My geography any further north of Birmingham gets a little hazy. Manchester is still unknown to me, and I have no clue as to where it is in the UK. On the way to being dropped off at the airport, my mum informed me that Mancunians tend to refer to you as ‘love’, and upon speaking to my first person on arrival, I am pretty sure I was called ‘love’ around 5 times in our 30 second exchange.
I found myself staying in the student area of Manchester after a last minute plea for accommodation and a festival companion resulted in an offer from an old school friend. Upon leaving the house on Saturday morning, I got a glimpse of what Parklife was really about. Huddles of very well dressed students lined the streets, decked out in an array of culturally appropriated clothing and vintage apparel, armed with bottles of overpriced booze and phones itching for the hashtag #squadgoals. The commute from Fallowfield (a reasonably pleasant Northern region of Manchester) to Heaton Park took a little over an hour, but the public transport in Manchester is something Southampton can only dream of, and its efficiency was enough to excite my already exhausted brain. The tram itself had the strong aroma of marijuana, a stench that followed me pretty much all weekend. I witnessed several passengers fill condoms with joints in an attempt to sneak it past the sniffer dogs.
Heaton Park would be a pleasant park on an average day. Open expanses of green turf make for a pretty decent dog walking area. However, this weekend the park was boarded off for the, what felt like, millions of festival goers that were crammed onto this tiny site. Security was reasonably tight for those who were unlucky enough not to possess the treasured VIP/Press wristband combination. However, full bag searches and metal detectors, as well as sniffer dogs, were perhaps designed to act as more of a preventative measure, as many still managed to smuggle in the odd bottle of Jäger and a full variety of hallucinogenics.
Food at the festival was better than average, but the prices were as you would expect from a festival that has a no re-admission policy, and one that shuts its entrances at 5, sealing you into your fate. I fully entrusted katsu curry in the mission to keep me sane that weekend, and it definitely almost worked.
My first stop of the day was the Big Top stage, which I hung around for most of the time I was at the festival that day. A completely unknown face to myself was on stage performing. I later discovered her stage name is Låpsley, an electronic artist that hales from Liverpool. She makes use of a vocal distorter to add new layers to her music, while maintaining herself as a truly independent artist. Her music is calm and as beautiful as I consider electronic music to ever be, and didn’t feel out of place at this bass obsessed festival. My only grievance is that Låpsley was on far too early in the day.
Ghostpoet was up next. Also intrigued by the free-rapper, I decided to hang around to catch his set. In my opinion, his older work sounded far more comfortable and natural than his newer music, keeping a far more distinguishable rap base to his music. Ghostpoet rewrites genre, he encompasses so many well-known and well-liked musical ventures, but sometimes loses the crowd with a beat or rhythm that is slightly too off-key or too far away from what my ears find comfortable. His all black ensemble, dark shades, and expressionless face kept him pretty far removed from the crowd that slowly ebbed and flowed during his set. It was the harmonies of both his and his back up vocalists that really shone in the set though, making me wish they were more of a duet. A heap of potential, but perhaps an ego and stage presence that doesn’t allow for change.
By this point I was in need of the bathroom. I took a reasonable amount of time debating whether the 5-10 minute walk back to VIP would be shorter than queueing for the bathrooms situated right near the stage I was at. Indeed, upon making it back to VIP there was nearly no queues, and an abundance of toilet paper (something almost unseen at a modern day festival).
Without realising their popularity, I rushed back to Big Top, hoping for a front row barrier spot for perhaps my favourite band Everything Everything. Unfortunately, by this point the tent was packed, and I pushed my way as far forward as possible. Their set was joyous and heart warming, despite the apocalyptical lyrics that lead singer Jonathan Higgs is so well known for. I pretty much sang all the lyrics with the impossibly quick mouthed Higgs, impressing a number of my surrounding drunken festival goers. I left the set with a huge smile on my face and an intense desire to possess both tickets to their latest shows and their newest album (Get To Heaven, out 22nd June). Altogether fantastic showmen, and their bright orange jackets are the things of fashion designers’ nightmares.
Directly next to Big Top stage was the surprisingly small Main Stage. I headed over to catch Wu Tang Clan. The Clan worked hard to begin with, trying to get the audience involved, but a few tunes in and it became clear that the predominately caucasian audience knew little about Wu Tang, perhaps only recognising the symbol, the hit ‘C.R.E.A.M.’, and the name from one of Macklemore’s raps. The set grew more awkward and uncomfortable, the audience didn’t respond when instructed, and the group quickly began to lose interest. A rain shower mid-set meant the audience dwindled. They may be one of the largest and most influential hip hop groups in history, but what the hell do a bunch of drugged up white kids understand about the issues addressed in Wu Tang’s music? Not much. Sorry.
I decided to drown my racial hierarchy issues, and awkward hatred of my own race, with another overpriced pint of Strongbow Dark Fruit, the Ribena of the adult world. Feeling the affects of this, I missed Jamie XX, and consequently found myself back in the only stage I now care about: Big Top. Having never really cared for their music, Metronomy stunned me with their captivating stage presence and equally cheerful tunes. The band were perfect. Perhaps it was the Strongbow, but it felt like I had stepped back in time. From the general stage aesthetic of a 1970’s TV show, to the synchronised finger clicking of the band, to the matching uniforms of each member, Metronomy are truly magical. Their parting message reminded everyone to remain safe, and to organise a meeting place, cementing my love for a band who actually give a damn about the welfare of their audience members.
I then finally managed to meet up with an old close friend, and was persuaded to give Disclosure another go, after seeing them a few years ago at Reading Festival. Heading over to the Main Stage, I realised my error. Disclosure began strongly, hitting out the smash hits ‘White Noise’ and ‘F For You’ in the first 5 minutes. The set quickly descended from there with a never ending stream of new tracks that made no real impression on me. One track, who’s name escaped me, featured one of the twins singing, something I don’t really wish to witness ever again. The buzz they had built up died. My friend quickly left with her group, and I sneaked off to Ben Howard.
Howard seemingly took great care ensuring the stage was Instagram appropriate, and spent most of the time sitting and staring at the guitar he was playing. Rarely making eye contact with the audience, and with a set that was as moody as his second album, led any energy or buzz I had left evaporating. The attack of Disclosure audience members at the end of the set led to any sort of atmosphere being destroyed.
The end of the night came in the form of aching feet, a muddy exit route, and a confusingly large amount of buses that were only accessible to those who had paid in advance. That being said, once in the queue for the tram we made it through very quickly. Upon reaching home for the weekend, I fell asleep almost instantly. What after-parties?
Welcome to Manchester, love.