Review: Parklife 2016

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The rain may have been incessant, but it did little to diminish the hedonistic flame of Parklife 2016. Revellers tried their best to radiate Coachella chic underneath all the cheap ponchos and mud; that, in case you were wondering is the Parklife look – quintessentially British. Amidst the bucket hats and devastated trainers was a stellar line up that spoilt the 150,000 festival-goers that piled through the gates over two days with riches.

Grime commanded the biggest crowds over the weekend and it started with Stormzy. The Tottenham grime star created bedlam with a pulsating, high energy set on the main stage as his unassailable rise continues. In no uncertain terms he merked it. Stormzy ramped up the tempo with ‘Where do you know me from’, squeezed in Lethal Bizzle’s ‘Fester’ and brought the audience to rapture with ‘Shut Up’. The seminal grime track was always going to be a highlight. It unsurprisingly caused quite a stir in the young crowd with some pretty hectic moshing, which is understandable when Stormzy acts as maestro. And he achieved all this at only 22 years old –  but what’s that compared to a degree from the University of Southampton? Am I right, graduates?

On Saturday, the Big Top offered one-man band Jack Garratt sanctuary from the rain and he in return offered the crowd his unique frenetic sound. Garratt sported his trademark beard and rocked a pair of dungarees, every inch the bluegrass soul man. The Brits Critics Choice Award winner for 2016 took to the stage with nought but a pair of drumsticks and some loop-peddle know-how. Garratt showcased an aptitude for multitasking as he shredded the drum kit with one hand and played the synths with the other – and all whilst singing with an astonishing range; from gruff growl to soaring falsetto. It seemed exhausting but each to their own. ‘Worry’ elicited a big ol’ sing along with the muddy party animals and it was truly breath taking to witness Garratt produce such layered and powerful sounds all by himself. ‘Breathe Life’ got the tent bouncing as Garratt commanded all the instruments surrounding him with expert ease, a jack of all trades it would seem. Garratt ran through his acclaimed debut album Phase, but also treated the audience to a surprise mash up of Justin Timberlake’s ‘Senorita’ and Craig David’s ‘7 days’ – the man’s creativity just doesn’t let up, does it?

Jamie Woon took to the Now Wave stage and slowed the tempo down with a stripped back set centred on his soulful vocals. Woon’s textured soundscape was swiftly followed by Norwegian Todd Terje’s Scandinavian disco (is there any other sort?) A hypnotic swirling light show illuminated the stage throughout the Norwegian disc-jockey’s disco beats. ‘Strandbar’ lifted the crowd but it was the opening melody to ‘Inspector Norse’ that whipped the crowd into a bit of a frenzy – it’s a bloody catchy tune after all. Ice Cube commanded Heaton Park on Saturday evening with seemingly none of his ferocious stage presence diminished. He still had that raw energy that defined N.W.A as he performed a slew of classics.

The Chemical Brothers performed a whirlwind, career-spanning set that was all but overshadowed by their bewitching and at times quite terrifying visuals; lights, lasers…and robots. Suspended in mid air, these giant robots had a Toy Story, Rock ‘em Sock ‘em look but wore an ambiguous expression that gave them a bit of a Schwarzenegger, T-800 edge. Were they friend or foe? It was hard to tell. The superstar DJ’s ripped through 90 minutes of dance music classics and newer gems alike. ‘Hey Boy Hey Girl’ got the crowd moving and was followed by 2007’s ‘Do It Again’ and ‘Galvanise’. A rather frightening clown adorned the big screen for both which, though unnerving, did little to quell the euphoria. The Chemical Brothers seamlessly weaved in the Grammy nominated ‘Go’, taken from last years Born In The Echoes – their sixth number one which made them the dance act with the most number ones – and they more than lived up to their star billing.

Then it was Sunday, as people trudged through the mud under another deluge of rain, feeling a little worse for wear. Who better to take to The Temple stage as part of Rodigan’s Super Jam than Mr David Rodigan MBE himself? The bastion of the dance hall and patron of new urban sound was typically loquacious, clad in a blue trilby. He offered us a jungle and reggae history lesson whilst giving shout outs to the UK’s finest DJ’s and honouring the eminence of Grime. Rodigan started off with a Reggae mix of Bieber’s ‘Where Are U Now’ and then weaved through the UK’s urban sound with some old school jungle with ‘Jungle Is Massive’ and Gigg’s ‘Rat-A-Tat-Tat’. Rodigan is a wizard and is simply a must wherever he may be.

Sunday evening was a clash of kings and queens. The headliners were such an embarrassment of riches that it was hard to choose who to see? Major Lazer or Jamie xx? MK or Armand Van Helden B2B Jackmaster? Quite the selection headache but in the meantime, Skepta proved to be a unanimous choice, commanding one of the biggest crowds of the weekend – who were all eager to race through his new album Konnichiwa. The grime star certainly didn’t disappoint. The album cover adorned the big screen as every line from ‘That’s Not Me’ was screamed back at the Tottenham born star. Much of the same for ‘Shut Down’ and recently released single ‘Man’ which would have been a relief for Skepta whose throat he confessed was giving him a bit of gip – not that it showed.

Four Tet not only treated the Collonade crowd to some funk but also heralded one of the few instances of sunshine. The clouds parted and a few stray beams of sunlight kissed the Heaton Park faithful. The four-year hiatus of The xx from the studio is easily understood in light of the meteoric rise of their beat man Jamie xx. The electronica wizard’s set was packed with dreamy house as well as a soulful remix of Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. The DJ all but blew the roof off the Now Wave stage when he mixed in ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’, one of those universally adored classics. His set was interrupted slightly by an intrepid fellow climbing up the tent’s substructure but returned to formalities once he climbed down, remixing ‘Loud Places’ backed by a staggering light show, complete with disco ball. Whats a disco with no disco ball?

Rain, mud and rock and roll, Parklife 2016 was wild. 10,000 early bird tickets were released for 2017 and have already sold out, which is surely a testament to this most glorious start to summer.

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Im Freddie and Im a nerd. I go to as many gigs as I can because I love getting elbowed in the face to the sound of music.

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