It’s bad form to start a review with a question so we’ll break the ice with this sentence. What do you get if you take a music bill so eclectic it would have to be included in the definition of the word, then divide it across 10 stages, then multiply it across three days with a square root planted firmly in the hippest part of London town?
The answer is a formula – and one that works pretty well. So much so that in its seventh stint outdoors, Lovebox has flourished enough to allow Groove Armada to take a back seat from performing, concentrating on programming a long weekend where Grace Jones and Roxy Music will pass through its gates.
We wander through them on a temperately sunny Friday afternoon and are greeted by rampaging sound systems, alcohol vendors with sweaty brows from the weight of their backpack kegs, a fun looking helter skelter and stomach turning rides pumping out David Guetta.
Entering the Relentless tent is like stumbling into a mine. Once we’ve narrowly avoided clashing heads with other punters eight times, and mistaken them for our friends another four, we find Oli and Chimp D.A.B dropping some unashamed fidget house to get the mood up. There’s plenty more of that to come so we angle for some of the bands, but en route find our heads turned as we pass the Rizla stage, one of the weekend’s focal beat points, where Sticky & The Heatwave have got the place grinding to some ferociously filthy dancehall.
Limbered up after that session, we settle for Tinashe at the Gaymers stage, a cider-fuelled haven. The Zimbabwe-born singer-songwriter is a Hackney local and seems quite at home on the site’s second biggest stage as he plays out some fine power pop laden numbers with shades of Jack Penate, though you’ll never see the latter whip out an mbira (imagine a mini thumb piano that sounds like a xylophone) and have it work so well with an East London voice wrapped around it.
Back in the Relentless tent, DJ du jour Riva Starr is laying down his trashy gypsy house rhythms and warming the vibe – though the darkness of the tent prevents us from enjoying the sun. As the techno starts spinning out we decide its a bit early for that at 5.30pm, so grabbing some of the huge amount of organic food on offer, we find Ellie Goulding over on the main stage.
Anyone with a TV will have seen the perky singer-songwriter peddling debut album Lights at many a festival this year, the likes of Guns And Horses fast becoming unavoidable. If you like Goulding’s cultured but mannered tones that is obviously a good thing, but the whole show feels ultimately contrived, despite its impressive drum wig-outs at the end.
Joy Orbison is much more like it, turning the NYC tent into a sweaty, steamy stockpot of sound, shaking it to his brand of twisty and breezy dubstep and garage. New tunes rub shoulders with London classics such as Nu Birth‘s Anytime, prompting security to battle endlessly with ejecting exuberant punters off the the stage. It’s becoming a carnival atmosphere, thanks to one of the standout sets so far.
Orchard-bound we go, in search of brightly coloured pop – and Bombay Bicycle Club, despite their earnestness, provide the missing link. Stepping up to the plate with even more panache are Mystery Jets, a kind of affectionate cross between early Zutons and Super Furry Animals live. Two Doors Down is by some distance the happiest song of Friday night, closely followed by the new reverie Dreaming Of Another World, and fine album tracks Serotonin and the euphoric Flash A Hungry Smile.
As Brodinski floods the place with a barrage of electro and techno, the Relentess tent lives up to its name. Not to be outdone, Italian noise mob Crookers rock up immediately after, the crowd now mere lambs for the slaughter, with the usual assault of housey stabs applied to devastating effect.
Wreathed in smiles, Todd Edwards is showing to the Rizla arena just why his brand of bouncy house and garage is well nigh irresistible. Many an ankle turns to his music, and while it may not have changed an awful lot since the days of his first Locked On mix, it is unashamedly joyous, helping the tree houses lift off.
With Chase & Status having given the main stage a right pummelling, it’s up to Dizzee Rascal to kick us headlong into the weekend – a task he accomplishes with ease. Dizzee has changed a lot since his Boy In Da Corner days, moving from bedsit to stadium – but who would have thought he would become so dependent on other people’s riffs for inspiration? He carries it off comfortably with a mix of charisma, attitude and the nous that tells him just when to pull out the big guns Dance Wiv Me, Holiday and Bonkers. The crowd lap it up, especially those getting into gear in the full knowledge they have two more days’ action to enjoy. The party’s only just begun!