Words by Callum Sheppard and Piran Aston
Parklife Festival is a strange but beautiful place. For one weekend every year, Heaton Park is transformed into a concoction of overpriced food, questionable fashion choices and varying musical performances. Its growth in the years leading up to 2018 meant the need for even more choice and thus the introduction of a brand-new stage, The Valley, a massive urban sprawl of sorts. Situated towards the end of exam season, much of Manchester’s student population took the weekend as either the glorious start of summer or just a nice getaway before a few weeks of boredom.
Saturday was as smooth a first day as you could have ever asked for. The Main Stage from the afternoon onwards was a thing of beauty. For an early showing, MNEK’s crowd was happily welcoming, especially when he got through some of the collaborations he’s worked on in recent years with the likes of Zara Larsson and Gorgon City. A stunning voice (something Parklife had in abundance over the weekend), he is nothing short of excellent and accompanied by some wonderful dancers, gave those watching a great taste of what was to come.
After purchasing several expensive Carlsbergs in the blazing heat of Heaton Park, TMB headed to catch Bicep. Their inventive style of techno and house gave a mellow introduction with a hard-hitting approach. Songs such as ‘Rain’ produced an impeccable atmosphere, with the electronic duo blending in vocal samples and hard-hitting tech kicks which producing goosebumps and chills.
Jon Hopkins provided a set of pulsating musical moments. A pleasurable headache if you will, as he cranked up the volume to create a marvellous spectacle of dance, and electronic anthems with songs such as ‘Everything Connected’, and ‘Open Eye Signal’ offering momentous moments of cataclysmic proportions.
The Sounds of the Near Future tent found us catching Tom Misch, a young man whose music was a compete personification for how good the weather was that day. Letting the instrumentals take control for most of the set, the songs from April’s Geography spoke for themselves.
From there on, it was pure star power that Parklife had brought to the biggest stage. Whilst absolutely tearing it apart with ‘Too Much’, one of the highlights of Mercury Prize-winning Sampha’s set was a closing moment in which him and his band performed an expertly set, tight-knit percussion solo which genuinely blew me away.
If you’d arrived on the Saturday morning with pent-up emotions, by the time Lorde finished, you’d be in tears. Her telling brilliance was never more central than the closing renditions of ‘Team’ and ‘Green Light’, the latter bringing with it one of the largest crowd reactions I saw all weekend. She made it all look so effortless and excluding a comment on the loudness of a nearby dance stage, never seemed to waver.
N*E*R*D brought a nuclear sense of energy to Heaton Park with Pharrell seeming his ever-swaggering self throughout. A triple onslaught of some early stuff including the huge ‘She Wants to Move’ combined with the Rihanna-featuring ‘Lemon’ from their new album had the front parts of the crowd on absolute edge. The group only incensed the crowd’s excitement when he led a hundred-plus rush of people on stage as their set came to a soaring end. For a group who came together in 1999, Manchester clearly still loved them. However, the biggest amount of love on the night was always going to be left to the first-time Parklife headliners The xx.
A band of such high quality, yet containing a sound that might not transform to the big stages? Wrong. I’d only just started my third year of high school when the band won the Mercury Prize back in 2010, but seeing how far they’ve come in those years is truly extraordinary. You don’t just get to this point because of nothing and it showed. The stage setup and light show came together with the changing mood of the songs and each member of the group truly shone throughout. Even with all three of them standing apart from one another, taking turns to perform certain tracks acapella allowed the two singers to really tear emotions apart in the most painful of ways. Before Romy Madley-Croft began set closer ‘Angels’ from their second album, she dedicated the song to Manchester’s fantastic LGBT+ community and it really was heart-wrenching to hear performed. Her vocals alongside Oliver Sim’s throughout the set found a truly magnificent feeling, regardless of who took centre stage. Jamie Smith took charge whilst the singers left for a brief encore and his momentous dropping of Roger Sanchez’s classic ‘Another Chance’ towards the end truly proved just how important each of them are. The 2010s might gradually be coming to an end, but they are a band for this time and I’d defy anyone to see them perform ‘I Dare You’ and not break down in floods.
Elsewhere, Bonobo narrowly stakes a claim to steal the show. Stunning visuals, re-organised tracks which became powerful danceable hits, saw him draw out the emotions of his albums. Songs such as ‘Outlier’, and ‘Kong’ were turned into progressive, loud and intense moments, as well as vocalist Szjerdene adding truly stunning vocal performances across soundscapes of chimes and powerful percussion.
Failing to find any sense of energy to get back up and do it all over again on day two might’ve stumped even the best of people, but not even the Heaton Park crowd could be defeated. A day less hopeful with its weather but more eccentric in its musical choices, there was again something for everyone on the closer. However, my first full festival experience in just short of four years meant I had sadly forgotten how painful clashes can be, something not particularly helped by acts being moved at the last minute. David Rodigan’s Ram Jam hosted the afternoon’s first act of brilliance in the form of Soul II Soul whose soulful infectiousness had set in hard amongst the painfully small group who had come to see them.
Similar to Lorde’s expertise on the Saturday, a similar wave of talent came through the Main Stage on the Sunday with Sigrid. The Norwegian singer has had nothing short of a fantastic 12 months and that certainly showed. The confidence oozing through her was obvious to anyone watching and by the time she performed her first hit ‘Don’t Kill My Vibe’, it was a true palm-of-her-hand moment. Coming with her beautiful voice was the impending rain, something that wouldn’t relent for the next three hours or so.
The weather couldn’t stop a resurgent Everything Everything, who shortly back from Bonnaroo in the US, brought a telling amount of love to the city they call home. A group I’d only previously seen at the somewhat small Pyramids in Southsea pushed through the larger crowds to great effect with songs mostly from the last two albums, including the darker realms of A Fever Dream from earlier this year. Give it time, but they’ll soon be hitting the xx’s heights.
A quick rush from there to the Hangar allowed a good view of French dance duo Justice. Known for their extravagant sets, especially from a lighting perspective, there was no sense of disappointment. Arriving to rapturous applause, moving into ‘Safe and Sound’ was only the start of a mind-shattering time in their presence. I’d never seen anything like it frankly and highly doubt I will for a while.
Finishing off my main stage exploits for 2018’s Parklife was left to Scottish group Chvrches who began taking the full pain of the torrid weather, meaning much of the crowd seemed quite unwilling to go really wild. That did not stop any of the band though, with both Lauren Mayberry and Martin Doherty being their usual eccentric selves whilst performing. The beauty of the songs was a certain calming influence as the rain came down in droves, although some of us were smart enough to get ponchos before they all sold out.
An inspiration musically for myself, and one of my all-time favourite artists, Four Tet‘s set in the Palm House during sunset was a moment to truly remember. He blended songs from his stunning 2017 record New Energy with some of his favourite tracks. Songs such as ‘Lush’ and ‘Two Thousand and Seventeen’ blew me away. There was a euphoric feel to his set: pure happiness and excitable music fans dancing away as the sun was setting behind us. A miraculous moment in which Kieran Hebden left us all tranced and hooked to the moment. His hour and a half set concluded with ‘Planet’. The 7 minute deep cut from ‘New Energy’ was turned onto its head and into a raging club anthem that built slowly, mesmerising myself and all around me.
Post-Chvrches was a particularly strange hour, as many, many people took to the Sounds of the Near Future tent for cover only for The Internet to be MIA for half an hour. When they eventually appeared, their sadly shortened set was a glorious exploration into the efforts of some very talented individuals. Led by ex-Odd Future alumni Syd, her phenomenal voice combined with jazz-infused wonder to bring the remnants of a crowd to pure joy.
The exploits of one Californian rapper was the glorified ending to the Sunday night under one of the only tents at the Heaton Park site. 2017’s acclaimed Big Fish Theory and appearance on the latest Gorillaz LP took Vince Staples into a bigger view, something which helped lead to one of Parklife’s best sets of the 2018 festival. A very excited crowd massively packed out the tent, ensuring that he came on, performed and left whilst emphasising just how bloody talented he is. Whilst The xx might have showed everyone how simplistic soft beauty can be, Vince managed to create his own fusion of confidence and sincerity with just a mic. Standing alone in front of a combined set of ongoing TV clips of various events, depending on the song, it was truly simplistic, but he made it work. Kicking off with ‘Get The Fuck Off My Dick’ was truly eye-opening and having listened to the studio version before and after the Parklife weekend, it does not sound anywhere near as good unless you find yourself having him brutalise those lyrics to you. A sweet one-two of ‘Ascension’ from Gorillaz’ Humanz and the ever-fantastic ‘Yeah Right’ closed off a gorgeously lit set of power from one man who just won’t stop on his rise upwards.