was shortly after the set change that everyone was treated to some real hip-hop goodness. The incomparable Jurassic 5 showed up and showed out. People, the level of performance was nothing short of extremely high quality and you’d never know that J5 disbanded in 2007 based on said performance. The highlight of the set had to be Cut Chemist and DJ Nu-Mark getting on what was the biggest turntable I’ve ever seen and banging out the tunes. Nu-Mark then got what looked like an abstract vest of assorted vinyls and CDs and then started tapping on them. Yeah. Nu-Mark cranked out some beats on what was essentially an MPC vest that Damien Hirst would envy (simply because he didn’t think of it first). J5 rocked the spot, no doubt about it. Having seen the likes of A Tribe Called Quest and The Pharcyde, witnessing another legendary hip-hop group perform live reminded me just how much of a privilege it was to be there to witness it. “I can finally cross J5 off the list,” I proclaimed to my missus as we made our way back to The Bigtop.
We finished the night on one last drink and we got stuck into the visual and aural sensations of Steven Ellison, known to many as the musical genius called Flying Lotus. FlyLo definitely had the most unique set of the festival and even though I expected a master class of the unconventional (because FlyLo just doesn’t do conventional anything), I was still left saying to myself “Well, I wasn’t expecting that!” FlyLo was apparently very pissed (“I’m so fucking drunk right now!” ~ Flying Lotus) but he still managed to do three things: kick out the jams, spit bars with clarity and cohesiveness, and make the audience laugh… but not in that “Haha, duuuude. You’re so drunk!” kind of way. I mean I didn’t, anyway. The best bit of the set for me was when he started chanting “Old shit! Oooold shit!” before throwing together a mashup of two of my favourite tunes: SexSlaveShip & RobertaFlack. If the music didn’t move people, the visual effects certainly did but I thought the psychedelic elements of both worked together like steak and ale does in a pie. FlyLo’s set was genuinely awesome, although I did leave Lovebox with two regrets: not being able to meet fellow Sampleface minion Bee Thakur (who was also at the event on Friday) and not bringing a copy of my beat tape with me (FlyLo asked the producers in the house for beats and people obliged by chucking everything from CDs to cassette tapes up on stage). Kudos to the person who’s cassette tape got pocketed by the man himself… lucky git.
The missus and I were already feeling the wonderful festival soreness that Friday brought us the next morning but after a spot of breakfast, we made our way back down for round two. I was particularly looking forward to Saturday, mainly for two reasons: D’Angelo was performing and I’d get to introduce the missus to the pandemonium that is Hospitality: a relentless concert-within-a-concert where drum-n-bass, jungle, and dubstep are the three main courses of the day. We wasted no time getting into The Bigtop and tuning into the sounds of Metric. I noticed that the music was a bit on the quiet side and then my suspicions would end up being confirmed: the mixer died. A frustrated Metric wasted no time getting the tunes back on and he recovered in quite some style, dropping some brilliant tunes and remixes in the process. The Bigtop filled up nicely just in time for S.P.Y. and as the MC Wrec took to the mic, the noise level of the crowd elevated considerably. I’d never seen or heard S.P.Y before but let me tell you: he killed it. S.P.Y. opted for a different groove entirely and manages to find a happy medium between the liquid and the anthemic and I saw why he was rated so highly in the DNB world. Before we even had time to recover, Nu:Logic were on and this is where things really took off. Now surrounded by countless hundreds of DNB fanatics, Nu:Logic wasted no time engaging the thrusters and blasting every last one of us into outer space. Mosh pits – yeah, you read that right – were had and there wasn’t a single solitary soul inside the Bigtop shaking what their respective mothers gave them. Nu:Logic’s set was utterly epic. Just about every tune Logistics (one half of Nu:Logic) rolled was nothing short of an adrenaline rush. This is what Lovebox is all about.
Hospitality already was proving to be every bit as good as last year and hard as it was to tear ourselves away from it all, we knew two things: we needed to get something to eat and Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez would be on soon over at RBMA Arena so we quickly grabbed some fish and chips all while taking in the sounds of Infinity Ink. Once we’d finished eating whilst simultaneously bopping along to Infinity Ink’s grooves, we made haste to RBMA Arena and prepared for an education on how to really roll the tunes on the wheels of steel. Now I’d heard lots about dope, typically the bad kind that is commonly injected into oneself. This kind of Dope however is good for you; very good for you, I might add. What was interesting was that Mr Gonzalez said absolutely nothing on the mic and simply let his skills do the talking. He didn’t introduce himself, nor did he have anyone introduce him before he got started. Still, he played everything from hip-hop to house and everyone danced like crazy. He managed keep the vibe going for a solid one-and-a-half hours and even when he departed, he still said nothing; just saluted the crowd (who generously bestowed upon him some of the most rapturous applause for anyone I’d seen play thus far), grabbed some of his gear, and rode off into the sunset.
By that time, the missus and I made a mad dash to catch my personal favourite DNB producer/DJ going at the moment. This guy is the reason I got into Hospital Records and he’s the reason why I’m such a huge fan of what they are doing. He goes by the name of Lincoln Barrett but he’s better known the world over by his stage name: High Contrast. Flanked by his trusty MC Dynamite, he set to work and set the Big Top ablaze in the process. He played some seriously brilliant live remixes, he played some classics, and he finished the set with a brand-new tune that no one had heard yet and still managed to keep everyone bouncing like pogo sticks. Clearly, High Contrast is a chap that doesn’t just settle for consistency. He finds ways to make his sets better and I can honestly say that this years set at Lovebox exceeded last year’s… and last year was a fucking belter. In keeping with the custom at Hospitality, you don’t get any breaks so whilst High Contrast was on his way out, the immaculate Danny Byrd was setting up to pulverise everyone in the vicinity and that’s exactly what he did. I can think of no one else currently on the Hospital Records line-up that is as in-your-face and energetic behind the boards as Byrd is. As he’s slamming the tunes, he’s literally jumping around and flailing his arms about like a man possessed… and I loved every second of it. He’s definitely one with the audience and he’s also a massive fan favourite. If you witnessed his set that evening, you’d know exactly why that is. Danny Byrd came, saw, and conquered. It’s as simple as that.
Finally, we got around to seeing the man of the hour on the main stage: D’Angelo. Rocking a pinkish boa/scarf type deal and a pink guitar to match, he came out and brought the patented funk that anyone familiar with his work knows he can deliver. He didn’t disappoint. He played all-time favourites like Brown Sugar, Devil’s Pie, and Lady. He also played a sociopolitical tune off the new album called The Charade but not before making his feelings clear about the Zimmerman/Martin case verdict. He flitted back and forth between the guitar and the piano (reminded me a bit of Prince) and finished his set off in quite some style. “Another one I can cross off the list,” I exclaimed to my future wife as she crowed about how impressed she was with the set and other highlights of her day. By the time that had finished, our spirits cried out for more dancing but our bodies cried out “Enough is enough!” We wanted to catch Camo & Krooked and Netsky’s respective sets but when you’re so sore and tired that you can hardly stand, we did the sensible thing and called it a night.
I started off by saying that Lovebox isn’t just a music festival. It really is much more than that. It’s an escape. It’s an otherworldly experience; the kind of experience where you don’t even need to go through the photos and videos documenting the event. All I have to do is close my eyes and I’m there again… and that is true mark of a great musical event. As the missus and I tucked into bed, I asked her if she had a good time. She chuckled, smiled wide, and replied: “Honey, I had an amazing time.” I grinned and after a brief pause, I kissed her on the forehead and said “Best anniversary ever.” As I switched the bedside light off and we curled up together in an exhausted bliss, I shut my eyes. Sure enough, every ounce of the vivid imagery and noise from the last two days flooded my senses as I drifted off to sleep.
One can hardly wait until next year but one wonders: what use is a dream when you’ve already spent the last 36 hours living in one? Thank you, Lovebox.